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Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  852 ratings  ·  36 reviews
Imperial Leather chronicles the dangerous liaisons between gender, race and class that shaped British imperialism and its bloody dismantling. Spanning the century between Victorian Britain and the current struggle for power in South Africa, the book takes up the complex relationships between race and sexuality, fetishism and money, gender and violence, domesticity and the ...more
Paperback, 464 pages
Published July 6th 1995 by Routledge (first published 1995)
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Average rating 4.10  · 
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 ·  852 ratings  ·  36 reviews

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May 26, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: pretentious grad students, critical thinkers, people easily titillated by book covers
Oh God, Anne McClintock.

Where do I begin?

Well, the book itself is complex, clever, well-thought out, and detailed. Her premise linking colonial domination and cleanliness is a masterful concept.

However, part of the logic, rationale, reasoning and argument in this book just strikes me as batshit insane. I know I'm a (future) historian, this literature analysis is fine when dealing just with books. But using lit crit techniques on historical texts and making colonial historical claims makes me ang
Jan 22, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: own, european-history

A countrywide effort of white nationalist hygiene began. The few voices that attempted to investigate the book's [The Long Journey of Poppie Nongena] complex and ambiguous politics were drowned out in the unanimous hubbub proclaiming that the book had no politics at all, that it was universal, that it dealt with "family issues" and therefore lay beyond the provenance of politics and history proper. At the same time, a well-established critical discourse that defined great literature as apolitica
Aug 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
there's some brilliant food for thought here. deducting one star because the author does not use serial commas. ha! just kidding. (...MAYBE??) it's really because i remain somewhat ambivalent about psychoanalysis in/of/through history (while still acknowledging its usefulness). her rereading of freud's oedipal theory is freaking awesome, at least. and even die-hard anti-psychoanalysis readers should be able to appreciate her main assertion that "race, gender and class are not distinct realms of ...more
Feb 12, 2014 rated it liked it
An interesting book, though I found various parts of it more or less convincing. Chapters one through five were considerably more necessary reading than six through ten. Even for a book that comes at history sideways, it was somewhat incoherent overall (it compares unfavourably, for example, with 'City of Dreadful Delight', which also approaches key themes through eclectic figures/events) - but when it's good, it's really good. ...more
Adam Glantz
Dec 23, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: everyone
A series of articles that are as fresh as post-colonial and feminist versions of critical theory get...take that as you will. The highlight of the book comes early, first with a psychoanalytic reading of H. Rider Haggard's "King Solomon's Mines," and then with McClintock's investigation of the transgressive relationship between the precociously self-sufficient Victorian scullery maid Hannah Cullwick and English barrister Arthur Munby. Other than these tales, the book is a dense stew of Freudian, ...more
Justin Abraham
Apr 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ma, queer, read-parts
Chapter 3 -- the remarkable true story of Hannah Cullwick who insisted that female domestic labour was worth something more than the Victorians acknowledged and so demanded a wage from her 'husband' and never bore him children.

McClintock is brilliant when she is describing the work that went into being idle and how that work (and its dirt) involved even more work to cover it all up.

Chapter 6 -- in which we learn about the 19th century crisis of masculinity occurring in the second, third, fourt
This is a sophisticated analysis of the complex interrelationship of class, gender and race in British colonial and imperial settings, including the end of empire. McClintock draws on feminist, psychoanalytic, socialist and postcolonial theory to develop an argument we may not agree with but cannot ignore. Her analysis of the competing British, Afrikaaner and black colonial and anti-colonial discourses takes understandings of South African history to new places, and has much wider general resona ...more
Nov 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
The book does an excellent job of outlining the concepts of race, commodity, and sex fetishism and provides good examples of some that subverted the norm during the Victorian period and in Colonial Africa. The first half was very dry, but it is an academic text so it does require one to engage the brain. The second half of the book was quite well-written and researched.
Jade Metzger
Jan 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
Great book! I use it for my scholarship. Excellent use of Freudian concepts, and makes psycho analysis relevant for today's reader. I loved the fetish section and the power exchange. Beautiful. ...more
Iñaki Tofiño
Jun 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
I do not agree with everything she says and I think that the book is somehow incoherent (some psychoanalysis here, some cultural studies there, a bit of Marxist theory...), but she makes interesting points and there is a lot to learn from the book.
Jul 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2017
A tour-de-force of scholarship, ranging so widely over place,s spaces and texts, that you could get lost if the author wasn't so very clear in her style and presentation. ...more
Purple Iris
Nov 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
I only read a couple of chapters, but I really appreciate McClintock's insights. Some of the psychonalysis stuff is a bit over the top for my tastes. ...more
Sep 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An absolute must-read for Humanities students across Disciplines!
May 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing

“The politics of memory and authorship are inextricably entangled with the politics of institutional power in all its forms: family households, domestic labor, education, publishing, and reception. History is a series of social fabulations that we cannot do without. It is an inventive practice, but not just any invention will do. For it is the future, not the past, that is at stake in the contest over which memories survive.” (McClintock, 328)

I had a great time reading this, just nodding in agr
Feb 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
I read this book while in Graduate school in a literature course, a good 25 years after the last time I had attended college. It was a bit shocking to decipher the critical studies "lingo" that all the 20-somethings in my class spouted so blithely. (When I was last in college, we were just discovering Virgina Woolf.)

