Jeffrey A. Auerbach. Imperial Boredom: Monotony and the British Empire. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018. pp.320. ISBN: 9780198827375; £35.00
Reviewed by Amina Marzouk Chouchene (PhD candidate, Manouba University)
The British Empire has been firmly tied to myth, adventure, and victory. For many Britons, “the empire was the mythic landscape of romance and adventure. It was that quarter of the globe that was colored and included darkest Africa and the mysterious East.”Cultural artifacts such as music, films, cigarette cards, and fiction have long constructed and reflected this rosy vision of the empire as a place of adventure and excitement. Against this widely held view of the empire, Jeffrey Auerbach identifies an overwhelming emotion that filled the psyche of many Britons as they moved to new lands: imperial boredom. Auerbach defines boredom as “an emotional state that individuals experience when they find themselves without anything particular to do and are uninterested in their surroundings.”
Auerbach identifies the feeling as a “modern construct” closely associated with the mid-eighteenth century. This does not mean that people were never bored before this, but that they “did not know it or express it.” Rather, it was with the spread of industrial capitalism and the Enlightenment emphasis on individual rights and happiness that the concept came to the fore.
In a well-researched and enjoyable book, the author argues “that despite the many and famous tales of glory and adventure, a significant and overlooked feature of the nineteenth century British imperial experience was boredom and disappointment.” In other words, instead of focusing on the exploits of imperial luminaries such as Walter Raleigh, James Cook, Robert Clive, David Livingstone, Cecil Rhodes and others, Auerbach pays particular attention to the moments when many travelers, colonial officers, governors, soldiers, and settlers were gripped by an intense sense of boredom in India, Australia, and southern Africa. Continue reading “Imperial Boredom: Monotony and the British Empire”