Series Three: Colonial Fiction, 1650-1914
Part 1: General Works and Fiction from India from the British Library, London
Part 2: General Works and Fiction from India from the British Library, London
Part 3: General Works and Fiction from India from the British Library, London
by Professor Parama Roy, Department of English, University of California, Davis
The documents available in Colonial Fiction, 1650-1914: Parts 1-3 encompass novels, juvenile fiction, drama, poetry, travel accounts and ethnographies, accounts of geographical research, diaries, memoirs, histories, essays and speeches on empire, biographies, and housekeeping manuals, though the generic distinctions among these categories is quite often tenuous. Published originally in the subcontinent and in Britain, these works were designed initially for a metropolitan reading public, though by the middle of the nineteenth century a tradition of letters that might be designated Anglo-Indian had also begun to emerge.
The first part of the collection contains a significant number of eighteenth-, nineteenth-, and early twentieth-century texts that are not so much about India in particular as about the colonial project in general. These include accounts of travel, adventures, and seafaring expeditions, such as A Cruising Voyage Round the World of Woodes Rogers, which describes the author’s expeditions against pirates in the Caribbean and his encounter with Alexander Selkirk (the inspiration for Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe); Edward Gibbon Wakefield’s A View of the Art of Colonisation, which Marx was to discuss in the first volume of Capital; and J.A. Foude’s Oceana, an account of the author’s travels in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and North America and a plea for the formation of a “white commonwealth.” There are works here of economic policy and imperial trade, such as Patrick Colquhoun’s Treatise on the Population, Wealth, and Resources of the British Empire, H.H. Asquith’s Speeches: Trade and Empire, and J.A. Hobson’s enormously influential Imperialism, which postulates s among imperialism, international conflict, and the global search for markets. Included in this collection are a diversity of opinions on the character and prospects of colonialism and imperialism, such as J.A. Roebuck’s Colonies of England, J.A. Cramb’s Reflections on the Origin and Destiny of Imperial Britain, and Joseph Chamberlain’s Speeches and Other Works. One of the most significant titles included here, albeit in the third part, is the historian John Seeley’s Expansion of England, which insists on the centrality of empire to English identity, notwithstanding the occasionally haphazard way in which that empire had been acquired.
The other titles focus specifically on the subcontinent; an overview of these follows in the next two sections.
The Indias of Anglo-India (i)
On December 31, 1600, the British India Company obtained a royal charter from Elizabeth I granting it a 21-year monopoly on trade with the East Indies. Initially more interested in the prospects of trade in the Dutch East Indies, the Company’s ships arrived at the western port of Surat in 1608 only after failing to make significant progress against Dutch hegemony in Southeast Asia. Over the course of the next century the Company’s agents made significant headway against their Portuguese rivals in the subcontinent, thereby winning substantially greater privileges from the English crown and the favour of the Mughal emperors; in 1717 the Company obtained a firman from the Mughal emperor exempting it from the payment of custom duties in Bengal. This commercial advantage was decisively consolidated by the victory of Robert Clive over the forces of Siraj-ud-daulah, Nawab of Bengal, at the Battle of Plassey in 1757. This established the Company’s military paramountcy among the European forces in India. French military, imperial, and commercial aspirations in the subcontinent were more or less quelled by the 1760s, and from this point on the Company was poised to become the dominant power in India.
English-language writing about India in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries partakes of a broadly European body of knowledge and representations of the subcontinent, and is largely composed of travel accounts. But the subsequent legitimation of British rule through military prowess and Mughal concessions, most notably the diwani of 1765 that granted the British the authority to collect tax revenues and administer civil justice in Bengal, led, as Kate Teltscher has established, to a distinctly British tradition of writing about India. This included fiction, poetry, criticism, journalism, and travel writing, often employing a distinctive argot and outlook that appealed in a significant degree to Anglo-Indian (rather than British) constituencies.
Views about the British involvement with India were decidedly mixed in eighteenth-century Britain. On the one hand, an emergent consumer revolution and an aesthetic of exoticism produced a text like Helenus Scott’s Adventures of a Rupee, a text that detailed the voyage of Oriental luxuries from India to Britain. At the same time, the Company’s inefficiency, corruption, and rapacity in administering the territories--characteristics that would lead to the devastating Bengal famine of 1770 chronicled a century later in W.W. Hunter’s Annals of Rural Bengal–combined with the enormous fortunes of some Company officials such as Clive who had enriched themselves through private trade, also made Oriental luxury, and the Englishmen who embodied it, deeply suspect to metropolitan audiences. The “Nabob,” the Englishman enriched and corrupted by his Indian adventures, came to be a figure of censure and caricature on the English stage and in other venues in the decade before the impeachment of Warren Hastings. The scheming, effeminate Sir Matthew Mite of Samuel Foote’s The Nabob is the best-known of such caricatures. He is matched by the actors in Henry Frederick Thompson’s The Intrigues of a Nabob, a text that catalogues the adulterous deeds of a prominent Anglo-Indian civil servant. It is little wonder that the heroine of Hartly House, the anonymously published epistolary novel by Sophia Goldsborne [Phebe Gibbes], is distinctly ambivalent about Anglo-Indian mores and vows never to become a “Nabobess.”
The last quarter of the eighteenth century and the first quarter of the nineteenth saw a significant attentiveness to the Indian empire on the part of many metropolitan British writers, writers who were neither visitors to nor residents of the subcontinent. Edmund Burke’s passionate involvement in the nearly decade-long impeachment proceedings against Warren Hastings is but one instance of such interest. Sydney Owenson (Lady Morgan)’s 1811 novel of sensibility, The Missionary: An Indian Tale, revised after the Mutiny of 1857 as Luxima, the Prophetess was among the most influential of Romantic-era texts, inspiring some of Percy Shelley’s orientalist compositions. Set in seventeenth-century Portugal and India, the novel is a vehicle for addressing colonial oppression and religious intolerance not just in Portugal or India but in the more proximate theatre of a Catholic Ireland predating the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829. Describing the text as “ideologically and representationally hybrid,” Julia M. Wright underlines the ways in which it draws upon stock orientalist idioms, especially with respect to Indian femininity, while proffering at the same time an ethic of erotic love that will transcend the will to proselytization and religious intolerance. (ii)
India also featured significantly in the Orientalist imagination of other Romantic writers, such as Robert Southey, Walter Scott, Thomas Moore, Thomas Campbell, and Percy Shelley, often providing an experience of extravagance, improbability, pleasure, and terror. Illustrated literary annuals such as the Fisher’s Drawing Room Scrapbook drew upon a widely available iconography of temples, tombs, suttees, and zenanas; it was for the 1834 edition of this that the poet Laetitia Elizabeth Landon (L.E.L.) wrote “The Zenana.” (The poem was republished posthumously, though without the engravings it had been designed to illustrate, in The Zenana and minor poems of L.E.L.)
