Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Writers on Dance: Lytton Strachey on General Gordon

General Gordon's Last Stand from Wikipedia
I'm taking a class on Biography as Genre right now at the Grad Center and came across a belly dance scene in Lytton Strachey's beautifully written Eminent Victorians.  The last section, "The End of General Gordon," dissects the career of  Charles George Gordon whose military career ended in southern Egypt.  In this short scene, Strachey mocks the self-righteous morality of the Victorian era (calling him a "Christian hero") and the cold eye cast by this lonely, fame-driven, "eminently unromantic" colonialist who hated more than anything "the flesh."   This scene takes place in 1874 when Gordon returns to the Sudan:

"On his way up the Nile, he was received in state at Khartoum by the Egyptian Governor-General of the Sudan, his immediate official superior.  The function ended in a prolonged banquet, followed by a mixed ballet of soldiers and completely naked young women, who danced in a circle, beat time with their feet, and accompanied their gestures with a curious sound of clucking.  At last the Austrian Consul, overcome by the exhilaration of the scene, flung himself in a frenzy among the dancers; the Governor General, shouting with delight, seemed about to follow suit, when Gordon abruptly left the room, and the party broke up in confusion."

Gordon, unable to see beyond the lens of his own judgments, ends up miscalculating both the forces against him and his own mortality.  He died in a standoff in the Sudan (romanticized in the painting above, the cover of "Emminent Victorians").

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