Some British Gothic works written at the height of imperialism, featured Indian characters, involved India in the plot, or were set there. These nineteenth century works generally reflected the British fascination with the exotic orient, which clashed with their fear of foreign races, religions, races, and ideas. Wilkie Collins' novel The Moonstone, which was published in 1868, is an example of a Gothic novel deeply concerned with the possibility that the plundered riches of India could somehow corrupt England. It is the tale of a diamond, which is stolen by an Englishman from a Hindu temple, and which he gives to his niece Rachel as a gift. A group of murderous, superstitious Brahmin priests, for whom the diamond is a sacred object, eventually retrieve the it and take it back to India, but not before the gem occasions murders, suicides, and thefts in England.
An interesting voice to contrast with Wilkie Collins' might be that of Rabindranath Tagore, who published a series of popular Gothic short stories between 1890 and 1920. Tagore's Manihara, Kankal, Nishite, and KshuditaPashan were all translated into English and widely distributed. In traditional Bengali ghost stories, ghosts do not appear in the domestic sphere; they are things in nature, haunting a favorite tree, pond, or marsh. Tagore's invention, or perhaps his appropriation from the British Gothic tradition, is the ghost who violates the sanctity of an individual's private home, and is therefore much more disturbing. Although these stories are deeply critical of many aspects of the colonial project, they are not set in urban, colonial Calcutta, but rather in more isolated, much older locales. Tithi Bhattacharya suggests these settings' age is their most important feature, because they are deeply rooted in the past, and therefore possess a narrative authenticity that cannot be ascribed to the newer urban colonized areas. It is also important that these post-colonial ghost stories are located in non-colonized areas, because that's where the majority of the middle class maintained their ancestral homes during the nineteenth century. They used their Calcutta home as a temporary domicile, but conducted important family events and maintained cultural traditions in their true homes outside the city. For this cherished location to be haunted was much more frightening to Tagore's Indian audience than Rudyard Kipling's ghosts, who only haunted company towns and stations.
Tagore's stories also advance an intriguing feminist Gothic agenda. Written at a time when Hindu women lacked voice and agency outside the home, stories like Kankal and Nishite provided them with both. Each of these stories is narrated by a 'Babu': a Western-educated Bengali man who is pleased to work as a clerk for a British gentleman. These narrators tell the story of being haunted, and thereby lend a voice to the female ghosts. Death, it turns out, is liberating, and provides the women with the agency they need to point out the Babu's fractured identity, which is both Western and Bengali, and is therefore an untenable construction riddled with contradictions. The haunting is also difficult because it destabilizes the Babu's grasp on reality; he cannot accept the ghost as a supernatural apparition without yielding his prized grasp of Enlightenment rationality, but he cannot rationalize seeing a dead woman without questioning his own sanity. Both male narrators also rely on a double standard, expecting their appropriation of Western values to be accommodated by a woman, while assuming that she will allow herself to be bound by the ideals of Hindu womanhood. This "New Bengali" male attitude reflects contemporary tensions between reformers and traditionalists, for whom the treatment of women was a central point of contention. Traditionalists maintained their right to maintain the status quo, while reformers protested women's seclusion, lack of education, child marriages, sati (immolating widows on their husbands' funeral pyres), kulin polygamy (high-caste men who married many women for their dowries and connections, but did not see them or support them), and the status of widows. Tagore's ghosts, who had suffered in silence in life, return from the dead with the agency to protest their treatment in life, and to seek revenge.
Courtesy of Wendy Fall
Bhattacharya, Sumangala. "Between Worlds: The Haunted Babu in Rabindranath Tagore’s 'Kankal' and 'Nishite'." Nineteenth Century Gender Studies. Issue 6.1, 2010. Web.
Bhattacharya, Tithi. "Deadly Spaces: Ghosts, Histories and Colonial Anxieties in Nineteenth-Century Bengal." Postcolonial Ghosts. Ed. Joseph-Vilain, Mélanie, Judith Misrahi-Barak, and Gerry Turcotte. Montpellier : Presses universitaires de la Méditerranée, 2009. 143-156.
Manavalli, Krishna. "Collins, Colonial Crime, And The Brahmin Sublime: The Orientalist Vision Of A Hindu-Brahmin India In The Moonstone." Comparative Critical Studies 4.1 (2007): 67-86. Literary Reference Center. Web. 9 June 2015.
See also: Bombay (forthcoming)
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