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Warren Hastings in the Drama of Lion Feuchtwanger and Bertolt Brecht: Contexts and Connections T. H. Bowyer A historical drama by two twentieth century German playwrights on the British administration of Bengal by Warren Hastings in the late eighteenth century is rarely mentioned in anglophone historical and literary discourse on the British in India. Warren Hastings, Gouverneur von Indien, a play in four acts and a prologue by Lion Feuchtwanger (1884-1958), a rising Jewish dramatist and intellectual, was published and first performed in Munich in 1916 at the height of the First World War. Nearly ten years later Warren Hastings attracted the interest of a young friend of Feuchtwanger, Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956), then developing his own theories and talents as a man of the theater. Between them, they reworked the original play, which, in its revised form, was given its first performance in 1927 under the title Kalkutta, 4. Mai.1 Extensive literary evaluation and textual comparison of the two versions of the play already exist in German publications.2 These aspects are touched upon in this essay, but the approach here is primarily historical and historiographical. The intention is to examine Feuchtwanger and Brecht's treatment of Hastings as a protagonist in an important chapter of British imperial history, and also to consider the play in a broad historical context. I Warren Hastings first went to India in 1750 at the age of eighteen as a writer in the service of the East India Company. He rose in rank and influence, married and was left a widower. Following disagreements with colleagues he returned to England in 1765. These fifteen years in India were a prelude to Hastings's 394 T. H. Bowyer395 second residency, which provides the setting for Feuchtwanger's drama. Hastings went back to India in 1769. On the voyage out he became attached to the wife of Baron Carl von Imhoff (an impoverished former officer in the army of Württemberg) who tended him when he fell ill. Hastings was nominated governorgeneral of Bengal by the British government in 1773. The Baron having at last obtained a divorce, Hastings married Anna Maria von Imhoff, née Chapuset, in Calcutta in 1777.3 Hastings's governor-generalship engendered vehement and abiding controversy, but in defending and consolidating the British presence he helped to lay the foundations of the British empire in India. Although some contemporaries, and subsequently some historians, considered Hastings to be an autocrat guilty of corrupt practices and oppression of the indigenous people, few denied his decisive contribution to the rise of British power in India. Hastings's government was despotic, yet he was ultimately accountable to Parliament and the East India Company. This accountability was patently demonstrated following his return to England in 1785 when he was impeached for maladministration and corruption but acquitted after a trial lasting seven years.4 In the decade before his death in 1818 and in the years following, Hastings rose high in public esteem. It was widely believed that he had been too harshly judged and had received less than due recognition for his services to king and country, though a hard core of critics remained unconvinced. In 1841 the publication of a sycophantic biography, which included a selection of Hastings's letters, was the catalyst for Macaulay's compromising essay around which much of the subsequent debate on Hastings's administration gathered.5 British imperialism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, although different in character from the mainly mercantile colonial expansion of the eighteenth century , saw in Hastings an exemplar, a true father of the British empire who, against the indifference or outright opposition of the home government and the disloyalty of colleagues, battled against all odds to maintain and to extend British authority in India. "Rarely," wrote one adherent of this later school of imperialism, "has there been a man at the head of British interests in India who more completely recognised the imperial principle which has been and is the birthright of the English race"—the "imperial principle" being here defined as "to conquer and retain."6 Hastings was quintessentially a British hero, and it would be expected that British authors...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 394-413
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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