Academic journal article Genders

Soldiers of Feeling: Masculinity and Patriotism in Innes Munro's Military Memoirs

Academic journal article Genders

Soldiers of Feeling: Masculinity and Patriotism in Innes Munro's Military Memoirs

Article excerpt

[1] In the spring of 1789, the impeachment of former East India Company president Warren Hastings for war crimes in India was entering its second year. The outbreak of revolutionary violence in France was still a few months in the future. And a narrative appeared by Innes Munro, a Scottish officer in the British Army's 73rd highland regiment, in a large and handsome volume. Widely advertised in advance of its publication, Munro's account of his experiences in India during the Second Mysore War (1780-84) was partly plagiarized from William Thomson's Memoirs of the Late War in Asia (1788), but it is significant in its own right as a portrait of powerful soldierly sentiments--masculine affective entanglements that undergird Britain's expanding imperial project and threaten the emergent racializations that also supported it (for notes on the charge of plagiarism, see English Review, 372-82; and "Caution to the Young Gentlemen of the Army"). Munro's text, which shifts from narrative to sentimental tableau to ethnographic observation and back again, also offers critics distinctive insights into the workings of gender, affect, and communities of feeling in the eighteenth-century British empire. Munro's book condenses in a small compass three significant strains in late eighteenth-century discourses on masculinity: patriotism, militarism, and self-interest. Munro's text seeks simultaneously to enfold soldier and reading public into a single sentimental national community, yet also grants the military male a distinctive position within that collective--a sacrificial figure, the bearer of feelings and the endurer of emotions from which the common reading public is excluded. But while his text positions the soldier as an essential member of a national and imperial community, its gendered logic also forges unexpected bonds across national and racial lines, since male embodiments of virtue and heroism are attractive even in the racialized bodies of Indian military men.

[2] Recent studies of masculinity in this period have examined the emergence of the citizen-soldier as an exemplary male (Colley, Britons 283-319; Fulford; Braudy 217-55). However, few close examinations of soldiers' memoirs in this period have appeared, and fewer still demonstrate much interest in the way these memoirs might appropriate or deform shifting gender conventions for their own rhetorical purposes. The works that have appeared offer ambitious and compelling syntheses of shifting gendered discourses. Here, however, I take a different approach, unpacking a single memoir to argue that its procedures both confirm and complicate these arguments. Munro structured his Narrative as much around the feelings, patriotic and homosocial, that memories of the war inspired in him and in other soldiers as around the events of the war he narrates. Its technique gives us reason to doubt the claims of some historians that the language of male sensibility retreated somewhat after its peak in the 1770s (such as Wahrman 38-40). Munro's text--like others closely associated with this period of the colonization of India--indulges heavily in the lachrymose displays of feeling familiar to readers of the sentimental novel. My more granular examination of a soldier's story also supplements recent studies of the relationship between print culture and affect such as that recently highlighted by Laura Mandell (2009). Munro positions himself as a soldier within the affective nation and empire, which he imagines as a node in a network of affects that link violence, emotion, and community. But I also argue that Munro's representation of this manhood exposes certain fissures in the conceptual masonry that joins military masculinity to national and imperial service; his emphasis on masculine and soldierly generosity of feeling threatens to establish affective links between Indian and Briton, blurring empire's racial boundaries. In seeking to tease out these varied elements of Munro's narrative, I highlight the centrality of military manhood to British conceptions of empire and nationhood, while also calling attention to the internal tensions in this gender construction that kept it from becoming a simple or straightforward component of imperial ideology. …

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