Colonialism in Victorian English Literature
Colonialism in Victorian English Literature
The Victorian period in British history marks the high point of British imperialism. Though the British policy of colonial expansion had begun earlier, during the nineteenth century Britain not only consolidated its existing empire, but also experienced an unprecedented expansion in its colonial possessions. This process began after the 1857 Mutiny in India, when India was placed under the direct control of the Crown, and continued through the scramble for Africa in the late 1800s, so that by the end of the century it could be proudly proclaimed that "the sun never sets on the British Empire." The tremendous upsurge of imperial activity during the nineteenth century, though physically taking place in areas distant from British shores, had a broad and pervasive impact on British culture. The literature of the period is thus inextricably embroiled in the imperialist project. In the view of many critics, irrespective of the direct involvement of individual literary works with the colonial enterprise, the overall contours of Victorian literature are consistently shaped by the influence of colonial ideology, which informed the collective unconscious of the British public during the entire period.
The most obvious influence of colonialism on Victorian literature is evident in the colonial novels of writers like H. Rider Haggard, Rudyard Kipling, and Joseph Conrad. These novels, which include works like Haggard's She (1889) and Kipling's Kim (1901), are usually set in the distant lands that Britain colonized and attempt to expose the insular domestic public to the exotic strangeness of their country's colonial possessions. The reality of colonialism enters these texts as the necessary background that makes possible their narratives of adventure and romance. The linking of colonialism with the genre of the romantic adventure story is also evident in the abundant children's fiction of the time, which includes works by Robert Louis Stevenson and R. M. Ballantyne. While using Britain's colonial enterprise as the setting of their narratives, such novels also participate in the construction and propagation of colonial ideology by providing an implicit justification for British imperialism. Colonialism, therefore, appears in these colonial novels not only as the literal backdrop for their narrative action, but also as the ideological framework that provides the raison d'être of the action.
The impact of colonialism, however, is not restricted to the so-called colonial novels. The nineteenth century's dominant genre of domestic fiction is also implicitly informed by colonial ideology. Though the novels of writers like Jane Austen, Charlotte Brönte, Charles Dickens, and George Eliot focus on domestic British society, Britain's overseas possessions frequently play an important role in the action. Thus, Sir Thomas Bertram's estate in Mansfield Park is maintained by his possessions in Antigua while David Copperfield's Mr. Micawber achieves success in Australia and St. John Rivers in Jane Eyre leaves for India to fulfill his missionary aspirations. Colonialism thus provides an expanded canvas even to the domestic novels, which reveal the inextricable involvement of domestic British society in the colonial enterprise. At the same time, the implicit presence in these novels of ideas such as the savage nature of natives and the white man's burden of bringing civilization to them also involves these texts in the dissemination of racial and colonial ideologies that provided the conceptual framework for colonialism.
Though an awareness of the colonial presence in Victorian literature is evident in critical studies during the first half of the twentieth century, such criticism is usually restricted to an examination of colonial novels and an evaluation of the authors' differing attitudes to the colonial enterprise as reflected in their writings. It is only in the latter half of the twentieth century, in the so-called postcolonial period, that critics have explored the pervasive influence of colonial ideology throughout nineteenth-century British culture and society. Edward Said's Orientalism (1978) is a seminal work in this respect, providing an exhaustive analysis of the West's construction of the Orient as its "other." Such a construction, Said argues, is not motivated by any desire to represent faithfully the reality of the colonized cultures and their people. Instead, it works as a form of ideological control, allowing the West to create a series of Manichean oppositions between the colonizer and the colonized that make the latter manageable and provide a moral justification for the colonial enterprise. Even literary works like Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1902) that overtly question the validity of colonialism are informed by this Manichean aesthetic, which problematizes their critique of imperialism. In such cases, while the colonized "other" functions as a vantage point for a self-critique of Western civilization, it is still not allowed to articulate a distinct subject-position of its own.
The use of the "other" for self-critique and the construction of alternative subject-positions within the British context is also explored by feminist postcolonial critics like Gayatri Spivak and Jenny Sharpe. These critics analyze the relationship between colonial ideology and the growth of British feminism in Victorian England evident in the works of writers like Jane Austen and Charlotte Brönte. Similarly, colonial ideology is also seen to have an impact on the representation of domestic class relations, whereby the lower classes are frequently portrayed as internal "others" who share the characteristics of the colonized and hence require similar strategies of control. By thus exploring the class, gender, and racial politics that inform colonial ideology, postcolonial critics reveal the complexities of colonialism and its multi-faceted influence on Victorian society and literature. At the same time, such criticism reveals a contemporary relevance to the literary output of the nineteenth century. The exploration of the ideological complicities and resistances that characterize Victorian literature provides an insight into the complex ideological configurations of neo-colonialism that are an inescapable reality of late-twentieth-century culture and politics.
Mansfield Park (novel) 1814
R. M. Ballantyne
Coral Island (novel) 1857
Jane Eyre (novel) 1847
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (novel) 1865
Through the Looking Glass (novel) 1871
The African Witch (novel) 1936
Mr. Johnson (novel) 1939
The Nigger of the "Narcissus " (novel) 1898
Lord Jim (novel) 1900
Heart of Darkness (novel) 1902
David Copperfield (novel) 1849-50
Great Expectations (novel) 1860-61
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Lost World (novel) 1912
Middlemarch (novel) 1871-72
E. M. Forster
A Passage to India (novel) 1924
The Little Black Princess (novel) 1905
We of the Never-Never (novel) 1908
H. Rider Haggard
King Solomon's Mines (novel) 1885
She (novel) 1889
Plain Tales from the Hills (short stories) 1888
Barrack-Room Ballads (poetry) 1892
Kim (novel) 1901
The English Governess at the Siamese Court (memoir) 1870
Frankenstein (novel) 1818
Robert Louis Stevenson
Treasure Island (novel) 1882
Dracula (novel) 1897
Lord Alfred Tennyson
Ballads and Other Poems (poetry) 1880
William Makepeace Thackeray
Vanity Fair (novel) 1847
SOURCE: "The Happy Years," in Novels of Empire, Columbia University Press, 1949, pp. 38-64.
[In the following extract, Howe explores the depiction of British men and women in India in Victorian novels, focusing on the representation of women, younger sons, missionaries, and Anglo-Indians.]
We should not believe, of course, that novels about India have always been peopled exclusively with psychoneurotics, white or brown. There were many happy years before the middle of the nineteenth century when one could read novels with Indian settings from the Minerva Press and Mudie's and still sleep quietly of nights. We may return to those days for a while and see how the Anglo-Indian stories, like so much other English colonial fiction, fitted into the well-established patterns of the English novel.
The novelists had thirty or forty "quiet" years of the earlier nineteenth century in which to do this, years in which scarcely anyone at home, as was so often the case while "reluctant" British expansion was going on, needed to be conscious of India at all. No one needed to be uncomfortably aware of her as a "problem." If we may believe the novelists, the apathy and ignorance about India prevailing at home are the despair of soldier and civilian alike. Many distinguished Governors-General, before the Crown took over India from the East India Company in 1858, had come and gone—aggressive Wellesley, capable Lord Hastings, energetic Bentinck, Russo-phobe Auckland and fabulous Dalhousie. We hear about them all in novels of a later date. But at the time during which they were establishing "subordinate cooperation" among the native states surrounding John Company's territories, or fighting the first Afghan and Sikh Wars, or suppressing the Thugs, no one at home or in India itself felt impelled to write a whole novel about India in terms of Anglo-Indian life and events for their own sake.
