NABOKV-L post 0011081, Mon, 21 Feb 2005 12:27:47 -0800

VN & trains

----- Original Message -----
From: Jansy Berndt de Souza Mello
To: don barton johnson
Sent: Monday, February 21, 2005 8:43 AM
Subject: Fw: Yukon

Tools of empire or means of national salvation?
The railway in the imagination of western empire builders
and their enemies in Asia

Robert Lee
University of Western Sydney, Macarthur

In the late 1960s an aging scion of the European haute bourgeoisie recalled a fantasy from his privileged childhood at the dawn of the twentieth century. It was a fantasy in which the boy's dreams of global dominion, his conviction of European cultural supremacy, and his fascination with the technology of the rail formed an intoxicating, even seductive cocktail:

As a boy of fifteen (Eric Veen's age of florescence) he had studied with a poet's passion the time-table of three great.... transcontinental trains that one day he would take - not alone (now alone). From Manhattan, via Mephisto, El Paso, Meksikansk and the Panama Chunnel, the dark-red New World Express reached Brazilia and Witch (or Viedma, founded by a Russian admiral). There it split into two parts, the eastern one continuing to Grant's Horn, and the western returning north through Valparaiso and Bogota. On alternate days the fabulous journey began in Yukonsk, a two-way section going to the Atlantic seaboard, while another, via California and Central America, roared into Uruguay. The dark blue African Express began in London and reached the Cape by three different routes, through Nigero, Rodosia or Ephiopia. Finally, the brown Orient Express joined London to Ceylon and Sydney, via Turkey and several Chunnels.
Those three admirable trains included at least two carriages in which a fastidious traveler could rent a bedroom with bath and water closet, and a drawing room with a piano or a harp. The length of the journey varied according to Van's predormient mood when at Eric's age he imagined the landscapes unfolding all along his comfortable, too comfortable, fauteuil. Through rain forests and mountain canyons and other fascinating places (oh, name them! Can't - falling asleep), the room moved as slowly as fifteen miles per hour but across desertorum or agricultural drearies it attained seventy, ninety-seven night-nine, one hund, red dog - [1]
The continental quality of this vision is perhaps the result of the fact that it comes from the mind of a Russian, Vladimir Nabokov. The author's imagination also gives the vision an extraordinary intensity, but the idea of dominating, enjoying and transforming the world with rails of steel and the power of steam was widespread, even commonplace in the half century or so before 1914. Moreover, although this distinctively Western idea initially was rejected by most peoples who were colonised, it soon came to be embraced by Asian modernisers as well.

During the last years of the nineteenth century, the railway was the chosen tool of European empire-builders in Asia. It was at this time that the European empires acquired their final boundaries, and the role of railways in that process was critical. Thus, on China's northern frontier Russian Finance Minister Sergius Witte both consolidated the Russian Far Eastern Empire and laid the abortive foundations of another in Manchuria with the building of the Transiberian and Chinese Eastern railways. At the same time, on China's southern frontier both British and French adventurers staked out imperial claims with railway proposals which were sometimes as fanciful as those of Nabokov's adolescent hero. The earliest proposal dated from 1866 and envisaged the connection of the British Burmese port of Moulmein with Simao in Yunnan through Chiang Mai (...)

( I didn´t copy the entire article )

Discussion on another site concerning Lee´s text ( excerpts from a discussion that came thru googling about "Yukon" in the internet )

First commentator: I do not think that the naval route from Archangel or from St Petersbourg could be improved much to provide for real Russian settlement of the North Passific, so that so much more settlers - and soldiers - could go to Alaska. For that, one really needs to make
Russia a naval power on par with OTL Britain, but then Russia would have been successfully colonizing some less remote places than the Passific. ..............
Second commentator: Given the really miserable British performance on the Pacific during the actual Crimean War, it's really hard to see how they could manage to do better against a stronger Russian presence on the region. (And given the size and the performance of the British _Army_...= well...)
Lee's idea that a more colonized Alaska would mirror the European Russia with large manorial estates in noble hands doesn't seem all that plausible to me, though. Even if the region was more heavily settled, its closest counterparts would still be the more peripheral territories of European Russia - like, say, East Karelia, or parts of Siberia.

Reply by: Jack Linthicum -- Oct 21, 2003 14:02:22
jussi_jalonen(at) (Jussi Jalonen)
<= (Stuart Wilkes) <d842ea3e.0310160432.7a4c16fc

Cf Vladimir Nabokov's novel Ada where (apparently) the Tartar yoke hangs around for a longer time span, Russians emigrate over the Pole to America, creating such places as Yukonsk.