Nigel Leask on Harish Trivedi, 3:2, 1994
Jean-Michel Ganteau on Lynne Pearce, 15:1, 2006
Christine Reynier on Christine Froula, 14:1, 2005

From In-between, 3:2, 1994
. "The Frogs in the Well." Rev. Harish Trivedi. Colonial Transactions: English Literature and India. Calcutta: Papyrus, 1993. By Nigel Leask

From In-between, 15:1, 2006
"The Postmodern Avatars." Rev. Lynne Pearce. Romance Writing. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007.
By Jean-Michel Ganteau

From In-between, 14:1, 2005.
"Disinterested Contemplation." Rev. Christine Froula, Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Avant-Garde, 2005.

by Christine Reynier.


The Frogs in the Well
From In-between 3:2, 1994


Harish Trivedi. Colonial Transactions: English Literature and India. Calcutta: Papyrus, 1993. Pages, 259. Rs. 200.00, hardcover.

by Nigel Leask / University of Cambridge

At one point in this lively book, Harish Trivedi admonishes the corporate body of Indian teachers of English Literature with characteristic bicultural erudition: 'English literature remains for us—to invoke a phrase Dryden used of Chaucer—a well of English undefiled, and we remain (to invoke a Hindi/Sanskrit proverb) the frogs in that well, quite oblivious of the literary world beyond' (225). Colonial Transactions sets out to explore the predicament of the post-colonial 'frogs in the well' in a collection of essays impressive for the range of its literary-historical intelligence. The essays are clearly aimed both in subject-matter and critical idiom at a Subcontinental rather than a Western readership: Western (particularly USA- based) readers accustomed to the characteristic discourse of post-colonial criticism will probably find them somewhat under- theorised. Trivedi deals quite belligerently with the Western literary Academy which he represents as being too absorbed in post-imperial navel-contemplation to have anything of interest to say to the Indian student of literature. Nevertheless, doyens of that navel-studying community (membership of which informs the present reviewer's remarks) should find that there is much in these scrupulously-historicised essays which deserves to make an impact in our quite diverse critical context.

Colonial Transactions is divided into three overlapping sections. The first deals with the history of the reception of English Literature in India both in terms of translation and critical assimilation (Shakespeare, Omar Khayyam and TS.Eliot are the main foci). The second is concerned with the British literary representation of India, more familiar ground to many Western readers. Trivedi's topics are Byron's orientalism, Eliot's use of Sanskrit and—in two separate essays—the literary and personal relations of Edward Thompson with Rabindranath Tagore and E.M.Forster, respectively. In the third section, most specifically 'local' in orientation, Trivedi seeks to let the frogs out of the well, 'to outline a post-colonial agenda' in two searching—although not unproblematic—essays on 'Reading English, writing Hindi' and 'Teaching English literature in the Indian Literary context'.

For all its acuity, there is at the heart of Colonial Transactions a curious discrepancy between Trivedi's concluding desideratum of a teaching practice liberated from the neo-colonial burden of English literature and his critical practice as manifest in the rest of the book. It's ironic that Trivedi shows himself at his best when he's in there with the frogs. Despite the desired rupture with 'Eng.Lit.' outlined in the panchadhatu programme of the book's final section, Trivedi confesses, in his essay on Shakespeare in India that in our problematic subordinate/subaltern situation, the only alternative perhaps to being an Indian drop in the ocean of Shakespeare studies is to be a frog in an Indian-Shakespearean well, i.e., to give.a distinct and original orientation to our study of Shakespeare'. This he does, brilliantly, but another option remains unmentioned here. As the panchadhatu essay implies, there is also the possibility of simply evacuating the terrain of Shakespeare (or Byron or Eliot or Forster) studies in favour of a 'great books' course based on a combination of World literature and Modern or Classical Indian literature. Which, on the evidence of the fine essays which make up the major portion of Colonial Transactions, would be a great pity.

