Grant Allen, “Questi barbari inglesi”

Patrizia Poli
3 min readFeb 25, 2022

As the author himself states in the preface, “The English Barbarians” aims to “represent points of view (…) in romantic fiction rather than in thoughtful essays”. And the novel, in fact, is a mixture of three genres: bland science fiction, sentimental fiction and pamphlet. In reality, it tends towards the third way, the other two are just pretexts to make the subject more captivating.

Charles Grant Blairfindie Allen was born in Canada in 1848 and lived between the United States, France and Great Britain. Neighbour of Arthur Conan Doyle, agnostic and socialist, friend of Spencer, supporter of Darwin’s evolutionism and of Frazer’s anthropological theories, many of his works, starting with “The Woman Who made it” — which tells the scandalous and dramatic story of a single mother — are animated by an overbearing critical spirit towards British society, polluted by the cult of respectability at all costs and by the hypocritical moralism of the whitewashed bourgeois sepulchers.

In Victorian London, the charming and educated Bertram Ingledew falls out of nowhere, disrupting the lives of Philip Christy, his sister Frida and his brother-in-law. To avoid spoiling, that is, the anticipation of the ending, let’s just say that Herbert George Wells was inspired by this novel for his famous “The Time Machine”, released in the same year, 1895, and mentions Allen himself. The theme of the “lost world”, or time travel, was very much in vogue at the time, we also remember “An American in the Court of King Arthur” by Mark Twain, from 1889.

Bertram Ingledew considers English customs as those of any primitive society, he behaves like an anthropologist, analyzing with scientific detachment (but also with a hint of disgust) the obsession for honor, miserable fetish, and for the rules of good society, oppressive taboo.

Allen focuses on the inconsistencies of a company that is all about reputation, hiding the rotten under the rug. Victims of this ethical system are mainly women. On the one hand they are prohibited from free expression of their sensuality, of free and pure feelings, on the other hand they are exploited as prostitutes, forced into an abject life, poverty and disease, precisely by those same men who use them to keep unharmed (and repressed) their future wives. Towards prostitution, and its use by bourgeois and nobles devoted to the cult of “morality”, Allen shows a real idiosyncrasy.

Patrizia Poli

Patrizia Poli was born in Livorno in 1961. Writer of fiction and blogger, she published seven novels.