Postcolonial Screen Adaptation and the British Novel [1st ed.] 9783030545796, 9783030545802

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Table of contents :
Front Matter ....Pages i-xii
Adapting Improvement: Screen Afterlives of Nineteenth-Century Progress (Vivian Y. Kao)....Pages 1-45
Improvement, Development, and Consumer Culture in Jane Austen and Popular Indian Cinema (Vivian Y. Kao)....Pages 47-89
Moral Management: Spaces of Domestication in Jane Eyre and I Walked with a Zombie (Vivian Y. Kao)....Pages 91-138
Conquest and Improvement in the “Graveyard of Empires”: The Men Who Would Be Kings in Afghanistan and Vietnam (Vivian Y. Kao)....Pages 139-187
Unaccounted Modernities in Tess and Trishna (Vivian Y. Kao)....Pages 189-234
An Afterword and a Word Before: “Strategic Presentism” as Heritage Improved (Vivian Y. Kao)....Pages 235-246
Back Matter ....Pages 247-252
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Postcolonial Screen Adaptation and the British Novel

Vivian Y. Kao

Postcolonial Screen Adaptation and the British Novel

Vivian Y. Kao

Postcolonial Screen Adaptation and the British Novel

Vivian Y. Kao Lawrence Technological University Southfield, MI, USA

ISBN 978-3-030-54579-6    ISBN 978-3-030-54580-2 (eBook) © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. Cover illustration: This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG. The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland

To my parents


I have received much help and many blessings while working on this book. I must first thank a good number of people at Rutgers, where I began this book as a doctoral dissertation in the English department. I am grateful, first of all, to Dianne Sadoff for her many contributions to my intellectual and personal development as my dissertation advisor and mentor. John Kucich was always ready to offer expertise and empathy throughout my graduate school experience. Kate Flint, Jonah Siegel, Colin Jager, William Galperin, Brad Evans, Edyta Bojanowska, Rebecca Walkowitz, Martin Gliserman, Cheryl Wall, Evie Shockley, Stéphane Robolin, and Larry Scanlon played instrumental roles in my life at Rutgers. They have always been quick to offer support whenever I have needed it. I must thank Mukti Lakhi Mangharam and Meheli Sen as well for graciously agreeing to join my dissertation committee and for offering me advice and encouragement. A special thank-you must also go to Ann Jurecic for her guidance and friendship in the home stretch. Emily Crossen deserves special acknowledgment as my closest comrade throughout the entire process of formulating, writing, and revising this project, and getting through all the days in between. The Nineteenth-­ Century Interest Group improved this project immensely by their members’ helpful suggestions and engaging criticisms. Naomi Levine and Mark DiGiacomo generously offered their sharp editorial eyes and sound suggestions to early versions of these chapters. Fellow panelists and interlocutors at the American Comparative Literature Association conferences in 2014 and 2015, the North American Victorian Studies Association in 2015, and the Association of Adaptation Studies in 2016 contributed vii



valuable comments to all of the book’s chapters, as did my editors and anonymous reviewers at Kipling Journal and Genre, journals in which portions of chapters “Conquest and Improvement in the “Graveyard of Empires”: The Men Who Would Be Kings in Afghanistan and Vietnam” and “Unaccounted Modernities in Tess and Trishna” appear in earlier versions. My colleagues in the Department of Liberal Studies at Kettering University and the Department of Humanities at Lawrence Technological University have enriched this project with their interest in it, their careful readings and comments on drafts, and their fellowship. I would like to mention especially Paul Jaussen, Dan Shargel, Franco Delogu, Dan Moyer, Julia Kiernan, Christine Levecq, Laura Miller-Purrenhage, and David Golz for challenging, inspiring, and supporting me. I must also thank my department chairs and administrators at all levels at both universities for granting me time and funds to pursue my scholarship. I am especially indebted to Joy Arbor, colleague, friend, and editor extraordinaire, without whom this book could not have come to fruition. I am humbled by the librarians at every institution at which I conducted research for this project. I am ever grateful for their awesome expertise, their resourcefulness, and their willingness to help me track down every last text I asked for. During these austere times for research, for libraries, and for the humanities, the work that academic librarians do goes woefully underappreciated. So many friends, near and far, have enriched my life during the writing of this book. I cannot possibly hope to name all of them here, but I would like to mention a few: Mimi Winick, Nami Shin, John Miller, Lauren Kimball, Amanda Kotch, April Graham, Christina Doonan, Lincoln Addison, Adrienne Mills, Devon Sherman, Benjie Peters and the Peters clan, Laura and Andy Mebert, Karen Wilkinson, Heather Laube, Shane Clary, Elizabeth Jordan, Jim Cohen, Caroline Kellogg, Emily Kelley, Deb Herron, and Jan Worth-Nelson. I must also thank the food service staff at The Flint Institute of Arts and Totem Books, where I wrote so many of the words contained in this volume. My families—Kaos, Leis, Paulis, Bastians, and Galligans—have been dedicated, patient, and infinitely supportive: I have felt their presence always despite the miles that separate us. I often refer to this project as my third child, since my older son, Julian, was born while it was still a dissertation, and my younger son, Flynn, arrived during its transformation into a book. But while it was the last to make its entrance into the world, it is older than either of them, and has



enjoyed an unfair share of my attention throughout their young lives. I thank Julian and Flynn for giving their oldest/youngest sibling many of mom’s waking hours they would have liked to have for themselves. My most profound gratitude goes to Benjamin Pauli, my partner in every single day, my constant source of goodness.


 Adapting Improvement: Screen Afterlives of­ Nineteenth-Century Progress  1 Elective Affinities: From Improvement Ideology to Development Discourse   8 Heritage Improved: Postcolonial Adaptation as Beneficial Development  23 References  40  Improvement, Development, and Consumer Culture in Jane Austen and Popular Indian Cinema 47 Austen’s Unprogressive Change  50 Emma: Moving Forward and Looking Back  53 Development and Discontent in Popular Indian Cinema  61 The Shoppers’ Worlds of Bride and Prejudice and Aisha  65 References  86  Moral Management: Spaces of Domestication in Jane Eyre and I Walked with a Zombie 91 Jane Eyre’s Enclosed Spaces  93 From Plantation to Nation: The Transformation of Colonial Space in I Walked with a Zombie 105




Improvement on the Plantation 114 The Houmfort and the Great House: Voodoo Rising 120 References 134  Conquest and Improvement in the “Graveyard of Empires”: The Men Who Would Be Kings in Afghanistan and Vietnam139 New Britons and Old Greeks: Conquest and Improvement in India and Afghanistan 142 Unlikely Improvers: Kipling’s “The Man Who Would Be King” 150 The West, Conquered But Improved: Huston’s The Man Who Would Be King 157 The Long Road to Vietnam 161 From “Men on the Spot” to Sympathetic Survivors: Reading Huston’s Film 164 Anti-War but Pro-Empire: Saving American Imperialism 172 References 183 Unaccounted Modernities in Tess and Trishna189 Hardy’s Improving Men 194 Tess: Counterfactual Evolution as Alternative Modernity 202 Trishna’s Unclaimed Voice and the Right to Silence 210 References 231  Afterword and a Word Before: “Strategic Presentism” as An Heritage Improved235 References 244 Index247

Adapting Improvement: Screen Afterlives of Nineteenth-Century Progress

The introduction to Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide tells the story of Srey Rath, a young Cambodian woman, who at age fifteen was tricked by a man who promised her a job as a dishwasher in Thailand but sold her instead to a brothel in Malaysia. After a daring escape across the tenth-floor balcony of the dormitory Rath occupied with other sex-trafficked girls, she threw herself on the mercies of a Malaysian policeman who shuttled her across the Thai border and sold her to another brothel (Kristof and WuDunn 2010, pp. xi–xiii). Rath’s story, however, ends happily. After escaping from the Thai brothel, Rath found her way back to Cambodia and was put in touch with an American humanitarian agency that helps victims of sex trafficking begin new lives. The agency set her up with a small street cart on the border between Thailand and Cambodia, and there, Rath sold “shirts and hats, costume jewelry, notebooks, pens, and small toys” (p. xvii). Her business venture turned her “good looks and outgoing personality”—“perilous bounties for a rural Cambodian girl” (p. xi)—into the useful resources of “an effective saleswoman” (p. xvii). She worked hard, saved her earnings, and grew her business from a cart to a stall, and then to a double stall by buying the store next door. She even diversified by charging local people to use her mobile phone while tourists combed through her souvenirs. The authors of Half the Sky, New York Times journalists Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (2010), offer the following interpretation of Rath’s journey: “Rath’s eventual triumph is a reminder that if girls get © The Author(s) 2020 V. Y. Kao, Postcolonial Screen Adaptation and the British Novel,




a chance, in the form of an education or a microloan, they can be more than baubles or slaves; many of them can run businesses. […] Many of the stories in this book are wrenching, but keep in mind this central truth: Women aren’t the problem but the solution. The plight of girls is no more a tragedy than an opportunity” (p. xviii; italics original). The authors’ analysis illustrates how the entanglement between uplift and global capitalism goes uncritically accepted in narratives about how to develop the developing world. The “problem” to which women are the “solution” actually collapses two problems into one: gender inequality and global poverty become a double-headed hydra that women solve with their participation in economic development. Giving women the ability to sell baubles instead of being sold as baubles gives women agency (thus solving the inequality problem) and increases the gross national product of the state that currently underutilizes them as resources (thus solving the poverty problem). The double meaning of “opportunity,” in the book’s subtitle and the italicized passage, implies that Rath’s success lies in capitalizing on her own talents (and western charity) to establish a new life inextricable from a capitalist economic system. Although Half the Sky’s championing of women’s rights and its desire to draw attention to grave human rights abuses are commendable, it collapses the difference between a broad, capacious definition of development, as self-determined change that benefits an individual or community in a self-defined way, with development as an ideology in which all states and individuals must participate in the system of global capital in order to achieve progress. This collapse makes it difficult to question whether development as capitalist economic discourse actually fosters beneficial change. It constricts the capaciousness of the concept of development and reduces the plenitude of possibilities for different understandings of what it means to improve. Non-capitalist and anti-capitalist understandings of modernization get pushed out of consideration. Questions of whether development discourse, its beneficiaries, and its policies are responsible for any of the suffering that people in the developing world experience find no room to be voiced. The issue of whether Rath’s souvenir stall and the brothels in which she was once held captive participate in the same global economic system goes unexplored, not only in Half the Sky, but in much mainstream economic literature. Take, for instance, the language used by a popular macroeconomic textbook to describe the problems faced by underdeveloped countries. International Economics: Theory and Policy, by Paul Krugman, Marc



Melitz, and Maurice Obstfeld (2018), opens its single chapter on developing countries by explaining how such countries ought to be conceived: Until now, we have studied macroeconomic interactions between industrialized market economies like those of the United States and Western Europe. Richly endowed with capital and skilled labor, these politically stable countries generate high levels of income for their residents. And their markets, compared to those of some poorer countries, have long been relatively free of direct government control. […] This chapter studies the macroeconomic problems of developing countries and the repercussions of those problems on the developed world. Although the insights from international macroeconomics that we gained in previous chapters also apply to developing countries, the distinctive problems those countries have faced in their quest to catch up to the rich economies warrant separate discussion. (p. 720)

Whereas industrialized market economies such as the US and Europe are defined by their plenitude—their rich endowments of capital and labor— which lead directly to political and social stability, developing countries are defined by their problems—their lack of the attributes of the developed world that mark it as developed. Even worse, the problems of developing countries have “repercussions” on the developed world—the contagion of underdevelopment can spread even to the inoculated because of increased interconnection through globalization. According to the authors, the yardstick by which developed countries are measured, and the logic by which they operate, should be applied to developing countries as well. The historical trajectory of developing nations should be seen as a “quest” to “catch up.” They have failed in their attempt to play the game that developed countries have won because, as the last sentence in the first quoted paragraph explains, they have failed to free their markets from government control. Being bad at capitalism means being backward, stunted, infectious, and unfree. The framing of developing countries as only developing, or in other words, as characterized by what they lack, continues as the chapter lays out its main concepts. Poverty is the basic problem that developing countries face, and escaping from poverty is their overriding economic and political challenge. Compared with industrialized economies, most developing countries are poor in the factors of production essential to modern industry: capital and skilled labor.



