Author Richard Davenport-Hines discussed the life and character of Victorian General Charles Gordon at the Harry Ransom Center on Friday, as part of its weekly “British Studies Seminar” series.
Davenport-Hines described Gordon’s rise from an artillery officer to a general and his eventual death during the evacuation of British troops at Khartoum.
“I’m going to look this afternoon at one of the oddest fish in the Victorian aquarium,” Davenport-Hines said. “A somber, menacing, grotesque creature who was idolized in his lifetime by English public opinion.”
According to Hines, Gordon grew fond of war after his involvement in 1856 in the Crimean War.
“Gordon disliked military life but liked war,” Davenport-Hines said. “War was, for him, the only acceptable form of pleasure in life.”
Davenport-Hines said that, in 1862, Gordon led a group of Chinese officers fighting in the Taiping Rebellion, earning him the name of “Chinese Gordon.” Davenport-Hines also talked about Gordon’s intense Christian faith.
“All his actions were ruled by God’s presence,” Davenport-Hines said. “He saw himself living each day in the hands of God.”
According to Hines, Gordon’s death occurred during his evacuation of British troops in Sudan.
Martyn Hitchcock, an Austin resident who attended the lecture, said Hines’ lecture gave him a more detailed understanding of Gordon’s significance.
“This talk was effectively a biography and character description, which enabled me to fill in my knowledge of him,” Hitchcock said. “[I learned more about] the strange person he was.”
Davenport-Hines said Gordon had a drinking problem toward the end of his life, despite his strong Christian faith.
Davenport-Hines also said Gordon had a disdain for women and preferred the company of men and prepubescent boys.
“He found all women either fearsome or repulsive,” Davenport-Hines said.
James Stratton, international relations and global studies senior, said he had limited knowledge of Gordon before coming to the event.
“I had heard about the Mahdi rebellion in Sudan,” Stratton said.
Stratton said he was interested in learning more about Gordon’s sexuality.
“Also, [I was interested by] his sort of disdain for the female sex,” Stratton said. “[I’m interested in] how people back then interpreted sexuality and how they dealt with it. He totally repressed it and covered it up with religion, and so how people in the past dealt with sexuality and their feelings was very interesting to me because of my own background.”