During these years, too, the trading monopolies and commercial privileges of the old East India Company were quietly being swept away with each renewal of the Charter, in 1813,1833, and 1853. Nabobs, "blackamoor colonels" and other arrivals from India, who battened on the Company and its declining fortunes, continue to be props of the Minerva Press novelists into the nineteenth century. But these "old Indians" belong to a vanished eighteenth century and most readers have the impression that no one before Thackeray is interested in writing about their successors, the "Qui Hais" of the years before the Mutiny in 1857. But W. D. Arnold, John Lang, H. S. Cunningham, and J. W. Kaye wrote about them too. These novelists knew a good deal more about India than Thackeray did, but somehow it is only Colonel Newcome, Mr. Binnie, and that unpleasant symptom of the decay of the old order, Jos Sedley, whom we have become familiar with. The others, nevertheless, have their significance too, with the added interest of being contemporary with the events and people they describe. It is a mistake to think of Thackeray as the only creator of these Anglo-Indian figures of the early and mid-century.
Edification. Among five or six kinds of novels in vogue during these years that were preliminary to the Mutiny and to Empire, the didactic and pedagogic books written partly for and partly about children, are easily distinguishable. Mrs. Barbauld, Hannah More, Mrs. Trimmer, Maria Edgeworth, Mrs. Sherwood, and countless other women wrote them. These tract-like stories seem to have been the almost exclusive province of the Evangelical woman writer. Novels one can scarcely call them; indeed their authors feared and disapproved of the novel as such and did what they could to undermine it. The Evangelicals were beginning to form the moral attitudes of a new Victorian world in which the middle class was to legislate on matters of conduct. It was to decree standards of behavior more decorous than the rowdy and uncouth manners of the old eighteenth century world which Victoria's "wicked uncles" inhabited. Since children and their training are important in the establishment of any new order, juvenile reading formed a new and special concern for the Evangelical mind, and ushered in, with the backing, of course, of Rousseau and Thomas Day, what might be called The Century of the Child.
In this Evangelical fortifying of national morals, Mrs. Sherwood and India played an important but depressing part. She was in active missionary work of an educational kind for many years, off and on, at Meerut in the Province of Delhi. Journeys home, which took four months "and an extra four weeks" in those early years (she went out first in 1812) punctuated her long stays in the Upper Provinces. From a personal point of view they were melancholy years, and her life and letters make gloomy reading. She lost several children in India and the index at the back of F. J. Harvey Darton's book about her (1910) is full of grim little entries under their several names, reading "beauty of," "illness of," "death of," "grave of." One would like to think that the poor lady had a little fun writing her stories about children in India, The History of Little Henry and His Bearer (1812), and The History of Little Lucy and Her Dhaye (1822), but it seems improbable.
No doubt her morbid and edifying fables with a strong Sunday School flavor did much to acquaint the youth of England with Indian ways and atmosphere. By such missionary pieces as these, widely circulated, the foundations of Empire were being laid. They fitted in with the current taste for the pedagogic and didactic and moralistic tone in fiction, and used the Indian scene to lend savor and novelty to the lessons of missionary zeal which they taught. The end, we must hope, justified the means. A more repulsive pair of little ones than Henry and Lucy would be hard to find. They go into gentle declines, induced by the Indian climate, quoting more and more frequently from John 14, Job 19, and Luke 10, in neat, memorizable texts. They recite parts of the catechism at a moment's notice. Each finally succeeds in converting his native servant to Christianity, and then slips, with touching smiles, into a Clarissa-like deathbed finale. It is all perfectly terrible. But in terms that its ever-increasing audience in its own day could understand and appreciate, this sort of thing was fine publicity at home for British India, and for the Church Missionary Society abroad.
Mrs. Sherwood wished little English children to think of converting the heathen in India as an admirable lifework, but if this lesson did not "take," she was not the woman to overlook other possibilities. Her English readers might as well learn some of the Hindostani words most commonly in use—dobie, kamsamah, punkah, goreewallah, kitmutgar, and so on. She translates each one in a footnote at the bottom of the page. Anyone setting up an English household in India would have to know them, and they lent atmosphere to the story. Generations of writers about India have, unfortunately, since Mrs. Sherwood's day, relied too heavily on the same device for achieving "color," and without the painstaking and somehow oddly touching little footnotes. We can understand how Edward Lear felt when he wrote his famous poem "The Cummerbund" published in Nonsense Songs:
She sat upon her Dobie,—
She heard the Nimmak hum,—
When all at once a cry arose:
"The Cummerbund is come!"
Too many novelists, alas, never took the hint.
Mrs. Sherwood, however, was much lionized at the Presidency in Calcutta because new arrivals from England had heard much of Little Henry. "Such religious persons as came out that year (1815) to India, were all anxious to find out the author, supposed to be a man." The English edition was brought to Calcutta by the wife of a Baptist missionary, and, Mrs. Sherwood tells us, the little volume passed from hand to hand in the small religious society there. "It was lent to me, and I must say it brought tears to my eyes." It did the same for her many readers at home. Not only missionary zeal but the future gospel of empire was watered by such tears.
She wrote in 1825 another story of the Indian scene, but a more worldly one this time, The Lady of the Manor. This has no out-and-out missionary flavor, but is still a novel of purpose, a species of conduct-and-etiquette book combined. It delivers itself, with a primness all its own, of certain lessons regarding the behavior of young English ladies who come out to the east. The wholesome English standards of the heroine, Olivia, are undermined by her life in her semi-orientalized uncle's Indian household. (He is not exactly a nabob, but an Old Indian, or Qui Hai). Olivia finally marries—oh, shame!—for "worldly advantage."
Ladies in Exile. The problem of the Englishwoman in India fascinates every novelist who writes about that unhappy country. These "improving" writers of the earliest years of the century, while using India as a fresh and piquant setting for the lessons with which they catered to the popular taste for the didactic in fiction, also managed incidentally to pose certain questions destined to be of perennial interest to novelists of empire in the following decades. The disintegration of female character and personality in hot climates is one of these. The treatment of it becomes more complicated as the century advances in psychological sophistication.
At first, like Olivia, the ladies in exile are merely passive, unresisting victims of bad example and bad climate. They stop dressing for dinner, they give up their music, embroidery, and water colors. If they were frivolous at home, they become doubly so in India. William Brown Hockley's novels describe this process as seen in the thirties and Sir J. W. Kaye does it for the forties. By the fifties, they are often pictured as ruthless little husband-hunters, flirts, and jilts. Florence Marryat, in several pieces about India for Temple Bar in 1867, divides her sisters into "the very gay, the very religious, and the very inane." Life in India for them is both boring and dangerous. Their husbands are away for long periods of time and "strange men do not have to have permission to call," as they would in England. They may call on whom they please. The round of balls and dinners and dancing, and the enervating weather "drains the mind of all desire to improve itself."
G. O. Trevelyan agrees with her pronouncements in his interesting "Letters from a Competition Wallah" in Macmillan's Magazine in 1863. He too feels that "the ladies, poor things, get the worst of it." Without plenty of work, India is unbearable. The women are bound to suffer more than the men from "languor and depth of ennui of which a person who has never left Europe can form no conception." Because of the climate they must spend the hours from eight to five indoors. "Good novels are limited in numbers, and it is too much to expect that a lady should read history and poetry for six hours every day." Trevelyan, indeed, is very tolerant; he has every sympathy with the poor creatures on the day when the "book-club has sent nothing but Latham's Nationalities of Europe and three refutations of Colenso . . . and the post brings only a letter from your old governess." Only a very brave or a very stupid woman, he concludes, can endure India for long without suffering "in mind, health and tournure. If a lady becomes dowdy, it is all up with her."