But alongside the orientalist images of luxury, tyranny, decadence, and gendered oppressiveness produced by these writers were questions of urgent moral and economic import, bearing upon still unresolved matters of national identity, civilizational difference, mercantilist consumerism, the expense of foreign expansionist wars, and the propriety of colonial dominion itself. Until the defeat of Tipu Sultan in 1799 and that of the Marathas in the second decade of the nineteenth century–defeats that decisively established British supremacy in the subcontinent–Britons and Anglo-Indians betrayed no small modicum of anxiety about their military, religious, and civilizational superiority over those whom they sought to conquer. But these anxieties came to be eased with the decisive expansion of the Company’s dominions, military power, and assumption of colonial destiny.
Anglo-Indians of bourgeois and aristocratic background, especially women, wrote prolifically despite their modest numbers and the often markedly anti-intellectual orientation of Anglo-Indian life. Memoirs and travel accounts constituted a significant proportion of such writing in the nineteenth century; they provide a stunningly detailed accounting both of the dailiness of Anglo-Indian women’s lives and of the opportunities for privileged travel, observation, and adventure that the condition of being a memsahib permitted. Mrs. Leopold (Georgina Theodosia) Paget’s Camp and Cantonment is among the more readable accounts of a military wife’s years in the cantonment town of Poona, as is Helen MacKenzie’s Life in the Mission, the Camp, and the Zenana, which combines a wide range of experiential and representational possibilities: her experiences as a wife of a military officer at the time of the Anglo-Sikh wars, the pleasures of travel, a visit to the Mughal zenana in Delhi, and her zeal for missionary work. Several of the texts combine the pleasures of adventure and novelty with the necessity of instruction; these range from Barbara (Hoole) Hofland’s The Young Cadet, which combines history and geography lessons with the greater attractions of suttees/satis, thugs, cobras, dancing girls, and ferocious natives, to Marianne Postans’ popular and considerably more nuanced emphasis on the pedagogical imperative of “careful observation” and “valuable information” in her Western India in 1838. Perhaps the most widely read–and imitated--of the travel writers of the first half of the nineteenth century was Emma Roberts, whose Scenes and Characteristics of Hindostan, with Sketches of Anglo-Indian Society combines lively descriptions of life in the subcontinent with the cultivation of a sensitive and intellectual persona somewhat at odds with the tedium and philistinism of Anglo-Indian mores.
Among the works of non-fiction produced by Anglo-Indians were also texts of a substantially utilitarian sort, such as Roberts’ book of travel advice, The East India Voyage, and James Rennell’s geographical researches, Memoir of a Map of Hindoostan and Memoir of a Map of the Peninsula of India. There were translations and retellings of a variety of Indian texts, including the Sanskrit epics (see the translations of H.H. Milman, Ralph Thomas Hotchkin Griffith) and folk and fairy tales (including Flora Annie Steels’s somewhat awkwardly rendered Tales of the Punjab and Arthur Lee Knight’s Told in the Indian Twilight: Mahratta Fairy Tales). One of the most interesting of these is Lewis Ferdinand Smith’s translation of The Tale of the Four Durwesh, an influential Urdu prose publication of the Fort William College at Calcutta. Also in the collection are missionary texts such as Olivia Baldwin’s Sita: A Story of Child-Marriage Fetters, an account of the suffering of child widows, and Faith and Victory: A Story of the Progress of Christianity in Bengal by Hannah Catherine Mullens, the founder of zenana schools in Bengal.
For many writers, especially women writers, the experiences of Indian women in various stations of life were of sustained and compelling interest. The “nautch girl”–a term that in the Anglo-Indian lexicon included both the courtesan-performers of northern India and the devadasis (dedicated temple dancers) of southern India–was transformed over the course of the nineteenth century from a figure of ambivalent attractiveness to the object of evangelical notice and censure; Fanny Emily (Farr) Penny’s Romance of a Nautch Girl is but one instance of such censorious attention. If the nautch girl was a figure of improper license, the inhabitant of the zenana (women’s quarters in the upper-caste Hindu and Muslim home) was, conversely, an emblem of improper confinement. The institution of female seclusion and of the zenana, especially the zenana in royal or aristocratic homes, was thus a topic of combined fascination and loathing, encapsulating as it apparently did a host of contradictory qualities--decadence, sexual depravity, misogyny, undue female influence, and magnificence--that occasionally baffled European observers and on other occasions permitted memsahibs to trumpet their own emancipated condition. This collection of zenana reports and zenana fictions includes G. Arnold Fernandez’s The Romance of a Zenana; William Browne Hockley’s Tales of the Zenana; the anonymously authored Kardoo, the Hindu Girl, by a Zenana Missionary and the Story of Noni Chatterji: A Tale of Zenana Life in Simla; Henrietta Lloyd’s Hindu Women: With Glimpses into their Life and Zenanas; Elizabeth Goodnow’s The Harim and Purdah; and Milly Cattell’s Behind the Purdah. Of recurring interest in this subgenre is the story of the white woman living, whether as a captive or under the influence of misguided love for an Indian man, as a member of a zenana; see for instance Henry Martineau Greenhow’s Brenda’s Experiment, Alice Clifton’s An Unwilling Wife: A Tale of the Indian Mutiny, and Emily Farr Penny’s A Mixed Marriage. As many of these accounts, whether missionary or secular in nature, demonstrate, several memsahibs arrogated to themselves the task of saving zenana women as part of what Antoinette Burton and others have named as “the white woman’s burden.”
