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Teresa Hubel’s Whose India? is an important contribution to the ever increasing discourse on nationalism, gender, and subalternity. Her argument is based on the central premise that, in addition to being a geographical entity, India was also an imaginary space for British and Indian writers. Hubel uses a revisionist historiography which foregrounds the textuality of history and the historicity of fiction to balance her analysis of literary texts with an examination of significant historical claims about two major periods of the nationalist movement in India: 1885–1909 and 1909–1947.
She defines herself against Orientalist and nationalist historians and provides an excellent critique of both conservative historians like Charles Heimsath and Percival Spear, who dismiss the nationalist movement by foregrounding its divisiveness, and nationalist historians like Bipin Chandra and Ram Gopal who overemphasize its cohesiveness. She also presents a comprehensive critical overview of the postcolonial theories of Edward Said, Jenny Sharpe, Gayatri Spivak, and the Subaltern Studies group of critics. Partha Chatterjee’s The Nation and its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories and Susie Tharu and K. Lalitha’s anthology of Women Writing in India Vols. 1 & 2 are, however, noticeably absent from the body of critical discourse that Hubel examines. She also leaves out the critical voices of Frantz Fanon and Homi Bhabha, whose theories of nationalism, violence, and mimicry might have enhanced her project.
In keeping with her aim to disturb “the uncomplicated image of imperialism as the confrontation between the two ruling classes of India and Britain,” she begins her book by analyzing this orthodox conception of the British-Indian encounter. Hubel moves from examining the fiction and history of the rulers to the counter-discourse produced by the ruled and then on to the voices of disadvantaged subject groups within the population. Her project also includes an insightful critique of the imperialist hegemony behind the construction of literary canons in the West and in India.
In the first half of her book Hubel discusses colonial writers Rudyard Kipling, Sara Jeannette Duncan, and E. M. Forster. She finds a similarity [End Page 535] in the responses of Kipling and Duncan who either dismissed nationalism as the product of a Westernized elite or were sympathetic to a more violent or “authentic” nationalism. Hubel describes the mixed responses of Western critics to Kipling’s imperialism, but she does not attempt to explain the interest that postcolonial critics like Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak, and Ashis Nandy show in him. Nevertheless, she provides an interesting analysis of the ways in which two short stories by Kipling, “The Enlightenments of Pagett MP” and “On the City Wall,” try to diffuse the nationalist challenge to the dominant discourse of British imperialism as embodied in the myth of sacrifice latent in the ICS (Indian Civil Service). Hubel then moves on to discuss Sara Jeannette Duncan’s creation of the “ordinary memsahib,” Lucy Foley, as a response both to Kipling’s femme fatales—Mrs. Hauksbee and Mrs. Revier—and to the romantic myth of British civilization perpetuated by Maud Diver and Flora Annie Steel. As Hubel emphasizes, Lucy Foley’s most important contribution is her safe, conservative presence which serves as a normalizing force against the incipient threat of Indian nationalism. Hubel also provides a fascinating analysis of Duncan’s subversive use of the marriage metaphor in her novel The Burnt Offering. She points out that while Kipling adopts the traditional formula of a marriage between a male England and a passive India in which the latter is entirely dependent on the former, in The Burnt Offering the British/India marriage is a metaphor produced by an Indian, Yadava, for the benefit of other Indians. Not only does this marriage signify an equal partnership, it also involves an interracial relationship between a Bengali man, Bepin Dey, and an Englishwoman, Joan Mills. Although the marriage is never consummated and the beliefs of both protagonists are trivialized at the end, Hubel feels that the relationship holds out subversive possibilities for the future of both England and India. She concludes her...