The Dangers of the Periphery

In the Victorian adventure novel, whether it takes place ‘abroad’ or at home in England, most writers show a danger to the core that originates in the periphery.  In The Moonstone, this danger reaches out and nearly rips an entire family apart.  In She, the existence of the Empire itself is threatened by Ayesha and her plans for world domination.  What does this show about the Victorian view of the world outside of their civilization?

First, it shows that the periphery is perceived as powerful.  These dangers would not be nearly so effective as plot devices and narratives if the general populace didn’t believe foreigners capable of posing them.  Yes, most foreigners from the more primitive parts of the globe were often shown as savages, but they were always strong savages, empowered to injure and disrupt the Pax Britannica.

Second, it exposes the very primal fears of the sophisticated English gentleman or lady who read these novels.  The periphery is powerful, and more importantly, it is aggressive.  They have no respect for civilized customs; they are backward, brutal barbarians focused on plundering our wealth (even though it was once theirs) and our women (oh, the horror!).  Despite all the rhetoric of British power superseding that of the rest of the world, Victorians still trembled at the thought that they might not always be the top of the food chain, and that once knocked off their pedestal, those they had built their Empire upon would have no problems doing to the British what the British had done to them.

In light of these, the abolition of the typical threat to the core becomes quite understandable.  Ayesha dies in the very shaft that once made her “She-who-must-be-obeyed,” and the “Hindoos” who recovered the Moonstone return to their own nation, never to lay eyes on each other again.  The Victorian audience needed this affirmation of their ultimate superiority as they needed their Queen to rule peacefully.  They fear the periphery, but as long as stories they read end as they think history has, with the Pax Britannica, they are content.

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