Other Anglo-Indian texts chronicle the lives of (male) Anglo-Indian officials, covering a broad span of interests. While a great many of them are grimly earnest about the imperial calling of the Anglo-Indian official, a number of fictional and non-fictional renderings of “civilian” life assume a satirical cast, sometimes at the expense of the Anglo-Indians, and quite as often at the expense of the hapless and risible Indians who came into contact with the well-intentioned but ill-conceived endeavours of the colonial state. Among the best-known of these are George Otto Trevelyan’s Competition Wallah, a work about the new members of the covenanted civil service produced by the new mid-century requirements of meritocracy and “competition,” Robert C. Caldwell’s book of comic verse, The Chutney Lyrics, and the more overtly satirical productions of Henry Stewart Cunningham (The Chronicles of Dustypore) and [Ildutus] Thomas Prichard (The Chronicles of Budgepore). On a more unassuming scale are texts such as Philip Stewart Robinson’s In My Indian Garden and Mark Thornhill’s Haunts and Hobbies of an Indian Official, engaging studies of natural history, especially its humbler forms. Philip Meadows Taylor’s Story of My Life provides an unusual account of a soldier, writer, and administrator associated with the dominions of the Nizam of Hyderabad rather than the East India Company and quite intimately identified, by virtue of his linguistic skills, sympathy, and marriage to a Eurasian woman, with Indian life. And William Henry Sleeman’s relatively sympathetic Rambles and Recollections of an Indian Official and A Journey through the Kingdom of Oude in 1849-50 have assumed the status of classics, the latter in particular because of its strong caution against the annexation of Oude despite the misgovernment that the author, then British Resident at the court of Lucknow, found there. (Oude was annexed by the Company in 1856, an act that is believed to have been one of the proximate causes of the Mutiny of 1857-58.)
By the time these texts were published, Sleeman had already amassed a tremendous reputation for the so-called discovery of and campaign against the thugs. The thugs were, according to the densely detailed and intensely gripping (though historically dubious) accounts produced by Sleeman, a pan-Indian cult of religiously inspired stranglers who preyed upon travellers (though never on Englishmen). While they were apparently distinguished by a distinctive argot, rituals, and a belief in the religiously ordained character of their deeds–all laid out in Ramaseeana and in the Report on the Depredations Committed by the Thug Gangs –they passed as respectable folk and were thus difficult to detect in their criminality. Thugs captured the metropolitan and Anglo-Indian imagination alike, functioning as an apt symbol of a retrograde, violent India desperately in need of reform. They make their appearance in several texts, the most famous and accomplished of which is Meadows Taylor’s Confessions of a Thug, a novel that draws heavily on Sleeman’s reports.
Unsurprisingly for a culture that had come to view military endeavour and territorial expansion as indubitable proof of national and racial-civilizational destiny, Anglo-Indian publications in the nineteenth century focus to a significant degree on military history and colonial policing. The Anglo-Afghan conflicts come in for their share of attention, Maud Diver commemorating in characteristically bellicose terms the heroism of Major Eldred Pottinger during the 1839 Persian siege of Herat in The Judgment of the Sword and The Hero of Herat. Perhaps the best-known publication about imperial designs in the region is Arthur Connoly’s Journey to the North of India, which coined the expression, “the Great Game,” to describe the struggles of Russia and Britain for dominion over Central Asia. Connoly was an intelligence officer and explorer, and the Journey, which chronicles his undercover mission in Moscow, the Caucasus, and Afghanistan, established him as a heroic figure of colonial romance. There are also several accounts, fictional and non-fictional, of encounters with the Marathas in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Texts as varied as William Hockley Browne’s novel, Pandurang Hari, and Thomas Duer Broughton’s Letters Written in a Mahratta Camp, the latter written during a period of alliance with the Maratha ruler Daulatrao Sindhia, present a scathing picture Maratha treachery and rapacity. Valentine Blacker’s Memoir of the Operations of the British Army in India during the Mahratta war of 1817-1819 is on the other hand a more straightforward account of victory over the last of the great opponents of British power in the subcontinent.
Of all their Indian antagonists, it was Tipu Sultan of Mysore whom the Anglo-Indians deemed the most formidable, since he had inflicted military checks on the Company’s expansionist policy, imprisoned and converted European prisoners, and allied himself with an increasingly ambitious French polity. A number of texts in this collection seek to come to terms with the threat that he posed. Tipu would come to be identified in texts such as G.A. Henty’s The Tiger of Mysore as a redoubtable figure, but one marked by bloodthirstiness, pitilessness, and fanaticism. Two Anglo-Indian accounts included here, Edward Moor’s A narrative of the Operations of Captain Little’s Detachment, published five years before the defeat and death of Tipu at Seringapatam in 1799, and F.W. Blagdon’s A Brief History of Ancient and Modern India, can usefully be compared with C.P. Brown’s translation of The Memoirs of Hyder and Tippoo, a Marathi-language account by Ramchandra Rao.
Among the Anglo-Indian writers of military romances, Meadows Taylor was undoubtedly the most imaginative and sophisticated. In addition to Tippoo Sultan: A Tale of the Mysore War, he wrote a trilogy of historical romances set over a two hundred year span of Indian history. It had come to be believed, especially among Britons and Anglo-Indians, that the Mutiny of 1857 was timed to coincide with the centennial of the Battle of Plassey; it was this conceit of the centennial that Meadows Taylor sought to elaborate in the trilogy. Thus each of the volumes--Tara, set during the encounter of Maratha and Mughal rule in 1657, Ralph Darnell, a tale orchestrated around the Battle of Plassey, and Seeta, an interracial romance of the Mutiny–is a narrative about historical crisis and transition.
Of all the conflicts and rebellions in the nineteenth century, it was the Mutiny that most powerfully captured the popular imagination. (iii) Begun as a mutiny by disaffected Muslim and Hindu sepoys–made unhappy, so the story goes, by the introduction of new greased cartridges that violated their food taboos–the uprising soon turned into a full-scale though uncoordinated rebellion in northern India, being joined by several Indian rulers, including the Mughal emperor, landowners, peasants, and religious leaders. The most serious threat to British pre-eminence in the subcontinent, the Mutiny involved the massacres of white men, women, and children and the destruction of their property, long sieges at Delhi, Cawnpore, and Lucknow, and the overturning of the symbols of the Company’s authority in the subcontinent. It took over a year and considerable brutality–the burning of villages, the sacking of cities, and the indiscriminate hangings, bayonetings, and shootings of sepoys, peasants, and other Indians, whether combatant or civilian--to subdue the rebellion. At the end of it the East India Company’s rule was replaced by that of the Crown. For metropolitan Britons and for Anglo-Indians the Mutiny was both a manifestation of the utter treachery, depravity, and ingratitude of their Indian subjects and a sign of their own divinely appointed right to rule. At the same time it also made clear the fragility of their power and their incapacity to understand and predict an event of such magnitude. Crucial to the production of the Mutiny as a sign of the clash of civilizations was the circulation of rumours about the widespread rape of white women by lust-crazed Indian men, even though there was very little forensic evidence of rape. As Jenny Sharpe and Nancy Paxton have demonstrated, the production of the sexually vulnerable English lady as the object of attack helped consolidate the moral authority of colonialism and to justify the ferocity of counter-insurgent campaigns.
