Reading the East India Company, 1720-1840: Colonial Currencies of Gender / Edition 2

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Overview


In Reading the East India Company, Betty Joseph offers an innovative account of how archives—and the practice of archiving—shaped colonial ideologies in Britain and British-controlled India during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Drawing on the British East India Company's records as well as novels, memoirs, portraiture and guidebooks, Joseph shows how the company's economic and archival practices intersected to produce colonial "fictions" or "truth-effects" that strictly governed class and gender roles—in effect creating a "grammar of power" that kept the far-flung empire intact. And while women were often excluded from this archive, Joseph finds that we can still hear their voices at certain key historical junctures. Attending to these voices, Joseph illustrates how the writing of history belongs not only to the colonial project set forth by British men, but also to the agendas and mechanisms of agency—of colonized Indian, as well as European women. In the process, she makes a valuable and lasting contribution to gender studies, postcolonial theory, and the history of South Asia.

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Editorial Reviews

Times Literary Supplement
Joseph's search for lost voices is impressive because it does not rely merely on archaeological investigation; rather, the official record is excavated in order to be recontexualized, so that the voluminous paper trail of the Company's administration does not itself authoritatively represent British-controlled India.... Finding ways in which to represent even the faintest presence of women in the official record, Joseph devotes the second half of her illuminating study to examples of English and Asian women whose names or utterances played a significant part in forming history.... Recovering their voices from the archive and reminding readers that the official record did not stand alone in the making of British India, Joseph's imaginative study makes a vital contribution to the historiography of colonialism.

— Alison Stenton

Canadian Literature
Joseph is able to move from factory records to novels to paintings to guidebooks in her attempt to reveal the ways in which the figure of woman worked within, sometimes at the edge of or even against, imperialist imperatives. This movement . . . is one of the great strengths of the book. . . . Reading the East India Company is, in its contribution to the scholarship regarding early British India, postcolonial theory, and feminist studies, a valuable and resourceful book.

— Teresa Hubel

Feminist Economics
Though addressed to literary critics and historians, the book contains valuable insight for economists on the central role of gender in Indian economic and political life. . . . A powerful statement on how to read and what to read, as we construct the political and economic history of the colonization of India.

— Brian Cooper

Radical History Review
[Joseph] has produced an important analysis, which historians and cultural critics of all sorts will appreciate, of the ways in which archival and other kinds of writing do some of the ideological work of imperial power and function as barometers of shifts in its political, military, and gendering practices.

— Kathleen Wilson

Eifghteenth-Century Life

"A book that rewards careful reading both by those interested in the history of the novel in this period, and by those who think about the interrelations between institutions of empire, systems of colonial knowledge, and forms of modern subjectivity."

— Suvir Kaul

Eighteenth-Century Life
A book that rewards careful reading both by those interested in the history of the novel in this period, and by those who think about the interrelations between institutions of empire, systems of colonial knowledge, and forms of modern subjectivity.

— Suvir Kaul

Times Literary Supplement - Alison Stenton

"Joseph's search for lost voices is impressive because it does not rely merely on archaeological investigation; rather, the official record is excavated in order to be recontexualized, so that the voluminous paper trail of the Company's administration does not itself authoritatively represent British-controlled India.... Finding ways in which to represent even the faintest presence of women in the official record, Joseph devotes the second half of her illuminating study to examples of English and Asian women whose names or utterances played a significant part in forming history.... Recovering their voices from the archive and reminding readers that the official record did not stand alone in the making of British India, Joseph's imaginative study makes a vital contribution to the historiography of colonialism."

Canadian Literature - Teresa Hubel

"Joseph is able to move from factory records to novels to paintings to guidebooks in her attempt to reveal the ways in which the figure of woman worked within, sometimes at the edge of or even against, imperialist imperatives. This movement . . . is one of the great strengths of the book. . . . Reading the East India Company is, in its contribution to the scholarship regarding early British India, postcolonial theory, and feminist studies, a valuable and resourceful book."

Feminist Economics - Brian Cooper

"Though addressed to literary critics and historians, the book contains valuable insight for economists on the central role of gender in Indian economic and political life. . . . A powerful statement on how to read and what to read, as we construct the political and economic history of the colonization of India."

Radical History Review - Kathleen Wilson

"[Joseph] has produced an important analysis, which historians and cultural critics of all sorts will appreciate, of the ways in which archival and other kinds of writing do some of the ideological work of imperial power and function as barometers of shifts in its political, military, and gendering practices."

Eifghteenth-Century Life - Suvir Kaul

"A book that rewards careful reading both by those interested in the history of the novel in this period, and by those who think about the interrelations between institutions of empire, systems of colonial knowledge, and forms of modern subjectivity."

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226412030
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 11/1/2003
  • Series: Women in Culture and Society Series Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 216
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author


Betty Joseph is an associate professor of English at Rice University.
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Read an Excerpt

READING THE EAST INDIA COMPANY, 1720-1840
Colonial Currencies of Gender
By Betty Joseph
The University of Chicago Press
Copyright © 2004 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-41203-0



Chapter One
Globalizing Defoe

The Latter Part of her History lay Abroad, and cou'd not so well be vouch'd as the First; yet, as she has told it herself, we have the less Reason to question the Truth of that Part also. -Daniel Defoe, preface to Roxana (1724)

In perusing your Consultations We find great Carelessness, partly in the Writing, but more in the Mistakes for the want of careful Examination afterwards. In some places there is no entry of the Persons Names who Sign'd them ... whereas in other Our Settlements the President and Council each sign the Consultations they send Us, and as it used to be at Fort St. George We expect it shall be in all time coming. -Court of Directors to Council at Fort St. George, 1724

When working with literary texts from the eighteenth century it is often difficult to extend the story of Europe into its colonial margins in a way that would allow a simultaneous articulation of both the center and the periphery. Daniel Defoe's Roxana (1724) stages the self-constitution of its female protagonist against the background of British commercial expansion. The novel's representation of the rising empire, albeit short-circuited in the novel's preface when the unverifiable aspects of Roxana's tale are made to line up with the unknown geography of overseas trade, uses the "East Indies" in crucial, constitutive ways. The Indies provide a convenient ruse for Roxana to acquire respectability. Her wealth, amassed through various sexual exchanges, is laundered into legitimacy by her claims that it was accumulated in the Indies. The colonial margins operate also as places of real economic gain when they provide employment for Roxana's young sons. Thus the far-flung spaces of colonial trade represent both places beyond epistemological limits, where truth cannot be verified, and places of enrichment that wait for characters dispatched from the main scene of the action. How do we read this narrative ambivalence of the colony? How do we understand its simultaneous presence as constitutive of Roxana's autobiography and exclusion as unrepresentable space? To what extent does the novel's narrative blind spot also remain a scholarly one in the reassessments of eighteenth-century literature today? What will it take to transform that space of the heroine's dissimulation into a reading position-a textual space from which one can write back in the wake of European expansion?

To revise Roxana's story of colonialism, told as the unidirectional, and often pretended, movement of entrepreneurs into non-European spaces, one might start by filling in the shadowy regions that lie around the main plot. Ideally, for the critic, such an undertaking would involve rereading a cultural archive with what Edward Said has called "a simultaneous awareness" both of the metropolitan history that is narrated and of those "other histories against which (and together with which) the dominating discourse acts." This is a difficult task, given that the English literary tradition has been representing non-Western spaces since the sixteenth century, but printed texts that responded to the phenomenon of European worlding did not emerge in many of the eastern colonies till the nineteenth century. In light of this unequal textual production, is it possible for the literary critic to put together an alternative story of interplay and contestation between European and non-European elements in the earlier stages of colonialism in India?

Roxana provides a very apt metropolitan strand in this anticipated story because it not only incorporates within its plot the commercial sites where the East India Company was active in the early eighteenth century, but also generates a form of expression that resembles the ebbs and flows of mercantilism. Defoe's economic and fictional writing reveals an obsessive charting of the transformative power of commerce, its logic of exchange and its ability to transform the identity of people and things through various determinations of economic value. In that a novel like Roxana chooses to explore this symbolic economy through a female figure who uses her sex as labor-in-exchange, prostitution rather than commerce proper is the chosen entry point into a vast discursive field where various concepts are being rapidly redefined-individualism, private property, subjectivity, rights, and so on. There is a strategic reason for such narrative transvestism on Defoe's part, a point I will come back to later. But first, why does this novel of female individualism advance the problematic of reading Europe as Self and as Other?