The relative scarcity of these factors contributes to low levels of per capita income and often prevents developing countries from realizing the economies of scale from which many richer nations benefit. But factor scarcity is largely a symptom of deeper problems. Political instability, insecure property rights, and misguided economic policies frequently have discouraged investment in capital and skills, while also reducing economic efficiency in other ways. (Krugman et al. 2018, p. 721)

Developing countries are impoverished because they lack those things “essential” to modernity: industry, capital, and skilled labor. They cannot “realize” the “benefits” richer nations enjoy; they must “escape” from the “scarcity” they face—scarcity that is not generated by the internal illogic or failures of the economic system in which they are trying to participate, but by “deeper problems” endemic to their own societies. Without proper guidance—as their own policies have been “misguided”—how can they be expected to become proper societies, ones that are stable, secure, right-­ minded, and efficient? They must be improved because they could not improve themselves, developed because they did not develop themselves, pushed and pulled toward progress because they were unable to make the journey on their own. I do not wish to claim that poor countries are not poor, that they do not lack the goods, infrastructure, policies, and other material and immaterial conditions that make life safe, enjoyable, and sustainable. But we need not characterize developing countries as lacking all that industrial nations have achieved in order to recognize their real needs. We need not see these communities as solely undeveloped or underdeveloped, or only developing toward a successful capitalist economy. All communities are developed in some ways and not others, and being aware of the plenitude or alternative trajectories of developing societies prevents us from limiting our understanding of their histories, cultures, and people to what kinds of remediation they need. This project argues that cultivating an awareness of the many forms that plenitude can take begins by broadening our definition of what improvement and development are, what they have been, and what they could be. The work of broadening definitions, in turn, begins by distinguishing beneficial and just social change from attempts to create ever greater numbers of adequate players in the only game in town. Such distinction is imperative if we want to ensure the flexibility of improvement and development



as concepts that contain the widest range of beneficial outcomes for human beings. This book approaches the study of international development from a “global development ethics” perspective, which puts at its center “moral reflection on the ends and means of ‘development,’ where ‘development’ most generically means beneficial social change” (Crocker 2008, p.  1). Amartya Sen (1999) has written that development should be seen as “a process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy,” rather than defined narrowly as “the growth of gross national product,” “the rise in personal incomes,” “industrialization,” “technological advance,” or “social modernization” (p.  3). Martha Nussbaum (2011) has expanded upon Sen’s notion of “real freedoms” using a “Capabilities Approach,” defined as “an approach to comparative quality-of-life assessment and to theorizing about basic social justice” (p.  18)—with quality of life and social justice being, importantly, inseparable. The Capabilities Approach holds that the key question to ask, when comparing societies and assessing them for their basic decency or justice, is, ‘What is each person able to do and to be?’ In other words, the approach takes each person as an end, asking not just about the total or average well-being but about the opportunities available to each person. It is focused on choice or freedom, holding that the crucial good societies should be promoting for their people is a set of opportunities, or substantial freedoms, which people then may or may not exercise in action: the choice is theirs. It thus commits itself to respect for people’s powers of self-definition. (Nussbaum 2011 p. 18, emphasis original)

Asking to what extent a society has made possible the basic conditions for people to choose how to live dignified lives, and then facilitating their ability to translate such choice into action, is fundamentally different from Krugman, Melitz, and Obstfeld’s (2018) understanding of development as a country’s adherence to a liberalized market, a degree of political stability, and a surplus of skilled labor. People are not a means to generating capital; capital is a means to securing people their well-being—and not the only means. Thinking development conceptually, adequately, comprehensively, responsibly, and humanely means unlinking it from its role in capitalist ideology. Following Crocker, Sen, and Nussbaum, this book seeks to disentangle development and its possibilities from its part in a discourse that works in the interests of a capitalist global economy. Two primary concerns animate



this project, both of which serve to distinguish development’s ideology from its possibilities. First, I establish that development does not spring from the post-Second World War era of benign western humanitarianism, but instead from late eighteenth-century English capitalism and nineteenth-­century British imperialism. The consolidation of capitalism and imperialism in the long nineteenth century characterizes improvement, an ideology combining the Enlightenment’s faith in progress with a Victorian preoccupation with self-help and coercive reform that provides the foundation for development as capitalist discourse in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Looking back to the late eighteenth century for ideas informing twentieth-century development discourse runs counter to mainstream accounts, which begin the “development age” with President Truman’s Point Four Program, which sought to contain the spread of communism by assisting developing countries willing to come into the American fold. Truman’s Point Four represents a crucial stage in the creation of current assumptions about development, but the roots of those assumptions go much farther back. Understanding the historical and conceptual links between improvement ideology and development discourse reveals the capitalist and imperialist interests behind development’s appeals to humanitarian aid as its primary goal. Furthermore, focusing on such links helps us see why development discourse closes down, rather than opening up, a variety of opportunities and choices for dignified living—for all possibilities for betterment must be yoked into the service of capital and empire. My second concern follows from the historical and conceptual imperatives of the first: if development’s problems—its interested intentions and harmful effects—can be traced back to the long nineteenth century, so too can its correctives and solutions. In addition to identifying the ways improvement ideology informs development discourse, and thus, how a colonial paradigm continues to exert influence on postcolonial societies, I argue that nineteenth-century British fiction provides critiques of improvement that remain useful in critiquing development today. To this end, I examine postcolonial film adaptations of nineteenth-century British fiction to demonstrate how contemporary texts use the tropes of anti-­ improvement they discover in old novels to challenge new antagonists, such as transnational capitalists, tourists of the global south, and humanitarians whose self-improvement depends on improving others. These protagonists of development discourse reveal improvement’s post-Victorian afterlives.



My claim that British fiction provides useful strategies of resistance against the improvement ideology that continues to structure postcolonial realities relies on discovering how British fiction has been reimagined and appropriated in contemporary global culture. Film adaptations provide evidence of which aspects of the novels get transcribed, how, and for what purposes. Postcolonial film adaptations—films that, regardless of the director’s country of origin, explore issues of imperialism from a critical perspective—address the question of how British fiction is appropriated to speak to contemporary global power inequalities. The adaptations I examine include British, American, and transnational feature-length films that relocate and update the plotlines, characters, and settings of classic novels to postcolonial societies in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Each of my chapters examines one or more film adaptations of nineteenth-­ century British novels that demonstrate how colonial-era improvement ideology appears in new guises in the postcolonial world. Instead of responding to this legacy by resisting all British colonial heritage, the films identify certain aspects of their source novels that critique improvement and adapt those critiques to challenge new targets contemporary to their production and release. In doing so, the films challenge some scholarship on heritage cinema by arguing that we must move beyond thinking of the relationship between source text and adaptation as one of either nostalgia or ironic distance, and in order to do so, we must open up the genre of heritage film to include adaptations that do not currently fit its aesthetic and period demarcations. The particular relationship that my films have with their source texts, that is, using them to critique imperial legacies, also suggests that adaptation can be just as powerful in providing postcolonial societies a method to deal with those legacies as aggressive resistance. The most important contributions this book hopes to make are to draw attention to the differences between beneficial social change and coercive capitalist development, and to provide new possibilities for undoing development discourse. To lay the groundwork for these contributions, I will offer, in this introductory chapter, a sense of the historical and conceptual connections between improvement ideology and development discourse in the nineteenth and post-nineteenth centuries. I begin by establishing a history of capitalist development that takes us back to the late eighteenth century when the propertied interests of the English countryside implemented an order of land improvements that would inform Kristof and



WuDunn’s interpretation of women’s economic “empowerment” two and a half centuries later.

Elective Affinities: From Improvement Ideology to Development Discourse In eighteenth-century England, the term improvement described the transformation of the English countryside from common land to private property. Raymond Williams (1973) defines improvement as “agrarian capitalism,” the regulation of agricultural production in terms of an organized market (p. 60). The landowning classes of the countryside turned their estates, regarded as inheritance in earlier centuries, into “a calculation of rents and returns on investments of capital,” “an opportunity for investment” (p. 60). This reconceptualization of the land and its inhabitants as profit margin not only reorganized the English countryside, it instituted an ideology that valued productive labor and regulation, and “became significant and directive” (p. 60), “ruthlessly” modernizing all areas of social life (p. 61). Williams (1973) writes that the eighteenth-century novel reflected the ways in which this ideology affected individual lives. Tom Jones, Clarissa, and Defoe’s novels “dramatised […] the long process of choice between economic advantage and other ideas of value” (p. 61). In Defoe’s novels especially, Williams recognizes a “world of isolated individuals to whom other people are basically transitory and functional” (p. 62), suggesting the way human relations changed under improvement ideology. His argument implies that even moral behavior had to accommodate improvement, becoming “the morality of a relatively consolidated, a more maturely calculating society,” in which “cold greed” and “open coarseness” were still bad, but “calculation” and considerations of “cost” became prudent and good (p. 63). In the novels of the period, “personal satisfaction and material advantage are reconciled, compatible, and even identical” (p. 63). Improving the land, or in other words, reconceptualizing the use of space in agrarian capitalist terms, participated in a larger Enlightenment impulse to rationalize and economize all aspects of ordinary life. In the Annals of Agriculture, Arthur Young connected land improvement with “the other new social forces of the time”: mercantile capital, early industrial techniques, advancements in the physical sciences, and the consolidation of political power (Williams 1973, p.  66). James Thomson’s The



Castle of Indolence also illustrates the wider implications of improvement (qtd in Williams 1973, p. 69): Ye generous Britons, cultivate the Plow… So with superior Boon may your rich Soil, Exuberant, Nature’s better Blessings pour O’er every Land; the naked Nations cloath, And be th’exhaustless Granary of the World.

Young and Thomson illustrate how improvement participated in what Asa Briggs (2000) calls the Enlightenment’s “cult of progress” (p. 341). In Thomson’s praise of improvement’s virtues, we detect all the main elements of Enlightenment progress: man’s increasing power over nature; an optimism for endless development toward an always-better future along a single linear trajectory; the belief that despite the present uneven development of nations, history’s progressive course was universal; and the more developed nations should play a leadership role grounded in a sense of stewardship. Gilbert Rist (2002) has characterized the theory of progress during the Enlightenment as a secularization of Christian eschatology, whereby humans need not wait for divine salvation but could create their own paradise on earth through the consolidation of reason and knowledge down the generations (pp. 36–38). Condorcet’s Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Spirit (1795/2020) crystallized Enlightenment ideals of secular progressivism. Condorcet divided human history into nine stages that societies must pass before arriving at the final utopic state in which all inequality would be abolished. For Condorcet, human societies are formed when individuals, naturally endowed with the capability to feel and prefer pleasure over pain, realize that forming groups bound by “the ties of interest and duty” (p. 2) promotes more pleasure and less pain. Once humans are bound to one another in societies, those societies pass from pastoral to agricultural to literate; after which the sciences flourish, decline, then flourish again; and finally, print literacy allows for revolutionary ideas of freedom and liberty to spread, resulting in the final tenth stage of radical equality, a stage that lasts forever and witnesses the infinite increase of the human intellect (pp.  3–20). Condorcet (1795) saw his method as “strictly historical” rather than philosophical, for philosophy would no longer need to conjecture what human progress looked like when all that was needed was “to collect and arrange facts, and exhibit the



useful truths which arise” when comparing the relative positions of different cultures (p. 14). Condorcet’s comparative study of cultures flattened world history and assumed that all societies were traveling along the same path consisting of the same stages. Thus, at any given moment in history, different cultures would be at different places along that path, making it possible to compare which were ahead and which behind. Condorcet’s (1795) theory also made it possible to think of world history as the “history of a single people,” and to think of humanity’s progress in the largest aggregate possible: It is between this degree of civilization [exhibited by select European nations] and that in which we still find the savage tribes, that we must place every people whose history has been handed down to us, and who, sometimes making new advancements, sometimes plunging themselves again into ignorance, sometimes floating between the two alternatives or stopping at a certain limit, sometimes totally disappearing from the earth under the sword of conquerors, mixing with those conquerors; or living in slavery; lastly, sometimes receiving knowledge from a more enlightened people, to transmit it to other nations,—form an unbroken chain of connection between the earliest periods of history and the age in which we live, between the first people known to us, and the present nations of Europe. (pp. 11–12)

Thus, some societies of the world that coexisted in the same “present” as the “nations of Europe” may still be wallowing in the stage exhibited by “the first people known to us.” Once a particular society has developed “an enlightened class of men” whose “language shall have become universal, and [whose] whole commercial intercourse shall [have] embraced the whole extent of the globe” (Condorcet 1795, p. 15), “this class will be considered as the friends of human kind, exerting themselves in concert to advance the improvement and happiness of the species” (p.  15). Such enlightened men would “expose the origin and trace the history of general errors, which have more or less contributed to retard or suspend the advance of reason, and sometimes even, as much as political events, have been the cause of man’s taking a retrograde course towards ignorance” (p.  15, emphasis added). Thus, nations further along the trajectory of progress had not only the right but, indeed, the responsibility to colonize the world: their arrival at an advanced stage of progress was the basis, cause, and justification for their imperialism.



