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“Imperialists in Broken Boots”

Poor Whites and Philanthropy in Southern African Writing

Author(s): Julie Cairnie

Book Description

This book examines writing which is concerned with the period of the ‘poor white problem’ and the ‘poor white solution’ (1870s–1940s) in Southern Africa. It argues that ‘poor white’ is not a narrow economic category, but describes those who threaten to collapse boundaries—racial, sexual, and class boundaries. It studies four writers who migrate between Britain and Southern Africa, who engage with the ‘problem’ and the ‘solution,’ and who foreground ambiguity in their ambiguously genred texts. Olive Schreiner and Doris Leasing highlight the ‘problem’ as they embrace the threat posed by poor whites, while Robert Tressell and Daphne Anderson foreground the ‘solution’ as they argue for the incorporation of the poor into imperial myths about white homogeneity and upward mobility. Based on an historical approach, this book explores three premises. The first premise is that poor white is a liminal category, that it encompasses economic failures and social transgressors. The second premise is that Southern African life writing engages with its historical and political moment. The third premise is that philanthropy is central to the articulation of the ‘problem’ and the ‘solution.’ The final concluding chapter reflects upon the re-emergence of poor whiteism since the end of Apartheid and the collapse of Zimbabwe, and reflects upon the problem of black poverty.


ISBN-13: 978-1-4438-1852-0
ISBN-10: 1-4438-1852-6
Date of Publication: 01/03/2010
Pages / Size: 115 / A5
Price: £34.99


Julie Cairnie is Assistant Professor of Postcolonial Literature at the University of Guelph in Canada. She has published and presented widely on Southern African literature. In 2008 she published Revisiting Robert Tressell’s Mugsborough: New Perspectives on the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. At the moment she is co-editing a collection of essays and photographs on the Zimbabwean writer Dambudzo Marechera.