It is possible, of course, for a lady to be both brave and stupid, and perhaps this is why Kipling's exiled women do so well for the most part. He is hard on the spoiled and the mischievous (Mrs. Gadsby and Mrs. Hauksbee, respectively) and so is Maud Diver, whose books, however, also abound in the brave and the stupid of her sex. Pamela Hinkson's Golden Rose features them too, and most novels about the Mutiny have at least one upright, leathery-faced spinster or well-weathered soldier's wife with a heart of gold and not too much imagination. Perhaps Bromfield's fine Scottish nurse, Miss McDaid in The Rains Came, is about the best of this kind.
The brave and the stupid among Frenchwomen do not come out to Indo-China, if we may believe the novelists. (It is not a common Gallic combination anyway, but rather a feature of Anglo-Saxondom, if one may ever be justified in making such racial generalizations.) An old resident and colonial expert, Eugène Pujarniscle, gives us most unflattering pictures of French and other European ladies at Hanoï. They are as bad, or worse than, Bromfield's Mrs. Hoggett-Eggbury in The Rains Came. They are "dames" while the native girls are "femmes" and they are the cause of many happy and fruitful and generally pleasant relationships of colonial Frenchmen with "les brunes," he explains in Philoxène (1931). De Vogüé in Les Morts qui parlent (1901) feels that young French wives, no matter how devoted, should be left at home. Let the English take their women out; they can risk it; "elles ont le diable au corps." But French girls would be homesick so far from France. Daguèrches in Le Kilomêtre 83 (1913) seems to bear him out; French colonial women cannot stand the climate of Siam-Cambodge, and they get jealous, if not of other women, then of a man's work. (Kipling's The Gadsbys provided a pretty useful pattern for unhappy colonial tangles in all languages—that of the child-wife who wants to be "first.") If your really nice "jeune fille" like Selysette Sylva in Farrère's Les Civilisés (1905) does by any chance live in Saïgon, she is under the decorous family supervision that she would have in France, and she had better not fall in love with corrupted, though courageous, young colonial officers like Jacques Fièrce. It will make them both unhappy. Altogether, it is better that she should stay at home and mind her children and her "foyer" if she is married, and if she is a "jeune fille" then let her seek a husband elsewhere than in the insidious atmosphere of Saïgon or Hanoï.
This atmosphere is even more seductively presented by French writers than its Indian equivalent by the British. Of course it is all on a much smaller scale; there is less vastness and more of the "mysterious East." The dark leafy streets, the strings of harbor lights, the charming "brunes," the impassive and intriguing native "boys," the psychological mysteries of opium and cocaine, one is often glad to exchange for these all the odors of jasmine-cum-cowdung-smoke, all the dusty and brilliant sunsets and dawns, all the saris and sun helmets of British India.
But as the century wears on, English sophistication increases and Edwardian morals tend to loosen up what the Indian atmosphere had not already got to work on, in the English female character. French literature, too, had made sin fashionable. More and more the exiles come out brazenly to seek for husbands (England is full of superfluous women), or if already married they are discontented and pass from "flirting" or "playing with fire" in the nineties (in the vocabulary of Alice Perrin and Flora Annie Steel) to the activities of the coldly promiscuous vixen of the twenties and the highclass siren of the thirties, like Bromfield's Lady Esketh. Sometimes they take to solitary drinking. As the type of amorous adventuress comes to be taken more and more for granted in modern fiction, India comes more and more to be used as a playground for her exploits. So in modern times this character is the downright predatory female, unscrupulous, treacherous, tragic in varying degrees, and sometimes repentant, joining forces with the missionaries, the nursing nuns, or the "sensible" people, but usually too late. Typhus and cholera take a high toll of these sirens, whose role is played over and over again as one corner of the triangle that gives shape, or merely incident, to countless novels of Anglo-Indian life. In Indigo Mrs. Macbeth is "fluttery" and elopes with Captain Ponsonby. The lady may be merely unstable and undecided, like Barbara Wingfield-Stratford's Beryl in India (1920), and not really vicious at all, but brewing trouble for others nevertheless. But "tough" or not, she has come a long way from Mrs. Sherwood's comparatively decorous and ladylike Olivia in 1825.
Less in the sanctimonious vein of Mrs. Sherwood and more in the line of Miss Edgeworth's Moral Tales is another early and exemplary story about India called The Young Cadet; or, Henry Delamere's Voyage to India. This was written by Mrs. Hofland (Barbara Hoole) about 1827-28, and illustrates again the easy use of Indian material by those who felt that chatty and persuasive books loaded with information and instruction could not fail to please the young. But here we have no exhortations to convert the heathen and no censoriousness about wayward young ladies. Everything has a sunny, sensible Church of England atmosphere. The book tells about Henry's travels in Hindostan, his experiences in the Burmese War (the first one, 1824-26), and his impressions of the wondrous caves of Elora. It is dutifully based on books of travel, histories, and the authentic reminiscences of Captain Snodgrass, who took part in the Burmese campaigns. But its real interest lies in the glimpses it affords of English views on the subject of the budding Empire, and the clear connection it makes between large families at home and dominion abroad.
Younger Sons. This aspect of imperial expansion accounts for the beginnings of many an Indian career more distinguished than that of Henry Delamere. The background is usually stated for us in Chapter I:
'You have indeed a numerous and lovely family,' said Mr. Wingrove to Mr. Delamere, as his lady and her eight children were quitting the dining-room, 'but you must frequently feel great anxiety on the subject of providing for so many in such a manner as their birth and education entitle them to expect.'
Here, in essence, we have the classic problem, posed with neatness and propriety by our capable authoress. What to do with too many younger sons? India, in many cases, became the answer. It relieved the pressure. Younger sons are often the heroes of novels about India, all through the century. They could not inherit the land, and it was getting more and more difficult to place them well at home and more and more expensive to train them for the professions. So, in the early nineteenth century novels they are often the traders and adventurers, with or without benefit of a connection with the East India Company. Toward the middle of the century they begin to be "competition-wallahs," young hopefuls of a rejuvenated and democratized Indian Civil Service, to which for a long time Indians themselves might not aspire. Oakfield in Arnold's novel of 1853 is reluctant to believe that "the English message to India is civil-engineering simply," but Middleton of the Civil Service is among the most admirable people in an Indian scene where the high moral expectations of Arnold allow him to find very few people admirable at all. (The younger sons in the regiments, of whom Vernon is an example, he finds pitiable indeed. They are "wretchedly blackguard." But presumably Arnold did not know the gallant Hodson of "Hodson's Horse," like himself a younger son, an old Rugbeian, and in India at about the same time.)
Not all Competition Men are agreeable fellows in the eighteen fifties, however. John Lang's Too Clever by Half (1853), almost exactly contemporary with The Newcomes and Oakfield by the way, has some very disagreeable ones indeed, and one at least is also a younger son. This is, in fact, one of the most disagreeable books about India to be found in this period, an ugly blend of Samuel Warren at his worst, with the facetiousness of Dickens and the archness of Thackeray at less than their best.
H. S. Cunningham does not quite commit himself on the younger son question in his amusingly satirical novel, Chronicles of Dustypore, a Tale of Modern Anglo-Indian Society (1875). It stands out as one of the few humorous novels on the too sad Indian question, in its own or any period of the century. A book which can poke fun at British rule and those endearing little British foibles in the very decade in which Disraeli, that great romantic, made the Queen into the Empress of India, is a rare phenomenon indeed. Cunningham, perhaps the best of the links between Thackeray and Kipling, makes one of his New Civilians, or Competition Men, jeer at the Old Regime. It consisted, according to the modern view (but perhaps not Cunningham's necessarily) of "all the stupidest sons of the stupidest families of England for several generations, like the pedigree wheat, you know, on the principle of selection; none but the blockheads of course would have anything to do with India."
