Humanities and Arts

The Case of Claud Cardew’s Violin: Race, Anxiety, and the British Empire Mail

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Doi: doi:10.1017/jbr.2022.53doi:10.1017/jbr.2022.53



Abstract In the summer of 1894, Claud Cardew, then at British Central Africa, asked his brother in England to send him a violin. In tracing the violin's trajectory from metropole to colony, this article combines two inquiries. It probes, firstly, the emotional vocabulary surrounding Claud's request, and secondly, the technology underpinning the British Empire mail. Closely reading the Cardew family letters alongside postal documents, the author argues that for Claud, the violin's delayed arrival triggered a tangled nexus of anxieties, stemming from both the colonial racial hierarchy and the changing expectations surrounding modern technology. Much like the cultural connotations carried by the violin itself, efficient mail delivery denoted racial superiority. Furthermore, the empire mail gained significance in the minds of British users for its racially loaded function as potentially mitigating colonizers’ anxiety in the face of outnumbering locals. Yet the violin's failure to arrive when expected led to mounting anxiety, as claims for colonizers’ dominance cracked in the face of unstable postal communications. The story of Claud Cardew's violin thus offers a framework that may be used to unravel similar emotional entanglements surrounding Western technologies set to work within empire.