The eighteenth-century novel develops female individualism by evaluating the status of English women against various forms of non-English subject positions. In Roxana, the most common tropes are those of slave and Turkish woman. However, Orientalist tropes were not the primary way of depicting the relationship between female agency and the structures of colonialism. Feminist postcolonial scholarship over the last two decades has established that representations of British female individualism were used for cultural comparisons with an inchoate mass of "other women" of the colonies well into the nineteenth century. Thus, a retroactive reading that turns narratively emptied colonial space into a site where a British and a native woman can be read together in their proximity and difference may help forestall similar tendencies in globalist feminist criticism today. A case in point: the renewed efforts under contemporary globalization to install "women's rights" for people within different cultural inscriptions seems to take the "goodwill" of feminism as a "guarantee," but historical attention to textual and cultural sources that show good-willed men representing women, figuratively and legally, to further various economic agendas in the name of these female subjects may provide useful lessons about "woman" as a ruse for financial control.

In this chapter, I will read Daniel Defoe's Roxana alongside some excerpts from the East India Company's factory records from 1721 to 1723. By coupling the novel with coeval material from the Company archives I mean to do three things. First, I attempt a global reading of the historical construction and distribution of the figure of the female individualist and its deployment within colonialist discourses. The archival records of the East India Company allow us to translate this figure historically into the arenas the novel only outlines as the "East Indies." In this case we will focus on a fortified factory in South India where Company employees carry out trade and plan the slow steps from trade to conquest. The factory records reveal the various agendas that are dissimulated around the discussions of the trial of a Company employee for the rape/seduction of a native woman.

Second, with this textual juxtaposition I provide a way of reading the female figure's deployment as a textual resolution of existing social contradictions. Both the novel and the factory records reveal an instrumental use of the female figure where the social haunts her body's sexuality. We see how sex-related differences between bodies are continually summoned as testimony to social relations and other phenomena that have little to do with sexuality as such-not only as testimony to these phenomena, but also as testimony for them, or as "legitimation." Joan Scott, from whose discussion I have gleaned this point, asserts that such displacements occur also because "hierarchical structures rely on generalized understandings of the so-called natural relationships between male and female." In such narrativizations, both novels and official records become spaces of trial where we can read the figure of woman as "instrumental in shifting a colonial system of meaning."

Finally, I identify the uncanny narrative resemblances between Defoe's novel and the record keeping of the trading company, which show the growing imbrication of commerce in the cultural practices surrounding text-its production, preservation, circulation, and reading by various communities within and outside Britain. Roxana's narrative format closely approximates the ebbs and flows of the mercantilist world system as Defoe, like the book-keepers and writers of the East India Company, charts the transformative power of commerce and its ability to change anything and everything into a commodity. While the Company imagines continued accumulation through the careful archiving of all information that can translate into future economic gain, the novel scripts the phenomenon by plotting the relentless onward movement of its heroine-the accumulative drive of a female picara as prostitute. The debate ensuing about the fate of Roxana in England and that of the rape victim in India generates more writing and reading as novel readers, on the one hand, and Company officials, on the other, create new networks of social relations. The power struggles between various communities of readers are negotiated and established through their common participation in the moral, economic, political, and legal discussions about the status of the two women.

By reading the transformations of these women's status as partial requirements of colonialist processes and capital accumulation at a historical moment, I ask what the relationship between imperialism and feminism is today. The textual juxtaposition argues for the need to read for historical conjunctures-rather than for separate histories-as a way of measuring the legacy of colonialism and its role in securing a position not only for the advocate of feminism in the West but also for the feminist in decolonized space who might see her struggle as incommensurable with the presuppositions of Western liberal rights.

The Moral Geography of the Individualist

Choosing a female speaking subject is not an unusual novelistic maneuver for eighteenth-century male writers. The works of critics such as Nancy Armstrong and Madeleine Kahn have shown convincingly that the "narrative transvestism" of writers like Samuel Richardson and Defoe enables rhetorical reversals that transform all social conflicts, whether of class or rank, into sexual conflicts between men and women. Armstrong in particular argues that Richardson's heroines, because they are women, can be considered apart from polity and economy and thus prove apt vehicles for representing an interiority shorn of public interests. Though presupposing such interiority for a subject of rights is clearly a political project, the domesticated woman provides liberal bourgeois ideology with the fantasy of a nonpolitical space. The woman's "natural" predilection for the private and the psychological therefore provides the textual opportunity to establish the mental states of the modern individual as such. Kahn, on the other hand, shows that when Defoe plays woman in Roxana he uses his access to female subjectivity through the heroine's mental states to consolidate masculinity rather than to diminish it. In the works of Richardson and Defoe, the common element is the use of marginalized female figures-the sexually violable servant (Pamela), the raped lover estranged from her family (Clarissa), and the abandoned wife turned prostitute (Roxana)-as rhetorical tools to define the role of women as well as the legal subjecthood and political identity of men through and in terms of women.

