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Review: A Cultural History of the 1905 Aliens Act

William Rothenstein, 'Aliens at Prayer', 1905

William Rothenstein, ‘Aliens at Prayer’, 1905

David Glover, Literature, Immigration, and Diaspora in Fin-de-Siècle England: A Cultural History of the 1905 Aliens Act (Cambridge University Press, 2012)
ISBN: 9781107022812

The Edwardian era, as noted in the catalogue to the recent exhibition Edwardian Opulence, witnessed a ‘colossal torrent of political, social, economic, and cultural change’. Though some of these changes were reflected in the visual examples selected for the exhibition – such as John Byam Shaw’s haunting canvas The Boer War (1900) – other issues, such as immigration, were overlooked. Yet it was during the Edwardian period that the first modern law to restrict immigration into Britain was passed. The 1905 Aliens Act was a highly significant event in British history (one contemporary referred to it as a ‘revolution in national policy’), and is the subject of a recent study by the literary scholar, David Glover.

Though the Aliens Act was ostensibly designed to restrict the influx of all ‘undesirable aliens’, regardless of nationality or cultural background, it was in essence a response to a particular crisis: the substantial growth of Jewish immigrants to Britain following the Russian pogroms of the 1880s and early 1900s. In British culture, the so-called ‘alien’, argues Glover, was almost indistinguishable from ‘the Jew’, and the two must be considered together. In this sense, David Glover’s book follows on from several excellent studies of Jewish immigration and its representations, most notably ‘The Jew’ in late-Victorian and Edwardian culture: between the East End and East Africa (Palgrave MacMillan 2009). Continue reading

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