In The Empty House, Sherlock Holmes makes a dramatic reappearance in the surgery of his friend Dr Watson. Presumed dead at the bottom of the Reichenbach Falls, Holmes recounts his travels in the East, including the palace at Khartoum where General Charles Gordon was killed. ‘It was a sorry sight, a ruin. His blood still upon the staircase’. The Sudan, or more properly, the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium of the Sudan lasted from 1898 to 1956, and was one of many glimpses of the exotic that appeared in the Holmes stories. That Conan Doyle included the little vignette about Gordon reveals the place of the Sudan in the public consciousness of empire.
In Imperial Culture and the Sudan: Authorship, Identity and the British Empire (I. B. Tauris, 2020), Lia Paradis explores the myriad ways in which the Sudan, whose internal politics were influenced and shaped by Britain, figured in metropolitan culture. Like many locales of empire, the Sudan influenced literature, perceptions of self, framed ideals of manhood, of nation, and of Britain’s place in the world. This book is a ‘biography of an administrative cohort’, a meticulous and fascinating recovery of a network of officials and civil servants whose immersion in Sudanese culture shaped how this remote and foreboding corner of Africa found its way into letters, newspapers, magazines, images and volumes that were eagerly consumed in London.
Lia Paradis is Professor of History at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania.