Images of India in British Fiction: Anglo-India vs. the Metropolis

by Sebastian Horstmann (Author)
©2016 Thesis 374 Pages


This book investigates how India was portrayed in British novels and short stories during the heyday of the British Raj. In the tradition of post-colonial studies such as Edward Said’s Orientalism, it will be considered in how far fiction by Rudyard Kipling and other writers supported the institution of the Raj by establishing and spreading certain ideas about the Indian sub-continent and the Indian people. In addition, Said’s claims concerning the consistency of what he labels Orientalist discourse will be challenged to a certain degree, as British authors who lived in India are more likely to present an image of the country that is at least partly more detailed and nuanced than portrayals of the Indian scene created by writers who never saw the sub-continent.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Theoretical Background
  • 2.1 Definitions of ‘Orientalism’
  • 2.2 Said’s Predecessors
  • 2.3 The Role of Fiction in Orientalist Discourse
  • 2.4 The Image of India in British Fiction – Criticism
  • 3. The Traditional Image of India
  • 4. The Image of India in Anglo-Indian Fiction
  • 4.1 A Feeling of Melancholy
  • 4.2 Physical India
  • 4.3 Psychological Challenges
  • 4.4 The Anglo-Indian Self-Image
  • 4.5 The Christian Mission
  • 4.6 Indians in Anglo-Indian Fiction
  • 4.7 Different Groups of ‘Natives’
  • 4.8 ‘Native’ Stock Characters
  • 4.9 Indians ‘in General’
  • 4.10 Britons and Indians
  • 4.11 The Political Struggle
  • 4.12 The Benefits of British Rule
  • 5. The Image of India in Metropolitan Fiction
  • 5.1 A Feeling of Melancholy
  • 5.2 Physical India
  • 5.3 Psychological Challenges
  • 5.4 The Image of the Anglo-Indian Community
  • 5.5 The Christian Mission
  • 5.6 Indians in Metropolitan Fiction
  • 5.7 Different Groups of ‘Natives’
  • 5.8 ‘Native’ Stock Characters
  • 5.9 Indians ‘in General’
  • 5.10 Britons and Indians
  • 5.11 The Political Struggle
  • 5.12 The Benefits of British Rule
  • 6. Conclusion
  • 7. Appendix – Summaries
  • 7.1 Afghan: Exploits of Asaf Khan (1922)
  • 7.2 Arnold, W. D.: Oakfield; or, Fellowship in the East (1854)
  • 7.3 Candler, Edmund: Siri Ram – Revolutionist: A Transcript from Life 1907–1910 (1912)
  • 7.4 Croker, B. M.: In Old Madras (1913)
  • 7.5 Diver, Maud: Captain Desmond, V.C. (1913)
  • 7.6 Forrest, R. E.: Eight Days (1891)
  • 7.7 Hockley, W. B.: The English in India (1828)
  • 7.8 Horne, M. J.: The Adventures of Naufragus (1827)
  • 7.9 Kaye, J. W.: Long Engagements; a Tale of the Affghan Rebellion (1846)
  • 7.10 Lang, John: Will He Marry Her? (1858)
  • 7.11 Mason, Philip: The Wild Sweet Witch (1947)
  • 7.12 Money, Edward: The Wife and the Ward (1859)
  • 7.13 Perrin, Alice: Government House (1925)
  • 7.14 Sherwood, Mary Martha: Little Henry and His Bearer Boosy (1815)
  • 7.15 Steel, Flora Annie: On the Face of the Waters (1896)
  • 7.16 Taylor, Meadows: Seeta (1881)
  • 7.17 Weston, Christine: Indigo (1943)
  • 7.18 Wren, Percival Christopher: Driftwood Spars (1912)
  • 7.19 Yeats-Brown, F.: Bengal Lancer (1930)
  • 7.20 Dell, Ethel M.: The Way of an Eagle (1912)
  • 7.21 Fenn, George Manville: Begumbagh: A Tale of the Indian Mutiny (1893)
  • 7.22 Grant, James: First Love and Last Love: A Tale of the Indian Mutiny (1868)
  • 7.23 Grier, Sydney: Like Another Helen (1899)
  • 7.24 Grier, Sydney: The Advanced Guard (1903)
  • 7.25 Kingsley, Henry: Stretton (1869)
  • 7.26 Kingston, W. H. G.: The Young Rajah (1876)
  • 7.27 Lawrence, George Alfred: Maurice Dering; or, the Quadrilateral (1864)
  • 7.28 Yonge, Charlotte M.: The Young Step-Mother (1905)
  • 8. Glossary of Anglo-Indian Words
  • 9. Works Cited
  • 9.1 Anglo-Indian Fiction
  • 9.2 Metropolitan Fiction, Poetry, and Drama
  • 9.3 Criticism
  • 9.4 General