Trivedi's 'distinct and original orientation' as a frog in the well is particularly impressive in the long piece entitled 'Passage or Farewell?' This highlights the orientalism of Forster's classic A Passage to India in relation to the political self-consciousness of Edward Thompson's novels An Indian Day (1927) and A Farewell to India (1931). Trivedi argues that to write a non-political novel (as Forster's professed to be) about India in the hey-day of the nationalist movement was just about as quixotic as trying to make 'a non- political statement about apartheid today' (or rather, thankfully, yesterday). Trivedi's readings of .4 Passage and other classics of 'Eng. Lit.' owe their freshness and originality to his well-developed sense that literature 'especially when implicated in cross-cultural transactions' must be viewed not 'merely as literature but also as part of a larger reality and (in the present case) [...] as part of colonial politics' (21). Trivedi has little time for the 'om and incense' image of India purveyed in the West from Hegel to the hippies. Supposedly apolitical writers in the 'mystical' tradition like Tagore, the Eliot of The Wasteland and E.M.Forster are shown to have taken up (implicitly or explicitly) distinct positions on the burning contemporary issues of nationalism and imperialism.

Trivedi has a bee in his bonnet about western-based critics of orientalism like Edward Said and Gauri Viswanathan (may be in part a product of his aversion to their 'transatlantic' critical idiom?). It is a measure of the bluntness of Said's critical instrument, we are told, that he can't tell the libertarian Byron apart from his 'orientalising' fellow-poets Moore and Southey, and Viswanathan's Masks of Conquest ignores 'what in fact happened to Indians' concentrating instead 'on what was proposed or sought to be done by the British'. Nevertheless, Trivedi shows himself to be an acute critic of orientalism in the work of Forster, T.S.Eliot and Byron's contemporary orientalist poets. Building upon his sense of the one-sidedness of Said and Viswanathan's work, Trivedi's sense of cultural dialogue questions a whole range of orientalist and neo-humanist pieties about Anglo-Indian transactions. This is finely exemplified in his account of the politics underlying the mutual gaffes and misunderstandings marring the relationship between India's greatest modern poet Tagore and his greatest British interpreter, Edward Thompson.

Trivedi's place with the frogs in revising the 'eurovision' of the English canon from romantic to modern enables him to remedy one of the most lamentable perceptions of the British colonial curriculum. Namely, the alien, uncontextualised and prescribed nature of English literature for generations of students whose careers in British India depended upon dutifully paraphrasing or even rote-learning the English classics. Forty years after independence he describes how these classics remain, Ozymandias-like, resembling 'those magnificent statues of English monarchs, viceroys and generals which since 1957 or thereabouts have been taken off their pedestals and parked pell-mell in places like Barrackpore [...] or the Coronation park in Kingsway Camp [...] without a plinth or grounds'(236). By repositioning them in relation to various indigenous contexts, Trivedi seeks at once to rewrite their history in relation to British imperialism and simultaneously to lend them a new contemporary relevance. Texts in the colonial curriculum like Hamlet and Omar Khayyam and The Wasteland may not after all have been passively consumed by subaltern readers, but rather appropriated and reinvented against the imperial grain. Trivedi sets out (against Said and Viswanathan) to show how 'we coped with their orientalism', and not necessarily on 'their' terms (20).

But this is only part of Trivedi's programme in Colonial Transactions. In the two essays which form the book's final section 'Reorientation: A Post-Colonial Agenda', Trivedi urges a more decisive break with the English colonial legacy. Criticism must take its cue from Indian-language creative writing. We are told how writers in Trivedi's own native Hindi (from Bharatendu Harishchandra through Mahadevi Verma to 'Ajneya' and Nirmal Varma) managed, in the space of a century, to assimilate, engage with and finally discard the whole gamut of English literature from Chaucer to Eliot. Rather than ploughing the exhausted old furrow of 'Eng.Lit.', modern Indian-language writers have rather chosen to enrich their native tongues with the fruits of literary internationalism. (Trivedi reminds us that Milan Kundera was translated into Hindi by Nirmal Varma in 1966, three years before the first English translation appeared.)

In stark contrast to this 'indigenous internationalism', the syllabus-makers and teachers of English Literature (the frogs in the well?) have shown a mindless dependence on the metropolis, and even worse, on older fossilized syllabi' (225). Hence Trivedi's panchadhatu or five-point model syllabus which will 'place other literatures of India and the world beside English literature in order to surround and enclose it, so it is finally put in its proper place and viewed in a proper perspective' (247). Sending 'Eng.Lit.' to Lilliputia in this way is a natural consequence of Trivedi's (rather unsubstantiated) claim that 'not many writers of any stature and achievement have arisen in old England by any canonical criteria'(238). More surprising is his purist rejection of 'the so-called Indo-Anglian literature' on the grounds that it is a 'half-caste offspring of English literature'(225). This is an odd statement in the light of the subtle insights into literary transculturation which have preceded.