Enlightenment philosophers in Scotland were more skeptical than their Continental counterparts of the speed at which progress might be obtained, as well as the notion that reason what was drove it forward. Nevertheless, they likewise viewed human history as meaningful, teleological, and empirically observable.1 In his 1758 essay “Of National Characters,” David Hume (1889/1987) writes that the difference between the “characters” of the people of each nation lies in “moral causes,” or “all the circumstances, which are fitted to work on the mind as motives or reasons” to “render a peculiar set of manners habitual to us” (p. 198). Because “the human mind is of a very imitative nature,” people living in close proximity will “acquir[e] a similitude of manners” (p. 202), and common “passions and inclinations” will “run, as it were, by contagion, through the whole club or knot of companions” (p. 203). Thus, it is not reason that makes us think and act as we do but the influence of the particular opinions, customs, and prejudices of those around us. John Millar’s The Origin of the Distinction of Ranks (1778/2012) uses Hume’s understanding of fellow-feeling as the foundation of national character to conceptualize human progress as slow and steady evolution. Millar (1778/2012) writes that although man has “a disposition and capacity for improving his condition, by the exertion of which, he is carried on from one degree of advancement to another” (p. 84), the progress of societies must be gradual and without “any violent reformation,” confined only to “moderate improvements” because people tend to “deviat[e] little from the former usage,” preferring instead to be “supported by experience” and to “coincid[e] with the prevailing opinions of the country” (p. 87). Our exposure and desire to be like those around us makes prudence and conservatism the natural state of being for individuals and societies, thus delaying the speed and extent of progress. For Millar, some societies remain “so destitute of culture” that their citizens “appear little above the condition of brute animals” (p. 84), while others have reached the point of being “at liberty to cultivate the feelings of humanity” (p.  85). Furthermore, “unfavourable circumstances” can “render them [the undeveloped nations] long stationary at a particular period,” and “habituat[e]” the people “to the peculiar manners of that age” (p.  85). Despite this observable variation, however, “when we peruse the remote history of polished nations, we have seldom any difficulty in tracing them to a state of the same rudeness and barbarism” (p. 84) as that of present undeveloped nations. Like Condorcet, Millar (1778/2012) suggests that there is a “remarkable uniformity in the several steps of [man’s] progression” by



which a “nation of savages” (p.  84) may become learned and civilized through shared knowledge passed down through generations. Thus, although all societies are equally able to achieve the highest state of refinement, those who happen to be ahead will remain so, and those behind will never manage to catch up. The conceptual elements of (1) particular stages of progress through which all societies must pass to become civilized, (2) the ability to compare societies with one another due to a common developmental end point, and (3) the responsibility of more advanced nations to shepherd those lagging behind survived the end of the eighteenth century and retained their prominence in the discourse on improvement in the nineteenth century. Briggs (2000), who defines the period between 1783 and 1867 as “the age of improvement,” uses the term to indicate the step-by-­ step process by which progress occurs, a series of changes to an inherited past undertaken in the faith that history was meaningfully advancing. At times, he describes improvement as a “‘march’ of events” (p. 1), at other times, to indicate the older sense of agricultural improvement but also the Victorians’ own industrial improvements, the expansion of the franchise, and the rise of the middle class. He uses it as a synonym for “achievement” (p.  2) to indicate an “increase in material wealth,” “the rise of British power in the world,” and “the creation of an ‘intellectual empire’ as well as a ‘workshop of all the nations’” (p. 2). Quoting the Victorian historian H.  T. Buckle, Briggs writes that nineteenth-century improvement was “not [made] by any great external event nor by any sudden insurrection of the people, but by the unaided action of moral force” (Briggs 2000, p. 309). For the Victorians, improvement described a microscopic view of progress and brought together the four main elements of “Victorianism”— the gospel of work, seriousness of character, respectability, and self-help (Briggs 2000, p. 391)—driving progress ahead, little by little. Those who remained in degraded stages of development, both the lumpenproletariat at home and the colonial populations abroad, were those who could not yet “subject themselves to the discipline of labor and delayed gratification,” and were “indulgent of their instinctive passions,” and therefore “at the mercy of the forces of nature” (Stocking 1987, p. 36). In the second half of the nineteenth century, improvement ideology acquired an emphasis on racial categorization. George Stocking (1987) writes that Enlightenment understandings of improvement assumed a basic unity of all diverse groups of the world, a holdover from the Christian tradition: “what separated savage man from civilized man was not a



difference in inherent mental makeup so much as the progress of refinement and of civilization itself” (p. 18). What stage a society happened to occupy in the present did not preclude it from advancing as far as the most developed European societies. Around mid-century, however, “the idea took firmer hold that skin color and other external physical characteristics determined race (rather than climate, religion, or forms of government), and that the different human races should remain separate from one another” (Steinbach 2012, p. 61). The polygenist view, arguing that different races represented different species of human beings, each with its own trajectory and limits as to its possibilities of progress, replaced the earlier monogenist view that all races shared a common humanity and destiny. Laura Peters (2013) writes that “such a shift, from monogenist to polygenist views of race, marks a withdrawal of humanity from non-white races; this shift heralds a biological pessimism in which racial nature is viewed as fixed. Such a view will dominate racial thinking from the 1850s onwards” (p. 55). Later-century texts that expound polygenist views of improvement include Robert Knox’s The Races of Men (1862), which argues that “human character, individual and national, is traceable solely to the nature of that race to which the individual or nation belongs” (p. v), and that races originated, evolved, and remain so separate that an individual cannot even “exist permanently on any continent to which he is not indigenous” (p. vi).2 James Hunt, president of the polygenist Anthropological Society of London, writes in “On the Negro’s Place in Nature” (1864/2020) that the Negro race is more like ape than European, and that comparisons between Negro and European body parts suggests that the Negro’s brain resembles an infant European’s that ceased to develop past puberty. Thus, the Negro would only become more civilized when subjugated by Europeans. Josiah Clark Nott and George Gliddon’s Types of Mankind (1854) draw upon earlier theories by Samuel George Morton and Louis Agassiz to classify races into “types” (p.  80), “species” (p.  80), and “groups” (p.  81), arguing for the “zoological” (p.  81) study of human development and culture, just as one would study flora and fauna. Deliberately scientific and rational, Nott and Gliddon’s tome is a rebuttal against using the Bible as evidence for a monogenist view, and suggests that Adam and Eve were but one of many pairs of progenitors for modern humans.3 At times, polygenist views informed arguments supporting British imperialism, as in Benjamin Kidd’s 1894 Social Evolution, in which Kidd



naturalizes inequality, competition, and the extermination of some populations by others. Kidd argues that such conflict between races is exemplified by the fact that wherever a superior race comes into contact with an inferior one, the inevitable result is that the inferior race dies out, either quickly (by conquest) or slowly (by settlement and intermarriage); thus, superior races should realize that their colonial expansion represents the inevitable workings of progress (1907/1987, pp. 50–51). At other times, polygenesis also informed arguments against imperialism, as in J. R. Seeley’s (1894) The Expansion of England, in which he suggests that the British Empire in India is not a “natural” form of colonization (p. 37), like that of the settler colonies of Canada, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, for these were bound “of our own blood” by “community of race, community of religion, [and] community of interest” (p. 11). India, however, represented an “alien race and religion” bound to Britain only by force, so Britain should withdraw from it gradually (p. 11). Although polygenism grew in popularity after mid-century, notable figures maintained their belief in a common trajectory of development shared by different cultures. Charles Darwin (1871) argued emphatically for the unity of the human species and held that evolution by natural selection could account for all observable differences in human beings. In the first volume of The Descent of Man (1871), he writes, Although the existing races of man differ in many respects, as in colour, hair, shape of skull, proportions of the body, &c., yet if their whole organisation be taken into consideration they are found to resemble each other closely in a multitude of points. Many of these points are of so unimportant or of so singular a nature, that it is extremely improbable that they should have been independently acquired by aboriginally distinct species or races. (pp. 231–232)

Darwin believed that “when the principles of evolution are generally accepted, as they surely will be before long, the dispute between the monogenists and the polygenists will die a silent and unobserved death” (p. 235). John Stuart Mill’s (1990/2020) monogenist view of the progress of Britain’s Indian subjects was more moralistic and prescriptive than Darwin’s and emphasized not a shared origin for all humans, but, eventually, a shared destination. In the writings he produced while serving in the Examiner’s Office of the East India Company, he expressed his view of



what he believed to be the special and peculiar responsibility of the Company to force Indians to realize a stage of progress equal to that of Britain’s own. Although he held in On Liberty that a representative government with universal suffrage was the best form of government, he felt that this system could only be implemented in western European societies. For Mill, the best form of government for India was a “benevolent despotism” (Moir 1990/2020, par. 143) led by a “superior people” who had reached “a more advanced state of society” (Moir 1990/2020, par. 143, quoting Mill from Considerations on Representative Government). This advanced state was one that Indians could, after a very long time, reach as well, under guidance and tutelage from the right leaders. Mill believed the Company was the best candidate for this forthright leadership, for the Company had the best interests of the Indian people at heart, had been long established in India, and had sufficient knowledge of the land and its culture. The view that Indian progress depended on English leadership and protection permeates the writings Mill produced while employed by the East India Company. His “Memorandum of the Improvements in the Administration of India during the Last Thirty Years” (1858), for example, argues that the sweeping changes to all areas of Indian public life made by the Company—from land revenue reform to the wholesale transformation of the judicial and education systems, healthcare, and public works—were necessary to protect the Indian peasantry from “the ravages of war,” “fiscal rapacity,” and “vexation and corruption” that characterized their own native governments, which exerted arbitrary rule rather than principled leadership (Mill 1990/2020, par. 634, 619). Indians needed to be protected from their own rulers no less, however, than from the ignorance, corruption, and politics of the British government. In “A Constitutional View of the Indian Question” (1858), an unsigned pamphlet aimed at persuading the public to support the maintenance of Company rule in India during the 1858 Parliamentary debates that considered dissolving its power and transferring it to the Crown, Mill (1990/2020) writes that India’s unfitness for representative government “increases the mischief and danger of its administration by the unchecked power of a Cabinet Minister”: There is far more danger in India than in any Colony, of the ignorant or corrupt misuse of Ministerial power; because India is less understood than any Colony, because its people are less capable of making their voice heard,



and because it is more difficult for Parliament to interfere in its administration with adequate knowledge, than in the affairs of any Colony. (par 859)

Both native despots and unrighteous foreigners stood as obstacles to an already-determined path toward progress, and undeveloped populations were vulnerable to both. Although the monogenist view of the improvability of less developed races represented the more optimistic interpretation of nineteenth-­century improvement for colonized populations, it was also responsible for a particular aspect of nineteenth-century imperialism that remains the target of much postcolonial criticism. By comparing all societies using the same western developmental yardstick, “non-Western societies were deprived both of their history (reduced to imitating the Western epic) and of their culture (left only in vestiges that ought to be made rapidly to disappear)” (Rist 2002, p.  43). Not only did non-western societies need to adjust themselves to a European teleology and developmental arc, their forward movement along improvement’s many stages would have to be guided or coerced by a superior culture. Because they could not cultivate themselves properly, they must be cultivated, worked on, labored over. Victorianism’s consolidation of agricultural capitalism’s mastery over nature and the Enlightenment’s faith in the future with its own focus on stadial progress created an imperial ideology that built the basic tenets of improvement into a relationship of power over the colonized. Because improvement’s transformation into imperial domination was so closely associated with central trends in Victorian social thought, it would seem probable that as the Victorian period ended and the First World War crushed what optimism remained in Enlightenment progress, that Victorian improvement would have become an anachronism, or at least increasingly peripheral after the first two decades of the twentieth century. But faith in the core elements of improvement ideology—progress as teleological, the human ability to control our own fate by mastering nature, the standardized stages of advancement, and the paternalistic burden of the more advanced nations—remained strong, perhaps even gaining ground, after the War. For instance, the language of improvement permeates Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, the text that preceded the Treaty of Versailles in putting an end to the First World War. Article 22 transformed improvement from a by-product of Victorian culture into an internationally sanctioned justification for imperial dominance of the Allied powers over the colonized countries of the world. The



Article redistributed the colonies of defeated Axis powers to the winners for the purpose of continuing the colonies’ development along the stages of progress. The Article’s language reveals its affinity with the improvement ideology that had incubated over the last two centuries. The first point reads: To those colonies and territories which, as a consequence of the late war have ceased to be under the sovereignty of the States which formerly governed them and which are inhabited by peoples not yet able to stand by themselves under the strenuous conditions of the modern world, there should be applied the principle that the well-being and development of such peoples form a sacred trust of civilization and that securities for the performance of this trust should be embodied in this Covenant. (qtd in Rist 2002, p. 60)

The colonies, inhabited by those “not yet able to stand by themselves,” are denied the responsibility for their own welfare on the basis of being un-modern. Their “well-being” and “development” needs to be undertaken by “civilization,” or in other words, the Allied powers, and such a task should be sanctioned by the international community. The second and third points go into further detail: the “tutelage of such peoples should be entrusted to advanced nations who by reason of their resources, their experience or their geographical position can best undertake this responsibility,” and the nature of that responsibility will “differ according to the stage of the development of the people” (qtd in Rist 2002, p. 60). These points echo the nineteenth century’s beliefs in teleology, stadial advancement, and the role of already-improved nations. Rist (2002) identifies Article 22 as the beginning of “the making of a world system” (p. 47) that evolved into the current notion of capitalist development. Article 22 is a key point in the narrative of improvement that connects an eighteenth-­ century English agrarian capitalism to the Continental Enlightenment, and both of these to the Victorian national and imperial ideal and the way we conceive of global north-south relations today. Another important point along this narrative stretch is President Truman’s 1949 inaugural address, the “Point Four Speech,” the fourth point of which established “the ‘development age’” (Rist 2002, p.  71). The fourth point emphasized the US’ dominance in a new world in which “the old imperialism—exploitation for foreign profit—has no place” (p.  71). The US would make the “benefits” of their scientific and



industrial progress “available for the improvement and growth of underdeveloped areas,” areas whose “economic life is primitive and stagnant” (p. 71). The US, being “pre-eminent among nations” (p. 71), possesses “the knowledge and skill to relieve the suffering of these people” (p. 71), and would do so by capital investment and increasing the industrial production of the underdeveloped nations (pp.  71–72). Truman’s speech represents the first wide circulation of the word “underdeveloped” (Rist 2002, p. 73), and ties development discourse to improvement ideology. It presumes not just a linear trajectory of progress but that human labor is responsible for moving toward the single target. The developed countries would develop the underdeveloped ones, cultivating and working on them to make them more productive and profitable, as the eighteenth-­ century agriculturalists produced and made profitable the English countryside. Because so many backward nations existed in the world, it could be deduced that underdevelopment was the naturally occurring stage (Rist 2002, p. 73), and that hard work and discipline was what moved a nation along its path. Furthermore, the concept recalls the monogenist theory of races: we are all capable of arriving at the same end point despite our current uneven statuses, provided that we all play the same game. Robert J.  C. Young (2001) has written that since the Second World War, the “keystone” of global economic theories has been the concept of “‘development,’ which is a way of describing the assumed necessity of incorporating the rest of the world into the realm of modernity, that is, the western economic system, in which capitalism produces progressive economic growth” (p.  49). Postwar development added to nineteenth-­ century improvement’s understanding of stadial progress the belief that such progress must be “given an impetus by large-scale industrial or infrastructure projects undertaken by a centralized state” (p. 49). Massive state investment would enable a traditional agricultural economy to “take off” and become a “‘modern’ industrial one” (p.  49). In Development, Geography, and Economic Theory, Paul Krugman (1995) refers to this postwar-era notion of development “high development theory,” and sees the 1950s as the age of prevalent belief in state-sponsored industrial investment among development economists. High development theory argued that “strategic complementarity played a key role in development: external economies arose from a circular relationship in which the decision to invest in large-scale production depended on the size of the market, and the size of the market depended on the decision to invest” (p.  23). In other words, as investment would create the market, and the bigger the