Young Oakfield's friend Middleton in Arnold's novel tells the hero that a good officer is a blessing to his District; the new system was placing many younger sons as District Officers in the fifties. But Cunningham, in the book we have just mentioned, does not find Boldero admirable at all.
Other D.O.'s of the same overzealous kind appear in W. W. Hunter's The Old Missionary. This was published in 1897, but is set in the fifties after the Mutiny. In fact it would seem that the D.O. did not become a hero and martyr until Kipling got hold of him and made him one of the noblest of the Sons of Martha. Hunter allows us to see the admirable qualities of these bumptious young men, but they are impatient of government red-tape and full of ideas about schools, law, public works, tramways, and so on. Old Lieutenant-Governors of the "early time" find them very bothersome. According to Trevelyan in his letters to Macmillan's Magazine in 1863, the natives feel that the new Competition Men are of "another caste," having less savoirfaire than the old Haileybury crowd. Trevelyan himself is rather snobbish about them. He inclines to agree with the up-country magistrates who regard these young men as parvenus in a service where birth and breeding have hitherto been all in all. They lack the "physical dash and athletic habits" so essential to young men who may have to rule over an Indian province as large as Saxony. If they cannot drive a "series of shying horses and ride across country" they are useless. Your Competition Wallah has not been brought up in the tradition of field sports, poor fellow, and is not of the true "imperial race." The individual members of this race, Trevelyan reminds us must be "men of their hands" to command the necessary prestige. Ideas about building tramways are not enough.
Younger sons from many of those "numerous and lovely" families which Mrs. Hofland holds up for our regard are always among the more daring soldiers. Before Kipling, they are more attractive heroes than their civilian brothers. They appear dashingly in many novels about the Mutiny, the Afghan or Sikh or Burmese wars. They are exemplary and talkative in the Henty books, of godlike stature in Flora Annie Steel's books, desperately silent and incredibly gallant as the subalterns and captains of Kipling's Own. The younger son is cut loose from home. He is reckless because he has little to lose; defiant because he has probably been underestimated and misunderstood at home. He excels at taking risks. Often he is a disappointed and world-weary but lovable roué, or a sentimental, mysteriously "broken" man, like Louis Bromfield's Tom Ransome in The Rains Came (1937). Sometimes he is living down a dark past, because an older brother has "inherited" and he himself has spent his patrimony in riotous living in England where his extravagance has got him into trouble.
But Mrs. Hofland's Henry Delamere is not of these. For his edification, and that of the good lady's young readers, Henry's father holds forth on the history of the East India Company, of Hindostan, of Tamerlane, Hyder Ali, and Tippoo Sahib. It is all very Maria Edgeworth. But the low rumble of imperial ambition begins to be heard in odd ways under this demure surface. Father fairly smacks his lips over the "extension of British power in Asia" and the virtuous way in which it is being used. He is probably thinking of the 1813 act to limit the Company's trading monopoly, and of Lord Hastings' upright administration as Governor-General, when he says contentedly that British plundering of India is at an end now, and the bribery of officials too:
India will be no longer the nurse of luxury, the reward of enterprize, the temptation to extortion and tyranny, which it has been in days past. A new and better order of things has sprung up, and will increase, arising from equitable laws duly administered, regular trade properly pursued and proportioned; and above all, from that sense of humanity and self-subjugation, commanded by our religion, which is now taught with most happy effect to the higher classes of society throughout British India.
The Church of England was a going concern by this time in India. But after the many sight-seeing tours which Henry manages to make before and after his participation in the war to subdue those "contemptible" Burmese—who have somehow persisted in their determination to make trouble for the English—he is obliged to admit that native superstitions and idols still hold sway and that "there are in fact few, very few converts to Christianity, but there is a general amelioration of prejudice." Just what he means by this is not clear, except that he is hopeful. It is better to go slowly with attempts at conversion, he adds. In this conclusion most missionaries, in and out of novels, would probably agree with him. Mrs. Steel, Maud Diver, Louis Bromfield, and E. J. Thompson certainly do. Apropos of the conqueror's uneasy sense in India of something amiss, something vaguely hostile and aloof in the native attitude, the book is interesting. Henry feels the Burmese attitude of resentment keenly. They are lying and deceitful, he writes his people at home, and furthermore they "treat us with that contempt it is no part of John Bull's character to bear." There is the basic difficulty! Like so many of the large problems that beset the conqueror in India throughout the century, this one is recurrent and perhaps eternal. Mrs. Hofland had the luck, or the insight, or the common sense, to touch on several of them in her unpretentious little book about Henry.
Beside this dominant problem of racial mistrust and misunderstanding the smaller problems of the younger son and the marriageable miss in India seem of minor importance. Younger sons and marriageable misses have their difficulties in English life and English fiction all through the nineteenth century, against domestic and continental settings of all sorts. Their dilemmas are merely by-products of empire, and India merely serves to intensify their troubles. But one question of some real importance to the spread of empire is raised by both Mrs. Sherwood and Mrs. Hofland when they write about India: that is the question of the missionary.
In the Lord's Vineyard. For besides the military activities of the Governors-General, the decline of John Company, and the steadily growing predominance of British economic advantage in India at India's expense, it should be noted that the men of God were also at work. They were among the best trail-blazers for empire during these long, so-called "quiet" years before the storm of the Mutiny broke about astonished English ears. Unlike the military and mercantile men contemporary with them, the missionaries, both Catholic and Protestant, British and foreign, sit for their portraits quite early in the century. They were more closely associated with Indian life in concrete and visible ways than Governors-General or officials of the East India Company could possibly be. They were present on occasions of sickness and birth and death. Their knowledge of native conditions was gained from a personal daily struggle against these conditions.
While Mrs. Sherwood and Mrs. Hofland were writing their bland little books, stirring together Evangelical or Anglican fervor with pedagogy and moral etiquette and social observation into that odd mixture which entranced such a large public, the missionaries, like Mrs. Sherwood herself, were not idle. They were up and doing in India by 1801 when the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge and the Church Missionary Society took over the excellent schools started by Danish missionaries in the eighteenth century. By 1813, when James Stephen (father of Sir Leslie) became a power in the Colonial Office, and imports of Lancashire cotton goods were beginning to undermine India's principal industry, all sorts of workers in the vineyard were permitted in the Company's territories.
Commerce, politics, and evangelism have always been comfortable bedfellows in England's overseas possessions, and the East India Company was nothing if not realistic. It kept everybody happy, or at least placated, by the sensible device of contributing to Mohammedan and Hindu temples at the same time, and by giving sturdy backing to the establishment of the Church of England in India. It did not neglect other denominations either, but by 1852—Dalhousie's time, that is, and Thackeray's and Arnold's—the Anglicans had outstripped all other denominations and held a comfortable lead. But of whatever persuasion, the missionaries rose on the wave of Christian humanitarianism that followed the French Revolution and became extremely busy in jungle and desert, making straight the pathway for additional gods—the telegraph, railway, irrigation and sanitation projects, famine control. As these other gods began to spread throughout India, the missionary became a more effective social worker. In return for this, he has always lent a helping hand to conquest.
In fiction he becomes less fanatical and more practical as the century wears on. He and his wife or his sister—they needed to suffer in pairs for the most part—no longer sit in the verandah reasoning with little children or converting native bearers. They tramp or bicycle along the dusty roads, like Alden in Thompson's Farewell to India, or Mr. and Mrs. Nair in Maud Diver's Far to Seek. They are inured to filth, ridicule, discouragement, and climate, and they are willing to cooperate with almost any agency that is making headway for the native good against these powerful forces.