← 8 | 9 →

1.  Introduction

In the tradition of post-colonial studies such as Edward Said’s Orientalism (O) as well as works by numerous other critics who preceded or succeeded Said, this thesis will try to shed some light on the systematic (mis)representation of a colonized people by a colonial power. My efforts will focus on British attempts to portray India in fictional texts, firstly because India was arguably Britain’s most important colony throughout the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century, and secondly because creative writing constituted “a major source of information about” the country for many Britons ‘at home,’1 and thus helped to shape their attitudes towards the sub-continent and its people, as Udayon Misra points out in The Raj in Fiction (7). Although Said does not closely focus on India in his works, instead hinting that similar mechanisms of misrepresentation operate in all colonial art forms, other critics have made substantial efforts in this area. In this context, some researchers have tried to investigate the extent to which literature produced by Britons who lived in India (which, in summary, is mostly referred to as Anglo-Indian literature) can be regarded as a distinct corpus of texts.2 Despite the fact that the conclusions concerning this question have not always been identical, a set of characteristic features of these writings has been identified and confirmed in a good handful of studies. In addition, many novels and stories show that Anglo-Indian authors obviously intended their books to serve as works of reference for metropolitan readers, for reasons ← 9 | 10 → that will be considered below. This second circumstance in particular indicates differences in the perception of India between the Anglo-Indian community and the British people at large. A satisfactory answer to the question in how far fiction about India created by writers who never set foot in the sub-continent truly differs from Anglo-Indian fiction has not yet been provided, however. Even though a few critics imply that there are fundamental areas of conflict between the two bodies of texts, they do not give sufficient evidence from metropolitan literature to allow a thorough comparison. Therefore, such a juxtaposition will be attempted in this thesis.

One difficulty that had to be overcome in the conception of this study has been the selection of a representative choice of works. Although the scope of Anglo-Indian writings is surprisingly large, according to Brijen K. Gupta’s India in English Fiction, 1800–1970: An Annotated Bibliography, availability of older books has sometimes been a problem, even though the situation has improved over the course of the last ten years due to electronic republications of several texts.3 In order to trace possible developments in the typical attitudes expressed in Anglo-Indian fiction, I have decided to use some of the earliest works and afterwards examine examples at least from each decade until 1947.4 Otherwise, I have tried to include writings covering a wide range of themes, among them texts by well-known authors such as Rudyard Kipling and Flora Annie Steel as well as rather obscure novels and stories that have not been closely analysed before.5 Finally, I have exclusively chosen fiction with a contemporary setting to ← 10 | 11 → ensure the possibility of a valid comparison of the works’ main characteristics and to show how the colonial reality was transferred into creative literature, possibly with the aim of supporting and confirming British rule.6 I trust that my final choice of twenty novels and a considerable number of short stories will provide a fairly representative overview of the major features of Anglo-Indian fiction. The strong parallels between the different works are certainly obvious, suggesting that further examples would just add to the large body of references I have assembled without allowing any substantial new insights.7

The selection of suitable metropolitan literature has posed another problem, because only few authors who never even visited India set their fiction in the sub-continent, resulting in a relatively small corpus of texts mostly produced by writers who have been virtually forgotten. To enlarge the range of available materials, works which merely contain more or less frequent allusions to India without actually describing the country have been taken into account here as well, among them famous novels by Charles Dickens and Charlotte Brontë. I have nevertheless focused on literature with a contemporary setting to make a thorough comparison possible, even though older writings have sometimes been used too, in order to demonstrate that certain aspects of the British image of India had already been current before the Anglo-Indians began to write fiction.