former, the bigger the latter would become, incentivizing countries to develop would create more wealth not only for those countries but a bigger pot for everyone, as more potential trading partners arose. High development theory offered a more democratic model of international relations than the old colonial system, for no longer would the post-colonies be purposefully under-industrialized so that ex-colonial powers could use their raw materials to industrialize their own nations. Postcolonial societies could make themselves in the image of their former colonizers. High development theory still made room for only one definition of what it meant to be modern, and one path along which that modernity could be achieved. As the latter half of the twentieth century wore on, however, the popularity of high development theory declined, all but disappearing from the field of economics by 1980 (Krugman 1995, p. 28). The reasons for this were varied. In those same decades, the discipline moved toward mathematical modeling, and accurate modeling of high development theory proved difficult if not impossible. High development theory was also “discredited by lack of practical success”: in Krugman’s formulation, “relative to the hopes of the 1950s and even the 1960s, the performance of most developing countries has been dismal” (p.  24). Such “dismal” performance, despite the foreign aid supplied by richer nations, led to decreased funding for the positions created to advise on such transactions, many of which were held by development theorists (pp. 23–24). Still, the question among economists was whether high development theory worked as a theory—and whether the theory worked in practice—not, more fundamentally, whether we should reconceptualize the definition, means, measures, or purpose of development. As high development theory waned, the economies of India and the Four Asian Tigers (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan) grew rapidly when state bureaucracies scaled back control of their national economies and opened them up to global free trade, as if to rub it in that the theory was wrong all along. Starting in the 1960s, these countries combined high rates of savings and investment with rapidly improving education levels, moderate inflation rates, and a high degree of openness to and integration with world markets (Krugman et  al. 2018, p.  744). These economic “miracles,” joined later in the 1970s and 1980s by Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand, and eventually China, encouraged economists to replace the primary mover in high development theory— the centralized state—with the free market. Although there were local differences in how their miraculous growth occurred (the establishment of



local subsidiaries of multinational corporations in Taiwan and Singapore versus the rise of domestic entrepreneurship in South Korea and Hong Kong, for instance [Krugman et al. 2018, p. 742]), all of the fast-growing Asian economies embraced international trade. But again, even though high development theory’s paradigm was substantially revised, the central principle of global capitalist economic growth as equal to and interchangeable with beneficial progress failed to undergo any radical rethinking. In the new millennium, however, economic historians have grown increasingly skeptical of the alignment of improvement, development, and progress with global economic growth. Adam Tooze (2018) recasts the late twentieth- and early twenty-first centuries as a time of economic crashes, rather than a series of capitalist successes. The miraculous growth of the East Asian economies in the 1980s came to a screeching halt in 1997 as the value of the Thai bhat plummeted, and the interconnected economies of the region were roiled in instability. Tooze suggests that the entanglement between national economies that was so crucial to the East Asian ascent (and rapid descent) has been carried to an extreme in the twenty-first century in the form of SIFIs—systemically important financial institutions. No longer should we think of the global flow of capital in terms of gross domestic product or visualize isolated firms competing with one another: “at a global level twenty to thirty banks matter” (Tooze 2018, p. 12). If the financial crashes of 1997 in East Asia, 2008 in the US housing market, and 2010 in the Eurozone are any indication of what’s to come, all future national or regional financial crises will be global financial crises. The opposite of growth, then, is not stagnation, but plunge, and capitalist economic development produces both. Furthermore, the increased integration of everyone’s fortunes ensures that all will experience more of both, developed and developing nations alike. If Tooze sees within a narrative of growth an alternative narrative of decline, Thomas Piketty (2014) recasts the history of capitalism from the eighteenth- to the twenty-first century as a history of inequality. According to Piketty (2014), “the dynamics of wealth distribution reveal powerful mechanisms pushing alternately toward convergence and divergence,” or in other words, increasing inequality is just as likely as increasing equality in a capitalist paradigm (p. 28). Worse, “there is no natural, spontaneous process to prevent destabilizing, inegalitarian forces from prevailing permanently” (p. 20). Contrary to Simon Kuznet’s 1955 theory that “income inequality would automatically decrease in advanced phases of capitalist development, regardless of economic policy choices or other differences



between countries” (Piketty 2014, p. 11), and Robert Solow’s 1956 analysis stating that all countries could eventually achieve a “balanced growth path” in which “every social group would benefit from growth to the same degree, with no major deviations from the norm” (Piketty 2014, p. 11), Piketty argues that there is no guarantee either of these high development ideals will come to pass. Piketty (2014) considers the main force of divergence—the drive toward greater inequality—a situation in which “the rate of return on capital significantly exceed[s] the growth rate of the economy” (p. 26); in other words, people with inherited wealth earn more by doing nothing than by working. This divergent force “has nothing to do with any market imperfection”; “quite the contrary: the more perfect the capital market (in the economist’s sense), the more likely r is to be greater than g” (p. 27)—those with more already will continue to have more while everyone else watches the paradigm work perfectly from the sidelines. Heather Boushey (2019), president and Chief Executive Officer of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, drawing on Piketty’s work, has called for the US Bureau of Economic Analysis “to modify how it reports the data on national income” (par. 10) and develop new ways to measure “who actually gains when the economy grows” (par. 10) if we want “a more complete picture of what, if anything, trickles down to the rest of us” (par. 13). Even Krugman (1995), whose co-written textbook is quoted above as an example of mainstream macroeconomic understandings of development, remarks in a series of lectures that if capitalist economic growth was designed to produce wealth, it was also designed to produce inequality. Near the end of the historical narrative he creates of the rise and fall of high development theory, Krugman (1995) writes: It is common for those who haven’t tried the exercise of making a model to assert that underdevelopment traps must necessarily result from some complicated set of factors—irrationality or shortsightedness on the part of investors, cultural barriers to change, inadequate capital markets, problems of information and learning, and so on. Perhaps these factors play a role, perhaps they don’t: what we now know is that a low-level trap can arise with rational entrepreneurs, without so much as a whiff of cultural influences, in a model without capital, and with everyone fully informed. (p. 82)

In other words, developing societies are not “backward” because they are irrational, inadequate, problematic, slow to change, unstable, misguided,



or stunted—or because they lack something essential to progress and are thus failures in need of improving. They are backward because someone must be in order for someone else to be forward. Anyone can get caught in an “underdevelopment trap,” regardless of where one happens to live. If capitalist economic growth was never designed for the betterment of everyone involved, it cannot be the model by which we define real progress. This project hopes to think flexibly about what improvement and development might mean beyond economic advantage and the profitization of modern life, outside of a racialized and standardized set of instructions undertaken via the tutelage of former colonial powers. I have traced a chain of ideological resemblances through texts, ideas, and historical phenomena that runs from early agrarian capitalism and Enlightenment teleology to Victorian coercive progress and twentieth-­ century development economics. This chronology of affinity underlies my project’s analysis of how nineteenth-century notions of restrictive progress linger in our contemporary moment. The beginning of the end of this chain lies in the interventions of Sen, Nussbaum, Tooze, Piketty, and this project and others like it that aim to provide twenty-first century revisions to capitalist improvement and development. The film adaptations and source novels I examine underscore the persistence of improvement ideology, despite—and through—its alterations from nineteenth-century text to post-nineteenth-century reimagining. But my analyses also show how those same source novels, when appropriated in a new medium, for a new purpose, and for a new audience, can provide rich material to challenge improvement ideology and articulate alternatives to it. While this project is informed by the disciplines of economic history, ethical development studies, and literary criticism to conceptualize improvement and track its presence in post-Victorian texts, it also engages with the fields of heritage cinema, neo-Victorian studies, and postcolonial adaptation, all of which attempt to theorize how a burdensome legacy can be turned into a novel benefit. In the section that follows, I highlight current work in these fields that provide context, corollaries, and counterpoints to this project, and end with an explanation of the book’s organization and a summary of its chapters.



Heritage Improved: Postcolonial Adaptation as Beneficial Development In the epilogue to Victorians in the Rearview Mirror, titled “Postcolonial Victorians,” Simon Joyce (2007) asks if we can “recognize different aspects of a residual Victorianism in (post)colonial states and subjectivities? And if so, can any positives be drawn from such an inheritance?” (p.  167). What has “Victorianism” come to mean in postcolonial states and subjectivities, beyond its negative associations with an oppressive, authoritarian, racist, and violent imperial state apparatus? “It seems worth asking, in such a context,” Joyce (2007) writes, “whether it is possible to characterize the legacy of the Victorians for colonial populations as anything other than a simple and unmitigated negative” (p. 170). Can we see the colonial British heritage as “in some constitutive sense divided or self-­ contradictory?” (p.  170) Joyce’s challenge presents an opportunity for opening up the fields of heritage cinema, adaptation studies, and postcolonial studies to projects that cross nineteenth-, twentieth-, and twenty-­ first-­century period distinctions as well as the disciplines of literature, film, history, and cultural studies. Joyce’s reaching to identify the potential positives of colonial inheritance on postcolonial societies forms a chief concern of this project. I hope to show that the nineteenth-century British novel, an undeniable example of colonial heritage for postcolonial cultures, has the potential to challenge other aspects of that heritage that have proven more nefarious. Literature and improvement ideology both represent important parts of the colonial inheritance of ex-British colonies, but the former offers strategies to critique the latter. To differentiate between the benefits and harms of imperialism opens up a dangerous path if we assume the differentiation implies that British colonialism did, at least in one way, “improve the natives” by sharing with them Britain’s superior literary culture. My argument makes no such claim: whether the literary culture that postcolonial societies inherited from Britain was superior to indigenous literary cultures depends on the very value judgments this project seeks to deconstruct. My aim, instead, is to illuminate the benefits of the portability of culture in an age of globalization. For the films I examine here, the nineteenth-­century British novel functions as a language, or as raw material, that can be used to think through and critique contemporary global problems.



All of the films I consider in the chapters that follow appropriate certain aspects of English national culture in the form of its classic novels, and either relocate their plots and settings to postcolonial societies or use the novels to comment on neo-imperial relations. English national cinema— and its niche in world cinema—has traditionally been closely tied to heritage adaptations, and the source novels upon which these adaptations are based have been equally important to the definition of English culture abroad. The films I consider perform a kind of “cultural theft” that capitalizes on the transportability of culture from one context to another and does not respect England’s national claims to its literary heritage over and above its transformation into international heritage. Cultural theft is, of course, not always a good thing. Mette Hjort (2005) has discussed the pitfalls of cultural portability. Focusing on Sydney Pollack’s Out of Africa (1985), Hjort argues that the film brings to the fore the problem of international versus national heritage and the question of who gets to tell the story of an internationally recognized, but nationally beloved, writer and her works. Out of Africa, a period biopic about Danish author Karen Blixen and her time spent in Kenya as the owner of a coffee plantation, raises the question of whether Blixen belongs more to Danish or Kenyan heritage, as well as the larger problematic of whether we must think of heritage as belonging to someone at all, and therefore not to someone else (p. 193). Hjort (2005) argues that because the film was made into a glossy blockbuster Hollywood movie by a famous American director, Out of Africa “hijacks” Blixen’s life from both Danish and Kenyan national heritages and reorients it toward an international audience. The film “no longer recognizes the primacy of national roots, attachments, or official meanings. The international heritage film, it could be argued, is a matter of transporting a life, understood both as intimate core and nationally available significations, into a quite different cultural register” (pp. 198–199). Hjort’s (2005) criticism of the international appropriation of national heritage makes sense in context as she is concerned with the appropriation of “small” by “large,” or “the transformation of a minor culture’s cultural capital into modes of expression and significance that resonate within a hegemonic culture with global reach” (p. 200). For Hjort, cultural theft represents a significant problem “encountered by postcolonial states that continue, in various ways, to grapple with the legacies of colonialism, even in the wake of independence” (p.  200). The appropriation of national heritage, and by extension, national cinemas, by the dominant cultural



power in the industry represents a further marginalization of the “smaller” nations and a kind of heritage-based neo-colonialism. Hjort’s argument provides an interesting contrast to my own: in the case of my films, I argue that “hijacking” benefits the cause of postcolonial critique rather than compromising it. The filmmakers in my study—postcolonial nationals as well as British and American directors who use their films to perform postcolonial critique—claim a degree of ownership over the English national literary canon, an ownership which allows them to transform an erstwhile hegemonic and imperial culture’s cultural capital into new texts that express the experience of postcolonialism shared by many “small” cultures. The films I consider appropriate an internationalized culture to make it relevant to new nations. Whereas Hjort reflects on the dangers of appropriation of the “small” by the “large,” my project suggests the possibilities of adaptation of the “large” by the “small.” By claiming that the films I consider in the following chapters are heritage adaptations, despite the fact that none of them fits the aesthetic or period demarcations of the genre as it is traditionally understood, I argue that we should broaden our interpretation of what counts as a heritage adaptation. All of the films consider English national literary heritage as international literary heritage, and therefore available for use as source texts that speak to new realities. By violating the national ownership of English canonical novels, the films I examine divorce “heritage” and “adaptation” from the charges of complicity in the conservative, Thatcherite agenda they are often associated with, for the concepts need not forever be bound to the particular context under which they arose. Thinking of heritage as international broadens the selection of films that can be considered by heritage scholars, opening up the field in the direction of cross-cultural adaptation and refocusing the discussion of adaptation on how source texts are used in the present, rather than stymieing the conversation at how they preserve the past (and whose past they preserve). Studies like Hjort’s suggest that the critical discussion surrounding heritage cinema has become more international in scope since the early 2000s. The field of adaptation studies, too, has become increasingly interested in films that adapt sources outside of their own national literary traditions, and how the culture of a former colonizer might be appropriated to articulate concerns of the formerly colonized. This project seeks to join the conversations sparked by questions of what one culture chooses to adapt from another culture and for what purposes, what the history and legacies of colonialism have to do with those choices and the adaptations



