How to Enjoy An African Millionaire by Grant Allen: A Guide for Modern Readers
Have you ever heard of An African Millionaire by Grant Allen? If not, you’re missing out on one of the first and best examples of a “gentleman crook” novel. This genre features a charming and clever criminal who uses his wits and disguises to outsmart his victims, usually wealthy and arrogant people who deserve to be fooled.
An African Millionaire was published in 1897, and it tells the story of Colonel Clay, a master of disguise who sets his sights on Sir Charles Vandrift, a South African millionaire who made his fortune by exploiting the diamond mines. Sir Charles is accompanied by his wife, Lady Vandrift, and his secretary and brother-in-law, Seymour Wentworth, who narrates the story. The novel consists of twelve episodes, each one describing a different scheme that Colonel Clay uses to swindle Sir Charles out of his money.
The novel is not only entertaining, but also insightful. It exposes the hypocrisy and corruption of the upper class in the late Victorian era, and it criticizes the colonialism and racism that fueled the exploitation of Africa. It also shows how gullible and greedy people can be, and how easy it is to manipulate them with flattery and deception.
- If you’re interested in reading An African Millionaire by Grant Allen, but you’re worried that it might be too old-fashioned or difficult to understand, don’t worry. This article will help you enjoy this classic novel by explaining some of the historical and cultural references, highlighting some of the literary devices and techniques that the author uses, and giving you some tips on how to appreciate the humor, the plot, and the social commentary of this book.
Historical and Cultural References
One of the challenges of reading a novel that was written more than a century ago is that it might contain some references that are unfamiliar or obscure to modern readers. Here are some of the historical and cultural references that you might encounter in An African Millionaire by Grant Allen, and what they mean:
- The South African diamond rush: In the 1870s, huge deposits of diamonds were discovered in Kimberley, South Africa. This sparked a massive influx of miners, speculators, and entrepreneurs who wanted to get rich from the precious stones. Sir Charles Vandrift is one of them. He owns the Consolidated Diamond Mines of South Africa, which controls most of the diamond production in the region.
- The Transvaal Republic: The Transvaal was one of the four independent states that existed in South Africa before it became a British colony in 1902. It was mainly inhabited by Boers, descendants of Dutch settlers who migrated from the Cape Colony in the 1830s. The Transvaal was rich in gold and other minerals, which attracted British interest and intervention. The conflict between the Boers and the British led to two wars: the First Boer War (1880-1881) and the Second Boer War (1899-1902). In An African Millionaire, Sir Charles Vandrift is involved in some shady dealings with President Kruger, the leader of the Transvaal Republic.
- The Zulu War: The Zulu War was a military campaign fought in 1879 between the British Empire and the Zulu Kingdom, a powerful African nation that resisted British expansion in southern Africa. The war was marked by several battles, some of which were disastrous for the British, such as the Battle of Isandlwana, where they suffered a crushing defeat. In An African Millionaire, Colonel Clay pretends to be a Zulu chief named Mosoëswa, who claims to have a hidden treasure that he wants to sell to Sir Charles Vandrift.
- Theosophy: Theosophy is a religious movement that was founded in 1875 by Helena Blavatsky, a Russian occultist who claimed to have access to ancient wisdom and secrets. Theosophy combines elements of Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and other religions, and teaches that there is an underlying spiritual reality behind the physical world. In An African Millionaire, Colonel Clay impersonates Madame Picardet, a famous French medium who claims to be a disciple of Blavatsky. He uses his supposed psychic powers to trick Sir Charles Vandrift into buying some worthless shares.
- Spiritualism: Spiritualism is another religious movement that emerged in the 19th century, based on the belief that the spirits of the dead can communicate with the living through mediums. Spiritualism was very popular in the Victorian era, especially among the upper class, who often attended séances and consulted mediums for guidance and comfort. In An African Millionaire, Colonel Clay poses as David Granton, an American spiritualist who claims to be able to contact Sir Charles Vandrift’s deceased father. He uses his fake messages to persuade Sir Charles to invest in a fraudulent scheme.
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Literary Devices and Techniques
Another way to enjoy An African Millionaire is to pay attention to the literary devices and techniques that the author uses to make his story more engaging and effective. Here are some of the literary devices and techniques that you might notice in the novel, and how they work:
- First-person narration: The novel is narrated by Seymour Wentworth, the secretary and brother-in-law of Sir Charles Vandrift. This gives the story a personal and intimate tone, as we get to see the events from his perspective. However, it also limits our knowledge and understanding of the other characters, especially Colonel Clay, who remains a mystery throughout the novel. Moreover, Wentworth is not a reliable narrator, as he is biased, naive, and easily fooled by Colonel Clay. He often misinterprets or overlooks clues that could expose Colonel Clay’s identity or motives. This creates a contrast between what he tells us and what we can infer from the facts, which adds to the humor and irony of the story.