A clue to his purist streak might be discerned in Trivedi's troubled account of the increasing currency of the English language in India forty years after independence, to the apparent detriment of indigenous languages. (That this is more to do with 'green card-ism' and American global hegemony rather that the British colonial legacy is a point which is not adequately emphasized). Trivedi argues that whereas characters in the novels of R.K.Narayan or Raja Rao spoke an Indian language which was being 'translated' into English by the Indian novelist, those 'created by the post-Rushdie wave of novelists, the so-called novelists of the eighties, seem to live, breathe and dream in only English'(233). Against this new wave of English, Trivedi erects his panchadhatu programme like a tidal barrier.

But what kind of English is at stake here? What's happened to Indian English? Surely it is the merit of a writer like Rushdie (this is the only passing mention of him in the whole book) to reinvent an adopted mother-tongue in the light of his dislocated, post-colonial experience? Rushdie's creative roots lie, like Trivedi's Hindi cosmopolites, in the dissidence of Kundera and the magic realism of Garcia Marquez as well as the canonical English novel. But above all they lie in that encoded repository of colonial transactions, accommodations and resistances called 'Indian English' (cf. Rushdie's affectionate essay on Hobson-Jobson). However admirable the project of saving the educational potential of indigenous languages and literatures from the homogenized transatlantic new-speak of the computer programmers and marketeers, there is also a danger in purist dichotomies between 'English' and 'Indian' languages. Like nearly all the other languages of the world, they carry the experience of two centuries of colonial transaction, and it is for precisely this reason that it is their historical fate (and hopefully also their historical opportunity) to be impure. It is the merit of Trivedi's book that it is so alive to the subtle and contentious Indian appropriations of English. Maybe his frogs should consider once again their 'distinct and original orientation' before leaping right out of the Indian-English well.

The Postmodern Avatars
From In-between, 15:1, 2006


Lynne Pearce. Romance Writing. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007. Pages 214.

by Jean-Michel Ganteau / 
Université Paul-Valéry de Montpellier

As indicated by the title of the series, this volume is meant as a contribution to the cultural history of English literature, though the generic or modal prism of romance. And it comes as no surprise that Lynne Pearce should have been entrusted with it, as her works in the field of romance and literay theory (notably feminism) have become essential reading over the last ten years or so (as exemplified by Fatal Attractions: The Representation of Romance in Contemporary Literature and Film that she co-edited with Gina Wisker in 1998). What is more surpising is that a specialist of contemporary literature should have produced a cultural history dealing with the discourse of romance from its pre-modern to its contemporary manifestations in such a consistently convincing way.

‘[A]lthough romance as a genre is reasonably well represented in literary history, the role and representation of romantic love (the emotion, the discourse, the dynamic) within the genre [ . . . ] has been surprisingly underplayed’. (xii).

– This constitutes Pearce’s starting point and accounts in more ways than one for the originality of her production, as the real focus of her investigations is the discourse of romance. This is what she argues in the first pages, while making it clear that her study of the discourse of romance will be based on the following categories (which constitute the thematic underpinnings of her work): the transformative power of romantic love, its inherent affinity with the spectacular, its alterity-bound nature (this is discussed in relation to the erosic-agapic dimension of romantic love). The introduction is also characterised by very perceptive pages on the narrative logic of romance as disturbed by the powers of trauma.

The bulk of the volume is made up of six chapters whose order obeys the laws of chronological organisation, from pre-modern and early-modern romance to contemporary avatars of the discourse of romantic love. Each chapter falls into three parts: the first one documents the historical context of production and reception, the second one focuses on a close reading of one text emblematic of the period and the third one selects a series of texts which are equally representative but that are submitted to some lesser degree of scrutiny. The first chapter considers the evolution of romance from the Middle Ages to the seventeenth century through the prism of ‘companionate marriage’, a discourse that emerged in early modern romance. Its provides a reading of Dorothy Osborne’s love letters, betraying ‘love’s compulsion to speak its name’ (52). This close analysis helps articulate the rather unexpected contention according to which the discourse of early-modern romance is characterised by an ‘rhetorical admixture of the spiritual and the sexual’ (55).