produced, and what implications such adaptation might have for the generative (as well as harmful) possibilities of globalization. One way in which adaptation studies has grappled with theorizing adaptation as cross-cultural encounter has been to define new categories of adaptations indicated by terms that emphasize the differences between the cultures that produced the source text and the adaptation. Deborah Cartmell and Imelda Whelehan (2010) have identified a group of adaptations they call “genrified” adaptations, which shift historical and geographic locations of their source texts (p. 97). Films such as Steve Martin’s A Simple Twist of Fate (1994), Alfonso Cuarón’s Great Expectations (1998), and Michael Winterbottom’s The Claim (2000)—adaptations of George Eliot’s Silas Marner, Charles  Dickens’s Great Expectations, and Thomas  Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge, respectively—relocate the plots of the novels in time and space, and in doing so, combine canonical Victorian narratives with cinematic codes which allow the movies to be identified not only as literary adaptations but also as genre films.4 Linda Troost (2007) has identified a similar trend in updating and relocating source texts in Austen adaptations. Troost calls such adaptations “imitations,” and names Clueless (1995) as the most notable example of the group, as well as versions of Pride and Prejudice set in modern India (Bride and Prejudice, 2005) and Mormon Utah (Pride & Prejudice: A Latter-­ Day Comedy 2003; Troost 2007, p. 76). In Adaptations: From Text to Screen, Screen to Text, Cartmell (1999) establishes three other terms that place adaptations into different categories according to the work the adapted text performs on its source text. A transposition transfers a source text “as accurately as possible” (p. 24) to a different genre, location, time period, or cultural context. In doing so, the adaptation is made newly relevant to a different audience than that intended by the original. A commentary “alters” (p.  24) the original, responding to the politics of the source text, or—if the adaptation has transposed the original to a new time and place—the politics of the new setting, often by making more visible what the source text underplayed. Julie Sanders (2016) uses as examples of the commentary Derek Jarman’s The Tempest (1979) and Peter Greenaway’s Prospero’s Books (1991), both of which “bring the Algerian witch Sycorax visibly onscreen,” thus commenting on her absence from Shakespeare’s original play (p. 27). Patricia Rozema’s Mansfield Park (2000) is another example of the commentary which emphasizes the importance of slavery and British colonialism in Antigua to Austen’s novel, despite the source text’s minimization of its



Caribbean context (Sanders 2016, p.  27). In both of these cases, “the absence or gap in the original narrative being commented on […] was one that had previously been highlighted by the work of postcolonial critics. Adaptation might in this instance be seen as responding directly to the work of critical theory” (Sanders 2016, p. 27). Finally, the term analogy describes a relationship between an adaptation and its source in which the original text “is used as a point of departure” (Cartmell 1999, p. 24), thus representing a further remove on the fidelity spectrum from the source in comparison to the commentary. Knowledge of the original is unnecessary to understand and enjoy what can be seen as “stand-alone works” (p. 24), but may provide the added pleasure of intertextual engagement for those in the know. Analogies call into question the necessity of, as Linda Hutcheon and Siobhan O’Flynn (2013) put it, “treating adaptations as adaptations,” and complicate their injunction to see adaptations as “inherently palimpsestuous works” (p. 6). To Cartmell’s three categories, Sanders (2016) adds a fourth, the appropriation, which suggests an adaptation that sits at one step further removed from its source text than the analogue. Sanders (2016) writes that the appropriation “effects a more decisive journey away from the informing text into a wholly new cultural product and domain, often through the actions of interpolation and critique as much as through the movement from one genre to others” (p. 35). Furthermore, appropriations carry “more sustained imaginative (and sometimes politically left-­ leaning) reworking of the source text” (p. 37). Rather than “the movements of proximation or cross-generic interpretation” that we identify as central to adaptation, with appropriation, “we have a more wholesale redrafting, or indeed recrafting, of the intertext” (p.  38). These adaptations take something essential to the source text and use it for a new purpose. Sanders’ examples of appropriations include Thomas Keneally’s novel The Playmaker (1987), a “backstage drama” about a group of convict actors who put on a production of George Farquhar’s 1706 play The Recruiting Officer, the first play to be staged in the Colony of New South Wales (now Australia). Keneally’s novel, Sanders (2016) notes, comments on “the lives of the displaced aboriginal and First Nation communities of Australia” (p. 40); but when the novel was adapted into Timberlake Wertenbaker’s stage drama, Our Country’s Good (1988), the text was appropriated to highlight “the sociocultural importance of the arts […] in an era of UK Arts Council funding cuts” (p. 41). Our Country’s Good and Farquhar’s original The Recruiting Officer were then staged alongside one another



and shared the same company of actors, thus “invit[ing] audiences to experience the texts in a comparative way” (p. 41). As Sanders’ choice of example shows, the new purposes to which a source text is put by the appropriation are not divorced from, or wholly unrelated to, the source text, even though those purposes may not be emphasized in the source. The source and its appropriation are thus imbricated in common or adjacent issues, political ideologies, historical phenomena, and in some cases, inequalities that stretch across a longue durée. Hutcheon and O’Flynn (2013) use the terms transcultural adaptation and indigenization to theorize adaptations that, while they do not necessarily appropriate something essential from their source text to make new arguments, stage a cross-cultural encounter between the source and adaptation. Transcultural adaptations are those that involve a change of language, place, time period, or some combination of these. “Almost always,” as in the appropriation, “there is an accompanying shift in the political valence from the adapted text to the “transculturated” adaptation” (p. 144).5 Drawing from Edward Said, the authors identify four elements common to ideas, theories, or stories that travel: “a set of initial circumstances, a distance traversed, a set of conditions of acceptance (or resistance), and a transformation of the idea in its new time and place” (p. 150). Transcultural adaptations, the authors suggest, exhibit these four elements, and as such, “constitute transformations of previous works in new contexts” (p. 150). When transculturation happens, “local particularities become transplanted to new ground, and something new and hybrid results” (Hutcheon and O’Flynn 2013, p.  150). Drawing from Susan Stanford Friedman, Hutcheon and O’Flynn (2013) call this process indigenization: In political discourse, indigenization is used within a national setting to refer to the forming of a national discourse different from the dominant; in a religious context, as in mission church discourse, it refers to a nativized church and a recontextualized Christianity. But the advantage of the more general anthropological usage in thinking about adaptation is that it implies agency: people pick and choose what they want to transplant to their own soil. Adapters of traveling stories exert power over what they adapt. (p. 150)

To indigenize is to revise the dominant discourse, appropriating it across language, place, and time to serve a new purpose—one that is chosen and given new resonance through the agency of adapters in the new context.



Indigenization also suggests that the adapters and their culture stand in a position of diminished political, social, or economic power in relation to the authors and culture of the source text. Thus, adaptation can be a weapon of the disempowered to gain and exert cultural capital through reinterpretation and reuse. My intent in reviewing the theoretical terms that describe the relationships between adaptations and their source texts set forth by other critics is not to place the films this project discusses into any particular category or associate them with any particular term. Instead, I suggest that these terms are all useful and should be used in tandem and in relation to each other, none excluding any others, with all of them being always available to the critic when they wish to emphasize different aspects of a single adaptation or group of adaptations. Bride and Prejudice (2004) and Aisha (2010), for instance, two films I discuss in the second chapter of this volume, are certainly both transpositions, but through my analysis of them, I hope to show that they are also commentaries on their source texts’ and their own socio-political realities, and that they can function as analogues that do the work of transcultural appropriation and indigenization. These terms, together, help us understand the multiple registers in which these adaptations operate and the many discourses with which they engage. Furthermore, thinking of these terms as tools rather than as molds or boxes suggests that it is not the films alone but what critics do with them that makes them transpositions or commentaries, analogues or appropriations. The work of the critic makes meaning of the adaptation as much as the work of the filmmaker. In addition to new terms that help describe and interpret cross-cultural adaptations, new scholarly fields have also gained importance since the early 2000s that are concerned with how the culture of the past can be appropriated to articulate concerns of the present—and indeed, how the culture of a past colonizer can be appropriated to articulate concerns of postcolonial societies. The field of neo-Victorian studies, as articulated by Ann Heilmann and Mark Llewellyn (2010) in their volume that defines the contours of the discipline, investigates the “metatextual and metahistorical conjunctions as they interact within the fields of exchange and adaptation between the Victorian and the contemporary” (p. 4). In other words, the “neo-Victorian” is “more than historical fiction set in the nineteenth century”; the term delineates texts that “must in some respect be self-consciously engaged with the act of (re)interpretation, (re)discovery and (re)vision concerning the Victorians” (p.  4). “Acts of ­ readerly/



writerly appropriation” reside at the center of the neo-Victorian critical lens—indeed, “adaptation is a fundamental part of neo-Victorianism as a concept because all engagements with the Victorian in contemporary culture […] are necessarily adaptations or appropriations—be it of plots, characters, or intellectual concerns and cultural preoccupations” (p. 244). In fact, as the authors suggest, adaptation is an “evolving form” that “we have inherited from the nineteenth century” itself (p. 244). It should come as no surprise, then, that adaptations that not only transpose, comment on, and analogize but also appropriate, transculturate, and indigenize—even hijack—canonical British fiction have played a central role in the definition of the neo-Victorian text and the work of the neo-Victorian critic. Whelehan’s overview of the field and its touchstone texts emphasizes the novel as the genre by which the neo-Victorian, as a literary and cultural phenomenon, first appeared, and the genre of focus for neo-Victorian scholarship. Importantly, Whelehan (2012) argues that neo-Victorian novels are “significantly inflected by revisionary history of the period, and this is most obvious in narratives that focus on the dispossessed, and those traditionally viewed to have been “hidden from history” (p. 275). One particular strain of neo-Victorian studies has emphasized the ways in which the neo-Victorian’s revisionary intentions and focus on the dispossessed intersect with postcolonial studies, as well as the influence of British colonialism outside of the former British Empire. Heilmann and Llewellyn (2010) devote a chapter in their field-defining volume to “postcolonial neo-Victorians,” or works that examine “the ‘house,’ and heritage, of colonialism and the British Empire, and closely related to this, Victorian Orientalism and constructions of subalternity” (p. 67). Prompted by Said’s position in Culture and Imperialism that “the Victorian novel had a central investment in sustaining the imperial project even as it marginalized the colonial worlds to which it dispatched its protagonists” (Heilmann and Llewellyn 2010, p.  67), the authors explore a genre of neo-Victorian novels that engage with classic postcolonial concepts such as hybridity and the silence of the subaltern, as well as Victorian notions of race and violence, slavery, religion and uplift, colonial occupation, realism, and progress and empire.6 Elizabeth Ho (2012) has argued that the memory of empire is in fact central to the notion of neo-Victorianism broadly conceived, and that instead of functioning as a strain of neo-Victorianism, the intersection between postcolonialism and neo-Victorianism is essential to



understanding neo-Victorian texts and neo-Victorian studies. Ho (2012) writes that “the Victorian” has become a “powerful shorthand for empire in the contemporary global imagination” (p. 5), and that neo-­Victorianism “offers those situated in various postcolonial moments and specific locations a powerful conceptual and aesthetic vocabulary—which, in turn, offers ways of coping with the temporal palimpsests of the present” (p. 6). For Ho, the neo-Victorian is an expression of “colonial hauntings in which the international reappearance of the nineteenth century works as a kind of traumatic recall. In postcolonial neo-Victorian texts, the legacy of empire asserts itself as an obstacle toward imagining a viable future so that we remain, as Derek Gregory has asserted, stuck in the ‘colonial present’” (p. 11). I take Ho’s point that the legacy of empire can be an obstacle for postcolonial societies and individuals seeking to define themselves outside of and away from metropole/periphery paradigms and a geopolitical narrative that tends to overshadow all other narratives. However, I argue in this book that adaptations that use their nineteenth-century source texts to describe, engage with, confront, and reimagine postcolonial presents do not treat the legacy of empire primarily as an obstacle, or as the result of a condition in which they find themselves stuck. Instead, I argue that they use adaptation as a “highly visible, highly aestheticized code for confronting empire again and anew” (Ho 2012, p. 5), a “powerful conceptual and aesthetic vocabulary for exploring the past” (p.  6), and “a strategy with which to incorporate and work through persistent anxieties and uncertainties that emerge in the wake of the British Empire’s dissolution” (p.  7, emphasis added). These are three definitions that Ho gives to neo-­ Victorianism but I suggest are even more accurate in describing postcolonial adaptation. The texts I examine in this volume use their colonial heritage as code, vocabulary, and strategy to unmask how nineteenth-­ century improvement ideology informs twentieth-century and post-­ millennial notions of development but also to articulate alternative forms of improvement and development that are locally defined, socially just, and perhaps truly postcolonial. To Ho’s (2012) question of “what new access to postcolonial experiences is gained when the Victorian goes around the world” (p. 6), Antonija Primorac and Monika Pietrzak-Franger (2015) have responded by suggesting the field broaden its reach “beyond the confines of the British Empire and its influence” (p. 9). Following Priya Joshi’s call to globalize Victorian studies by “preserving ‘Victorian’ as a designation, but