As Patrick Brantlinger and Gautam Chakravarty have pointed out, the Mutiny produced an unprecedented outpouring of writing, fictional and non-fictional. “The literary yield of the rebellion,” says Chakravarty, “surpasses in volume the literary representation of the other conflicts during the long nineteenth century of expansion.” (iv) He identifies “seventy-odd” novels on the event from 1859 to the present day; Brantlinger’s estimates and those of others are higher still. In addition, there is a vast body of journalistic reportage, histories, eyewitness accounts, and diaries; practically every Anglo-Indian gentleman or lady who survived the Mutiny rushed into print, it seems. (Members of the other ranks, and their families were exceptions to this mania for testimony--though George M. Fenn’s Begumbagh does assume the voice of a common soldier.) The collection from the British Library has a significant number of both kinds of rendition of the Mutiny–the many novels that it inspired and the equally numerous first-person accounts of siege and survival. Among the best-known non-fictional documents included in this collection are the journalist Noah Chick’s Annals of the Indian Rebellion, compiled from contemporaneous accounts and used since as a source book by historians; the magistrate J.W. Sherer’s Daily Life During the Indian Mutiny, one of the most readable chronicles of the period; Mrs. Dunbar Douglas Muter’s Recollections of the Sepoy Revolt (1857-58), a chronicle of the rebellion at Meerut and Delhi; A Narrative of the Indian Revolt from its Outbreak to the Capture of Lucknow by Sir Colin Campbell, an 1858 publication commonly but mistakenly attributed to the Commander-in-Chief Sir Colin Campbell; and John Clark Marshman’s hagiography of Sir Henry Havelock (Memoirs of Major-General Sir Henry Havelock), the general famous for his recapture of Cawnpore/Kanpur and for the “first relief” of the beleaguered Residency at Lucknow.
Supplementing these are a large number of diaries, journals, and first-person accounts, mostly by women, of the Anglo-Indian experience of the Mutiny. There are accounts by survivors of the nearly five-month long siege of Lucknow: Julia Inglis’ absorbing Siege of Lucknow: A Diary; her friend Adelaide Case’s Day by Day at Lucknow; and Katherine Bartrum’s A Widow’s Reminiscences of the Siege of Lucknow. These accounts make vividly clear the terror, uncertainty, and grief that attended their experience of siege (Case lost her husband, and Bartrum lost both husband and child). But they also draw attention to the bodily labour, dearth, overcrowding, and contact with vermin, corpses, bodily waste, and strange foods (or non-foods) that constituted for the majority of women the most pressing experience of the Mutiny, since memsahibs by and large possessed rudimentary domestic skills and were hard put to clean, cook meals, and wash clothes without their usual contingent of Indian servants. (Even after the Mutiny, texts such as The Englishwoman in India or Flora Annie Steel and Grace Gardiner’s The Complete Indian Housekeeper and Cook  equipped the memsahib to manage domestic servants, not to perform domestic chores herself.)
But not all memsahibs were helpless. Two nearly identical narratives (by two half-sisters) about escaping the siege at Delhi, Julia Haldane’s Story of our Escape from Delhi and Miss Wagentreiber’s Story of our Escape from Delhi provide a striking portrait of Mrs. Wagentreiber’s promptness, vigour, and courage in spiriting her husband and children out of Delhi and to the safety of Simla. And Frances Isabella Duberly’s Campaigning Experiences in Rajpootana and Central India make clear her significant participation in the campaign experiences of her husband. While Anglo-Indian women’s non-fictional accounts have little to say on the question of torture, sexual honour, and sexual assault, several novels make these central to the representation of the Mutiny. Thus James Grant’s First Love and Last Love deploys a remarkably lurid rape script, including stripping, imprisonment in a royal harem, sexual assault, torture, and crucifixion, while G.A. Henty’s heroine in Rujub the Juggler disfigures her face with acid to ward off the advances of the Indian leader Nana Saheb, the lecherous villain of Mutiny myth.
It was in the last decades of the nineteenth century and the early decades of the twentieth that a spate of Mutiny novels emerged, novels that, as Chakravarty suggests, helped consolidate some of the enduring elements of Mutiny myth–Christian heroism, providential protection, racial distinction, and Indian ingratitude. Many of these novels also sought to compensate for the real failure of intelligence in the 1850s by imagining a white hero (and, in rare instances, a heroine) who could pass as Indian and thus was privy to knowledge of two worlds. We see this in Henty’s In Times of Peril , where the boy heroes impersonate Indians and, on one occasion, a bear; in Sara Jeanette Duncan’s The Story of Sonny Sahib, where a Mutiny orphan raised by Indians comes to be a child of two worlds like Kipling’s Kim; and in Flora Annie Steel’s On the Face of the Waters (1897). Titles like Henty’s and Duncan’s, along with Louis Tracy’s The Red Year and F.S. Brereton’s A Hero of Lucknow, also make clear to us that an important subset of the Mutiny novel (and, indeed, imperial fiction more broadly) was juvenile fiction, produced for and about “empire boys.” (v) Arguably, the boys’ imperial adventure tale had come by century’s end to replace an earlier generation of missionary tales for children such as Mrs. Sherwood’s famous The History of Little Henry & his Bearer.