To avoid areas of overlap between the two groups of texts, literature by authors who visited the sub-continent for short periods of time, but never became regular members of Anglo-Indian society, will be disregarded. These writers occupy an intermediate position that is difficult to define, as they gained some first-hand experience of the country without truly getting involved in its administration, at least in most cases. This third category includes authors like E.M. Forster or George Alfred Henty, who, according to Leonard R. N. Ashley, accompanied the Prince of Wales (subsequently Edward VII) on a tour of India from “October 1875 to May 1876,” and wrote several novels on the colony afterwards (George Alfred Henty and the Victorian Mind 72). Therefore, the works of these writers ← 11 | 12 → will not be used. The only exception in this respect will be William Makepeace Thackeray, who left India at the age of “five and a half” and never returned (Ann Monsarrat, An Uneasy Victorian 4–10). As his parents, grandfather, and a number of aunts and uncles spent large parts of their lives in the sub-continent, Thackeray nevertheless had a closer connection with the country than other metropolitan authors, a fact which influenced his fiction, giving him a deeper insight into the workings of the colonial venture, as will be seen below.

As a detailed comparison of the (possibly differing) images of India conveyed in Anglo-Indian and metropolitan texts will be the principal purpose of this thesis, the question in how far these representations correctly reflect the reality of Indian civilization at that time will not be dealt with in detail. Instead, it will be interesting to see in which ways the striking similarities – particularly between most Anglo-Indian “fictional configurations,” to use Parry’s words (32) – were intended “as a means of legitimating and securing British rule …” (22). The reality of India will thus only be contrasted occasionally with the primary sources analysed here, whenever the works in question directly refer to specific historical events, which is often the case with novels depicting aspects of the Indian ‘Mutiny,’ for instance.8

The structure of this thesis will be as follows: as a theoretical background, the second chapter will give an overview of previous studies that deal with the ways in which colonized peoples – and especially the people of India – are systematically portrayed in Western writings. Initially, Said’s works will be summarized, because they have made an important contribution to the discussion and also cover a very wide scope of literature. Afterwards, studies aimed at systematizing the image of India created in British fiction will be listed, as they are the most frequently used secondary sources in the succeeding chapters.9 Volumes dealing ← 12 | 13 → with individual authors will not be listed here. If necessary, the respective texts will be introduced in the following sections. Covering works by Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, Robert Southey, Sir Walter Scott, and others, the third chapter will outline how India was depicted in creative writings prior to the development of an Anglo-Indian body of fiction in order to show which characteristics of the British image of India had already been widespread before the sub-continent became a part of the Empire. Although several critics have previously supplied similar classifications, the fourth chapter will contain an account of the typical aspects of the Anglo-Indian conception of India as communicated in fictional texts, partly to provide a backdrop for the subsequent comparison, and partly to clear up certain contradictions between different studies which will be explained below. Chapter five will focus on metropolitan literature about India and give detailed assessments concerning in how far the defining features of Anglo-Indian writings are also discernible in these works. Finally, the last chapter will give a synopsis of the most important results of the comparison. ← 13 | 14 →

1 Single quotation marks are employed in this thesis whenever a word or phrase is used ironically or “in a special sense,” or if it usually implies a derogatory attitude. The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers suggests the use of double quotation marks in these cases (75–76). As this study features a very large number of direct quotations from primary and secondary sources, however, a clear distinction between these different punctuation marks and their respective functions will hopefully avoid misunderstandings.

2 Denoting a specific group of works, i.e. writings created by Britons residing in India, the term ‘Anglo-Indian Literature’ was possibly used for the first time in an article entitled “The Aspects of Anglo-Indian Literature, Past and Present,” published anonymously in Chesson & Woodhall’s Miscellany: A Monthly Magazine in 1860. Since then, it has mostly been employed to refer to the same body of texts, even though some critics also use the term subsuming all British writings on India. This study will clearly differentiate between Anglo-Indian and metropolitan fiction, i.e. novels and stories produced by authors who never lived in the sub-continent, at all times.