relocating it both across the globe and beyond the time frame determined by royal rule” (qtd. in Primorac and Pietrzak-Franger 2015, p.  9), the authors suggest expanding the scope of neo-Victorian studies to include projects that “embrace (and self-consciously address) the systems of philosophical, theoretical and political dogmas that are inevitably intertwined with the ter[m]” (p. 9), rather than limiting itself to the analysis of post-­ Victorian texts that directly engage with the Victorian period. Neo-­ Victorianism’s potential as a critical lens lies not in its adherence to periodization but, to quote Ho (2012), in its “effectiveness in resisting or critiquing power now, especially more informal or invisible forms of coercion and control divorced from sovereignty or direct political or territorial domination” (p. 171). The present volume responds to the needs outlined by the aforementioned scholars to globalize Victorian and neo-Victorian studies by using a postcolonial lens to analyze adaptations that investigate improvement’s “informal or invisible forms of coercion and control” that outlast the nineteenth century and British colonial rule. Through this project, I hope to contribute to existing work in Victorian and neo-Victorian studies that map the need for increased attention to transcultural and transhistorical understandings of how nineteenth-century ideas develop, travel, and persist.7 I intend to investigate many of the concerns that animate global Victorian and neo-Victorian studies, but I aim to do so by emphasizing what we might learn when we look at nineteenth-century texts and issues through the framework of postcolonial adaptation. Especially when the issue under examination is the difference between improvement’s ideology and its potentialities, between development as postcolonial coercion and as holistic, variously defined progress, adaptation helps us see what is inherited from a colonial past and what is remade to invoke a brave new contemporary global society. A postcolonial lens helps us see why such acts of adaptation matter and to whom they matter, and what strategies such adaptations enact. Recent studies that provide useful examples of the kind of work that belongs in the field of postcolonial adaptation include Whelehan’s (2015) study of adaptations of the confessions of Alexander Pearce, Lindiwe Dovey’s (2015) study of video jockeys in Uganda, and Lucia Krämer’s (2016) study of how adaptations trace the movement of texts from center to periphery and back again. Whelehan (2015) looks at the national mythologization of an Irish prisoner transported to Tasmania in the early nineteenth century, who later escaped from the prison colony and turned



to cannibalism while hiding out in the wilderness. Whelehan argues that the gruesomeness with which adaptations depict Pearce’s struggle to survive deploys the device of national reckoning toward the inhumanity of Australia’s prison colonies to conceal a greater inhumanity—the genocide of aboriginal Tasmanians and theft of their lands—that postcolonial white Australian society has yet to confront adequately. Dovey’s (2015) study of live veejaying in Uganda’s bibandas, or makeshift cinema halls, shows how the live translation of dialogue of pirated foreign-language films by video jockeys represents a radical form of popular cultural appropriation aimed at subverting the Ugandan government’s surveillance and criminalization of the poor and uneducated. Krämer’s (2016) study of the reception of Bollywood in Britain examines a sort of postcolonial adaptation in reverse by considering “the production, the dissemination and especially the consumption of Indian popular cinema in Britain” (p. 2). Krämer highlights the ways in which Bollywood plays a role in British life, as a set of films and goods but also as a “discursive phenomenon,” a set of “cultural and social practices,” and “a means for individuals and even social groups to establish cultural affiliations” (p. 3).8 What the fields of cross-cultural heritage studies, global Victorian and neo-Victorian studies, and postcolonial adaptation share is an interest in mapping the myriad ways in which postcoloniality is experienced by human beings and expressed in cultural artifacts. To do this effectively, scholars working in these disciplines have found it necessary to broaden the geographic, generic, and temporal scope of their interventions and take on projects that do not ascribe to the boundaries employed by the scholarly literature from which they draw, and with which they engage. I acknowledge that my own project employs an unconventionally longue durée, one that is much longer than those taken up by traditional period demarcations of Romantic, Victorian, Modernist, and Postmodern literary studies. But this book is concerned with afterlives and legacies—with what fails to disappear—and it contends that unless we study imperial ideology, colonialism, and postcolonial responses to what remains through a longer lens than we are used to doing, we may fail to see the chain of resemblances, or patterns of ideological similarity, that exist in ideas of progress that have had material impact in political and economic spheres, and cultural impact on the “perceptual frameworks of contemporary peoples” (Ashcroft et al. 2002, p. 1). It is not difficult to detect that nineteenth-­ century improvement ideology was coercive, unjust, and based on notions of racial and cultural superiority. But what this book hopes to show is that



resonances of this ideology resurface in present-day notions of development, humanitarianism, and modernization—ideas that most of us consider not only beneficial but bulwarks of free, liberal societies. The ethical thrust of this project is indeed a postmodern one—to be ever reflexive and self-critical, to be willing to consider that harmful ideas we thought we had left behind remain active in new ideas we hold dear. Thus, the long temporal axis of this project is necessary, for it reveals resemblances and patterns that may not otherwise be recognizable within traditional periods of literary scholarship. Furthermore, my project accords with the timeline that Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin (2002) give to the term “postcolonial,” namely, “all the culture affected by the imperial process from the moment of colonization to the present day” (p. 2). My project shares with these authors their understanding that the “postcolonial” itself is a longue durée, “because there is a continuity of preoccupations throughout the historical process initiated by European imperial aggression” (p. 2). Like their foundational book, this one is “concerned with the world as it exists during and after the period of European imperial domination and the effects of this on contemporary literatures,” as well as on global cinema (p. 2). The discourse of postcolonialism is crucial to my project’s historical arc and emphasizes its specific engagement with the legacies of colonialism. Thus, I have chosen to use the postcolonial as the discursive lens orienting my analyses of the novels and films, rather than other lenses characterized by other terms, most notably the lens characterized by the term “transnational.” Colleagues who have read earlier drafts of the book or participated in discussions with me about it in its earlier forms have suggested that I consider using the discourse of transnationalism instead of postcolonialism, as the former has risen to popularity over the latter in literary and film criticism since the early 2000s. It is true that transnationalism has gained more purchase in film and literary scholarship, as suggested by the titles of recent publications that investigate issues and texts similar to those I explore here.9 Film production teams and revenue streams have also acquired an increasingly transnational character in the last two decades. Indeed, a wide range of collaborations—artistic, economic, political, social—in the twenty-first century have grown more transnational, in the sense that they involve people and resources from more than one nation or state. But issues of power inequality and social injustice that spring at least partly from colonial legacies persist, in transnational projects and elsewhere, and these issues are the ones my project is most concerned



with. Thus, I do not consider the two terms to be interchangeable or mutually exclusive. A project’s aims and methods can be postcolonial, even though the artifacts it examines may be more accurately described as transnational. This is indeed the case for the present book. The arguments developed in each of the book’s chapters will, I hope, provide examples of how the postcolonial and transnational complement one another and operate in conversation, and help to differentiate between the project’s overall critical lens and the material conditions under which its texts were produced and consumed. I have organized the book’s chapters in two ways. On the one hand, they are organized in chronological order according to the source texts’ date of publication. This allows me to track the appearance of improvement ideology and its critiques through the novels, from the late eighteenth century to the end of the nineteenth: from Austen and Brontë to Kipling and Hardy. It allows me to introduce the main concepts that underlay improvement in the long nineteenth century, specifically, assumptions about temporality and spatiality and the merging of these concepts with early English capitalism, how the ideology changed and was changed by imperial policy, and finally, how it helped to define what it means to be modern. On the other hand, the book also falls into two halves according to the ways the adaptations treat their colonial heritage. The second and third chapters focus on how postcolonial societies have understood improvement: as the ideology yoking global south development to economic growth, and as the antagonist that provides the impetus to transform colonial spaces and geographies. The fourth and fifth chapters discuss the relationship between ex-colonizer and ex-colonized in the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries. As Robert J.  C. Young (2001) has written, “the postcolonial condition” describes the present state in which both ex-­ colonizer and ex-colonized exist, the former needing to understand how its colonial past shapes its present as much as the latter. These chapters discuss how ex-colonial and neo-imperial western subjects view encounters with postcolonial cultures through the lens of self-improvement, a desire for moral progress that depends as much on the failure of improving postcolonial Others as its success. The next chapter of this volume reads Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813) and Emma (1815) alongside recent Indian-British and Indian cinema adaptations, Bride and Prejudice (2005) and Aisha (2010). I argue that the novels and adaptations take issue with one of the fundamental



assumptions of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century improvement ideology: the connection between progress and teleology. I detect a strain of anti-improving sentiment in the novels located in their optimism about the power of non-progressive, non-teleological change that provides a temporary escape from the endless forward march of time. The adaptations illuminate Austen’s anti-improving sentiment by deploying it against new objects of analysis: the American land developer with “improving eyes” and twenty-first-century Indian neoliberal development. The films and their source texts together reveal a cross-cultural, transnational, and transhistorical experience of the disjunction between discourses of improvement (colonial and postcolonial) and their manifestation in everyday reality, a disjunction I characterize as a double temporality: a blind faith in forward progress that is lived and experienced as endless delay. Whereas my second chapter challenges improvement’s assumptions about time, my third takes issue with its capitalist transformation of space. The second chapter reads Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847) alongside Jacques Tourneur’s Second World War-era Hollywood horror film, I Walked with a Zombie (1943). I contextualize Jane’s bildungsroman, or narrative of personal development, in relation to agrarian capitalism’s enclosure, reorganization, restriction, and profitization of land. In reading Jane’s supposed developmental journey as a series of instances in which the individual is enclosed in spaces that seek to produce a docile, domestic subject, I argue that capitalist land improvement and personal development are connected. Jane’s moral improvement entails a psychological constriction and narrowing down of possibilities that correspond with the spaces she inhabits. Tourneur’s film creates an analogy between Jane’s situation and early twentieth-century workers on a Caribbean sugar plantation that bears the memory and the descendants of British West Indian slaves. The film argues that if, as Jane Eyre suggests, the making of subjectivity relies on an individual’s relationship to her inhabited space, then a similar formula might also inform the making of an independent nation out of an enslaved and colonized population. For the plantation workers, Jane is a warning sign: one’s acceptance of enclosure in an absolute space creates the docile subject. To make possible the conditions for revolution, then, the workers must reconceptualize the plantation space and use the very grounds of the master’s power against him. Chapter Four reads Rudyard Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King (1888) alongside John Huston’s Vietnam War-era adaptation of the story (1975). The chapter looks at one of the most important challenges that



improvement faced in the nineteenth century when it was exported to British India: the need to reconcile it with, but also distance it from, conquest. I trace a history of how different figures and texts tried to turn the conflict between conquest and improvement into a productive dialectic for imperial policy, from the argument between eighteenth-century Orientalists and Anglicists about India’s present and future development along improvement’s stages of progress, to the use of Alexander the Great as a model of how conquest and improvement could work together, to Kipling’s redirection of improvement back on the imperialists themselves. Finally, I place Huston’s film at the end of this conversation as a text that restages the story as an allegory for the fate of American imperialists in the Vietnam War. Contextualizing the film among other Vietnam-era films, I argue that Huston’s film uses Kipling’s redefinition of improvement’s purpose to justify the continuation of American imperial ventures. Finally, the fifth chapter looks at the connection between improvement ideology and western modernity. It engages with the postcolonial discourse of multiple modernities and its revisionist ethic of retrieving the histories of modernity lost to improvement’s profitizing calculus. Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891) and its most recent adaptation, Michael Winterbottom’s Trishna (2011), both question the injunction to “rescue” the voices western modernization silences by accounting for those voices and making them speak. The chapter argues that a more effective strategy of resistance to a universal definition of modernity is not to try to make its alternatives “count” in the history of critical practice or cultural memory, but to recognize their existence while registering their disappearance, allowing their loss to improvement’s grand narrative to be felt all the more. Tess and Trishna gesture toward alternative conceptions of modernity that go against the improvement ideology that informs the actions of their male protagonists, characters who marry a capitalist desire to turn waste to profit and a New Historical impulse to uncover hidden narratives and make them count. Both film and novel, however, reveal these alternatives by describing them in terms of their loss—their passage into the realm of the counterfactual before becoming possible realities. In drawing attention to disappeared or disappearing conceptions of non-­ capitalistic or non-western modernity, Tess and Trishna circumvent the complicity in capitalist improvement ideology exhibited by revisionist criticism. Ultimately, postcolonial adaptation is an important example of beneficial improvement. Postcolonial adaptation creates a different but



recognizable text that engages with pressing social concerns using sources whose connection to historical offenses do not preclude them from new usefulness. Whereas the adaptations I examine recognize the harmful legacies of improvement ideology—its assumptions about time, space, self, and modernity—they also recognize the potential of nineteenth-century fiction to provide adaptable ideas, narratives, characters, and forms with which to critique the negative aspects of that colonial heritage. Colonial heritage is divided and self-contradictory, both negative and potentially positive. Improvement, as colonial ideology that marries an early capitalist preoccupation with progress and profit to a Victorian moralism and hierarchy, denied colonized societies the right to define for themselves what real progress might mean and how it should be achieved. But the kind of improvement entailed in an act of adaptation, in the turning of an old thing to new use, can be a powerful way to assert the claims of the disenfranchised. Adaptation expands the conceptual possibilities of progress and development while critiquing the imperial-capitalist foundations upon which mainstream definitions of these concepts rest. As theory, lens, method, and cultural product, postcolonial adaptation transforms colonial heritage into a heritage improved.