Sometimes they are conscientious spinsters like Miss Williams in Golden Rose. The woman's rights movement that grew into the cause of suffrage, and the general nineteenth century emancipation of English "superfluous" women that sent the tough-minded ones into medical schools and settlements sent them also out to India. There they slaved as medical missionaries or nurses in health centers, or as hospital supervisors, or as teachers in mission schools. The backward state of women in India, the suffering of the child wives, the aspiration of the "new" Indian woman, the frightful condition of thousands of undernourished children—all this made India a field especially engaging to female interest and sympathy and sacrifice. Flora Annie Steel's novels speak for the force of this appeal.
The missionaries' situation in India was, if possible, more equivocal and difficult than in Africa or Australia. They were up against conflicting sets of ancient, deeply rooted faiths which grew up again, like the jungle, the minute one looked away. Hinduism and Islam are more than faiths; they include a way of life, a system of education, morals, politics, and manners. People nurtured for centuries in these traditions could not be pushed about spiritually like children or the "naive" races of darkest Africa and aboriginal Australia. English and European missionaries of all sects found them baffling. The Anglo-Saxon sense of humor wavers and breaks before them. The articulate Indians are likely to be sophistical and disingenuous; they disappoint you and turn out not to have been converts at all. The uneducated and inarticulate are dead weight. They are so childishly bewildered, or so deeply oppressed by caste and starvation as to be practically inaccessible to missionary efforts. But they respond to social work.
So, while we have many "good" missionaries in fiction about India, we have those who are so much at a loss or so thick-skinned that they are the butts of the gentle, or not too gentle, cynicism aimed at all their kind. Bromfield neatly balances his "good" ones, the Smileys, against his "bad" ones, the Simons. Kipling does not give missionaries much space, but in "The Judgment of Dungara" (Plain Tales) he makes hilarious game of the defeat of their assurance by one wrong step.
Christine Weston in Indigo is skeptical about them. Her Scottish pair could not compete with India's antiquity and fertility, and it is the French Catholic priest, Father Sebastien, bigoted though he may be, who comes to the best terms with the country and its people. He is tranquil and tolerant and does not expect too much of human nature. (The Catholics, as both French and English novelists agree, made in general a better job of converting the "heathen"; what they had to offer was more ceremonious and colorful than the Protestant inducements to Christianity, and they were more patient and understanding with backsliders.) Forster's Passage to India is concerned with larger questions, but he has one former nurse in a Native State, "a stupid woman," say that she is all for chaplains and all against missionaries. Natives after all should not get into heaven, she says; the kindest thing for them was to let them die, then if the missionaries have got hold of them they might indeed slip into heaven somehow, whereas a chaplain—But she is a stupid woman, and Forster allows her to be interrupted at this point.
Though Forster was no missionary, his amusement at the "philosophical" mind of the Maharajah whom he visited with Lowes Dickinson in 1912 gives us the clue to what must have been many a missionary's exasperations and despairs. This Maharajah, who loved Dickinson and philosophy, keeps asking Dickinson, "Where is God? Can Herbert Spencer lead me to him, or should I prefer George Henry Lewes? Oh when will Krishna come and be my friend? Oh Mr. Dickinson!" And Ackerley's Maharajah of Chhokrapur in Hindu Holiday (1932) is obsessed by the same large questions and the same positivist Victorian reading which held wide sway in India among people of his kind, an inheritance from Macaulay no doubt: "Is there a God, or is there no God?" rapped out his Highness impatiently. "That is the question. That is what I want to know. Spencer says there is a God. Lewes says no. So you must read them, Mr. Ackerley, and tell me which is right."
This is the same Maharajah who turned the car around in order to behold a mongoose on the left side of the road, because that was a good omen. And E. J. Thompson testifies in one of his novels that the English missionaries have not paid enough attention to the superstitions and the Ghosts (bhuts) that are so important in India, and have overlooked the rich confusion of native deities. His hero Alden has kept his sanity only by occasionally exploring the jungles and by interesting himself in "the quaint and often very engaging beliefs of the heathen." Le Kilomêtre 83 is also emphatic about French neglect of native beliefs in Siam.
Of the actual services rendered to Empire by the missionaries, less is made in the novels than one might expect. But it was a real service. Their work among the "depressed" classes whom the higher castes of natives and many English officials would not bother about, their heroic labors in hospitals and schools, did much throughout the century to delay the mounting antagonism against England. But ironically they played their part in furthering the Indian nationalist movement against England, by helping the industrializing and educational forces that were opening up India to the West.
Of the missionaries in fiction before Mr. Thompson's broadminded Robert Alden, not many are well educated enough to see the value of taking native beliefs into account or realistic enough not to claim too much success with their "converts." But W. W. Hunter, himself an Indian Civilian and a historian and publicist who knew a great deal about Bengal, wrote his novel The Old Missionary (1890) about an actual Reverend James Williamson of the Baptist Mission who was apparently an exception to all the rules. He worked among the Bengal hill tribes in that "early time of promise" shortly after the Crown took over from the Company. He came originally from Cumberland and was a veteran of Trafalgar. He is a noble, patriarchal figure of great reputation among the hillmen. But "real Christianity," he says, can only grow up among the native converts in the second generation. He has been of great service to the British Empire in keeping the hill tribes from revolt at times that were critical for England, and in making with other tribes certain peace agreements that have been advantageous to England.
This singular old warrior is also interested in scholarship and in the native dialect. He is making a dictionary of the hill language, with the help of a native Sanskrit scholar and an Oxford philologist. As a youth he has been fascinated by Cook's Voyages, and presumably, in these earlier days before the rise of strenuous professionalism among missionaries as well as other people, many a man of God had been drawn by just such reading to a life of adventure and globe-trotting mixed with Evangelism. The Reverend Mr. Williamson had soon discovered however, that Evangelism alone would accomplish little in India, and so, like many a less intelligent man after him, he had become a medical missionary.
He does Empire a final good turn, at the end of his career, by settling a dispute between Jesuits and Scottish Presbyterians as to which shall move into a certain factory settlement in lower Bengal. Both groups want to keep their hold on it. Through sheer force of faith, judiciously mingled with diplomacy and knowledge of the native mind, the missionary persuades half of the people to migrate to new homes, and the Presbyterians are victorious. The old man is strenuous and fanatical, but also very practical about his work. After his saintlike death he becomes a kind of legend in the district, something like Mrs. Moore in Forster's Passage to India, after the people hear of her death at sea.
But men of his kind are rare, both in life and in fiction. In the early novels of the century the missionaries are either detestable, as in Mrs. Sherwood's stories, or frankly fantastic and impossible, like the Spanish priest who tries to convert a Brahmin princess in The Missionary (1811) by Lady Morgan. (Lord Castlereagh is the only person known to have liked this warmly colored but inconsequential semi-Gothic effort by that ebullient Irish spirit, who did other kinds of fiction much more effectively.) In modern novels like E. J. Thompson's or Edmund Candler's, the missionaries are beginning to come into their own as civilized and well-rounded though often disillusioned and weary human beings, not very different from the teachers or the doctors who toil and wilt in the great nightmare of India.
But in the fiction of the middle years that come between the very early and the modern novels, the missionaries are pictured as poor and shy and provincial and "worthy," with a distressing taste for making up to influential people—the comfortable bureaucrats or the gracious wives of Residents of Native States, who play lady bountiful and are wise and winning in an aroma of eau-de-cologne and general elegance. In the historical novels, like those about the Mutiny, the missionaries are handled rather perfunctorily as part of the scenery and the properties in a drama that really belongs to the military characters involved. In romantic books like Flora Annie Steel's, the missionaries are too mystical and exalté for the ordinary reader. Many of the most sympathetic ones in all these novels are Scottish, wanderers and adventurers by nature, who took time out from being expert Presbyterians to be expert gardeners also. Around their compounds the desert blossoms, and they make a great point of raising all the flowers that are hardest to raise in tropical climates.
