restricted access After the Raj: British Novels of India Since 1947, and: Major Indian Novels: An Evaluation (review)
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Reviewed by
David Rubin. After the Raj: British Novels of India Since 1947. Hanover: UP of New England, 1986. 197 pp. $19.95.
N. S. Pradhan, ed. Major Indian Novels: An Evaluation. Atlantic Highlands: Humanities, 1986. 266 pp. $17.50.

David Rubin's assertion that "no land has ever equaled India for the fascination it has exerted over the British imagination" is borne out by the profusion of British fiction that explores Indo-English relations. But even though forty years after Indian Independence the interest and literary output continue unabated, scholarly examinations of contemporary "Anglo-Indian" novels (those by English people domiciled in India) about India are scarce. This gap in criticism is partially filled by Rubin's After the Raj, a discerning appraisal both of such established writers as Paul Scott, Ruth Jhabvala, and Kamala Markandaya and of such lesser-known novelists as Rumer Godden, Geraldine Halls, and Valerie Fitzgerald.

A visiting professor of modern Indian languages at Columbia University and the author of three novels set in India, Rubin displays considerable familiarity with the Indian ethos in substantiating his thesis that the novelists' comprehension of Indo-British tensions determines the artistic worth of their writings. In the first chapter of After the Raj, Rubin surveys pre-Independence British fiction about India to demonstrate an evolving racist view of the subcontinent in such authors as Mary Martha Sherwood, Flora Annie Steel, and Rudyard Kipling. In the second and third chapters he illustrates how British misconceptions have remained largely unchanged following India's Independence: the "mythology" of India as a land of dark mystery, dangerous intrigue, ensnaring sexuality, and insidious spirituality continues to pervade much of the writing of such contemporary novelists as M. M. Kaye, John Masters, Geraldine Halls, and even Ruth Jhabvala. [End Page 765]

The remaining four chapters of Rubin's book examine in detail the works of three of the best post-Independence British writers: Jhabvala, Scott, and Markandaya. Rubin's choice of authors imparts a felicitous balance to his book in two ways. The novelists' diverse backgrounds—Jhabvala, a Polish Jew educated in England and married to a Parsi, made her home in Delhi for twenty-five years; Markandaya, an Indian married to an Englishman, has lived in London since 1948; and Paul Scott, a Briton, served in the army in India during the Second World War—are accompanied by an equal diversity in the writers' treatments of India to effect a "triune division of the field." In this triumvirate, Jhabvala represents "a sort of Inferno," Scott a "Purgatorio," and Markandaya a "near-Paradiso of reconciliation and ultimate harmony."

Although he defends Jhabvala against charges of limited subject matter and praises her best style as distinctively comical-ironic, Rubin places the author within the tradition of those Anglo-Indian writers who continue to portray India as morally bankrupt, stiflingly traditional, and oppressively mediocre. Markandaya, on the other hand, displays a remarkable knowledge of both the Indian and British psyches in subtly conceived social comedies that place her in the mainstream British tradition of the novel of manners. Even more than Markandaya, however, it is Scott who wins Rubin's unstinted praise. Scott is "always excepted" in Rubin's censure of the prejudicial myths of Anglo-Indian novels, for he has written "far and away the best fiction" dealing with relations between Britain and India "not only since Independence but since the very beginning of such fiction."

Although After the Raj is a thoroughly researched and informed commentary upon a body of literature too often ignored in Western academic circles, it can be criticized on two grounds. First, in attempting to establish Scott's stature, Rubin makes extravagant claims: Scott's historical vision he likens to Tolstoy's; his psychological realism and symphonic treatment of time to Proust's; his characterization, narrative skill, and comic-elegiac tone to Faulkner's, Conrad's, and Chekhov's, respectively. Second, in spite of E. M. Forster's status among Anglo-Indian writers, Rubin undervalues his achievement in favor of Scott's. Although he praises, though only in passing, Forster's lyricism, comic commentary, and evocation of atmosphere in A Passage to India, Rubin faults him for...


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