The implicit link between white women and "the dark races" recurs persistently in nineteenth-century English fiction. Imperialism at Home examines the metaphorical use of race by three nineteenth-century women novelists: Charlotte Brontë, Emily Brontë, and George Eliot. Susan Meyer argues that each of these domestic novelists uses race relations as a metaphor through which to explore the relationships between men and women at home in England.
In the fiction of, for example, Anthony Trollope and Charles Dickens, as in nineteenth-century culture more generally, the subtle and not-so-subtle comparison of white women and people of color is used to suggest their mutual inferiority. The Bronte sisters and George Eliot responded to this comparison, Meyer contends, transforming it for their own purposes. Through this central metaphor, these women novelists work out a sometimes contentious relationship to established hierarchies of race and gender. Their feminist impulses, in combination with their use of race as a metaphor, Meyer argues, produce at times a surprising, if partial, critique of empire. Through readings of Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, The Mill on the Floss, Daniel Deronda, and Charlotte Brontë's African juvenilia, Meyer traces the aesthetically and ideologically complex workings of the racial metaphor. Her analysis is supported by careful attention to textual details and thorough grounding in recent scholarship on the idea of race, and on literature and imperialism.
"Meyer's readings are most interesting when she charts the different ways in which the metaphorical linkage between gender and race rebellion collapses or is rewritten as the narrative proceeds. By giving us a complex sense of the multiple routes the connection between race and gender could take, Meyer's book beautifully maps out the ideological limits of what Raymond Williams calls a 'structure of feeling'."
Elsie B. Michie