- Episodic structure: The novel consists of twelve episodes, each one describing a different scheme that Colonel Clay uses to swindle Sir Charles Vandrift out of his money. Each episode has its own setting, plot, characters, and theme, but they are all connected by the overarching conflict between Colonel Clay and Sir Charles Vandrift. This structure gives the novel a variety and diversity, as we get to see different places, situations, and disguises that Colonel Clay employs. It also creates a sense of suspense and anticipation, as we wonder what Colonel Clay will do next, and how Sir Charles Vandrift will react.
- Satire: Satire is a literary device that uses humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize the vices or follies of individuals or societies. An African Millionaire by Grant Allen is a satirical novel that mocks the greed, vanity, stupidity, and corruption of the upper class in the late Victorian era. It shows how Sir Charles Vandrift and his associates are obsessed with money and status, and how they exploit others for their own benefit. It also shows how they are easily duped by Colonel Clay, who exploits their weaknesses and flaws. The novel exposes the moral bankruptcy and hypocrisy of the wealthy elite, and challenges their claims to superiority and respectability.
- Allusions: Allusions are references to other works of literature, art, history, or culture that enhance the meaning or significance of a text. An African Millionaire by Grant Allen contains several allusions to other works or figures that relate to its themes or characters. For example:
- In the first episode, Colonel Clay pretends to be a Mexican seer named Dr. Polperro, who claims to have inherited a prophecy from Nostradamus, a famous 16th-century French astrologer who allegedly predicted future events.
- In the second episode, Colonel Clay impersonates Count von Lebenstein, a German nobleman who claims to be related to Charlemagne, a famous 8th-century king who ruled most of Western Europe.
- In the third episode, Colonel Clay poses as Medhurst Pasha, an English adventurer who claims to have converted to Islam and become a governor in Egypt. This is an allusion to Sir Richard Burton, a famous 19th-century explorer who traveled to Mecca disguised as a Muslim pilgrim.
- In the fourth episode, Colonel Clay disguises himself as Professor Schleiermacher, a German scholar who claims to have discovered an ancient manuscript that proves that Homer was not one person but a collective name for several poets. This is an allusion to Friedrich Schleiermacher, a real 19th-century German philosopher who proposed this theory about Homer.
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- What is the article about? The article is about how to enjoy An African Millionaire by Grant Allen, a classic novel about a clever con artist who targets a rich and greedy businessman.
- What are the main points of the article? The main points of the article are:
- The novel is not only entertaining, but also insightful. It exposes the hypocrisy and corruption of the upper class in the late Victorian era, and it criticizes the colonialism and racism that fueled the exploitation of Africa.
- The novel is full of witty dialogue, amusing situations, and surprising twists. It shows how gullible and greedy people can be, and how easy it is to manipulate them with flattery and deception.
- The novel contains some historical and cultural references that might be unfamiliar or obscure to modern readers. The article explains some of these references and what they mean.
- The novel uses various literary devices and techniques to make the story more engaging and effective. The article highlights some of these devices and techniques and how they work.
- What is the purpose of the article? The purpose of the article is to help readers appreciate the humor, the plot, and the social commentary of this classic novel by explaining some of the background information, literary elements, and strategies that the author uses.
- What is the solution to the problem? The problem that the article addresses is that some readers might find it difficult or boring to read a novel that was written more than a century ago. The solution that the article offers is to provide some tips and guidance on how to enjoy this novel by understanding its context, meaning, and style.
- What are the next steps? The next steps that the article suggests are to read An African Millionaire by Grant Allen for yourself, and to share your thoughts and opinions with others. You can also explore other works by Grant Allen or other authors who wrote in the same genre or period.
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An African Millionaire by Grant Allen is a fun and witty novel that deserves to be read and appreciated by modern readers. It is one of the first and best examples of a “gentleman crook” novel, a genre that features a charming and clever criminal who uses his wits and disguises to outsmart his victims. It is also a satirical novel that mocks the greed, vanity, stupidity, and corruption of the upper class in the late Victorian era, and it criticizes the colonialism and racism that fueled the exploitation of Africa. By reading this novel, you can enjoy the humor, the plot, and the social commentary of this classic book.
To help you enjoy this novel, this article has provided some background information, literary elements, and strategies that you can use. It has explained some of the historical and cultural references that you might encounter in the novel, and what they mean. It has also highlighted some of the literary devices and techniques that the author uses to make his story more engaging and effective.
We hope that this article has inspired you to read An African Millionaire for yourself, and to share your thoughts and opinions with others. You can also explore other works by Grant Allen or other authors who wrote in the same genre or period. Happy reading!
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