Chapter Three addresses the various forms and (sub-)genres of eighteenth-century romance (the courtship novel, the seduction novel) documenting the contemporary stress on the representation of affect among the propertied classes and the taking into account of sexual desire. An analysis of Jane Austen’s novels is then used to evoke the precarious balance between matrimony as companionship (accommodating compromise and consolation) and the evocation of a new heterosexual intimacy (76). This is prolonged by a reading of Mary Wollstonecraft’s fictional work in which sexual intimacy is no longer obscene but moves on centre stage, thus mapping up an underground progression that runs through the eighteenth century.

The next section concentrates on Gothic romance envisaged as a darker mood analysed in relation to the category of mourning as process or endless journeying toward some ideal of immortality (92). Such developments provide the context for a reading of Wuthering Heights which are the prelude to a vision of the Gothic romantic discourse of the period as the locus of the internalisation of the death process: some intuition as to the powers of the human unconscious finds a means of expression in such texts and gives rise to the characteristic figures of the double. A similar darker strain provides the fuel for Chapter Five which is entitled ‘Wartime Romance’. Pearce’s contention is that war actualises the trauma of love (with reference to Barthes) as represented in the romantic relationship and couched in romantic discourse. Love is thus seen as ultimate sacrifice, as suggested by George Eliot and Olive Schreiner. The chapter moves on to an evocation of the fin de siècle contribution to romantic discourse that is characterised by some new frankness in sexual matters and by privileging the definition of sexual identity. It then provides a reading of Vera Brittain’s war diaries (1913-17) characterised by the spectacularisation of impermance, before concentrating on Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair as emblematic of the post-war demise of romance as genre or mode and of romantic love as an ideal.

The last two chapters map out the developments that took place from the early twentieth century to the present. Pearce makes it clear that the trajectory of modernist romance implies a lesser focus on sexuality to the benefit of the psychological and emotional self. She provides a convincing evocation of the rise of formula romance and sees the condition of degrated romantic love as expressed in the literature of the time as emblematic of the fallen human condition. The second part of Chapter Six provides a close reading of Jane Rule’s production as representative of lesbian romance in 1950s America. It then maps out the primacy of the quest for the sexual self in the works of Margaret Mitchell, Daphne du Maurier and Rosamond Lehmann. The concluding chapter starts with the contention that the practice of postmodern romance goes along with some form of renewed enthusiasm for the transformative powers of romantic love, despite the demise of selfhood that took place in the post-structuralist 1980s and 90s. She describes the paradoxical situation in which the epistemological context privileging the vision of a decentred self also provides room for the essential self that is necessary to any expression of romantic love. The age of quantum physics and psychedelic experiences may well be that in which romantic discourse turns towards heterotopic versions of a fourth dimension, it does remain the means of expression of humanism. The central part of the chapter is devoted to he fiction of Jeanette Winterson in which romantic discourse allows for a refiguration of the self less in relation to the other than in relation to the world: ‘My argument here, then, is that the radical displacement of time-space associated with romantic love (at least, in its first rapture) is conconant with a version of postmodern subjectivity that goes beyond egocentric self-other relations to envisage a new modality of self-in-relation-to-the-world’ (172). Said differently, Wintersonian romance would be a means of problematising the commonly accepted expression and practice of an ethics of alterity. The last pages of the chapter address two types of anti-romance (chick lit and lad lit) but assert that romanic love has taken refuge in such contemporary forms as fantasy (including SF), historiographic metafiction and the noir thriller.

