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Images of India in Literature in English

Maria Edelson (edit.)

Most articles included in this volume were first presented during the conference on /mages of India in Film and Literature in English organized by the Department of English Literature and Culture, University of Lodz, in 1996; some of the papers are later additions inspired by the conference, but written after the event.
The papers discuss a variety of topics, they represent diverse methodological approaches and ideological stances. The literary works analysed in them belong to both English writings dealing with Indian motifs and Indian writing in English, and the quite wide range of the various texts reflects the important changes which have taken place in the course of centuries in the "relationship, often warm, sometimes embittered, but always intimate and always dominative, between English literature and Indian literatures."
In the early stages of that relationship, the limited and often distorted second-hand information that English writers had about India gave rise to such literary works as Aureng-Zebe (1675) by John Dryden, the play whose unhistorical and un-lndian character is demonstrated by Witold Ostrowski in the paper opening the series.
The paper is followed by more general synthetizing discussions of literary and cultural developments and phenomena of the 19th and the 20th century by John Riddy, who concentrates on "the strange image of the 'European1 in Indo-Anglian fiction" and by David Jasper, who shows how India has become "a huge, mysterious and romantic 'idea', which, in spite of the historical and cultural changes it has undergone, has remained part of the mythology and imagery of English literature." The panoramic views presented in the two papers constitute an appropriate background for more specific studies which follow.
One of these studies is by Adela Styczyhska, who analyses a variety of artistic devices used by Rudyard Kipling in his Kim (1901). Kim marks the beginning of a new century and a new stage in the development of literature dealing with India which was characterized by a much better understanding of its culture, due to the numerous contacts of the British with India during the 19th century. The much better understanding of Indian people also developed translations into English of both classical Indian literature and modern writers such as Rabindranath Tagore, and it was William Jones whose translations most effectively introduced "a textualized India to Europe" as they were read "by almost everyone in the west who was literate in the nineteenth century."
Another major novel, E. M. Forster's A Passage to India (1924) has, like Kim, attracted a great deal of critical attention in Britain, in India, and also in other countries. The author of the paper on the novel, Ewa Wetnic, opposes some of the currently accepted views on E. M. Forster's art and argues that a feminine vision "greatly contributes to the general understanding of the book and India." She comments on the role that women play in a world where "God is Love" and where there is belief in people's creative energy. Forster's novel brings together characters representing British culture and ideology and those who stand for Indian attitudes. The meeting of the two cultures does not produce desirable effects and the novelist is pessimistic about the possibility of establishing a satisfactory relationship between the East and the West.
The relationship between the two cultures is the central subject of the next two papers. Matthew Gibson shows in his a particular case of the influence of Indian motifs on an English work. His purpose in the paper is "to look more narrowly at the role the Upanishads play in Yeats's second edition of A Vision" (1926). Gibson's analysis of Yeats's work brings him to the conclusion that, in the writer's understanding, the Upanishads represented the possibility of counteracting the western tendency to abstraction. The fact that Aldous Huxley chose to show the merging of oriental philosophy with western civilization in a Utopian vision certainly does not suggest that it may be easily achieved in reality; the paper (by Maria Edelson) which discusses Huxley's Island (1962), points to numerous contrasts both in the form and the content of the book and to the oppositions that the writer wishes to reconcile so that the best of both worlds - the Oriental and the European - is achieved.
Much re-thinking and revision of old colonial ideas and attitudes has been going on in Britain ever since India became independent in 1947. The revaluation of the role of the colonizers in India and their relations with the colonized has produced interesting historical novels such as those by J. G. Farrell or Paul Scott whose The Jewel in the Crown (1966) is the topic of Ewa Fryska's paper concentrating on the implications of the book's use of the point of view and, especially, the change of the narrator's attitude which corresponds with the altered situation of the British in India. It is interesting to note that the post-colonial era has witnessed an outburst of literary activity which has led to an impressive amount of Indian writing in English. "The empire writes back," to use Salman Rushdie's phrase, and India has become "one of the world's largest markets for the production and the dissemination of English books." There is some opposition to this tendency among writers and critics, who argue that Indian writings in English are rootless and have no identity since they are neither truly Indian nor English.
The editor of Indian Literature, K. Satchidanandan, however, gives at least ten very good reasons, in his "Reflections" on the matter, why Indian English writing should oe continued and why it is relevant and legitimate, the chief reasons being the large number of readers it has in India and the status of the English language.
A student of Indian writing in English will be struck by a proliferation of novels in particular; fiction seems to appeal to the majority of readers much more than any other Kinds of literature and the best books attract large audiences all over the world. "If international acclaim is any measure of literary merit, then it is fascinating to note that almost every second Indian novel of the 80s has either been awarded a prize or has been short-listed for it," remarks Viney Kirpal in his "Introduction" to The New Indian Novel in English. The fruitful decade was opened by Salman Rushdie, the now internationally best known Indian English writer, who made his name with the publication of Midnight's Children (1981). It is appropriate, therefore, that there are two papers on the writer included in the oresent volume. One of them is by Renata Osowska, who examines the question of Rushdie's cosmopolitanism; she explains his strategy in terms of conscious choices based on personal, literary, and generational experiences by emphasizing what is valuable in Rushdie's work not only in spite of, but also because of his "manifold cosmopolitan inclinations." The other article, by Dorota Kolodziejczyk, presents the demythicized view of the nation reflected in the very form of Rushdie's Midnight's Children as well as A Suitable Boy (1993) by Vikram Seth, another major writer of Indian origin. These two articles bring us to more contemporary times and they are indicative of the fact that Indian writing in English today has established a relationship not only with English, but also with world iterature.
The last two papers, which close the series, deal with contemporary poetry. While that written by Jerzy Jarniewicz scrutinizes the work of a single poet - Craig Raine, who looks at India not so much as a strange and exotic land, but as a "defamiliarized" one, Suman Gupta's constitutes an extensive examination of anthologies of Indian-English poetry. Gupta focuses his attention on the publications of the nineteen seventies - a transitional stage marked by a change in attitudes towards the question of national identity.
The brief survey of topics, approaches, arguments and messages contained in the present collection of papers, shows quite clearly that in spite of the differences between East and West, and the often uneasy relationship between them, there is a strong need on both sides to "only connect". What emerges from the series of discussions of images of India is a conviction that the future is, to quote from Riddy's paper, "an uncertain, but, most certainly, a shared future."