English-language accounts (or accounts in translation) of the Mutiny by Indians were relatively rare in the nineteenth century. This is why it is worth juxtaposing against the Mutiny narratives described above two texts produced in this period by Indians–the English translation of Subahdar Sitarama’s From Sepoy to Subedar and Shoshee Chunder Dutt’s “Shunkur,” in his Bengaliana. While both Sitaram Pandey and Dutt condemn the uprising in ways that are familiar from Anglo-Indian and metropolitan texts, they also reinflect them in some ways that are worthy of note. Pandey, who had served for decades in the Bengal army and whose son was executed as a mutineer, is deeply critical of a new generation of Anglo-Indian officers who are contemptuous of their Indian troops. Dutt echoes Anglo-Indian representations of Nana Sahib’s monstrosity, but turns the tables on the rape narrative by casting two white soldiers as the rapists of the protagonist’s wife.
Many of the themes that dominate Mutiny fiction can to be found, albeit in a somewhat different configuration, in the large body of Anglo-Indian domestic romances of the 1885-1925 period. Written for the most part by the Anglo-Indian women novelists Alice Perrin, Fanny Emily (Farr) Penny, Bithia Mary Croker, Maud Diver, and Flora Annie Steel, these fictions of Anglo-Indian romance and domestic life took on many of the pressing questions of the day, in India and in Britain: the emergence of the New Woman, the centrality of the memsahib to maintaining the moral authority of empire, the so-called new (and more aggressively confident) imperialism of the late nineteenth century, the suffragist movement, Indian nationalism, the Anglicized native or “mimic man,” and the possibilities and perils of interracial romance and marriage. These novels permitted the authors to participate assuredly and legitimately in discussions of urgent political questions and to exercise a form of imperial citizenship even in the absence of formal democratic rights. Indeed, many of the novels underline the intimate s that tied feminine propriety and legitimate romantic choice to the question of imperial governance. For Diver’s heroines in Captain Desmond, V.C., Desmond’s Daughter, and The Great Amulet, love is forged in the crucible of empire; to be worthy of the empire-builder’s love, the heroine must demonstrate her capacity to fulfil her imperial duty and be a true memsahib.
Being a memsahib, though, is the very opposite of being a self-seeking, irresponsible, and perverse New Woman. In Perrin’s Waters of Destruction, it is the New Woman who drives the British or Anglo-Indian male, tragically, to marry an Indian woman; in other novels she marries an Indian herself. In general, interracial romances and marriages, whether between whites and Eurasians (“half-castes”) or between whites and Indians, are doomed to failure, usually because the Indian or Eurasian man reverts to irremediably Indian ways in his native environment, as in Perrin’s The Anglo-Indians and Croker’s Babes in the Wood. Even in the rare instances where an interracial marriage is permitted to succeed, as in Diver’s Lilamani, it is with the aid of an impossibly idealized and high-born Indian heroine and--as in Penny’s Caste and Creed--at a firm remove from India. In Far to Seek, the sequel to Lilamani, the Indian heroine herself, now turned Christian, counsels her son to avoid miscegenation. Of the many novels in this subgenre the American F. Marion Crawford’s Mr. Isaacs is something of an exception: while the eponymous Persian hero of this novel comes to an enlightened view of women’s nature and of romantic love as a result of his love for a young Englishwoman, she herself is presented as beautiful but fairly vacuous, in no way a match for his qualities of mind and soul.
The English-educated native male has a recurring role in the plots of most late-century Anglo-Indian romances: he is usually the figure who aspires to the hand of a white woman but who, back in India, is unable to fulfil the duties of modern, enlightened conjugality because he is irresistibly drawn back to primitive Indian ways. The product of an English education that was both the route to respectable employment in an environment where other forms of employment were increasingly scarce and the vehicle for the epistemic overhaul of civilizational norms, this “mimic man” or “babu” was a contemptible though not always inoffensive figure in Anglo-Indian writing. In Steel’s Law of the Threshold the western-educated Devi-ditta and Maya Day are fatally marked by self-division as a result of their cross-cultural exposure. In other texts, such as the English humourist F. Anstey’s Baboo Bungsho Jabberjee and A Bayard from Bengal, the babu is the object of satire for his bombastic English idioms. In the early twentieth-century Anglo-Indian novel these linguistic infelicities signify more than the difficulties of second-language acquisition; they come to be a mark of puerility and an incapacity to think for oneself. The protagonists of Edmund Candler’s Siri Ram, Revolutionist and Abdication are pathetic young men, drawn into witless and violent revolutionary activity through their incapacity to read, speak, or think clearly in English.
In significant contrast to such figures of incomplete and preposterous Anglicisation is the personage of the serious young Anglo-Saxon woman, the infinitely more fitting beneficiary of the privileges of liberal freedom and education. We might remember that by the beginning of the twentieth century India combined the usual pleasures of upward social mobility with the newer possibilities of professional advancement for white women denied opportunities in the metropolis; thus we have Winifred Heston’s A Bluestocking in India, the 1910 memoir of an American medical missionary who, like several other newly minted female medical professionals, found in the subcontinent a theatre for the fulfilment of professional and spiritual aspirations. The novelist Steel, a person of inexhaustible energy, worked as an inspector of girls’ schools, translated Punjabi folk tales, and encouraged local handicrafts–all experiences that she recounts in her autobiography, The Garden of Fidelity.
Other Literatures, Other Indias
That the English-educated native–that is to say, the Indian male who had received institutionally legitimized instruction in the English language–was a rather more complex figure than the one produced by metropolitan and Anglo-Indian caricature is evident from a reading of the large body of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century writing by Indians, whether in English or in the Indian languages. While it was true that part of the demand for English-language instruction arose from a number of pragmatic causes--the concerns of those who needed new linguistic skills in their dealings with the British, the abolition of Persian as the official language of administration, and the official preference for knowledge of English among people holding government appointments–such a demand cannot be reduced to prudential factors alone. There was strong enthusiasm as well for the kinds of knowledge–especially of the modern, liberal kind--that an English education facilitated. Hence in 1816 a group of prominent (and largely conservative) Indians approached the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in Calcutta for assistance in establishing a government-accredited institution that not only imparted instruction in English (this had already been available for some time in a number of private and missionary institutions) but furnished for the sons of Bengali Hindu gentlemen the kind of liberal education that would meet metropolitan standards. This led to the establishment in 1817 of Hindu College under David Hare; this institution was to assume near-legendary status among the bhadralok (a newly emergent Bengali middle class) of the time.