As is made clear above, this study is no mere rehearsal of some diachronic narrative of the evolution of romance as genre. What it does is renew our perception of the progression of the discourse of romance as the vehicle for the discourse of romantic love through thorough historicising and close analysis. Such a demonstration is made possible by an intimate knowledge of the critical and theoretical literature of each period yoked with a precise knowledge of primary sources (fictional and non fictional) that belong to the canon of the last four centuries or are unearthed by the author. The reliance of the familiar and the unfamiliar, on the fictional and the non fictional, is paralleled by a catholicity of inspiration: Pearce uses texts (primary and secondary sources) of a French origin (Tristan et Yseult, Rougemont, Barthes, Nancy) and makes excursion into the Amercian continent with Margaret Mitchell and Jane Rule. These excursions help contextualise and dialectise her refracted canon of British romance, among which Jane Austen, Emily Brontë, George Eliot, Daphne du Maurier, but also Lehmann, Lessing, Winterson, Fowles, Byatt and Kureishi are given pride of place. Such variety of material is held together by a unity of interpretation and of method that is the hallmark of a brilliant practice of cultural history (in Pearce’s case, a collaboration of historicism, psychoanalysis, feminist theory and formal criticism).

The reader will certainly enjoy the clarity of the demonstrations, based on recurrent recapitulations, a commendably thorough bibliography and a useful index. Such a didactic preference is encapsulated in the resort to algebraic equations that crop up through the volume and help visualise and formulate what may be the study’s most inventive encapsulation of the gist of romantic discourse through the evolution of the discourse of romance, i.e.: the notion of gift, from the gift of a name, in early modern romance, to the gift of the fourth dimension, in the postmodern avatars of the mode. ###

Disinterested Contemplation
From In-between, 14:1, 2005


Christine Froula: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Avant-Garde. War. Civilization. Modernity.
New York: Columbia University Press, 2005. Pages 428.

by Christine Reynier / Université Paul-Valéry
de Montpellier

‘Look at ourselves, ladies and gentlemen! Then at the wall; and ask how’s this wall, the great wall, which we call, perhaps miscall, civilization, to be built by [...] orts, scraps and fragments like ourselves?’, the megaphontic, anonymous voice says in Between the Acts. This very notion of ‘civilization’, which runs through the Bloomsbury writings from Clive Bell’s essay of the same name to Virginia Woolf’s last novel, is at the centre of Christine Froula’s book. Froula shows that far from defending the civilization that existed, the Bloomsbury Group fought to make civilization possible, in the spirit of Kant or Gandhi. And she convincingly connects their sociopolitical ideal to their aesthetics, arguing that formalism, far from setting art off from the world, offers ‘a form of aesthetic emotion that is an ‘escape from personality’, in T.S. Eliot's words, beyond egotism, i.e., a form of dialogue and openness. Froula thus challenges the conventional vision of Bloomsbury as ‘remote from the spheres of everyday practices’ (16) and demonstrates the double links of the group with Kant, through the concept of disinterestedness and their belief in an unending struggle for human rights, typical of the Enlightenment.
    Froula sets Woolf within the Bloomsbury circle and explores her writings as those of ‘a poet of reality and a political thinker’ (24). As ‘a poet of reality’, Woolf, whose motto was ‘thinking is my fighting’, was deeply involved in Bloomsbury’s fight for civilization. Not only in such essays as Three Guineas does she fight against totalitarianism and for universal democratic institutions but also in novels like The Voyage Out where the silences of the text can be read as signs of censorship and therefore as the vehicles of an ideology that is indirectly denounced.
    Froula explores Woolf's de-authorizing tactics in Jacob's Room, for instance, or dialogic technique in Between the Acts and on the whole, analyses the formal choices of her plural, reader-oriented texts as signs of the writer's defence of differences and struggle for a sensus communis or common values, i.e., values for all, men and women. She shows that these formal strategies are linked with a deep consciousness of history and with social critique, and as such, partake in the struggle for civilization. Woolf's work is thus presented as dissolving the boundaries between the work of art and the world. In a similar movement Froula dissolves the boundaries between Woolf’s life, the current sociopolitical situation, and Woolf's fiction, essays and diary, finally analyzing her work without drawing a generic line between her novels and her essays.
    This powerful demonstration combines close reading and a sweeping view of Woolf's work; it illumines her texts through a wide range of references (witness the hundred pages or so of notes), drawing as it does on historical sources, philosophy, and literary theory, from Bakhtin to Deleuze and Rancière. It enters into a fruitful dialogue with well-known Woolfian critics, without being afraid of occasionally challenging their most forceful conclusions. We can be grateful to Christine Froula for this most stimulating study which significantly broadens the scope of Woolf's work. ###