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

By Anindyo Roy | Go to book overview

5

Civility and the colonial state of body in Leonard Woolf

Only one person in the world could be as he was, in love. And there he was, this fortunate man, himself, reflected in the plate-glass window of a motor-car manufacturer in Victoria Street. All India lay behind him; plains, mountains; epidemics of cholera; a district twice as big as Ireland; decisions he had come to alone-he, Peter Walsh; who was now really for the first time in his life, in love.

Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway

In this scene in Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf provides a singularly powerful description of a middle-aged Peter Walsh, a man poised on the threshold of a new life in the post-war metropolis of London after serving for seven years in the colonies. The London to which he returns is a city brimming with the spectral haze of modern consumer goods-shiny motor cars on the streets and shops filled with dazzling new merchandise. How compelling that vision is for Peter becomes clear as he strides out into the city streets and sees his own image reflected on the plate glass window of a motor-car manufacturer in Victoria Street. Captured in Peter Walsh's reflection on this silvery surface of the plate glass is the self-image of a colonial man asserting his sovereign place in the new plenitude of the metropolis. Just moments earlier, he seemed to have stepped clean out of his colonial past into the plush interiors of Clarissa Dalloway's lavish drawing room, hoping to leave behind his memories of death and isolation. Although during his brief meeting with Clarissa he senses that things had changed inalterably for him and for her, he nevertheless convinces himself that he was “really for the first time …, in love.” The quiet fortitude and self-composure with which he conducts himself in Clarissa's presence is, in a sense, mirrored by the narcissistic emotion that is generated in Peter by the sight of his reflected self-image. The mirroring effect here powerfully suggests the extent to which Peter and other people like him rediscover their identities in a reified spectral relationship to the metropolitan world, a world that presents itself seamlessly through the all-pervasive spectacle of consumer objects. The all-encompassing power of that spectacle is signaled by the spatiality of this world, a spatiality produced in relation to what Marx has called “markets for labor, capital and consumer goods” (Pietz 1993:148). Londoners are shown to be held by the spectacle of this world-from its goods assembled behind shop

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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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