Victorian Studies 45.2 (2003) 333-334
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In Another Country: Colonialism, Culture, and the English Novel in India, by Priya Joshi; pp. 368. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002, $52.50, $22.50 paper.
Novels and movies are currently among India's most successful exports to the First World. This absorbing study reminds us that such balances of cultural trade have shifted: it takes "the Indian novel" not just to mean novels written in India, but also novels read in India, whether composed and first published in Britain or elsewhere. In Another Country is divided into two sections, one focused on consumption of fiction in the nineteenth century, the other on production of fiction in the twentieth. For the purposes of this journal I will focus on the first half.
The first section of In Another Country juxtaposes what's long been a truism among economists—that colonies provide markets—with more recent attempts by reception theorists and book historians to shift literary critics' emphasis from the author to the reader. Neither of these foci is controversial in itself, but their convergence produces illuminating results. Whether they choose to invoke Roger Chartier or Stanley Fish, few critics now would dispute that readers make meaning, but Joshi breathes new life into that consensus, showing how actively Indians appropriated English novels, and how differently from metropolitan readers. In particular, sales figures suggest that Indian audiences rejected realist fiction in favor of more melodramatic modes, whose formal affinities with Indian epic traditions Joshi persuasively traces. (Reciprocally, she argues that the imported form of the novel made the epic tradition newly usable.) As a corollary, Joshi shifts our focus from British policies to Indian consumers' responses to those policies, as evidenced by sales figures and library circulation statistics in the first half of the book and by novelistic production in the second. Because the curriculum privileged poetry (with essays and drama as a close second), the novel stood largely outside of the colonial state apparatus; Joshi's topic is therefore quite different from the colonial educational system which recent studies like Gauri Viswanathan's Masks of Conquest (1989) have theorized. This is not simply a book about light reading (Frederick Marryat rather than George Eliot, Alexandre Dumas rather than Henry James), it's also a book about pleasure reading and readerly pleasure.
Joshi's research into library records and, especially, publishers' archives allows her to achieve a historical richness and intimacy unmatched by any recent study of colonial or postcolonial literature. What makes In Another Country methodologically original is the subtlety with which it situates political meaning not within the verbal content of novels, but rather—more obliquely—in the forms in which printed objects were produced, imported, circulated, and consumed. A skeptical literary critic might ask what Joshi's massive quantitative research can add to our understanding of realism; a skeptical social historian might ask what the textual analysis contained in the second half can tell us about colonialism. The answer to both questions lies in Joshi's sensitivity to process. When Indians changed from consumers to producers of English-language novels at the [End Page 333] turn of the century, Joshi argues, "it was not Victorian fiction that they carried with them so much as the practices of cultural translation and bricolage that they had developed from their consumption of this fiction" (xix). The reading practices reconstructed here exemplify a model of colonialism based less on imposition from above than on a network of (unequal but not passive) appropriations and exchanges. Nowhere is this shift more clearly marked than in Joshi's virtuosic reconstruction of Macmillan's marketing practices in India, culminating in 1886 with a highly successful series entitled the Colonial Library. Far from reducing the Indian market to a dumping-ground for books that had failed to sell at home, her research shows, Macmillan became part of a feedback loop that allowed colonial demand to influence what was published and how. Similarly, Joshi reads the 1867 Press and Registration of Books Act less as a form of censorship...