Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Environmentalism and Imperial Manhood in Jim Corbett's the Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Environmentalism and Imperial Manhood in Jim Corbett's the Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag

Article excerpt

This essay examines the "imperial manhood" of the British Empire as constructed in relation to class, nature, and the hunt in Jim Corbett's The Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag. The essay argues that Corbett re-fashions this masculinity through his burgeoning environmentalism, attempting to maintain his identity despite the empire's dissolution.

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Despite enormous popularity in the years following World War II, when his books were international best-sellers translated into sixteen languages, Jim Corbett's tales of man-eating cats in the Indian jungles of the early twentieth century receive relatively scant critical attention today, even with the growth of interest in nature writing and environmental literature. In India, where he is recognized as a formative nature writer whose books remain in print and continue to sell, and as the man for whom the nation's oldest National Park is named, ink is generally spilled over Corbett's biography rather than over analysis of his works. However, Corbett's writing calls for scholarly attention, both for its vivid and knowledgeable portrayal of Indian jungle life, and, perhaps more significantly, for the insight it provides into a masculine consciousness that is, at once, complexly colonialist and deeply concerned with the plight of the natural world. A careful reading of Corbett probes the complex interaction among masculinity, nature, and empire, showing how none of these can be understood without the other. In the process, Corbett offers us a venue for thinking about the ways in which much of contemporary global environmentalism is the inheritor of empire, and the urgent need to come to terms with that inheritance, exorcising the ghosts of colonial consciousness even as we recognize their contributions to conservation. (1)

Scott Slovic has recently called for a reconsideration of our understanding of the relationship between masculinity and nature under a heading that he terms "ecomasculinism." Slovic suggests that the tendency of "ecofeminism" has been to blame men for the desecration of nature and argues that "ecomasculinism" would serve to counter this trend with images of men acting in sensitive and beneficial ways in the natural world (67-80, esp. 72, 78). Despite the fact that my project shares various elements that Slovic attributes to ecomasculinism, I am rather leery of the neologism and the ideological weight it suggests. One reason for this leeriness is that the term, like much of the recent eco-prefix profusion, seems to focus on the subject matter of inquiry rather than the critical tools with which it will be pursued. Perhaps even more so, it seems so bound up with its (certainly important) environmental message that this agenda takes precedence over the dynamics of individual texts. (2) My focus in this essay is not so much to redeem the image of men vis-a-vis nature and environment, but rather to explore the ways in which the deceptively simple form of the hunting story allows Corbett to develop a remarkably nuanced and complex style in which his environmentalism seems to arise as a re-fashioning of the imperialist masculinity in which he was raised. This, in turn, offers insight into the position of a masculinity inherited from imperialisms of the past within the current global environmental movement.

Corbett's The Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag opens on "The Pilgrim Road" (3) where Corbett details the hardships that "you," the reader whom he casts as a hypothetical Hindu pilgrim, will face as you perform the arduous pilgrimage to Kedarnath and Badrinath. Corbett walks beside you for a few pages, until the road reaches Rudraprayag "where you and I, my pilgrim friend, must part, for your way lies across the Alaknanda and up the left bank of the Mandakini to Kedarnath, while mine lies over the mountains to my home in Nani Tal" (4). This opening chapter introduces several of the key motifs that I will highlight in the text and, most significantly, offers us a glimpse into the significance its writing holds for Corbett. …

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