Colonial Narratives/Cultural Dialogues: Discoveries of India in the Language of Colonialism

By Jyotsna G. Singh | Go to book overview

Chapter 3

The gendering of empire

I

“I think if any Englishman married a Hindoo or a Mohamedan girl, after the customs and beliefs of her sect, and in the good faith that such a marriage would be binding on him—why! have not many of our old dignitaries done this and lived happily all their lives?—and many others—. What a grand effect had the marriage of Akbar to a Rajpoot princess over the people at large!…but… I am putting the case hypothetically. I don’t suppose it will ever be; but for all that there is many a Hindoo girl like Seeta, who would be an ornament and blessing to any man…though perhaps it is best, after all, that it is not attainable…because of our social prejudices, which you and I can’t overcome…because our perceptions are narrowed with our isolated positions…and because if a man, one of us, married a native lady—married I say—he must exclude himself from society, which would require a strong mind. ”

“Then the thing is impossible, Philip?”

“I did not say that, ” he replied.

(Colonel Meadows Taylor, Seeta, 1872:87)

This suggestive exchange between two Englishmen, Philip Mostyn and Cyril Brandon, from the novel Seeta, vividly brings to life the symbolic relationship between British and native women within the colonial gender system in the nineteenth century. The “Hindoo girl” whom they refer to is Seeta, a native widow and a witness at the trial of her husband’s murderer. Both Mostyn and Brandon, the judge and magistrate, are immediately struck by Seeta’s presence: “It was impossible for the judge not to be struck by her exceeding beauty and grace…. He had never seen such an Indian woman before…and could fully understand Cyril’s warm description of her after [his early] enquiries” (Taylor 1872:84). Thus, early in the novel, the scene is set for a rescue fantasy.

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