The Vision Splendid

A synthesis of John Buchan's A Lodge in the Wilderness

Edwin Lee


A Lodge in the Wilderness (1906) is a quasi-novel about an imaginary conference arranged by a multi-millionaire, Francis Carey, at a lodge, Musuru, located on the East Kenyan Plateau some 9000 feet above sea level, to discuss Empire. The conference is made up of nine men and nine women, taken from the upper and professional classes. Their views on political and social issues vary but they are all believers in Empire. The guests, drawn from contemporary figures as was conventional, express Buchan's views, and play Devil's Advocate, and reflect the views of Buchan's friends and of others with whom he had discussed the affairs of Empire and from whom he might differ in detail.

The imaginary symposium is held to clarify the minds of the participants and to assess the future as far as Empire is concerned. The name of the book is indicative of this. The wilderness, in Biblical imagery, is the place where someone retires for reflection after a challenging experience. Jesus retired to the wilderness after his baptism and anointing, and the Apostle Paul did the same after his conversion on the Damascus road (Acts 9: 1-9; Galatians 1: 15-17). This latter incident is specifically referred to by the host of the conference as to why he had invited the guests (Buchan 1906 [1916], 26). Their challenging experience, a reflection of Buchan's own, was the overwhelming triumph of the Liberal Party, with its small minority of Liberal Imperialists and its large majority of Little Englanders, at the 1906 election.

This book is in a category of its own; while it could be regarded as one of Buchan's novels it is not, strictly speaking, in that genre. It has some elements of a novel in using characters and aspects of a plot, but it is not a novel in the ordinary usage of the word; it is a fictitious symposium intended, through the utterances of the characters, not only as a defence of the ideals and practical benefits of Empire, but as a means of revivifying the cause. It is also an illuminating expression of Buchan's Christianity.

This long discussion is continued in issue 27 (2002) of the John Buchan Journal. To order, click on Ordering.

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