Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

"A Poor Haji in Search of the Picturesque"or an Imperial Scribe: Fanny Parks' Wanderings of a Pilgrim

Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

"A Poor Haji in Search of the Picturesque"or an Imperial Scribe: Fanny Parks' Wanderings of a Pilgrim

Article excerpt


Through a close reading of Fanny Parks' Wanderings of a Pilgrim, this paper seeks to expose the imperialist underpinnings of her travel journal, purportedly presenting an objective picture of India. To achieve this end, the main focus will be on an exploration of the rhetorical strategies and Orientalist tropes deployed by the author to script the Indian milieu in need of British benign tutelage. Unearthing the colonial ideology and Othering strategies informing this travel narrative not only casts doubt on the author's claim of experiential authority stemming from eye-witness accounts, but unravels the text's subtle endorsement of the British colonial presence and intervention in India.

Key words: Orientalist Tropes; Representation; Othering; Travel Writing; Fanny Parks; Zenana


Following permission granted by Queen Elizabeth I, the foundation of the East India Company in 1600 allowed for the deployment of British trade ships to the East Indies, mainly to the Indian subcontinent. Enjoying imperial patronage, due to high profits and the hospitality of the Mughal court, the company gradually expanded its commercial trading regions in India. Thus, the company's seemingly innocent trading paved the way for a colonial administration through the acquisition of more territories that came under its control; it culminated in the growth of the British Empire and direct colonial rule of India, referred to as the British Raj in 1858, which lasted for almost a century. To achieve its imperial objectives in the Indian subcontinent, the British administration had to be legitimized repeatedly, both during British East India Company days (1600-1858) and the British Raj (1858- 1947). As L. J. Davis (1987, p. 63) convincingly argues: "[T]he project of colonizing cannot exist without the help of ideological and linguistic structures. A country must do more than simply steal another country: a series of explanations, representations, and rationalizations must intervene to justify political action". The textual creation of the Indian subcontinent by generations of diplomats, merchants and travel writers, among others, played a decisive role, both in attracting more commercial trading and in the company's shift from its trading pursuits to direct rule of the British Raj. In her study "India/ Calcutta: city of palaces and dreadful nights", Kate Teltscher highlights the key role played by travel writing in "promoting the idea of British Rule" as well as in Britain's "transition from trading partner to ruling power" (2004, p. 192).

Postcolonial critics and travel theorists have accentuated the centrality of colonial-era travel writing in the furtherance and perpetuation of imperial agendas in the colonized countries. These narratives have been attracting an increasing amount of critical attention since the publication of Said's ground-breaking Orientalism. Said's study deftly unravels the ideological underpinnings of Western representations of the Orient and their contribution to the promotion of colonial agendas. The findings of textual analyses of colonial travel narratives have revealed submerged imperialist ideologies, attitudes and dogmas in the inscription and representation of the colonized milieu. Sara Mills' study (1994, p. 30) of Western travel texts from the colonial era finds them to be sites "within which imperialist knowledges are produced". Along similar lines, in the introduction to their compilation Not So Innocent Abroad: The Politics of Travel and Travel Writing, Ulrike Brisson and Bernard Schweizer maintain that British travel books of the colonial epoch "have long been recognized for their complicity with colonial rule by their 'Othering' discourses" (2009, p. 11). Echoes of these studies are audible in a very recent publication by Carl Thompson in which he finds Victorian travel writing to be "steeped in imperialist attitudes and imagery" and, as such, promoting British cultural and racial superiority (2011, p. …

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