Notes 1. Anna Plassart (2015) writes that “At the heart of the eighteenth-century cultural and intellectual ferment that is now known as the ‘Scottish Enlightenment’ was the notion of progress. More specifically, the Scottish philosophers of Glasgow and Edinburgh all interrogated the nature and modalities of the progress of human societies. This was both an immediately topical issue for Scottish men who had experienced the intense economic and societal transformation of post-1707 Scotland, and a project best understood as part of a broader European (especially continental) enquiry into the mechanisms of societal progress” (p.  24). See Plassart’s second chapter, “The heritage of Hume and Smith: Scotland’s science of man and politics” for a helpful explication of how the Scottish Enlightenment philosophers’ understanding of human progress informed their complicated responses to the French Revolution. 2. Interestingly, because of his belief in the claim of particular races to the geographical locations in which they originated, Knox (1862) argued against imperial hegemony, claiming that nations that conquer others do so by brute force and violence, rather than as part of a divine plan, or as the fulfillment of human values such as progress, cosmopolitanism, and



­ umanitarianism. See Psomiades (2010) for an interesting discussion of the h surprising progressiveness of Knox’s ideas. 3. Charles Bradlaugh used Types of Mankind to argue not only that humans descended from more than one pair of human ancestors, but to support an atheist, as against a Christian, worldview more broadly. See Alexander (2019) for a discussion of Bradlaugh’s works that address the intersection between atheism and polygenesis. 4. See Chapter Seven of Cartmell and Whelehan’s (2010) Impure Cinema, titled “A Simple Twist? The Genrification of Nineteenth-Century Fiction,” pp. 97–111. 5. Hutcheon and O’Flynn (2013) use Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood (1957) as an example of a transcultural adaptation—across language, place, and time—of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and The Magnificent Seven (1960) as another such adaptation of Kurosawa’s own Seven Samurai (144). 6. Heilmann and Llewelyn give the following list of novels they define as operating in the postcolonial neo-Victorian genre: Jane Rogers’s Promised Lands (1997), Peter Carey’s Jack Maggs (1997), Andrea Barrett’s The Voyage of the Narwhal (1998), Mathew Kneale’s English Passengers (2000), Daniel Mason’s The Piano Tuner (2002), Rose Tremain’s The Colour (2003), Julian Barnes’s Arthur & George (2005), Kate Grenville’s The Secret River (2005), Lloyd Jones’s Mister Pip (2007), and Iliya Troyanov’s The Collector of Worlds (2008/2010). 7. This project also owes an important debt to works that explore how non-­ Victorian or non-nineteenth-century British source texts are received in the postcolonial world. Ania Loomba’s (1994) important study of the reception of Othello by twentieth-century Indian women college students argues that “the similarity between violence in the plays and that which is directed against women in India, is startling and, I shall suggest, an important factor in assessing how these plays can be received” (p. 162). Loomba writes that the murder of wives for their dowry, the rape and sexual exploitation of poor, low-caste women and working professionals by their superiors, as well as female infanticide, forced abortion, widow immolation, and the killing of women accused of being witches are very much twentieth-century phenomena (p. 162). In such postcolonial contexts, Jacobean tragedies take on special significance to women whose realities bear resemblances to the horrors described in the colonial texts. 8. Most pertinent to this project is Krämer’s (2016) discussion of Tamasha Theatre Company’s production of Wuthering Heights, a stage musical that “transposes Emily Brontë’s story into a South Asian social and geographical setting” (p. 212). The temporal setting of the novel remains unchanged, but the geographical setting is relocated to the Rajasthan desert (p. 212). The play was “explicitly marketed as a Bollywood version of Emily Brontë’s



story” (p.  213) and contained several tropes identified as typical of Bollywood, such as lip-syncing, characters’ states of mind communicated by the musical score, colorful props and costumes, a narrative frame structure with extended flashblacks, and advertising designed in the style of “hand-­ painted film hoardings that used to be a hallmark of Indian film advertising before they were abandoned in favour of printed ones” (pp.  213–214). Nonetheless, the play was criticized “for not being ‘Bollywood’ enough” (p.  214), and for being too faithful to Brontë’s novel, but not faithful enough to the Bollywood film genre (p. 216). Krämer asks whether the cool reception of Wuthering Heights implies that the production used Bollywood as “an exploitable and malleable quantity, a fashionable gimmick used for the sake of product differentiation” (p. 216), and whether the writer and director “aggressively appropriated and abused this art form for commercial purposes” (p. 216). Furthermore, “does the Bollywood mode of presentation as it is practiced here really open up a view at South Asian art, or does it merely render the spectacle more musical?” (p.  216). These questions bring to the fore issues of cultural neo-colonialism, exploitation of a postcolonial art form, and thus, the political stakes of postcolonial adaptation. See also Krämer’s (2012) “Brontë meets Bollywood: The Ambivalences of Appropriation and Adaptation in Tamasha’s Wuthering Heights.” 9. See, for instance, Stam’s World Literature, Transnational Cinema, and Global Media: Towards a Transartistic Commons (2019); Rawle’s Transnational Cinema: An Introduction (2018); Ď urovičová and Newman’s World Cinemas, Transnational Perspectives (2010); and Ezra and Rowden’s Transnational Cinema, The Film Reader (2006).

References Alexander, Nathan G. 2019. Atheism and polygenesis in the nineteenth century: Charles Bradlaugh’s racial anthropology. Modern Intellectual History 16 (3): 835–861. Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin. 2002. The empire writes back: Theory and practice in post-colonial literatures. 2nd ed. London: Routledge. Austen, Jane. 1813/2004. Pride and prejudice. New York: Oxford University Press. ———. 1815/2018. Emma. New York: Oxford University Press. Barnes, Julian. 2005. Arthur & George. London: Jonathan Cape. Barrett, Andrea. 1998. The voyage of the Narwhal. New York: W. W. Norton. Boushey, Heather. 2019. The way we measure the economy obscures what is really going on. New York Times, October 28. https://www.nytimes. com/2019/10/28/opinion/economic-growth-statistics.html. Accessed 8 Apr 2020.



Briggs, Asa. 2000. The age of improvement: 1783–1867. 2nd ed. Essex: Pearson Education Limited. Brontë, Charlotte. 1847/2008. Jane Eyre. Oxford: New York. Carey, Peter. 1997. Jack Maggs. New York: Vintage. Cartmell, Deborah. 1999. Introduction. In Adaptation: From text to screen, screen to text, ed. Deborah Cartmell and Imelda Whelehan, 23–28. New  York: Routledge. Cartmell, Deborah, and Imelda Whelehan. 2010. Screen adaptation: Impure cinema. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Condorcet, J. de Caritat (Marquis de). 1795. Outlines of an historical view of the progress of the human mind: Being a posthumous work of the late M. de Condorcet. London: Printed for J.  Johnson. cgi/pt?id=njp.32101004143127&view=1up&seq=11. Accessed 17 Jan 2020. Crocker, David A. 2008. Ethics of global development: Agency, capability, and deliberative democracy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Darwin, Charles R. 1871. The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. Vol. 1. 1st ed. London: John Murray. Dovey, Lindiwe. 2015. ‘Bergman in Uganda’: Ugandan veejays, Swedish pirates, and the political value of live adaptation. In The politics of adaptation: Media convergence and ideology, ed. Dan Hassler-Forest and Pascal Nicklas, 99–113. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Ď urovičová, Nataša, and Kathleen E. Newman, eds. 2010. World cinemas, transnational perspectives. New York: Routledge. Ezra, Elizabeth, and Terry Rowden, eds. 2006. Transnational cinema: The film reader. London: Routledge. Grenville, Kate. 2005. The secret river. Melbourne: The Text Publishing Company. Hardy, Thomas. 1891/2008. Tess of the D’Urbervilles: A pure woman faithfully presented. New York: Oxford University Press. Heilmann, Ann, and Mark Llewellyn. 2010. Neo-Victorianism: The Victorians in the twenty-first century, 1999–2009. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Hjort, Mette. 2005. Small nation, global cinema: The new Danish cinema. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Ho, Elizabeth. 2012. Neo-Victorianism and the memory of empire. London: Continuum. Hume, David. 1889/1987. Essays moral, political, literary. Edited and with a foreword, notes, and glossary by Eugene F.  Miller, with an appendix of variant readings from the 1889 edition by T.H. Green and T.H. Grose, revised edition. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1987. Accessed 17 Jan 2020. Hunt, James. 1864. On the Negro’s place in nature. Journal of the Anthropological Society of London 2: xv–lvi. JSTOR, Accessed 7 Apr 2020.



Hutcheon, Linda, with Siobhan O’Flynn. 2013. A theory of adaptation. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge. Jones, Lloyd. 2007. Mister Pip. Melbourne: The Text Publishing Company. Joyce, Simon. 2007. The Victorians in the rearview mirror. Columbus: Ohio University Press. Kidd, Benjamin. 1907/1987. Social evolution. London: Macmillan. Kipling, Rudyard. 1888/1999. The man who would be king. In Louis Cornell, ed. The Man Who Would Be King and Other Stories, 244–279. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Kneale, Matthew. 2000. English passengers. New York: Random House. Knox, Robert. 1862. The races of men: A philosophical enquiry into the influence of race over the destinies of nations. 2nd ed with supplementary chapters. London: Henry Renshaw. Krämer, Lucia. 2012. Brontë meets Bollywood: The ambivalences of appropriation and adaptation in Tamasha’s Wuthering Heights. In Adaptation and cultural appropriation: Literature, film, and the arts, ed. Pascal Nicklas and Oliver Lindner, 186–202. Berlin: De Gruyter. ———. 2016. Bollywood in Britain: Cinema, brand, discursive complex. London: Bloomsbury. Kristof, Nicholas, and Sheryl WuDunn. 2010. Half the sky: Turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide. New York: Vintage. Krugman, Paul. 1995. Development, geography, and economic theory. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Krugman, Paul, Marc Melitz, and Maurice Obstfeld. 2018. International economics: Theory and policy. 11th ed. Harlow: Pearson Education Ltd. Loomba, Ania. 1994. Sexuality and racial difference. In Critical essays on Shakespeare’s Othello, ed. Anthony Gerard Barthelemy, 162–186. New  York: G.K. Hall. Mason, Daniel. 2002. The piano tuner. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. Mill, John Stuart. 1990. The collected works of John Stuart Mill, XXX – Writings on India, ed. John M.  Robson, Martin Moir, and Zawahir Moir. Toronto: University of Toronto Press/London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. https://oll. Accessed 9 Apr 2020. Millar, John. 1778/2012. The origin of the distinction of ranks. Liberty Fund. Project MUSE Accessed 23 Apr 2020. Moir, Martin.1990. Introduction. In The collected works of John Stuart Mill, XXX  – Writings on India, ed. John M.  Robson, Martin Moir, and Zawahir Moir. Toronto: University of Toronto Press/London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Accessed 9 Apr 2020.



Nott, Josiah Clark, and George R. Gliddon. 1854. Types of mankind, or, ethnological researches, based upon the ancient monuments, paintings, sculptures, and crania of races, and upon their natural, geographical, philological, and biblical history. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo, and Co. Nussbaum, Martha. 2011. Creating capabilities: The human development approach. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Peters, Laura. 2013. Dickens and race. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Piketty, Thomas. 2014. Capital in the twenty-first century. Trans. Arthur Goldhammer. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Plassart, Anna. 2015. The Scottish enlightenment and the French revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Primorac, Antonija, and Monika Pietrzak-Franger. 2015. Introduction: What is global neo-Victorianism? Neo-Victorian Studies (Special Issue: Neo-Victorianism and Globalisation: Transnational dissemination of nineteenth-century cultural texts) 8: 1–16. Psomiades, Kathy Alexis. 2010. Polygenist ecosystems: Robert Knox’s The Races of Man (1850). Victorian Review 36: 32–36. JSTOR, Accessed 7 Apr 2020. Rawle, Steven. 2018. Transnational cinema: An introduction. London: Palgrave. Rist, Gilbert. 2002. The history of development: From Western origins to global faith. 2nd ed. Trans. Patrick Camiller. New York: Zed Books. Rogers, Jane. 1997. Promised lands. New York: Harry N. Abrams. Sanders, Julie. 2016. Adaptation and appropriation. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge. Seeley, John R. 1894. The expansion of England: Two courses of lectures. London: Macmillan. Sen, Amartya. 1999. Development as freedom. New York: Anchor Books. Stam, Robert. 2019. World literature, transnational cinema, and global media: Towards a transartistic commons. New York: Routledge. Steinbach, Susie L. 2012. Understanding the Victorians: Politics, culture and society in nineteenth-century Britain. London: Routledge. Stocking, George W. 1987. Victorian anthropology. New York: The Free Press. Tooze, Adam. 2018. Crashed: How a decade of financial crises changed the world. New York: Viking. Tremain, Rose. 2003. The colour. New York: Picador. Troost, Linda. 2007. The nineteenth-century novel on film: Jane Austen. In The Cambridge companion to literature on screen, ed. Deborah Cartmell and Imelda Whelehan, 75–89. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Troyanov, Iliya. 2008/2010. The collector of worlds: A novel of sir Richard Francis Burton. New York: Harper Collins.



