Imperial Masochism: British Fiction, Fantasy, and Social Class | National Humanities Center

Work of the Fellows: Monographs

Imperial Masochism: British Fiction, Fantasy, and Social Class

By John Kucich (NHC Fellow, 2002–03)

Masochism; British Literature; Fiction; Social Classes; Imperialism; Politics

Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007

From the publisher’s description:

British imperialism’s favorite literary narrative might seem to be conquest. But real British conquests also generated a surprising cultural obsession with suffering, sacrifice, defeat, and melancholia. “There was,” writes John Kucich, “seemingly a different crucifixion scene marking the historical gateway to each colonial theater.” In Imperial Masochism, Kucich reveals the central role masochistic forms of voluntary suffering played in late-nineteenth-century British thinking about imperial politics and class identity. Placing the colonial writers Robert Louis Stevenson, Olive Schreiner, Rudyard Kipling, and Joseph Conrad in their cultural context, Kucich shows how the ideological and psychological dynamics of empire, particularly its reorganization of class identities at the colonial periphery, depended on figurations of masochism.

Drawing on recent psychoanalytic theory to define masochism in terms of narcissistic fantasies of omnipotence rather than sexual perversion, the book illuminates how masochism mediates political thought of many different kinds, not simply those that represent the social order as an opposition of mastery and submission, or an eroticized drama of power differentials. Masochism was a powerful psychosocial language that enabled colonial writers to articulate judgments about imperialism and class.

The first full-length study of masochism in British colonial fiction, Imperial Masochism puts forth new readings of this literature and shows the continued relevance of psychoanalysis to historicist studies of literature and culture.

Literature / Psychology / Literary Criticism / Masochism / British Literature / Fiction / Social Classes / Imperialism / Politics /

Kucich, John (NHC Fellow, 2002–03). Imperial Masochism: British Fiction, Fantasy, and Social Class. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007.