Posts Tagged ‘Writers’


It’s enough to make a Border Collie happy…such glowing reviews for Indian Angles. Finally, reviews for Indian Angles and Anglophone Poetry are beginning to come in. In the just released annual review in Victorian Poetry, “The Year’s Work, Women Poets” (Victorian Poetry 50 [3] Fall 2012), Alison Chapman writes:

A major achievement for the study of Victorian women’s poetry is undoubtedly Mary Ellis Gibson’s extraordinary Indian Angles: English Verse in Colonial India from Jones to Tagore (Athens: Ohio Univ. Press, 2011) and the companion Anglophone Poetry in Colonial India, 1780–1913: A Critical Anthology (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2011). While neither the monograph nor the anthology focus exclusively on women poets, both have important, and impeccably researched material, on women’s contribution to Anglophone poetry in the era, and the relations among colonialism, gender, and literary tradition in a colonial context. In particular, the book’s argument puts women’s poetry at the centre of Anglophone poetry, in a deep conversation with a wide group of poets and three structuring concerns: “the material histories of uneven development; the geocultural history of the transperipheral; and the psychic history of what Homi Bhabha calls ‘unhomlieness’” (p. 7; the reference is to Bhabha’s The Location of Culture). In its rich, meticulously researched, and elegantly argued chapters distinguished by powerful close literary readings, Gibson puts poetry and the culture of poetry at the heart of English language culture in India. The main thrust of this argument is the print culture of India, and its relationship to Britain and to Europe in general, in terms of the colonial publication and circulation of newspapers, annuals, miscellanies, and belletristic volumes.

Within this wide historical tracing of print media, Gibson’s book always comes back to the importance of literary codes, conventions, and genres, arguing overall that “poetry can be thought of as a kind of pressure cooker for historical and ideological contradictions. . . . The pressure of poetic convention makes especially evident the rifts and fissures within the colonial scene of writing” (p. 8). Part of the methodology that is particularly effective here is the teasing out of the significance of the “extraordinary number of para-texts” in Indian poetry in English, through the assumption that legibility is [End Page 402] fundamental and yet problematic for these writers (p. 9). Although capacious in approach, and generous in its discussion of a huge number of poets, Indian Angles has a largely Bengali focus, and the introduction defends the decision through reminding us of the centrality of Calcutta to the publishing and reception of English language poetry in colonial India, thanks to the English administration that had its major center there (pp. 9–10).

Each chapter of Indian Angles puts a woman writer in dialogue with men poets and with the culture of Anglophone poetry in India. In chapter one, the poetry of Anna Maria (about whom little is known), is placed in relation to late eighteenth-century Della Cruscan poets in London as well as the dynamic between center and periphery. The discussion compares her to Sir John Horsford and Sir William Jones, who originated English language poetry in India, and their different negotiations with both the metropole and poetic tradition. The following chapter on bardic nationalism features the English journalist Emma Roberts, colleague of Letitia Elizabeth Landon, whom she influenced through her representation of orientalism. Roberts is also placed within her friendship with the East Indian writer H. L. V. Derozio. Chapter four concerns in more detail the mimicry of poetic conventions embedded in colonial poetics, clustering together Kasiprasad Ghosh, Michael Madhusudan Dutt, and Mary Seyers Carshore (a woman writer of Irish parents who lived all her life in India, dying in the 1857 uprising). Europhile and Christian convert Toru Dutt, already emerging in nineteenth-century studies as a major poet, is in the next chapter put into dialogue with Mary Eliza Leslie, through the ideologies of religion and domesticity. Moving into the concerns of early modernism, especially late-century cosmopolitanism, aestheticism, and empire, Gibson juxtaposes the poetry of Sarojini Naidu with her British friend Arthur Symons, as part of a chapter that also pairs Manmohan Ghose and Laurence Binyon, and Rabindranath Tagore and William Rothenstein, Yeats and Pound. Indian Angles is a brilliant book, conceptually sophisticated, meticulously researched, always with an ear for the alluring complexities of colonial poetics, tightly focused on pairs and groups of poets yet also ranging widely within European and Indian poets and their multiple negotiations between conventions, genres, canons, languages, and countries. Particularly impressive, within the concerns of this review essay, is how tightly woven women’s poetry is within the concerns of the book, and yet the argument never loses sight of the often problematic interplay between gender, nationalism, and poetics. The companion anthology ably supplements this sophisticated monograph, and will surely open the door further to the importance of women’s Anglophone poetry in colonial India in the long nineteenth century. The women poets featured are Anna Maria, Lady Maria Nugent, Emma Roberts, Honoria Marshall Lawrence, E.L., Mary Seyers Carshore, Aru Dutt, Toru Dutt, Sarojini Naidu. The editorial apparatus is [End Page 403] to be applauded, especially the editorial introduction to each poet, and I can imagine the anthology setting a new agenda for the research and teaching of Anglophone poetry in nineteenth-century India.