I had never studied the Pre-Raphaelites or really learned much about them. A certain amount of this scholarly work dealt with the manner in which the writer/designer/artist/pioneer W
Scott Smith
Feb 15, 2011 rated it liked it
This is a very dense book (not so much in the difficulty of language as the sheer amount of information presented) and really gives a great, thorough investigation of issues of race and gender and class in relation to colonialism and all kinds of nationalism. The chapter on soap ads of Victorian England was particularly interesting to me as pop culture is something I am very interested in. There is also a lot of great discussion of fetishism and nationality that I found very interesting after ha ...more
Don't let the dated, dissertation-y title turn you off. This book is awesome: an original, impressively-researched (even for an academic tone), and actually pleasurable-to-read analysis of racist Victorian soap advertisements, the fixation of bourgeois men on washerwomen (her chapters on maidservant Hannah Cullwick -- who spent forty years in a secret relationship with her "master," posing for photographs in blackface and chains and keeping a diary detailing for him her daily work -- are superla ...more
Sep 18, 2007 rated it really liked it
If books were mythological characters (and Anne McClintock would certainly have something to say on that subject) then Imperial Leather would be my Helen, the book that launched a thousand hours of thesis research and an unhealthy obsession with Victorian BDSM. McClintock's background as a literary scholar allows her to attack her material from a fresh and subtly controversial perspective, which makes for an engaging contribution to the larger historical discourse. ...more
Oct 02, 2008 added it
Recommends it for: Masochists, Freudians, English majors, sociopaths
What can I say about a book that combines socialist, feminist, post-colonial, and psychoanalytical theory into a 400 page abomination that makes the reader want to light him/herself on fire? Seriously, this book mentioned castration anxiety and phallocentrism so fucking much that I was almost tempted to cut off my own genitals with a butter knife if it would shut the author up. Newsflash Anne, not everything in life revolves around penises, sex, and wanting to hump your mother.
Jan 13, 2014 rated it liked it
Definitely a theory book written in the 90s. Had a lot of important things to say, but it felt like a lot of essays forced to hang out in one book, and I kept waiting for her to tie it all together but it never happened. Also, it's kind of funny how she examines this one historical figure's scopophilia to the point where it seems like she's getting a scopophilic thrill from it. ...more
Jul 11, 2010 rated it really liked it
read chapters 3 & 4 on Arthur Munby & Hannah Cullwick and temporal fetishism respectively. Compellingly written, concisely contextualized, and deftly theorized accounts of a cultural relationship and psychoanytic history.
Mar 08, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: literary-studies
One of the books I had to read for postcolonial lit. course in grad school. We used it to put some of the literary works we read in class into context.
Chloe Coventry
Mar 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
Anne McClintock - the intellectual femme fatal of postcolonial theory
Nov 22, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Interesting premise and quite helpful for thesis research, but it tended to be focused on oddly peripheral texts and figures, which I didn't find so helpful. ...more
May 16, 2009 added it
Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest by Anne McClintock (1995)
Sep 12, 2010 rated it really liked it
Good teaching book--the pears soap images make for a really interesting class discussion.
Oct 22, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, theory
Read intro (first 75 pages) for Comp. Studies of Asia class. Not bad.
Cath Holden
Dec 20, 2015 rated it it was ok
Should of liked it but did not!
Jan 22, 2016 added it
Shelves: academic-texts
Very useful book for studies in Imperial colonialism and the gender contest. Features heavily on the Victorian idea of the 'New Woman'. ...more
Mar 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: teaching
Maybe it's really 3 books, but what an incredible map of colonialism-as-spectacle. ...more
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Anne McClintock (born in Harare, Zimbabwe) is a writer, feminist scholar and public intellectual who has published widely on issues of sexuality, race, imperialism, and nationalism; popular and visual culture, photography, advertising and cultural theory. Transnational and interdisciplinary in character, her work explores the interrelations of gender, race, and class power within imperial modernit ...more

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126 likes · 29 comments
“Pushing upstream, the colonials are figured as traveling backward into anachronistic space: “Going up that river was like travelling back to the earliest beginnings of the world…. We were wanderers on prehistoric earth…. We were travelling in the night of first ages, of those ages that are gone.” Within the trope of anachronistic space, the boilerman’s mimetic failure is less a discursive dilemma than a familiar element of the colonial progress narrative. Inhabiting the cusp of prehistory and imperial modernity, the “improved specimen” is seen as the living measure of how far Africans must still travel to attain modernity. In other words, the slippage between difference and identity is rendered non-contradictory by being projected onto the axis of time as a natural function of imperial progress.” 0 likes
“From the outset, people's experiences of desire and rage, memory and power, community and revolt are inflected and mediated by the institutions through which they find their meaning - and which they, in turn, transform.” 0 likes
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