Literary Journalism and Empire: George Warrington Steevens in Africa, 1898–1900

Griffiths, Andrew (2017). Literary Journalism and Empire: George Warrington Steevens in Africa, 1898–1900. Literary Journalism Studies, 9(1) pp. 60–81.

URL: https://ialjs.org/spring-2017-vol-9-no-1/

Abstract

It has been suggested that “for a few years at the end of the nineteenth century” Daily Mail correspondent George Warrington Steevens (1869–1900) was “probably the best known and most eulogized, and possibly the most influential, British journalist.”Descriptions of Steevens’s writing read like definitions of a nascent literary journalism. A contemporary
judged that “there were never newspaper articles which read more like short stories than his.” Steevens’s work was typical of the highly commercial, personal, and sensational British “new” journalism of the last quarter of the nineteenth century. This essay argues that it is high time that Steevens and his fellow “new” journalists are included in the history of literary journalism. However, that inclusion raises important issues about the relationship of literary journalism to power. British “new” journalism played an important role in securing public acquiescence in the aggressive imperial expansion of the last decades of the century. Historians variously refer to that phase of imperialism—in which major European powers seized territory at an unprecedented rate—as the “Scramble for Africa” or the “new imperialism.” Arguably, it was the symbiotic closeness of the relationship between empire and “new” journalism that was the newest feature of the new imperialism. While modern literary journalism often challenges entrenched ideologies and deconstructs the discourses of the powerful, it is important to acknowledge that literary journalism has also played a part in the reification of those ideologies and the construction of those discourses.

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