Orientalist themes and English verse in nineteenth-century India
This thesis demonstrates how a specific tradition of English poetry written by Indians in the nineteenth-century borrowed its subject matter from Orientalist research into Indian antiquity, and its style and forms from the English poetic tradition. After an examination of the political, historical and social motivations that resulted in the birth of colonial poetry in India, the poets dealt with comprise Henry Louis Vivian Derozio (1809-31), the first Indian poet writing in English ; Kasiprasad Ghosh (1809-73), the first Bengali Hindu to write English verse; and Michael Madhusudan Dutt (1824-73), who converted to Christianity in the hope of reaching England and becoming a great 'English' poet. A subsequent chapter examines the Dutt Family Album (London, 1870) in the changing political context of the latter half of the century. In the Conclusion it is shown how the advent of Modernism in England, and the birth of an active nationalism in India, finally brought about the end of all aspects of what is here called 'Orientalist' verse. This area has not been dealt with comprehensively by critics; only one book, Lotika Basu's Indian Writers of English Verse (1933), exists on this subject to date. This thesis, besides filling the gaps that exist in the knowledge available in this area, also brings an additional insight to bear on the current debate on colonialism and literature. After Said's Orientalism (1978), a spate of theoretical work has been published on literary studies and colonial power in British India. Without restricting the argument to the constraints of the Saidian model, this study addresses the issues raised by these works, showing that a subtler reading is possible, through the medium of this poetry, of the interaction that took place in India between the production of literature and colonialism. In particular, this thesis demonstrates that although Orientalist poetry was in many ways derivative, it also evinces an active and developing response to the imposition of British culture upon India.