Unequal Partners: Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and Victorian Authorship

By Lillian Nayder | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Class Consciousness and the Indian Mutiny: The Collaborative Fiction of 1857

Toward the end of November 1857, three months after his last performance as Richard Wardour in The Frozen Deep, Dickens wrote to Angela Burdett-Coutts describing the Christmas Number he and Collins had just finished writing for Household Words: “It is all one story this time, of which I have written the greater part (Mr. Collins has written one chapter), and which I have planned with great care in the hope of commemorating, without any vulgar catchpenny connexion or application, some of the best qualities of the English character that have been shewn in India” (Pilgrim, 8:482—83). In speaking of the “best qualities” shown by the English in India, Dickens refers to their “heroic” resistance against the native sepoys, who had begun to mutiny in May of that year. The sepoys had political and economic grievances, but the immediate cause of their revolt was religious. The British had introduced Enfield rifles into the army, and the sepoys had to bite off the ends of the greased cartridges before they were loaded. Suspecting that the cartridges were greased with cow and pig fat, and hence sacrilegious to Hindus and Muslims, the sepoys concluded that the British were forcing them to commit sacrilege and rebelled. Some murdered their officers as well as English women and children. 1. Every day, accounts of Indian atrocities and examples of British martyrdom were reported in the British press: the sale of Englishwomen to Indians in the

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1.
For discussions of the Indian Mutiny from different vantage points, see Wayne G. Broehl Jr., Crisis of the Raj: The Revolt of 1857 through British Lieutenants' Eyes (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1986); Pratul Chandra Gupta, Nana Sahib and the Rising at Cawnpore (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963); Christopher Hibbert, The Great Mutiny: India 1857 (New York: Penguin, 1980); Thomas Metcalf, The Aftermath of Revolt: India, 1857—1870 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1964); and Vinayak Savarkar, The Indian War of Independence, 1857 (Bombay: Phoenix Press, 1947).

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