Hindu College quickly became famous for the quality of its instructors and its students. One of the most legendary was the Eurasian poet and free-thinker Henry Louis Vivian Derozio, who became an instructor at Hindu College at eighteen and, through his lectures and discussions of literature, philosophy, religion, and history, attracted a body of free-thinking, iconoclastic students who came collectively to be dubbed “Young Bengal.” Hailed as the progenitor of Indian literature in English, he published, in quick succession, Poems and The Fakeer of Jungheera: A Metrical Tale and Other Poems. Profoundly marked by the forms and idioms of the British Romantic poets, the poems seek at the same time, and especially in the second volume, to highlight the glories of an ancient Hindu India from which the present was believed to have retrograded. There was more than an echo in this, as Rosinka Chaudhuri points out, of the enthusiasms of the contemporaneous Orientalist scholarship to which Derozio was exposed; she notes that The Fakeer of Jungheera was dedicated to the noted Sanskritist and translator H.H. Wilson.
As Derozio’s example suggests, a passionate commitment to English education and to English literature was not, for nineteenth-century Indians, a bar to an appreciation of Indian, especially ancient Indian, culture. In fact, colonial education also had the interesting effect of vitalizing some of the so-called vernaculars such as Bengali, Marathi, Tamil, and Malayalam, and turning them into languages of modern literary expression. Several scholars have noted the revolutionary impact of prose, a medium relatively little used hitherto in the Indian languages, as the vehicle for the middle-class examination of contemporary conditions and problems and for the development of civil society. But poetry and drama in the Indian languages, especially Bengali, were also unmistakably altered by the exposure to English literary forms. The great Bengali poet and playwright Michael Madhusudan Dutt began his career in a state of pronounced Anglophilia, though this did not prevent him from using, in his long poem The Captive Ladie, a legend from medieval Indian history about the encounter of the Hindu king Prithviraj and the Muslim ruler Muhammad Ghori or a knowledge of classical Sanskrit epic poetry and drama. Well received in Madras, The Captive Ladie received more mixed reviews in Calcutta, with its author being advised to turn to authorship in Bengali. This critical rebuff, combined with the greater financial viability of Bengali literature, may well have decided the poet’s course. Although he was to translate Bengali plays of his own composition--such as Sermistha –and those of others into English, the translations are marked by a somewhat stilted and archaic quality. His greatest creative energies from this point on were reserved for Bengali. This reorientation was unmistakably marked though in form and content by his training in English literature; thus the sonnet, blank verse, and the epic found their way into his Bengali creations. His epic poem and magnum opus, Meghnad Badha, derived from the Ramayana, is a brilliant reinterpretation in blank verse of the slaying of the rakshasa king Ravana’s son Meghnad by the victorious forces of the god-king Rama, and self-consciously inspired by Milton’s treatment of Satan in Paradise Lost.
Dutt’s interest in creating and popularizing an indigenous Bengali theatre that would be distinct from the translations from Sanskrit originals patronized by the wealthy bhadralok led him not only to original compositions but also to translation of extant Bengali plays. The most famous of these was Dinabandhu Mitra’s Nil Darpan. Perhaps the most famous of the protest plays of nineteenth-century Bengal, Mitra’s play was an indictment of the oppression of the Bengali peasantry by white indigo planters. Highly popular among urban middle-class Bengali audiences, its effect was likened by the novelist Bankim Chandra Chatterji to that of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Among Anglo-Indians, especially planters, on the other hand, it was widely reviled, and its publisher, the missionary James Long, imprisoned and fined for libel. (An increasing concern for the hard conditions of life of the rural poor in Bengal and an ethnographic interest in their modes of life manifested itself in other middle-class writings as well, of which Lal Behari Dey’s Govinda Samanta and Folk Tales of Bengal are the best-known examples.)
Derozio and Dutt have retrospectively been identified as figures in the so-called Bengal Renaissance, a nineteenth-century intellectual awakening marked by new literary and journalistic forms, the spread of western education and modes of thought, a political self-consciousness marked by colonial conditions, and movements of social and religious reform. (vi) Bankim, the first major Bengali novelist, belongs in this Renaissance company–he was a member of the first graduating baccalaureate class of Calcutta University in 1858 and wrote his first novel in English--even though his response to colonial rule and to an emergent Indian/Hindu nationalism distinguishes him in a significant way from Derozio or Dutt. He experienced the cultural crisis overtaking middle-class Indian society as a result of the encounter with colonial rule and with European ideas in a far more anguished fashion than they had. The experience of political defeat or oppression and of subjugation to alien rule forms a significant theme in much of his writing, including his fourteen major Bengali novels (many of which are available in contemporaneous English translation in the British Library collection). This sense of cultural crisis manifested itself for Bankim in a passionate interest in history; about half of his novels, including Durgesa Nandini Chandra Shekhar, Kopal-Kundala, and Anandamath/The Abbey of Bliss are historical romances. History becomes for him a vehicle for contextualizing the contemporary degradation of Indians, particularly Bengalis, and for imagining the virtues of valour, discipline, and patriotic dedication in a past replete with mythic possibilities. But in these historical fictions, Bankim’s detestation of allegedly alien rule is directed not so much against the British as against various Muslim rulers and kingdoms. In this hostility to a Muslim rule defined as subjugation by aliens, he was very much part of a Hindu revivalist movement, characterized by a potent commingling of religious ardour and a newly discovered patriotic sensibility, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He was deeply ambivalent about British rule, praising it as necessary for India and as a safeguard against Muslim tyranny, though he was also fiercely resented colonial racism and British assumptions of civilizational superiority. In this, he resembled his hero Walter Scott, who had chronicled, earlier in the century, the Highlanders’ heroic but doomed and archaic struggle against inevitable English domination.
Bankim was also a representative of his times in the significance that the “woman question” assumes in his novels. As numerous scholars have noted, the condition of women in a society in the midst of transformation and crisis was a central focus for writers, reformers, and traditionalists. On this question, as on so many others, Bankim’s views are decidedly ambivalent. Meenakshi Mukherjee notes in A Perishable Empire that while resourceful, intelligent, and transgressive heroines feature in both his historical romances and his novels of modern life, such as Visha-Vriksha/The Poison Tree, Krishna Kanta’s Will, and Indira, they can be granted exceptional status as virangana (warrior women) so long as they remain outside the orbit of domesticity and conjugality; those among them who must inhabit domestic space are often brutally punished for their desires and transgressions.