3 All in all, Gupta lists 2,272 volumes of fiction. His bibliography includes works written by metropolitan as well as a few Indian authors, however; the total number of novels produced by Anglo-Indians is almost impossible to determine as a result, because many books were published anonymously.

4 Because of the conspicuously large number of novels published at the time, B. J. Moore-Gilbert “argue[s] that it is from about the 1830s that one can legitimately talk of the foundation of a tradition” of Anglo-Indian fiction in his important study Kipling and ‘Orientalism’ (KO, 18).

5 It must be admitted in this context that many of these works are of a rather “mediocre” quality, as Misra correctly emphasizes (176). For instance, several novels are examples of the trivial “Indian Romance,” a sub-genre identified by Margaret F. Stieg in an essay entitled “Indian Romances: Tracts for the Times” (2). Presumably, these defects of Anglo-Indian fiction result from the fact that the “greater part of British literature on India … was written by Anglo-Indian officials and their wives,” as Benita Parry explains in Delusions and Discoveries (30), i.e. people who can hardly be regarded as professional writers. In spite of their lack of pure literary merit, however, these texts “portray … the moral and social values of their period” in detail and are therefore important sources of information for the purposes of this study (Stieg 3). Because most novels I have selected are not widely known today, the appendix contains summaries of my major primary sources (cf. section 7).

6 According to Saros Cowasjee, most Anglo-Indian fiction “is set in the present and … in one way or another … reflects the British presence in India,” this being one of the “defining feature[s]” of the entire corpus (Introduction to Studies in Indian and Anglo-Indian Fiction x).

7 It will become apparent, for instance, that the characters who are depicted are interchangeable in many cases, as Stieg points out (4).

8 As the word ‘Mutiny,’ which was used to denote the struggles of 1857–59 by Western historians, journalists, and novelists at least until the end of the Raj, “deprives the event of its political dimension” (Flaminia Nicora, The Mutiny Novel 24), which will be outlined below, the term will only appear in single quotation marks in this thesis. For a more thorough analysis of the issue, cf. Ansgar Nünning, “‘Fictions of an Excited Imagination’” 136. In Inventing India, Ralph J. Crane lists a number of other phrases that have been used at different times and by different people, including “the Sepoy Rebellion, the Sepoy Revolt and the First War of Independence” (11). ‘Mutiny’ novels will constitute one of the main foci of sections 4.11 and 5.11.

9 I do not aim at giving a complete account of all critical publications that analyse certain aspects of Anglo-Indian literature. Only works which explicitly concentrate on the Anglo-Indian image of India will be considered, as these texts have been most valuable for this study.

← 14 | 15 →

2.  Theoretical Background

2.1   Definitions of ‘Orientalism’

Before Said’s influential study was published in 1978, the term ‘Orientalism’ had had largely positive connotations. For several centuries, it had referred to an academic discipline with “a geographical, cultural, linguistic, and ethnic unit called the Orient” as its object of investigation (O 50). Said summarizes: “Anyone who teaches, writes about, or researches the Orient … either in its specific or its general aspects, is an Orientalist, and what he or she does is Orientalism” (2).10 In his book, he supplies the term with a variety of new meanings, which will be explained in this section.

One of Said’s main claims is that this academic field, which, incidentally, developed alongside “the acquisition of vast Eastern empires” by European powers (344), produced a body of knowledge that was never entirely created for its own sake, and was therefore neither neutral nor objective knowledge, even though the Orientalists implied as much.11 Instead, Said argues that this knowledge was mostly produced for political ends, and often “put directly to functional colonial use” (80). The way in which Orientalist scholars depicted ‘the Orient’ (and its inhabitants) rationalized and justified its occupation by European countries. As a consequence, Orientalism was complicit with colonialism.12

