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Semi-Detached Empire

Suburbia and the Colonization of Britain, 1880 to the Present
Todd Kuchta

BUY Cloth · 272 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813929255 · $65.00 · Apr 2010
BUY Paper · 272 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813929262 · $26.50 · Apr 2010
BUY Ebook · 272 pp. · ISBN 9780813929583 · $26.50 · Apr 2010

In the first book to consider British suburban literature from the vantage point of imperial and postcolonial studies, Todd Kuchta argues that suburban identity is tied to the empire’s rise and fall. He takes his title from the type of home synonymous with suburbia. Like the semi-detached house, which joins separate dwellings under one roof, suburbia and empire were geographically distinct but imaginatively linked. Yet just as the "semi" conceals two homes behind a single façade, suburbia’s apparent uniformity masks its defining oppositions—between country and city, "civilization" and "savagery," master and slave.

While some people saw the suburbs as homegrown colonies, others viewed them as a terra incognita beyond the pale of British culture. Surveying a range of popular and canonical texts, Kuchta reveals the suburban foundations of a variety of unexpected fictional locales: the Thames Valley of H. G. Wells’s Martian attack and the gaslit London of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, but also the tropical backwaters of Joseph Conrad’s Malay Archipelago and the imperial communities of Raj fiction by E. M. Forster and George Orwell. This capacious view demonstrates suburbia's vital role in science fiction, detective tales, condition-of-England novels, modernist narratives of imperial decline, and contemporary multicultural fiction.

Drawing on postcolonial theory, urban studies, and architectural scholarship, this book will appeal to readers interested in Victorian, modern, and contemporary British literature and cultures, especially those concerned with how place shapes class and masculine identity in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.


Semi-Detached Empire will be a foundational text in literary studies for thinking about the inextricable connections between an anxious imperial decline and the ambivalent expansion of suburbia from the late nineteenth century. Kuchta’s readings of canonical texts are enlivened by insights from suburban and urban geography and architecture, metropolitan history, and popular and periodical literature. In seeing central authors of modernity, such as Wells, Conrad, and Forster, anew through Kuchta’s eyes, one is immediately convinced that anti-imperial strains in their works emerge out of their anti-suburban proclivities.

Joseph P. McLaughlin, Ohio University · author of Writing the Urban Jungle: Reading Empire in London from Doyle to Eliot (Virginia)

Todd Kuchta's book... is a very fine addition to a growing body of scholarship that takes the suburbs seriously, both as a cultural phenomenon and as a signifier of dissonance and dislocation in the dominant culture.

Journal of British Studies

About the Author(s): 

Todd Kuchta is Assistant Professor in the Department of English at Western Michigan University.

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