Much more unequivocal in its criticism of patriarchy and misogyny among upper-caste Hindus (and less ambivalent about colonial rule and its modes of social reform) is the Tamil- and English-language reformer and writer A. Madhaviah’s work. A powerful advocate of women’s education and widow remarriage, he describes in his English-language novel, Clarinda, a Brahmin widow’s rescue from sati by a British soldier and her slow turn to Christianity. In Thillai Govindan’s Miscellany, another English-language text, he takes on a broader range of gendered social evils, including child marriage, the denial of education to women, and the oppression of widows.
Perhaps the best-known of the nineteenth-century Indian-language novels on the “woman question” is O. Chandu Menon’s Indulekha. Designed at the outset to be an adaptation of Benjamin Disraeli’s Henrietta Temple (1836), it soon became a more considerable achievement than the original, though it bore the unmistakable imprint of his exposure to English education in the colony. It was fashioned with certain didactic imperatives in mind: to introduce realist fiction into Malayalam; to demonstrate the superiority of such realism to earlier, indigenous, non-realist forms; and to underline the advantages of English education for Nair women. Realist in its turn to contemporary problems though not in its forms of narration or its modes of characterization–the lovers, Indulekha and Madhavan, are idealized to an extraordinary degree–the novel demonstrates the ways in which English education permits the heroine to challenge orthodox gendered mores though without giving offence to her relatives. In the novel, English education embodies a rationality, science, and cosmopolitanism whose appeal is irresistible.
Chandu Menon had this to say of his heroine: “it is evident that no Malayalee lady can fill the role of the heroine of such a story. My Indulekha is not, therefore, an ordinary Malayalee lady.” As it happens, the nineteenth century did see the increasing dissemination of English and Indian-language education among middle-class women, and some of them went on to become writers of some note. There were some novelists among them, of whom the best-known are Svarnakumari Devi Ghoshal (sister to the more famous Rabindranath Tagore), Toru Dutt, Shevantibai Nikambe, and Kripabai [Krupabai] Sathianadhan. As we might expect, their novels demonstrate a profound interest in the question of women’s agency in a variety of social and historical circumstances. Svarnakumari Debi’s Fatal Garland highlights women’s erotic agency in the unfolding of medieval Bengali history. Nikambe’s novel, Ratanbai, situated in the contemporary moment, has a more explicitly reformist agenda, promoting the importance of education in female intellectual development, companionate conjugality, and the amelioration of the plight of widows. But the most gifted and engaging of these novelists is surely Kripa Sathianadhan. The daughter of Brahmin converts to Christianity, a talented medical student, and a writer, she wrote two English-language novels before dying in her early thirties. Her second novel, Kamala, emphasises the popular reformist theme of women’s education. Her protagonist, Kamala, is the daughter of a learned Brahmin hermit who has raised her outside the rigid norms of high-caste society. She suffers in consequence in the confines of her orthodox marital household, where her intellectual aspirations arouse antipathy rather than encouragement. Liminal on account of such unsanctioned desires, she undergoes a series of reversals, including her husband’s infidelity and her own widowhood, with remarkable dignity but also without being assimilated into a conventional marriage plot.
Among the most remarkable of Sathianadhan’s contemporaries was the legendary feminist writer, scholar, and reformer Pandita Ramabai Saraswati. Educated, unusually for a Brahmin woman of her generation, as a scholar of the Sanskrit shastras (Hindu sacred texts), she travelled widely across India, lectured in Sanskrit, engaged in debate with theologians, earned the honorifics of “pandita” (female scholar) and “Saraswati” (goddess of learning), met some of the leading social reformers of the day, and married a man outside her region and caste. While she was acclaimed by male reformers she received little practical help for the reformist projects she sought to pursue. When she converted to Christianity on her trip to England they reacted with outrage to what they construed as a betrayal. The fame of her learning and her conversion made her a globally visible figure. The High-Caste Hindu Woman, written to raise funds for a home and school for child widows in Pune, was an instant bestseller, selling out before her fund-raising trip to the United States in 1889. A scathing indictment of the oppressive conditions of high-caste women’s lives, whether in childhood, marriage, or widowhood, the book is remarkable also for its thoroughgoing (and devastating) familiarity with the arsenal of Sanskrit shastric learning that sanctioned such inequality and oppression. Critical alike of Hindu male reformers who promoted the marriage of widows as a panacea for women’s social ills, and of a British government that colluded with indigenous patriarchies, Ramabai urges in place of remarriage a programme of education and training that would enable high-caste Hindu widows to obtain self-reliance through respectable employment as teachers.
In affirming a view that was deeply critical in feminist terms of Hindu orthodoxy’s views of women, Ramabai found herself swimming against the intellectual enthusiasms of educated Hindus in late nineteenth-century India. It was a period that saw the publication of Ramesachandra Datta’s English translations of ancient Sanskrit epics, the Ramayana: Selections and Extracts and the Lays of Ancient India, projects encouraged on the one hand by Bankim and on the other by the prominent Orientalist F. Max Mueller. Datta’s historical novels, including The Slave Girl of Agra, complement these translations by providing a picture of an essentially Hindu India in which the Muslim functions very much as an outsider. Works such as these came to be ranged with late nineteenth-century Orientalist texts such as Edwin Arnold’s hugely popular Light of Asia, an epic poem about the life and teachings of the Buddha that helped disseminate an enduring image of a sensuously beautiful and deeply spiritual India. Hindu enthusiasts also found eloquent support in the works of Margaret E. Noble/Sister Nivedita, the Irish disciple of the Hindu visionary Swami Vivekananda (though Nivedita’s advocacy of Hinduism was free of the anti-Muslim chauvinism that marked the work of so many Hindu revivalists). She was a popularizer of Hindu sacred tales and historical events in Cradle Tales of Hinduism and Footfalls of Indian History. But she also insisted, in texts such as Studies From an Eastern Home on a favourable reading of Hindu domestic mores and orthodox codes of conduct for women. Seeking to contest colonial representations of the civilizational backwardness of the Hindus, she criticises Christian missionaries in Lambs Among Wolves for their alienation from Hindu life and from the people they wished to reach for their evangelical purposes. This racist reductiveness must be confronted, she suggests in Aggressive Hinduism with a new-found ideology of Indian/Hindu nationalist self-assertion and pride. This requires a dynamic and self-directed transformation of Hindus themselves--a transformation in orientation to compensate for their long years of meekness and acceptance of subjugation, and a radical commitment to strength, activity, originality, and initiative.
