The Victorian Suburb as Imperial Stage

Emily Eden and the Theatrics of Empire

in Journeys
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This article examines the representation of Indian spaces in the 1830s/1840s travel writing of Emily Eden, sister of the Governor-General of India, and the ways in which these representations shape a fictional 'journey' into Victorian middle-class suburbia in her 1859 novel The Semi-Detached House. Eden's letters home set up an opposition between Indian spaces as essentially public and intrusive, and her remembered English spaces as the secure locations of private selfhood. However, this opposition is challenged by the theatricality of imperial ritual, which turns all spaces into stages of one form or another. These experiences inform Eden's fictional depiction of London suburbia, nearly twenty years later. The tropes of her travel writing are invoked to characterise a journey across class spaces, as the aristocratic protagonists of The Semi-Detached House venture into suburbia and encounter a different form of 'alien other': their bourgeois neighbours. A narrative of cross-class reconciliation ensues, whose apparent security is, however, undercut by the parallels between imperial ritual and bourgeois suburbia's staging of intimate family life.


The International Journal of Travel and Travel Writing