Document Type

Book Review

Publication Date

Spring 2017

Publication Title

Victorian Studies








With Britannia’s Embrace: Modern Humanitarianism and the Imperial Origins of Refugee Relief, Caroline Shaw has written a timely and important book. From the seventeenth century onward, the heartfelt embrace of refugees was a “nation-defining act” that proved central to the development of political liberalism and British identity (43). Employing a wide range of sources, from literary works to parliamentary papers, Shaw charts Britons’ changing attitudes toward refugees across three centuries. In her early chapters, she uncovers an early modern culture in which refugees were welcomed to Britain as “model liberal individuals” (78). Typical refugees, usually men, were depicted as heroic, self-acting freedom fighters. In her later chapters, however, Shaw accounts for the gradual “hardening of the humanitarian heart” in the late nineteenth century as Britons redefined refugees as economic liabilities (helpless women and children) or as potential security threats (205).


Author Posting. © Indiana University Press 2017. This article is posted here by permission of the North American Victorian Studies Association for personal use, not for redistribution. The article was published in Victorian Studies, 2017,

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