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victorian review • Volume 33 Number 1 154 The Indian Mutiny and the British Imagination by Gautum Chakravarty; pp. 258. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. $88.95 paper. In his The Indian Mutiny and the British Imagination, Gautum Chakravarty studies an extensive array of both historical and fictional British writings on the cataclysmic event of 1857, the first serious threat to British rule in India. Rather than proposing any conclusive explanations of the Indian Mutiny (otherwise known as India’s FirstWar of Independence), Chakravarty sets out to“understand what meanings were ascribed to the event [by the British], and how these meanings shaped narratives historical and literary, and determined post-rebellion reckonings with India” (17). Covering a span of ninety years (between 1857 and 1947), his meticulously researched book is exhaustive in its use of primary sources, drawing equally from the non-literary (periodicals, historiographies, first-person narratives, and government documents) and the literary (novels, poetry, and drama)—the latter works testifying to the fascination of the event to the British imagination. In his introduction Chakravarty explains that his choice to fuse the traditionally disparate genres of history and literature is methodologically informed, since existing scholarship on the Indian Mutiny lacks an interdisciplinary approach. In contrast Chakravarty’s study, grounded in post-colonial theory as well as historical and literary perspectives, searches for “a possible middle ground between the political and intellectual history of the British empire in India on the one hand, and its specifically literary history on the other” (15). Corresponding to this methodology, the first half of Chakravarty’s book is devoted to tracing the writings on the Rebellion of 1857–1859 by nineteenth - and early twentieth-century historians. When read chronologically, these narratives demonstrate how a cohesive history of the Mutiny emerges from a heap of fragmented accounts: the “discontinuous events” are slowly “braided into a complete whole” (22), forming a legible story that soon permeates the British imaginary for years to come. Chakravarty explores how these “early histories exemplify the ways in which historiography worked in tandem with the administrative needs of the colonial state during periods of crisis, producing narratives, explaining events and enlisting opinion” (21). The ideologically informed writings of historians thus played a crucial role in restoring colonial rule in India and had real political consequences, such as contributing to the transfer of power from the East India Company to the Crown. Such non-fictional works also collectively re-inscribed the Mutiny as a counter-revolutionary war, a history that legitimated and renewed faith in the British civilizing mission in India. Moreover, histories of the Mutiny multiplied as British militant culture reached its height in the latter half of the nineteenth century, supported by a patriotic and xenophobic English population residing in both the metropole and the colony. 155 Reviews In his subsequent chapters, Chakravarty turns to fiction as his focal point and draws interesting conclusions about the massive body of Mutiny literature that proliferated throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, most notably between 1890 and 1910. Imbued with a strong imperialist and jingoistic tone, these literary works, Chakravarty concludes, follow a plot line founded on a “restorative demand” (112); they move “from insurgency to counter-insurgency, from a threatened to a resurgent empire, and from martyrdom to a proactive martial heroism” (113). Colonial romances, for example, often begin with details about the hardship and sacrifice endured by British men and women during the insurgence and end with the heroic and hardearned victory of the English over the natives, of civilization over barbarity. These narratives also reinforce the emerging, post-mutiny image of an insular Anglo-Indian community that distanced itself from Indian culture and people to better exercise and preserve its role as imperial ruler. Mutiny novels fused the genres of fiction and historiography,“the plot of the rebellion with that of Anglo-Indian love, marriage and domesticity” (136). Chakravarty argues that, as a result, the two generic forms of fiction and non-fiction become interchangeable and indistinct:“an incredible expansion was configured as at once a history that appeared to possess the character of romance, and a romance that was the speculum of a verifiable material history” (75). Because it...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 154-155
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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