Victorian Popular Fictions 1.2 article 4

With Gordon, Kitchener and Others in the Sudan:

Mapping Fictional Engagement with the Imperial Frontier

 Luisa Villa

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The protracted military engagement in the Sudan (1884–99) can be regarded as the most iconic among the “little wars” late-Victorian Britain fought on its imperial frontiers. Numberless historical studies have addressed its events, its protagonists, its politics, and aspects of its immense discursive fallout. In recent years, its impact on popular literature has been discussed, most notably, in connection with the “paranoid imaginary” underlying “Imperial Gothic” fictions, with fantasies of retaliatory invasions and reverse colonisation. On the other hand, as a fictional corpus, the adventure narratives inspired more directly by the military events and the concomitant political debate have not attracted attention. Having identified ten novels – written between 1885 and 1907, all at least partly set in the Sudan – I set out to outline the development of this strain of historical/military adventure over roughly two decades, highlighting its narrative strategies in articulating the changing perception of the conflict. In order to do so, I focus on the novelists’ selection, or evasion, of historical “facts,” the intertwining of the factual strain of adventure fiction with the conventions of the quest romance, and the uses of their often multiple protagonists. I also foreground aspects of divergence as well as of consonance between the children’s novels and those written for the general public, showing how they experimented with varying narrative takes on the same highly topical subject-matter.

Key words

adventure fiction; historical novel; juvenile literature; Sudan military campaigns; Omdurman; Khartoum; G. A. Henty; R. M. Ballantyne; A. E. W. Mason; Rudyard Kipling.

Date of Acceptance: 23 December 2019

Date of Publication: 31 December 2019

Double Blind Peer Reviewed

Recommended Citation:

Villa, Luisa. 2019. “With Gordon, Kitchener and Others in the Sudan: Mapping Fictional Engagement with the Imperial Frontier.” Victorian Popular Fictions, 1.2: 61-74. ISSN: 2632-4253 (online) DOI:

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