In fact, not only the Scots but—unless the novelists mislead us completely—missionaries of all nationalities in India are fanatical gardeners. A passion for horticulture is meant to be, apparently, one of their attractive traits, a redeeming feature in the eyes of possibly unsympathetic readers who might feel that these hard-working liaison-officers between jungle and Empire would do better to stay at home and mind their own business. Yet all that these crisp bright gardens seem to accomplish is to accentuate for the reader the stubborn perversity of the missionary mind. One can see the gardens more charitably, of course, as part of the great Homesickness Cult or complex that thrives so richly among Europeans in India; the nostalgia of exile is deepened and at the same time assuaged by the smell of mignonette or wallflowers or stock. But the same obstinacy that insists upon making Christians out of Hindus and Moslems, insists also upon making primroses and pinks grow where no self-respecting pink or primrose should. It is an involuntary gesture of defiance against the whole East to make the simple, cheerful little plants that do best in cottage gardens at Home thrive in a climate completely alien to them. But people who feel justified in wanting to uproot and transplant whole races from the faiths on which their civilization has rested for ages have to be hardy and obtuse; difficulty of any sort, horticultural or spiritual, is a challenge. These tidy English flowers blooming after the monsoon rains speak the missionary mind; they symbolize its qualities wherever it is found. It does not like jungle gardens of the kind that Mrs. Lyttleton, the courageous Englishwoman in Indigo, allows to run wild on her property, preferring cottage tulips to jasmine, and cottage tulips it will have, come flood, famine, drought, or cholera.
Some novelists ask us to find this imperviousness touching, or quixotic, or "crotchety" in a Dickensian sort of way. Others imply that it is quaint and funny. Some pay grudging tribute to the hardihood and courage, however misplaced, of these single-track minds in India. Only a few are so churlish as to suggest that it is downright officious. But whether presented as quaint or picturesque or sentimental or thick-skinned, the missionaries are generally dependable walk-on characters, always good for local color. And they are quite rightly given their due as part of the great "lift" that missions in general gave to the prestige of Empire. The Lord's cause was also that of the Raj.
The French, with their usual adaptability, provided the kind of Catholic missionaries in Indo-China who could make a success of their job without arrogance. In many and many a novel about French engineers or scientists or soldiers in "Siam-Cambodge" the missionary-priest is a sympathetic character, often able to help bridgebuilders, explorers, or financiers to avoid disastrous clashes with native superstitions. He understands these, and the native dialects as well, something many of his English confrères have not bothered about. He pours oil upon the troubled waters, making allowances for what the climate can do to white men in the way of susceptibility to opium, loose women, and other "moral microbes" that may beset them. Your typical English or American missionary is a hard and selfless worker; his French colleague never makes the mistake of being overzealous or "pressing" too hard, and he has the advantage of a finer degree of psychological insight into people in general and natives in particular. He may be a bit of a schemer, but he is never obtuse. He is typical of the entire difference of attitude toward colonial situations that makes such a wide cleavage between English and French colonial policy. Even in English novels where French "religious" figure now and again, as in Pamela Hinkson's Golden Rose (1944), the French nuns have built up the most efficient nursing orders, profiting by a calm and shrewd knowledge of the native mind and an appreciation of the natives as people.
Half and Half. Another character that proved of perennial interest in novels about India throughout the century, was started on his way even earlier than the missionaries. This is the half-caste or Eurasian, or, as he is more often called nowadays, the Anglo-Indian. He has always been a difficult and uncomfortable by-product of empire. In the eighteenth century stories about the old-fashioned Nabobs, he is taken more or less for granted. The cheerfully earthy minds of the time were not squeamish about Anglo-native alliances and their resulting troops of brown children. There were a few such alliances in the early history of the Thackerays in India. But with the rise of Evangelical and middle-class morality, the attitude changed. To be sure, a certain amount of liberal feeling about the dark races prevailed after the antislavery campaigns of Wilberforce and his cohorts, and after the equalitarian doctrines of the French Revolution had swept a few dark-skinned little orphan boys or beautiful and virtuous Indian maidens into the novels of such large-minded radicals—often Unitarians or Quakers—as Amelia Opie, Mary Wollstonecraft, Robert Bage, or Thomas Holcroft. But by 1834 when William Brown Hockley is lamenting the situation of these hybrids in The Widow of Calcutta, the Half-Caste Daughter and Other Sketches it is clear that Rousseau and St. Pierre and all the "Noble Savages" have lost ground. Colonel Berners is about to welcome his child who is returning from England, but alas!
His daughter was a half-caste! However gifted by nature,—by an education which wealth had spared no cost to perfect,—by loveliness, or by intellect—still a half-caste subjected to all the stain and stigma under which that unhappy race withers,—under which its very virtues become the instruments to render that stigma less tolerable.
The stigma has not been removed for the little Indian boy, Chandranath, in Maud Diver's Far to Seek (1921). He is rescued from bullies at school by Lance, son of Desmond (Miss Diver's favorite hero), and by Roy, himself of mixed English and Indian blood. But it is the right kind of Indian blood and that makes the difference. Chandranath, it seems, is not of the right "jat." Even Roy, the son of an Indian princess, is advised by Lance not to talk to the other boys about his mother.
Kipling, in one of his gentler and more touching stories, "Without Benefit of Clergy," can allow nothing but a tragic ending for his ill-starred pair—the young English officer and the beautiful Mohammedan girl—even though the tale was written in the early years when he was still able to see such unblessed unions as simply a part of India's great human panorama. He becomes progressively less sympathetic with them and more censorious as time goes on, and his work is increasingly dominated by the gospel of Empire. For Somerset Maugham, the Anglo-Malay alliances, in many a fine short story, produce sharp dramatic situations, but they must of necessity be developed in a furtive and sultry moral atmosphere that leads to violent and tragic endings. Such an ending overtakes George Orwell's more modern hero in Burmese Days (1935).
In modern fiction the half-caste is still amazingly stereotyped. He might as well be the weak and wily misfit of Flora Annie Steel's books. Miss Murgatroyd in The Rains Came is pitiable perhaps, but uneasy, over-ingratiating, vaguely repulsive to almost everyone. So is the tougher and more complicated Thelma in Hitrec's excellent Son of the Moon (1947). So is the foreman Boodrie in Indigo, even when seen through the eyes of the French boy Jacques, who has no color prejudice when it comes to Indians in general.
As in the case of the successful French missionaries, the French, like the Dutch, feel less called upon than the British to draw the color line in their colonial possessions. The tolerant attitude toward Annamese or Cambodian liaisons with French officers or engineers is merely one example of the generally casual and easygoing view which prevailed in all parts of the French Empire of which the French novelists have written so colorfully. In Algeria, Madagascar, Malaya, the South Seas, or wherever the young Frenchman may find himself, no ugly whispers or pointing fingers ruin his peaceful little idylls with "les brunes" of whatever shade or caste or tribe. These romantic episodes, though they may end on a nostalgic or wistful note, are cheerful and comforting and natural enough while they are going on. Perhaps Rousseau and Bernardin, or merely Loti and Gauguin, had something to do with this attitude. In this respect the French novels of empire have a refreshing freedom from the tensions and inhibitions of the Anglo-Saxon code. A more relaxed atmosphere breathes through them.
The edifying and pedagogic novels, then, managed to raise, all unwittingly, some problems and themes and characters larger than themselves and destined to a longer life in better books. Most of these books were to be wholly preoccupied with India, instead of with a moral edification which the Indian setting was merely supposed to drive home or to coat with a little glamor. The frivolous ladies engulfed by their Indian ennui, the relegated younger sons, the zealous men of God, the Eurasians—all were to survive this prelude to empire and carry over into the days of empire itself and the books about it. As a setting for further conquest, India did not yet interest the general public at home, but as a setting for lessons in Evangelical morality it did.
