Literatures and Cultural Studies Faculty Publications and Presentations


Imagining Informal Empire: Nineteenth‐century British Literature and Latin America

Document Type


Publication Date



This essay examines the emerging field of literary scholarship on Great Britain's “informal empire” in nineteenth-century Latin America following independence from the Spanish and Portuguese empires. While “informal empire” was originally theorized as a concept within the field of economic history to describe the means by which Great Britain exercised political influence in sovereign states of Latin America through finance and commerce, it has also become a useful framework with which to analyze the literature of the period and its varied depictions of Latin America in multiple, overlapping forms: travel writing, science writing, poems, and novels. Just as some historians argue that informal empire is essentially the continuation of formal empire, some literary scholars read Romantic and Victorian literature about Latin America as another form of imperialist dominance. Most recent criticism, however, has highlighted the ambiguities, paradoxes, and ironies of nineteenth-century British literature of informal empire, which seems to dwell on failure as much as fantasy, and the inaccessible past as much as the present and future.


© 2019 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

Publication Title

Literature Compass