The turn, usually nationalist, to ancient mythological tales that characterizes the work of Ramesachandra Dutt, Nivedita, James Henry Cousins (The Play of Brahma), and other writers manifests itself as well in the work of the two notable English-language women poets of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Toru Dutt and Sarojini Naidu. But, though they are often examined together because of their unusual status as English-educated, cosmopolitan, and intensely precocious women poets educated and published in England under the patronage of an English literary establishment, they are distinct in terms of their poetic achievements and in terms of their deployment of Indian classical/mythological and folk sources.
Sarojini Naidu’s early career was that of a prodigy. Distinguishing herself in her teens through her academic achievements and her facility for composing English verse, she left India for England at sixteen and came to find a patron in the litterateur Edmund Gosse. Disappointed by her imitation of the Romantic and Victorian poets, he urged her to produce appropriately Indian or, rather, Orientalist poems, that provided “some revelation of the heart of India, some sincere penetrating analysis of native passion of the principles of antique religion and of such mysterious intimations as stirred the Soul of the East long before the West had begun to dream it had a soul.” (vii) An apt pupil, Naidu produced several volumes of verse, including The Golden Threshold, The Bird of Time (1912), The Broken Wing, and The Sceptred Flute that met with Gosse’s approbation and that secured her a reputation in India as a poet. Heavily influenced by fin-de-siecle aestheticism, the poems demonstrate a high degree of metrical proficiency and draw upon a now-familiar repertoire of exotic scenes and props–suttees/satis, bazaars, jewels, spices, veiled women, princesses, and palanquin bearers. Unlike her contemporary Manmohan Ghose, the author of Love Songs and Elegies and, with Laurence Binyon and others, of Primavera, Naidu’s work gives little evidence of interest in new developments in English poetry. Unnervingly too for her feminist readers, her poetry celebrates an India almost hyperbolically traditional, especially in its gendered norms; in her own time, James Cousins, who praised her poetry in The Renaissance in India, was to take her to task for it. This picture of feminine sacrifice and feminine submission was at odds with her own career as a prominent nationalist figure, as many have noted. In this new and broadly public capacity, she abandoned poetry for nationalist service, though never entirely foregoing her erstwhile status as the “Nightingale of India.” She came in her new incarnation to be celebrated for her oratory instead of her poetry; some of her addresses may be found in her Speeches and Writings.
Toru Dutt seems at first glance a figure similar to Naidu. Born in Calcutta in the year following the outbreak of the Mutiny, she was educated at home by a westernized Christian father until the age of fifteen, at which point she departed with her family for a four-year sojourn in France and England, where her education was continued. When she died at twenty-one, she had written or published two volumes of poetry, a novel in French and an incomplete one in English, and produced a number of critical essays and translations besides for Indian and European journals. Her first publication, A Sheaf Gleaned in French Fields], produced partly in collaboration with her older sister Aru, was an annotated translation of the work of dozens of French poets. Scholarly, formally ambitious, assured, and witty, the volume may well be, as Tricia Lootens proposes, “the [first] publication of serious comparative poetry criticism by Indian women.” (viii) The story of its British “discovery” and review is now legend. Published at a Bhowanipore [Calcutta] press, it found its way to the editorial office of The Examiner, where the litterateur Edmund Gosse chanced upon it and promoted it enthusiastically. A second volume, Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan, published posthumously, seems to suggest by its title a return to the Orientalist themes and imitative prosody of an earlier generation of Indo-Anglian poets, but its originality, thematic variety, and formal sophistication make nonsense of such expectations. Poems such as “Sonnet–Baugmaree” and “Our Casuarina Tree” are remarkable lyric achievements, while the poems based on Indian mythology skilfully combine classical Sanskrit sources with her mother’s oral narratives for an effect that Meenakshi Mukherjee describes as irreducibly particular and Bengali rather than pan-Indian and nationalist.
In Dutt we have a figure whom it would be anachronistic to denominate postcolonial, but who, in her playful, unpredictable, and skilled negotiation of multiple languages and literary traditions–Sanskrit, Bengali, French, and English–emblematises the most expansive possibilities of the “contact zones” of colonial India. (ix) Along with Derozio, Dutt, Bankim, Ramabai, Sathianadhan, and Menon, she limns a literature that is unthinkable without the colonial encounter but that is also superbly transformative of it.
(i) I use the terms Anglo-India and Anglo-Indians in their predominant nineteenth-century sense to designate persons of British origin resident for extended periods in the subcontinent. (<back)
(ii) Julia M. Wright, Introduction to Sydney Owenson, The Missionary: An Indian Tale (Ontario: Broadview Press, 2002), 38. (<back)
(iii) There has been heated debate for nearly a century and a half about the proper designation for the uprising of 1857-8. Colonial historians, journalists, and novelists have generally used the term “mutiny,” though some, including the great pre-eminent nineteenth-century chronicler of the uprising J.W. Kaye, have used terms such as “war,” “revolt,” and “rebellion.” Indian scholars have almost uniformly objected to the term “mutiny,” given the participation of large sectors of the civilian population in the uprising, though not too many would go so far as to designate it “the first Indian war of independence,” as V.D. Savarkar did. Since the sources in the British Library collection are overwhelmingly colonial, I have retained the specifically colonial designation of “Mutiny.” (<back)
(iv) Gautam Chakravarty, The Indian Mutiny and the British Imagination (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 5. (<back)
(v) The phrase is Joseph Bristow’s. See his Empire Boys: Adventures in a Man’s World (London: HarperCollins Academic, 1991). Both Patrick Brantlinger and Sara Suleri have noted the association of youthfulness or adolescence with the literature of imperialism. (<back)
(vi) It should be noted that the term is not uncritically accepted by contemporary historians and other scholars of South Asia. (<back)
(vii) Edmund Gosse, “Introduction,” The Bird of Time, by Sarojini Naidu (London: William Heinemann, 1912), 5. (<back)
(viii) Tricia Lootens, “Bengal, Britain– France: Locating Toru Dutt,” Victorian Literature and Culture (forthcoming), 19. (<back)
(ix) I borrow the term “contact zones” from Mary Louise Pratt’s Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (New York: Routledge, 1992). (<back)
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Professor Parama Roy
Department of English
University of California, Davis