Also writing in The Year’s Work in Victorian Poetry, General Materials, (Victorian Poetry 50 [3] Fall 2012), Albert Pionke comments:

Competing notions of national character, both English and Indian, populate Mary Ellis Gibson’s new anthology, Anglophone Poetry in Colonial India, 1780–1913 (Ohio Univ. Press, 2011), which traces the contours of English language poetry across the subcontinent over the course of the long nineteenth century. Describing her goals as, to “bring forgotten poems back to view . . . to re-create the complex conversation among poets that shaped them . . . [and] to make these poems literally and culturally legible to American and British readers” (p. 25), Gibson provides selections from forty-three poets, including four appended under the rubric of “Comic and Satiric Poets of the Long Nineteenth Century.” Outside of this appendix, poets appear chronologically by date of birth, ranging from Sir William Jones (1746–1794) through Sarojini Naidu (1879–1949), and including no poems published after Rabindranath Tagore’s receipt of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. Later poets’ work is thus only partially represented, and the volume as a whole understandably focuses on lyric poetry, at the expense of the long narrative poem. Gibson forthrightly acknowledges both points in her Introduction, which thoughtfully establishes India’s cosmopolitan multilingualism in the period; surveys contemporary shifts in publishing and reading practices, particularly the expansion of the printing industry outside of Bengal in the 1840s, and the diversification of writers, poetics, and cultural perspectives that resulted; identifies dominant tropes and recurrent motifs and modes, most notably the recurrence of bardic nationalism; and explains her editorial principles of textual selection and presentation. This introduction, together with Gibson’s paratextual apparatus—biographical head notes, brief suggestions for further readings, the inclusion of authors’ original learned footnotes, as well as additional helpful identifications of cultural figures and historical events—provides teachers and students with everything necessary for classroom use. And Gibson includes many poems sure to provoke fascinating discussion: three Persian-language-indebted poems from Jones, a paraphrase (“a ghazal of Hāfiz”), a transcription of the same in iambic tetrameter (“A Persian Song”), and an original English-language ghazal (“An Ode of Jami”) lead off the volume and bring the issue of translation appropriately to the fore; E. L.’s “Kádambini” relocates this subject to the schoolroom, reproducing the playful, broken exchanges between an American teacher and her Indian student, complete with the author’s diacritical marks, use of the vernacular, and footnoted translations; the politics of cultural translation emerge in poetic responses to the 1857–58 rebellion from Govin Chunder Dutt (“To Lord Canning”), Mary Eliza Leslie (from Sorrows, Aspirations, and Legends), and Sir [End Page 320] Alfred Comyn Lyall (Retrospection); finally, the close juxtaposition of poems from Tagore and Rudyard Kipling allows for a rich discussion of poetry’s multiple social functions in the period of late colonialism.

Gibson’s companion monograph, Indian Angles: English Verse in Colonial India from Jones to Tagore (Ohio Univ. Press, 2011), greatly expands upon the social, political, and bibliographical information provided in the Introduction to Anglophone Poetry, even as it preserves that volume’s emphasis upon the conversations, affiliations, and intertextual mediations that shaped English language poetry in India. Making explicit the problematic of translation and colonialism already discernible in the numerous poems included in the anthology, Indian Angles“argues for an understanding of a canon that takes nationalism as a subject of inquiry rather than a criterion for selection” (p. 4). English language poetry in India, for Gibson, is best imagined not as “a sweeping narrative history” but rather as “a tale of arranged marriage among cultures” (pp. 4, 279); which is to say, that her focus is on the often fraught relationships of individual poets to one another and to their familial, linguistic, religious, material, ethnic, and belletristic circumstances. She structures Indian Angles into six chapters, each of which centrally features two to six poets representing the successive generations of the extended family that results from this “marriage”: Sir William Jones, Sir John Horsford, and Anna Maria; H. L. V. Derozio and Emma Roberts; David Lester Richardson and Henry Meredith Parker; Kasiprasad Ghosh, Michael Madhusudan Dutt, and Mary Carshore; Govin Chunder Dutt, Hur Chunder Dutt, Greece Chunder Dut, Shoshee Chunder Dutt, Mary E. Leslie, and Toru Dutt; and Manmohan Ghose, Sarojini Naidu, and Rabindranath Tragore. Working on the anthology and monograph simultaneously has given Gibson an impressive breadth of reference; happily, at moments when less familiar readers may begin to feel overwhelmed, they need only consult Anglophone Poetry to have the primary text at hand. Many of these texts receive meticulous close readings from Gibson—including Jones’ “Plassey-Plain” (pp. 31–33), Derozio’s “The Harp of India” (pp. 77–79), and the paratexts of Carshore’s Songs of the East (pp. 169–173)—who also reconstructs the sometimes highly critical awareness of events in England present in poems like Roberts’s “The Rajah’s Obsequies,” which uses the figure of sati to respond to contemporary debates over married women’s property (pp. 95–98), and T. W. Smyth’s apocalyptic and borderline regicidal “On the Late Attempted Assassination of the Queen,” published in 1843, but most likely written in 1840 (pp. 119–120). This same period witnessed dramatic changes in the production, distribution, and consumption of books in India, and Gibson’s third chapter provides an expert historical bibliography of Bengal’s new commodity print culture. Literary nationalism inevitably emerges as one product of this expansion of the book and periodical markets, and in her final three chapters Gibson traces this development in [End Page 321] English language poetry written in India by British authors and in London by Indian authors. She ultimately argues that the influences of cosmopolitanism and aestheticism, together with the “dynamics of affiliation, of friendship, and of hospitality,” should move us to reconfigure literary history beyond the “governing assumptions of ethno-nationalist exclusivity” (p. 230).


Read Full Post »