In Defoe's Roxana we see how the author's use of a female heroine is symptomatic of a wider social crisis of legitimation. Commerce, or mercantile capitalism, enlarged existing social networks through trade in the eighteenth century, and global trade was a web in which all markers of identity and subjectivity (whether of gender, nationality, or race), previously held to be "natural," were rendered ambivalent and unstable. Even as the novel provided a powerful instrument for the imagined resolution of these social contradictions, the figure of woman allowed this debate to be staged in a multilayered way. Just as the raped or about-to-be-raped woman problematized the relationship between the body and the mind, as well as accompanying notions of intention-mental states and consent, for instance-the prostitute focused attention on the problematic relationship between the body and economic value-in-exchange. Because both women are subjects of physical, moral, or legal violation, these feminine representations allow male authors to stage the limits of violation for all individuals. What becomes at least possible for a woman-inviolable self, will, instincts, love-becomes inalienable for a man in a cultural scenario where economic exchange threatened the very meaning of selfhood, property in the person, and identity.

Defoe establishes Roxana as a female individualist through a narrative strategy that resembles his conjurings with Robinson Crusoe on the island. Because individualism posits an autonomous producer of value-one who simultaneously owns both self and property-such autonomy must be established by sleight of hand. Crusoe, for instance, can be posited as Homo economicus and as the origin of value only because he is cast off on a deserted island, shorn of sociality, and unhindered by competing claims for his habitat. In Roxana, Defoe tries a similar magical formula to posit the female individualist embarking on the creation of value. The protagonist-narrator is stripped of the security of her household and her means of support by a foolish, squandering husband. Like Crusoe, she is cast into the world with nothing but her labor power as a means of improving herself, but Roxana does not manifest the work ethic that has become the hallmark of the solitary exile Crusoe because she is "not bred to Work" (Roxana, 48).

Having denied Roxana's ability to work, or her capacity to support herself as members of the lower-class female workforce of that time did, Defoe can now posit that she is ready to embark on becoming an individualist through the use of sexuality as labor power. At the same time, in order to establish Roxana as the subject of contractual relations (the primary discourse that produces the individualist), Defoe must present sexual relations as contractual. Roxana reaches this point when, in her penury, she is forced to imagine the possibility of having to lie with her landlord for bread. Her indigent circumstances are momentarily suspended as she and the landlord debate the possibility of another contract: "My Dear, says he, I have taken such Measures as shall make an Equality still; and with that, he shew'd me a Contract in Writing, wherein he engag'd himself to me; to cohabit constantly with me; to provide for me in all Respects as a Wife; and repeating in the Preamble, a long Account of the Nature and Reason of our living together, and an Obligation in the Penalty of 7000 l. never to abandon me" (Roxana, 76, emphasis in original).

In tune with the powerful emerging ideology that determined discussions of polity, economy, and sexuality at that time, the framework of the social contract is mapped onto marriage (a thesis now well established by the work of Nancy Armstrong and Carole Pateman, among others), and accordingly the narrative now paves the way for an evaluation of the heroine's attempts to better herself through the use of her sexuality. However, once the social contract has become the sexual contract for the female as individualist, the narrative is transformed into a moral fable that is to be judged by the criteria of nature, decency, and politeness, rather than by questions of women's unequal status as signatories to such contracts. To understand the implications of what it means to make Roxana a signatory to a sexual rather than a social contract, we have to look at the important role this displacement played in the changing social relations within Britain at that time.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from READING THE EAST INDIA COMPANY, 1720-1840 by Betty Joseph Copyright © 2004 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Acknowledgments
Introduction: The Archive without Walls
1. Globalizing Defoe
2. Archival Fictions: Memories of Violence in the Age of Sensibility
3. The Politics of Settlement
4. The Rani of Burdwan as Historical Subject
5. Critical Genealogies
Epilogue: Recon(figuring) Woman
Notes
Bibliography
Index
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