Blood and Thunder. The novels combining blood-and-thunder history with the adventures of a rogue-hero were a more romantic vehicle for bringing a savor of oriental novelty to middle-class readers. Scott, himself responsible for the great vogue of historical novels, did not disdain this more sensational off-shoot of the genre. Richard Middlemas, the noble bastard, but a proud, unpleasant, and tricky fellow nevertheless, makes Scott's The Surgeon's Daughter (1827) into a melodrama of an eighteenth century adventurer in the service of the East India Company. In order to win his Scottish sweetheart, this not very genial rascal must spend three years of probation as a doctor. And what likelier proving ground for character, and for the knack of picking up a fortune, than India? She came to serve this purpose for generations of writers who were to feel, as Scott did no doubt, that intrigue and mystery, with a smattering of historical fact for substance, could be nowhere more easily combined than in the kingdom of Mysore, which the Company had determined to snatch from the usurper Hyder Ali by military force. It was a formula that "had everything," including trained elephants who crush people, unscrupulous potentates living in more than Oriental splendor, and the innocent Scottish maiden who is snatched at the eleventh hour from the zenana of Tippoo Sultan.
This was a recipe that served well a variety of writers from William Browne Hockley and Colonel Meadows-Taylor to their more sophisticated descendants like Talbot Mundy. Hockley and Taylor, whose books flourished from the 1820s to the 1840s, were able to take advantage of the vogue of the criminal hero. Widely popular in English fiction since Defoe, this daring figure was revived in the thirties by Ainsworth and Bulwer. Hockley's The Memoirs of a Brahmin; or, The Fatal Jewels (1843) and his earlier Pandurang Hari; or, Memoirs of a Hindoo ( 1826) purport to let the rogue or criminal tell his own story. Against an Indian background such a villain-hero need not be romanticized or sentimentalized after the fashion of Bulwer's and Ainsworth's highwaymen, who so aroused and annoyed Thackeray. His background absolves him at once of cheapness and sentimentality. He may hold the reader's interest and credulity without having to engage his sympathy, since all manner of villainy must obviously be possible in India, where it is at such a safe distance as to be inoffensive.
Many of these books about criminals were a strange compound of claptrap, research, and a dash of Gothic horror to add spice to the mixture. But Meadows-Taylor's Confessions of a Thug (1837) was a good deal better than that. It became a genuine Victorian thriller of classic dimensions, providing an authentic Indian theme for many mystery stories, even, as Edmund Wilson believes, for Dickens's unfinished Edwin Drood. It mixed India and its horrifying cult of Thuggee so thoroughly into the materials of the Victorian adventure story, the thriller, and the detective story that it will probably never be outgrown or worn out. These novels did a service to Empire in publicizing the heroic efforts of British soldiers and administrators to root out the criminals; they were a talking point for the advocates of British rule as a pacifying and purifying force in its dominions.
Meadows-Taylor was the first serious historical novelist about India and surely one of the first serious-minded adventurers in what became practically the land of his adoption (he spent forty years there). He was far ahead of his time in seeing the necessity of learning native languages, and by sheer integrity, sagacity, and courage became the first "career man" in India to take the native seriously and respectfully as a civilized being. That he did so, we know through his autobiography and novels. Recently published letters show that he was not well-informed about India as a whole. But he gives a lift to English prestige of the better kind. He was, furthermore, independent of Company patronage. At eighteen he was assistant police superintendent over a large district, taking part in running down Thugs and robbers, and in several military expeditions. So his trilogy of novels about Indian history carries more weight than most. His exciting narrative of a Thug's career, told as though by the protagonist himself, is far better than the ordinary run of first-person crime stories, whether set in England or India. During several "placid" Victorian decades it satisfied the reader's thirst for violence. And murder, so the Victorians believed, is cleaner than sex. . . .
SOURCE: "Popular Literature and Children's Literature," in Dreams of Adventure, Deeds of Empire, Basic Books, Inc., Publishers, 1979, pp. 203-34.
[In the following extract, Green examines the different forms of heroism represented in popular boys' fiction during the nineteenth century.]
Tolstoy gives us the sense—proper to high culture and especially to art—that he is questioning and testing whatever he describes; both the modern system, and the adventures of its expansion. Now we must look to narratives and discussions which seem not to test but to advertise their values, which work at a lower artistic and cultural level.
Turning to popular literature will bring out the importance of the how-to-do-it strain of adventure, the Defoe/merchant-caste strain, which gets overshadowed by the chivalric romance when we restrict our attention to works of literary value (serious art being reactionary, and often allied to the aristocracy) but which was very powerful at the popular level. That strain of feeling was also more powerful in nonfiction than in even "democratic" fiction, because art at its purest recoils from predominant truisms, and perhaps especially from mercantile ones. It is in popular biographies and advice books that Defoe's adventurer lived on and inspired others, not in brilliant novels.
Books of this kind had been appearing ever since Defoe's time, though they are meagerly represented in the histories of literature. I have mentioned one or two eighteenth-century writers like Dilworth; there were the stories of the sea and sailors; and of course there was the unending sequence of reissues and adaptations of Robinson Crusoe. But in the nineteenth century, this literature changed its character somewhat, as did more serious literature, in response to changing cultural forces, and also found new forms of expression. In the first half of this chapter, then, I shall not be tracing the development of fictional motifs, or evoking the historical background that gave those motifs resonance, but categorizing the culture heroes of the time—those that were in effect variants on the adventurer theme, and reinforcements of that idea. In the second half I shall describe motifs in the children's and popular literature of the time, or that part of it that was adventurous.
My discussion in the other chapters is restricted to writers of first-class intelligence and sensibility. Even Cooper, though far from being a great novelist, a man of great intelligence. Since we are dealing with a cultural image as it got expressed in literature, and dealing with it in a literary way, it was necessary to choose material one can respect from that point of view. But it is necessary also to remember the other expressions of that image, less respectable and substantial from that point of view, but as effective or more so as a cultural influence. (For evidence of that effectiveness I rely on sales figures; no one seems to know what happens to books once bought—what they do inside the reading audience's heads.)
First of all, the work of Samuel Smiles, who was born in 1812, and became famous in 1859 with a book called Self-Help, which sold 25,000 copies in its year of publication, and 250,000 by 1900. It was translated into nearly every European language, and several Indian ones, plus Japanese, Arabic, and Turkish. In Italy there was an edition which substituted examples of self-help from Italian history for those British anecdotes which Smiles had chosen—anecdotes which made up nine-tenths of his book. This book was subtitled "Illustrations of Conduct and Perseverance," and it promised in effect to explain the secret of the superior energy and success of the Anglo-Saxons, their superior adaptation to the modern system. The Revue des Deux Mondes review took it as that, and only feared that Frenchmen's chauvinist prejudice might deny them access to this new source of moral energy. In his Autobiography, Smiles said that he wrote it to illustrate PERSEVERANCE, the great word of George Stephenson, the railway engineer.