To demonstrate why its colonization by Europe was a good thing, Orientalists developed an image of ‘the Orient’ which was marked by a fairly fixed set of ideas.13 These concepts circulated widely, quickly assuming the status of received truth through constant repetition. They “allowed Europeans to deal with and even to see Orientals as a phenomenon possessing regular characteristics” (42), and became so commonly known that “for a writer to use the word Oriental was a ← 15 | 16 → reference for the reader sufficient to identify a specific body of information about the Orient” (205, emphasis in the original). Furthermore, the limited number of key ideas helped to cut ‘the Orient’ down to size, making it appear manageable and less threatening. In creating this handy conception of ‘the Orient,’ the Orientalists were assisted by cultural as well as scientific disciplines, like “philology, lexicography, history, biology, political and economic theory, novel-writing, and lyric poetry,” which helped to spread the main ideas (15).14 Together, according to Said, these sources formed a Foucauldian discourse, i.e., as Hans Bertens puts it, “a loose system of statements and claims that constitutes a field of supposed knowledge and through which that ‘knowledge’ is constructed” (Literary Theory: The Basics 203). This discourse, which presented ‘the Orient’ in a certain way in order to justify its domination by the West and determined the manner in which ‘the Orient’ could be talked about in the colonial age, is what Said labels ‘Orientalism.’ The discourse was in fact so powerful that “no one writing, thinking, or acting on the Orient could do so without taking account of the limitations on thought and action imposed by Orientalism…. because of Orientalism the Orient was not (and is not) a free subject of thought or action” (O 3).

At this point, it must be emphasized that Orientalism never drew a realistic portrait of an existing geographical region, nor did it aim at doing so, although the picture it created was certainly taken as representative of an alleged real phenomenon. The image could not correspond to an actual ‘Orient,’ however, as a homogeneous entity which may have been referred to by that term has never existed. Said explains that the Orientalists approached “a heterogeneous, dynamic, and complex human reality from an uncritically essentialist standpoint,” reducing a multifaceted reality to one fixed, unchanging concept (333); “the plurality of differences among the Arabs” who were described was eradicated in the process (309). ‘The Orient’ as it was – and to some extent still is – known in the West was therefore “not an inert fact of nature” (4), but rather “a constituted entity” (322), or, expressed more drastically, “almost a European invention” (1).

As academic Orientalism was a comparative discipline, producing a certain idea of one geographical region was never its sole function. The Orientalists always utilized ‘the Orient’ “to define Europe … as its contrasting image, idea, personality, experience,” and were thus able to create a certain picture of ‘the West’ as well (1–2). In these juxtapositions, ‘the Orient’ was characterized as ‘the ← 16 | 17 → West’s’ exact opposite, its ‘Other,’ something which any culture needs to define itself. Said suggests:

The construction of identity – for identity, whether of Orient or Occident, … while obviously a repository of distinct collective experiences, is finally a construction – involves establishing opposites and ‘others’ whose actuality is always subject to the continuous interpretation and reinterpretation of their differences from ‘us’. Each age and society re-creates its ‘Others’. (332, emphasis in the original)

Being regarded as exact opposites, ‘the West’ was consequently identified by being (supposedly) everything ‘the Orient’ was (supposedly) not.15

The frequent comparisons between ‘Orient’ and ‘Occident’ were “rarely descriptive,” as Said points out, but usually “both evaluative and expository” (149). They made sure that ‘the Orient’ was seen as inferior and had to be colonized as a result, as it needed ‘the West’s’ helping hand.16 If, for instance, Orientals were depicted as lazy, Europeans were seen as naturally hard-working and diligent. If Orientals were lecherous sex maniacs, it was implied at the same time that Europeans were capable of restraining themselves.17 This contrast between East and West was absolute, and it was one of the central assumptions of the Orientalists’ work. Accordingly, Said lists “a style of thought based upon an ontological and epistemological distinction made between ‘the Orient’ and (most of the time) ‘the Occident’” as another definition of the term ‘Orientalism’ (2).


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (April)
British India British Raj Orientalism Indian Mutiny Indianism
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 374 pp.

Biographical notes

Sebastian Horstmann (Author)

Sebastian Horstmann studied English and Music at Osnabrück University, Leibniz University Hannover and SUNY Oswego. His primary research interests include post-colonial studies, film music and bilingual education.


Title: Images of India in British Fiction: Anglo-India vs. the Metropolis
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376 pages