Scarlet and khaki, fire and steel: representations of warfare in British mass culture, 1870-1914

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Popular culture – Great Britain – History – 19th century
Popular culture – Great Britain – History – 20th century
Imperialism – Public opinion
War – Public opinion
Imperialism in art
Imperialism in literature
Great Britain – History, Military – 19th century
Great Britain – History, Military – 20th century
Victorian Britain
British Army
Popular culture
The Illustrated London News
The Graphic
The Boy’s Own Paper, G. A. Henty

In the late-nineteenth century, Britain saw the development of a mass culture consumed by a new public. It was a culture of diverse forms each seeking commercial success. Part of the success came through a celebration of empire that, after 1870, was rapidly expanding. Embedded in this dynamic cultural context was a similarly new regard for the British army as the Continent destabilized and empire increasingly defined power. Formerly maligned and distrusted, the army enjoyed a prominent place in the commercial culture as it fought incessant imperial wars against exotic opponents whose demise served to entertain while the empire grew. Within this context, this dissertation examines how the discourse on warfare was formulated by the adult and juvenile mass culture defined by the illustrated press, paintings, juvenile novels and toy soldiers between 1870 and 1914. It argues that there was a representational convergence on a set of forms drawn from British military history, the contemporary manifestation of soldiers participating in parades and the volunteer movement, and from the colonial wars regularly fought and reported in the press. These sources of discourse promised accuracy and superficially provided it. However, in revealing the experience of warfare the discourse was false. The culture confirmed a normative vision of war based predominantly on the peculiarities of colonial wars and the displays and war games of weekend volunteers. It was a vision that suited the conservative army officer elite and those who were rendering it for sale, but it was a time when the character of warfare was rapidly changing. Expanding in scale and technological sophistication, modern war was becoming ever more distinct from the controlled and familiar image of it. Even the experience of the Anglo-Boer War failed to fundamentally narrow the gap between reality and representation. By occupying an analytical middle ground, this study is distinct from most cultural and military histories.

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Dept. of History - Simon Fraser University
Thesis type: 
Thesis (Ph.D.)