Esmond in India is a novel of maneuver and misunderstanding. At its center is the traditional adulterous triangle of a man, Esmond Stillwood, and two women, his wife, Gulab, and the younger Shakuntala, with whom, late in the novel, he begins an affair. Yet in ironic reversal of novelistic convention, these romantic or sexual relationships are completely dwarfed in interest and importance by the subtler domestic struggles going on around them. Gulab never finds out about Shakuntala, and, though Gulab does leave Esmond and return to her family, this has nothing to do with her feelings about him, and everything to do with the long and vocal campaign conducted all through the novel by her Aunt Uma to get her, and especially her child Ravi, to come home to Indian food, Indian manners, and her Indian ties of blood. Similarly, Shakuntala’s family never find out about Esmond, or even suspect such a possibility, concerned as they are about making a prosperous marriage for her, which will above all defeat the feared and dangerous prospect of Shakuntala’s deciding to marry Gulab’s brother Narayan, a qualified doctor but one who shows no ambition toward using his qualifications to make money.
The real events in the novel, as one can see already, are almost hidden by a cloud of hopes, fears, and possibilities, few or none of which eventuate. The general anxiety which fills the novel is, moreover, generated and fueled by events in the past, both personal and political, which everyone remembers but no one is eager to mention. At the root of the whole confusion lies the changed relationship of Ram Nath and Har Dayal, the two fathers. Both were once of similar status, rich, Cambridge-educated, full of potential, with Ram Nath the elder and guiding spirit. This relationship, however, has, by the time of the novel, been reversed: Har Dayal is rich, Ram Nath relatively poor (though still supported by portions of his former property). The change...
(The entire section is 795 words.)