Civility and Empire: Literature and Culture in British India, 1822-1922

By Anindyo Roy | Go to book overview

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Colonial civility and the regulation of social desire

Walter Scott introduces his little-known Oriental tale The Surgeon's Daughter with a short metanarrative in which the fictional author, Mr. Croftangry, while expressing his fears that the Highland theme had lost its romantic appeal for his readers, is advised by his friend and aristocratic patron, Mr. Fairscribe, to do “with your Muse of Fiction, as you call her, as many an honest man does with his own sons in flesh and blood … Send her to India” (Scott [1827] 2000:155). 1 For the desperate Mr. Croftangry, the only way of ensuring the survival of his own literary career in this situation was to “light upon any topic to supply the place of the Highlands” (ibid.: 154; emphasis added). Mr. Fairscribe's advice to the author is significant not only because it points to the emerging popularity of the empire as a topic of fiction, but also because the analogy embedded in it is symptomatic of the enmeshing of different strands of social behavior triggered by the economic and cultural politics of early nineteenth-century British colonialism in India. More specifically, within this complex whole is visible the constitutive role of metropolitan civility in establishing and legitimizing the power of the colonial state. The analogy also reflects the dominant belief of the times that Britain's colonies provided the most reliable avenue for profit, investment, and accumulation of capital perceived to be depleting in the domestic sphere, and that the continuity of the nation's patriarchal social order depended on exploiting that potential. 2 This is most clearly visible in the two metanarratorial frames, where a web of interconnecting links is established between “literary” authorship, the rights and privileges of British Whig patriarchy, and the growing markets for new goods made possible through the colonial traffic. These links also point to the fact that colonialism gained its power and coherence as a social, political, and economic enterprise by organizing itself around specific norms of male civility that had been fashioned according to the logic of an emerging disciplinary nation. That logic, as this chapter attempts to demonstrate, was aimed at both inspiring and restraining those social desires of Britons that were historically linked to nation's rise as a colonial state. It required the production of a racialized discourse of cultural otherness as a way to imagine new definitions of citizenship, inheritance, and nationality, and as a way to manage the social desires triggered by them.

By opening up new possibilities for the market to reshape and regulate the needs of the people, the colonial enterprise created a new traffic between the nation and

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Civility and Empire: Literature and Culture in British India, 1822-1922
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Colonial Civility and the Regulation of Social Desire 34
  • 2 - Writing the Liberal Self 61
  • 3 - Policing the Boundaries 90
  • 4 - Savage Pursuits 122
  • 5 - Civility and the Colonial State of Body in Leonard Woolf 144
  • Conclusion 178
  • Notes 187
  • References and Bibliography 200
  • Index 213
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