n English in Africa - Roy Campbell and the cowboy-dandies

Volume 43, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0376-8902



With reference to Roy Campbell's notion of an "equestrian nation", this essay argues that the figure of the cowboy in Campbell's poetry should be read in light of a London cultural scene in the early post-First World War period in which two Modernist performative traditions drew together. The first of these is the energetic celebration of declining "Western" frontiers in popular culture through Western film, Western fiction, and rodeo performances, while the second tradition is that of Anglo-European dandyism. Thus, while Campbell's vision of an equestrian "brotherhood" appears to have colonial roots, I argue that it functions as a generalised ideal, abstracted from a real history of colonialism. Campbell's poetic cowboys are hybrid, labile figures who display spectacular, and apparently redemptive, masculine energy. These figures, I suggest, are emblematic of a Modernist preoccupation, shared with the "dandy-writers" of the nineteenth century, with the place of individual distinction in the face of the levelling effects of bourgeois and democratic social life. I argue that Campbell's hypermasculinist performances, both personal and poetic, should thus be read as dramatising a typically Modernist symbiosis between the figures of the apparently unrefined frontiersman, and the metropolitan sophisticate.

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