Maria Edelson

  • ISBN: 83-7171-227-8
  • Publisher: University of Lodz
  • Language: English
  • Format: 17.0x24.0 cm
  • Number of pages: 136
  • Year of publishing: 1999
  • Cover: paperback
Table of contents
Introduction 7

Witold OSTROWSKI - Aureng-Zebe - John Dryden's Heroic Tragedy About the Mogul Dynasty 11

John RIDDY - Courtesy in Conflict. The Strange Image of "European" in Indo-Anglian Fiction 19

David JASPER - Stately Palace Domes from Myth to Reality - Images of the Raj 35

Adela STYCZYNSKA - Kim as an Image of India. A Study of Kipling's Art 43

Ewa WELNIC - Feminine Spirit in E. M. Forster's A Passage to India 55

Matthew GIBSON - W. B. Yeats and the Upanishads 61

Maria EDELSON - "The Best of Both Worlds - the Oriental and the European" or "the Reconciliation of Yes and No" in Aldous Huxley's Island 71

Ewa FRYSKA - Mr Narrator, What a Fine Listener You Are! - The Function of the Narrator in Paul Scott's Novel The Jewel in the Crown 79

Renata OSOWSKA - Salman Rushdie - A Cosmopolitan Writer 87

Dorota KOLODZIEJCZYK - Fictionalizing History and Historicizing Fiction - The Sense of the Past in Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children and Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy 95

Jerzy JARNIEWICZ - A Martian Looks at India 111

Suman GUPTA - Translating India: Anthologies of Indian English Poetry 117

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