Spanning nearly two and a half centuries of English literature about India, Under Western Eyes traces the development of an imperial discourse that governed the English view of India well into the twentieth century. Narrating this history from its Reformation beginnings to its Victorian consolidation, Balachandra Rajan tracks this imperial presence through a wide range of literary and ideological sites. In so doing, he explores from a postcolonial vantage point collusions of gender, commerce, and empire-while revealing the tensions, self-deceptions, and conflicts at work within the English imperial design.
Rajan begins with the Portuguese poet Camoes, whose poem celebrating Vasco da Gama's passage to India becomes, according to its eighteenth-century English translator, the epic of those who would possess India. He closely examines Milton's treatment of the Orient and Dryden's Aureng-Zebe, the first English literary work on an Indian subject. Texts by Shelley, Southey, Mill, and Macaulay, among others, come under careful scrutiny, as does Hegel's significant impact on English imperial discourse. Comparing the initial English representation of its actions in India (as a matter of commerce, not conquest) and its contemporaneous treatment of Ireland, Rajan exposes contradictions that shed new light on the English construction of a subaltern India.
Giving postcolonial thought a historical dimension, Under Western Eyes also places literary history in new perspective through postcolonial readings. It will interest scholars of cultural history, particularly British imperial history, and those engaged with postcolonial, literary, subaltern, South Asian, and cultural studies.