Smiles was a Scotsman, a Utilitarian, and something of a radical in early life. Not an adventurer, then, but something of a Puritan. (He was a friend of Ebenezer Elliott, the Corn Law Rhymer of Sheffield.) And what this book teaches is how to acquire, by making a cult of these examples of great men and great actions, the standard virtues of Victorian England. What those are is perhaps sufficiently indicated by the titles of his later books: Character, 1871, Thrift, 1875, and Duty, 1880. They contain much warning against drink, and praise of savings banks; but basically these are collections of anecdotes about great men, noble boys, and Mothers (no need for an honorific for them). Some of the men most often cited are Washington, Wallerstein, Wellington, and Scott—a list somewhat equivalent to Defoe's list of Protestant heroes. Cobbett is described as the typical Englishman in character, and contrasted with Herder and Fichte; he was coarse and vulgar, compared with such Continental intellectuals, but had a strong undercurrent of poetry in his nature, and the tenderest regard for the character of women; though anything but refined, he was a true Englishman—pure, temperate, self-denying, industrious, vigorous, and energetic.
In the intellectual line, the greatest man who ever lived was Newton. (This is what Defoe and the Encyclopaedists said, but it's worth recalling that Swift dismissed Newton as a mechanic; Smiles is clearly on Defoe's side—the Encyclopaedists' side—in the Swift-Defoe battle.) More controversial choices of exemplars of virtue, but characteristic of Smiles, are Savonarola and Grace Darling, the lifeboat heroine. Both of these are puritan, and in their different ways, modernist figures. On the other side, Goethe, though a great poet, is not a man to copy, because he was amoral and an aesthete. Smiles has his suspicions of art, and warns us against certain kinds of literature—the leprous book, the scrofulous book, and even the giggling book. (Petronius? Pope? Nabokov?)
Considerably more interesting are his Lives of the Engineers, which began with The Life of George Stephenson, the great railway pioneer, who lived from 1781 to 1848. Smiles complained that history had been monopolized by kings and warriors and war, and claimed attention for engineers, the heroes of peace. Some phrases from the English reviews will indicate the kind of interest this biography has. "Few romances possess so strong an interest as this life, so brave, so simple, so strenuous in its faith . . . the true history of a working man." Stephenson was a true Victorian hero, and his rise from poverty to fame and fortune was felt to be adventure in the best sense—something in competition with, though not in hostility to, literal adventure in the Crusoe sense. "We see the vast achievements and the epic story of this age of ours more than half comprised in the feats of its strongest and most successful worker . . . we may designate him a hero . . . To young men faltering, it gives lessons which should supply fresh vigour. The continuous effort, the persistent valour, the daring ingenuity, and ever-active intellect of this collier boy . . ." Crusoe's virtues are seen at work in a somewhat different setting.
Smiles's importance is that he was so typical of nineteenth-century opinion. It is easy to recognize in his idea of manliness a vulgarized version of Emerson's, and indeed of other Victorian moralists. Stephenson was a man; he hated foppery and frippery above all things; he didn't drink, but ran and wrestled, and above all, worked. Emerson in fact, as Smiles tells us, said it was worth crossing the Atlantic just to meet Stephenson, he had such native force of character and intellect.
Smiles connects the cult of manliness, again in no unique way, with the cult of machinery. The ideas of work and workman subsume both. "There is indeed a peculiar fascination about an engine, to the intelligent workman who watches and feeds it. It is almost sublime in its untiring industry and quiet power; capable of performing the most gigantic work, yet so docile that a child's hand may guide it" (p. 28). Such a workman often speaks of his machine "with glowing admiration." All the improvements to machinery have come from workmen, not from scientists or philosophers. "This daily contemplation of the steam engine, and the sight of its steady action, is an education of itself to the ingenious and thoughtful workman." Defoe, I want to suggest, would have assented, would almost certainly have come to some such judgment, had he lived in the nineteenth century. It is a suggestive crystallization of the technocratic idea, which was powerful all through the century, though it rarely reached high levels of expression, literarily.
It figured largely in Mark Twain's life, however (his experience with the Paige type-setting machine constitutes a sardonic comment on the last sentence quoted), and he developed it literarily in Connecticut Yankee and other stories. It was also quite brilliantly expressed in fiction by Kipling and Wells; and commented on by Henry Adams, in "The Virgin and the Dynamo." The cult of the engineer may be said to have replaced in the nineteenth century Defoe's eighteenth-century cult of the merchant, as the former came to seem more the hero of peace, constructiveness, and the modern system.
Smiles's later Lives of the Engineers are particularly interesting for us because, alongside the biographies, they include histories of particular cities from a point of view very close to Defoe's, and continue the imaginative work he did in The Tour. We are shown England from a modern system point of view. Thus, in the Introduction we are told that England is not fertile—it has been made fertile by its industry, its canals, and other works of its engineers and improvers (p. 74). This work is moreover quite new. Not long ago, our wool was made into cloth in Flanders, our mines dug by Germans, our windmills built by the Dutch, and so on. Our apparent luck is based on our self-help—and will last only as long as our virtue does. This is exactly the approach Defoe took in his Tour, and his Essay on Projects, and Smiles emphasizes exactly what Defoe emphasized. He tells us for instance that the roads recently built in the Highlands of Scotland have had a moral influence. Telford, the engineer in charge, called the road-building a Working Academy, which turned out eight hundred improved workmen every year, and he meant improved as citizens too. (The image, and the tone, are very close to Twain's "factory of men" in Connecticut Yankee.) The change this road-building has made to Scotland can be measured in the fact that back in the 1745 Rebellion, when the district of Balmoral was remote from civilization, a whole regiment of Jacobite rebels was raised there, in a district "where now our Queen is so beloved."
Volume I is mostly about James Brindley, who built his first canal in 1761, but it also gives an account of Manchester in 1740. Volume II is mostly about Rennie and Smeaton—the latter built his first lighthouse in 1759—but it also gives a history of docks and bridges, and of the pirates who flourished before these modernizations. Volume III is mostly about Telford and Scotland; and it is notable how many of these men were Scots. Volume IV is about Watt and Boulton—Watt's first steam engine was built in 1766, and Arkwright's spinning jenny was built three years later; but also about Birmingham. Thus these four volumes are a history of England during its Industrial Revolution, complete with exempla and heroes, exactly what Defoe wanted, and very like what Defoe produced in that line.
In Self-Help Smiles also took many examples of heroism from the suppression of the Indian Mutiny, which had only just...
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Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
SOURCE: "Three Women's Texts and a Critique of Imperialism" in Critical Inquiry, Vol. 12, No. 1, Autumn, 1985, pp. 243-61.
[In the following essay, Spivak examines Jane Eyre, Wide Sargasso Sea, and Frankenstein to reveal the manner in which imperialist ideology structures the expression of nineteenth-century feminist individualism.]
It should not be possible to read nineteenth-century British literature without remembering that imperialism, understood as England's social mission, was a crucial part of the cultural representation of England to the English. The role of literature in the production of...
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SOURCE: "Imperial Gothic: Atavism and the Occult in the British Adventure Novel, 1880-1914," in Rule of Darkness: British Literature and Imperalism, 1830-1914, Cornell, 1988, pp. 227-53.
[In the book-length study excerpted below, Brantlinger examines the genre he identifies as "imperial gothic," which uses spiritualism to emphasize the themes of regression, invasion, and the lack of British heroism. In this excerpt, the critic argues that the genre is symptomatic of the gradual disintegration of British imperialism towards the end of the nineteenth century.]
In "The Little Brass God," a 1905 story by Bithia Croker, a statue...
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Bhabha, Homi K. "The other question: difference, discrimination and the discourse of colonialism." In Literature, Politics and Theory, edited by Francis Barker, Peter Hulme, Margaret Iversen, and Diana Loxley, pp. 148-72. London: Methuen, 1986, 259 p.
Uses the writings of Frantz Fanon to argue that the construction of the colonial stereotype of the "other" is characterized by an ambivalence which reflects the contradictions inherent in colonial discourse.
Bivona, Daniel. Desire and Contradiction: Imperial Visions and Domestic Debates in Victorian Literature. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1990, 153 p....
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