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Before the Raj

Writing Early Anglophone India

James Mulholland

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Anglo-India's regional literature was both a practical and imaginative response to a pivotal period in the early colonialism of South Asia.

During the later decades of the eighteenth century, a rapid influx of English-speaking Europeans arrived in India with an interest in expanding the creation and distribution of anglophone literature. At the same time, a series of military, political, and economic successes for the British in Asia created the first global crisis to shepherd in an international system of national ideologies. In this study of colonial literary production, James Mulholland…

Anglo-India's regional literature was both a practical and imaginative response to a pivotal period in the early colonialism of South Asia.

During the later decades of the eighteenth century, a rapid influx of English-speaking Europeans arrived in India with an interest in expanding the creation and distribution of anglophone literature. At the same time, a series of military, political, and economic successes for the British in Asia created the first global crisis to shepherd in an international system of national ideologies. In this study of colonial literary production, James Mulholland proposes that the East India Company was a central actor in the institutionalization of anglophone literary culture in India. The EIC drew its employees from around the British Isles, bringing together people with a wide variety of ethnic and national origins. Its cultural infrastructure expanded from presses and newspapers to poetry collections, letters, paper-making and selling, circulating libraries, and amateur theaters.

Recovering this rich archive of documents and activities, Mulholland shows how regional reading and writing reflected the knotty geopolitical situation and the comingling of Anglo and Indian cultures at a moment when the subcontinent's colonial future was not yet clear. He shows why Anglo-Indian literary publics cohered during this period, reexamining the relationship between writing in English and imperial power in a way that moves beyond the easy correspondence of literature as an instrument of empire. Tracing regional and "translocal" links among Madras, Calcutta, Bombay, and settlements surrounding the Bay of Bengal, Before the Raj recovers a network of authors, reading publics, and corporate agents to demonstrate that anglophone literature adapted itself to geographical politics and social circumstances, rather than being simply imitative of the works produced in the English metropole.

Mulholland introduces readers to figures like the Calcutta-born Eyles Irwin, the first man to sustain a literary career from India. We also meet James Romney, an army officer who wrote poems and plays, including a stage adaptation of Tristram Shandy. Alongside these men were anonymous female poets, hailed as the harbingers of an "anglo-asiatic taste," and captive adolescent Europeans who, caught up in the conflict with southern India's last independent ruler, Tipu Sultan, were forcibly converted to Islam, castrated, and made to cross-dress as "dancing boys" for Tipu's entertainment. Revealing the vibrant literary culture that existed long before the characters of Rudyard Kipling's best-known works, Before the Raj reveals how these writers operated within a web of colonial cities and trading outposts that borrowed from one another and produced vital interlinked aesthetics.

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Before the Raj

James Mulholland

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Reviews

Reviews

By excavating [archives] and reading it from new theoretical positions (like translocal regionalism and middle reading), Mulholland is giving us a shing example in how to engage in that kind of scholarship in Before for Raj.

An important contribution to our understanding of anglophone literary culture in South Asia and the Indian Ocean, Before the Raj decenters the customary metropole/colony dyad in favor of what Mulholland calls the translocal. Theoretically informed and drawing from an impressive range of historical materials, this book is crucial to our understanding of the complex ways literary cultures and empire intertwine and contest each other. An erudite and compelling investigation.

Mulholland's book will become a touchstone text in the field of imperial cultural history, both for its engagement with ongoing discussions of imitation and the local as well as its assured treatment of writings and histories spanning colonial India and Southeast Asia.

Mulholland's innovative and challenging study traces the emergence of an Anglophone colonial public sphere in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century India, Ceylon, Penang, Sumatra, and Java. Before the Raj is a supple and convincing account of the 'translocal' aesthetics and print culture that flourished in these interconnected worlds. Highly recommended.

This imaginative and wide-ranging book does something remarkable: it compels us to take seriously—maybe even appreciate—a prolific literary corpus often simply dismissed as orientalist, amateurish, or just plain bad. These supposedly minor works, James Mulholland reveals, played a major role in producing the public culture of colonial life, rooted in the diverse local and regional contexts that were so critical to making the British Empire in Asia.

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Book Details

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
A Note on Spelling and Usage
Introduction. Translocal Anglo-India
Chapter 1. A Cultural Company-State and the Colonial Public Sphere
Chapter 2. Newspaper Poetry and

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
A Note on Spelling and Usage
Introduction. Translocal Anglo-India
Chapter 1. A Cultural Company-State and the Colonial Public Sphere
Chapter 2. Newspaper Poetry and Reading Publics in Eighteenth-Century India
Chapter 3. The Vagrant Muse: Making Reputation across Eurasia
Chapter 4. Undoing Britain in Bengal
Chapter 5. Tristram Shandy in Bombay
Chapter 6. Agonies of Empire: Captivity Narratives and the Mysore Wars, 1767–1799
Chapter 7. Literary Culture of Colonial Outposts: Penang, Sumatra, and Java, 1771–1816
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Author Bio