This page last revised 3 June 1997
As in representations of the other British colonies, India was used by colonial novelists as a tool of displacement of the individual and re-affirmation of the metropolitan whole. There are three methods by which this effect is achieved. The first method displays an unqualified reliance on a culture too remote to be approached except physically: a hero or protagonist in a pre-mutiny novel is at liberty to escape to India at a moment of crisis, rearrange his life to his advantage and return to a happy ending and the establishment of a newly defined metropolitan life. Dobbin of Thackeray's Vanity Fair (1848) and Peter Jenkins of Gaskell's Cranford (1853) exemplify this well. Even the child Bitherstone of Dickens' Dombey and Son (1848) regards India as his salvation.
The second method demonstrates the duality of the post-mutiny era. We are told by Patrick Brantlinger that the earliest work of fiction to deal with the mutiny is "The Perils of Certain English Prisoners", a collaboration by Dickens and Wilkie Collins in the Christmas 1857 edition of Household Words . Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone (1868) revolves around the theft and reclamation of the Koh-i-Noor and creates an ambiguous point of antagonism between Brahmin and Englishman. The Brahmins cannot be said to be wholly right or wrong in their dealings with the stone and it is the British Ablewhite who is portrayed in the most one-dimensional manner and who is cast almost as penumbra to the issues redefining the character of the former. However, only eleven years after the Mutiny, Collins's Indians remain at all times a threatening presence subject only to the most tenuous negotiation:- the reader must not forget that they belong to the realm of the non-rational. Collins' Brahmins, unaware that they are observed, participate in magical rites and his Hindus, en masse, typify Romantic notions of Man's ideal union with Nature. As re-affirmation, they reconfirm the relationship between the central characters.
The third method again demonstrates the duality of the post-mutiny era but with more emphasis on reconciliation. Later novels such as Rudyard Kipling's Kim (1901) or E. M. Forster's Passage to India (1924) attempt to remove either the Indian character from the confines of previous stereotype or the Anglo-Indian character from the confines of automatic moral superiority. Both novels raise the issue of reconciliation in order to confound it: "East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet", as Kipling would say ("The Ballad of East and West"). Whilst Kim can integrate, he remains essentially British; his purpose and fate must also be British. Aziz, Miss Quested and Fielding also retain their national characteristics and must go their separate ways. There is an element of reconciliation behind Forster's interpretation of the Mutiny as an hysteria capable of occurring in either culture but he affords no compromise or resolution.
This project was completed under the direction of Dr Leon Litvack as a requirement for the MA degree in Modern Literary Studies in the School of English at the Queen's University of Belfast. The site is evolving and will include contributions from future generations of MA students on other writers and themes.
This page was written by Tara Fallon.
The Imperial Archive Project is supervised by Leon Litvack. E-mail me with your suggestions.
Top of This Page
[QUB Home Page][Prometheus Home Page][The Imperial Archive]