Whelehan, Imelda. 2012. Neo-Victorian adaptations. In A companion to literature, film, and adaptation, ed. Deborah Cartmell, 272–292. Malden: Wiley Blackwell. ———. 2015. Adapting Tasmania: Terrorizing the past. In The politics of adaptation: Media convergence and ideology, ed. Dan Hassler-Forest and Pascal Nicklas, 158–171. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Williams, Raymond. 1973. The country and the city. New  York: Oxford University Press. Young, Robert J.C. 2001. Postcolonialism: An historical introduction. Oxford: Blackwell.

Filmography A Simple Twist of Fate. 1994. [Film] Dir. Gillies MacKinnon: Touchstone Pictures. Aisha. 2010. [Film] Dir. Rajshree Ojha. Screenplay by Devika Bhagat. India: Anil Kapoor Film Company, PVR Pictures. Bride and Prejudice. 2004. [Film] Dir. Gurinder Chadha. Screenplay by Paul Meyeda Berges and Gurinda Chadha. USA, UK, India: Pathé Pictures International, UK Film Council, Kintop Pictures, Bend It Films, Inside Track. Claim, The. 2000. [Film] Dir. Michael Winterbottom. UK, France, Canada: Alliance Atlantis Communications, Arts Council of England, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Canal+, DB Entertainment, Grosvenor Park Productions, Pathé Pictures International, Revolution Films. Clueless. 1995. [Film] Dir. Amy Heckerling. Screenplay by Amy Heckerling. USA: Paramount Pictures. Great Expectations. 1998. [Film] Dir. Alfonso Cuarón. USA: Art Linson Productions, Twentieth Century Fox. I Walked with a Zombie. 1943. [Film] Dir. Jacques Tourneur. Screenplay by Curt Siodmak and Ardel Wray. USA: RKO Radio Pictures. Magnificent Seven, The. 1960. [Film] Dir. John Sturges. USA: The Mirisch Company, Alpha Productions, Alpha. Man Who Would Be King, The. 1975. [Film] Dir. John Huston. Screenplay by John Huston and Gladys Hill. UK/USA: Columbia Pictures, Devon/Persky-­ Bright, Allied Artists Pictures. Mansfield Park. 2000. [Film] Dir. Patricia Rozema. UK: Arts Council of England, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), HAL Films, Miramax. Pride & Prejudice: A Latter-Day Comedy. 2003. [Film] Dir. Andrew Black. USA: Bestboy Pictures, Camera 40 Productions. Prospero’s Books. 1991. [Film] Dir. Peter Greenaway. UK, Netherlands, France, Italy, Japan: Allarts, Cinéa, Caméra One, Penta Film.



Seven Samurai. 1954 [Film] Dir. Akira Kurosawa. Japan: Toho Company. The Tempest. 1979. [Film] Dir. Derek Jarman. UK: Boyd’s Company. Throne of Blood. 1957. [Film] Dir. Akira Kurosawa. Japan: Toho Company, Kurosawa Production Co. Trishna. 2011. [Film] Dir. Michael Winterbottom. UK: Head Gear Films, UK Film Council.

Improvement, Development, and Consumer Culture in Jane Austen and Popular Indian Cinema

In Culture and Imperialism (1993), Edward Said writes that postcolonial studies should perform contrapuntal readings on nineteenth-century British novels to resist the imperial ideology that the novels helped to create and perpetuate. In this chapter, I argue that the “consolidated vision” of nineteenth-century imperialism and its cultural products, specifically the British novel’s complicity with imperial ideology, was less consolidated than Said’s reading suggests. Austen’s novels contain within them their own contrapuntal readings—moments, subplots, characters, settings, and other narrative elements that try to undo, or at least provide some traction against, the imperial ideology with which the novels are partially imbricated. Although the nineteenth-century British novel is an undeniable example of colonial heritage, it has the potential to challenge other aspects of that heritage that have proven more nefarious. Understanding how Austen’s novels elucidate and provide alternatives to early nineteenth-­ century improvement ideology helps to illuminate their relevance to our current historical, political, and cultural moment. This chapter contributes to a method of reading Austen postcolonially through the lens of use. Recent Austen critics have examined the question of what uses postcolonial societies make of Austen and her novels in the contemporary globalized world.1 Such work reflects the understanding that the nineteenth-century British novels with which Said took issue are not reducible to the ideology of imperialism and the history of colonialism in which they are implicated. More importantly, this work reflects a sense © The Author(s) 2020 V. Y. Kao, Postcolonial Screen Adaptation and the British Novel,




that neoliberal capital has changed the power relations among populations throughout the globe: old imperialists and their novels have given way to new imperialists and their money. Neoliberal capital had its beginnings in western imperial expansion but is no longer tethered to it, and the new imperialism affects social relations within indigenous populations as much as between societies in the global north and the global south. To talk about uses and reuses of colonial cultural products emphasizes the agency of postcolonial authors and artists in remaking what may once have been imposed upon them newly useful on their own terms. Reading for use instead of resistance does not de-politicize postcolonial studies, Austenian or otherwise, but takes into account that new social, economic, and cultural conditions require new approaches to the study of how texts function in the world. This chapter links the emphasis on use and reuse in postcolonial Austen criticism with cinematic adaptations of Austen, for adaptation criticism has long understood the value of focusing on use and reuse as a lens through which, on the one hand, to revisit the source novels and illuminate them in new ways, and on the other hand, to see how the source texts take on new life in new contexts. The question of why Austen is still being adapted (a central question for Austen adaptation scholars) is linked inextricably to the question of what ends Austen is being adapted to serve, or in other words, to what use Austen is now being put in our present cultural landscape. Tackling these questions from a postcolonial perspective encourages us to ask why postcolonial texts, specifically, adapt Austen, to what uses they put her, and what Austen provides for postcolonial authors and artists who use her work to speak to their own concerns. In the discussion that follows, I explore Austen’s critique of early nineteenth-­century improvement ideology and the ways in which two post-millennium Bollywood adaptations reappropriate her critique to confront neoliberal development in post-independence India. Gurinder Chadha’s Bride and Prejudice (2004) and Rajshree Ojha’s Aisha (2010), adaptations of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Emma, respectively, transpose both the limited and capacious forms of improvement found in Austen’s novels to a new place and time. The adaptations illuminate a strain of anti-improving sentiment in the novels located in their optimism about the power of non-teleological development that provides a temporary escape from the unrelenting future orientation of progress in early nineteenth-century improvement ideology. The postcolonial adaptations illuminate Austen’s anti-improving sentiment by deploying it against new



objects of analysis: the American land developer with “improving eyes” and twenty-first-century Indian neoliberal development. The first film translates Austen’s non-teleological development into an uncritical acceptance of twenty-first-century Indian consumer culture. The second film, however, is deeply unsatisfied with consumer capitalism as a replacement of the old colonial improvement narrative: Aisha refuses to accept non-­ teleological change as all the change we need. In Austen’s novels and their Bollywood adaptations, I discover a cross-­ cultural and transhistorical expression of the disjunction between discourses of progress (colonial and postcolonial) and their manifestation in everyday reality, a disjunction I characterize as a double temporality: forward march manifested as endless delay. I first review the ways in which improvement has been understood in the critical history on Austen. I show how an anti-improving sentiment in her novels that I locate in her deployment of non-teleological development has been overlooked. I then perform a reading of Emma that illustrates Austen’s use of non-­teleological development that ends by examining the translation of this escape from futurity into late-capitalist consumer culture in Amy Heckerling’s Clueless (1995), a film that functions as an important point of reference for both Bride and Prejudice and Aisha. I then examine the history of colonial improvement and postcolonial development discourse in India, the responses posed to this history by neoliberal capital and the Bollywood industry, and finally, the two film adaptations. Doubling back to Said, my focus on use instead of resistance in postcolonial texts reveals how texts produced by an old colonial power can be transformed through new readings into new responses to power inequalities produced by global capitalism. The postcolonial adaptations I examine no longer limit their understanding of nineteenth-century British novels to sources of oppression that must be rewritten—for sources of oppression and resistance can no longer be mapped strictly onto the formerly colonial (and their cultural productions) and the formerly colonized. Instead, the Bollywood films uncover in Austen’s novels a universal demand for socially just betterment that resonates deeply with the particular injustices that neoliberal development has created in India. Attending to the “how,” or the specific ways in which these films have adapted Austen, leads to an understanding of the “why,” the reasons for adapting Austen in postcolonial texts and the purposes that Austen’s novels serve in the contemporary world.



Austen’s Unprogressive Change “Improvement” in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in Britain was a term used to describe opposing political positions. “Innovative” or progressive improvers encouraged the rapid and totalizing overhaul of governments, landscapes, and social relations that seemed to usher in and become emblematic of modernization. Conservative improvers criticized such innovative forms of improvement as destructive rather than progressive, arguing instead for a steady, slowly evolving adaptation of past to future. Improvement has long been a central concern to critics interested in Austen and the historical context of her novels. Alistair Duckworth’s The Improvement of the Estate (1971), a foundational text concerning Austen’s novels and late eighteenth-century improvement discourse, established Mansfield Park as the preeminent text to which to look for Austen’s political position on improvement. Duckworth argues that Austen fundamentally agrees with the conservative understanding of improvement put forth by Edmund Burke as preservation of the past for slow and steady movement into the future.2 Duckworth’s argument brings together morality and physical space: one’s moral grounding in an inherited culture of traditions and values rests on the material grounds upon which that tradition sits, the country estate. The estate symbolized “a whole social and moral inheritance,” and the notion of “enclosure” applied not only to the privatization of common land but to the individuals who owned it (Duckworth 1971, p. 30). The estate “enclosed” the individual into “a little world of harmony and peace,” the “very disposition of buildings and landscape” manifesting “an organization that has evolved over a long period of time,” an organization that one should preserve and amend, but never destroy (p. 2). To make this argument, Duckworth creates an opposition between Austen’s/Burke’s improvement and the methods of the fashionable landscape improver Humphry Repton, whose name is mentioned several times in Mansfield Park. The novel’s sixth chapter opens with a discussion of Repton’s improvements to Compton, an estate belonging to a friend of Mr. Rushworth. “I never saw a place so altered in my life,” Rushworth says; “I told Smith I did not know where I was. The approach now, is one of the finest things in the country: you see the house in the most surprising manner” (Austen 1814/2003, p.  51). Comparing the new and improved Compton to his own estate, Sotherton, he remarks that his grounds “looked like a prison—quite a dismal old prison,” a place that



“wants improvement, ma’am, beyond anything. I never saw a place that wanted so much improvement in my life” (p. 51). The conversation suggests that Repton’s aesthetic entails a totalizing and imprudent notion of landscape improvement that disregards heritage, moral and natural. The fact that the innovative, worldly characters in the novel—Maria Bertram and the Crawfords—as well as the stupid and insidious ones—Rushworth and Mrs. Norris—embrace such improvements suggests that Austen is critical of overhaul in moral, political, and cultural, as well as material, terms. Only Edmund and Fanny, the responsible, level-headed characters who eventually inherit Sir Thomas Bertram’s moral and material patrimony, would, in Edmund’s words, “rather have an inferior degree of beauty, of my own choice, and acquired progressively” (p. 54). Critics writing after Duckworth concerned with Austen and improvement have tended either to agree with his reading of Austen as a conservative improver, disagree and characterize her as much more progressive, or position her somewhere in between.3 Furthermore, almost all later critics follow Duckworth in placing Mansfield Park at the center of Austen’s explorations on improvement. What is helpful about these readings is their alignment of Romantic-era notions of moral and social progress with the belief that such progress was lodged in an explicitly future-oriented process that assigned normative values to past, present, and future: the future will always be better than the past, and the present is but a pit-stop on the way to the future. Even conservative conceptions of improvement saw forward-moving change as necessary and good: although we should venerate the past, we can never go back, and thus we should seek to make the future a better version of it.4 Duckworth and the critics writing after him identify improvement ideology as teleological progress and locate that ideology in the inevitable forward movement of the plot, in which a heroine matures, becoming a more productive and suitable member of society, as she moves forward through clock and calendrical time. Moral and social progress occur simultaneously as the bildung of the heroine culminates in her taking up a leadership role in her society (by marrying into its top echelon). These critics reveal that teleology in Austen functions as both narrative form and ideology: the plot plods forward in time, telling the story of the inevitable march onward of moral and social progress. According to the plot, the Austenian heroine is “better” at the end of her story than at the beginning—happier, richer, and importantly, more in line with the moral constraints of her society. Emma Woodhouse’s arrogance, Elizabeth



Bennett’s independence, and Marianne Dashwood’s impulsiveness are all tempered, mitigated to a degree that does not threaten the peace and stability of the community: thus, individual and social betterment are intertwined, and both depend on the plot’s getting to where it needs to go. But the plot is not all there is to Austen’s novels, and focusing exclusively on the close relationship between plot and teleological development risks overlooking the many extra-plot elements of the narratives that work against the ideology the plots espouse. To appreciate Austen’s novels, William Galperin (2011) argues, one must read not only for the plot but for the “‘widening sum’ of details” (“Adapting Jane Austen,” p. 190) that comprise the “totality” (p. 188) of the experience of everyday life that the novels present. For Galperin, the plot is the real villain: the moral and social improvement of the heroine—the central engine that drives the narrative forward—pushes the heroine toward a future in which her possibilities and choices for being will be more limited, more constrained, but more acceptable than they are in the middle of the novel, or at its beginning. The teleological movement of the heroine toward marriage and her community toward bourgeois domesticity closes down, rather than opening up, the possibilities of becoming that improvement as a conceptual category entails. Improvement as it is figured in the plot is not a form of expansion, but rather of constriction. But Galperin (2011) also argues that the novels provide ways to resist the impending closure of the plot’s end even while feeling the force of its inevitability: “For continually shadowing the change or improvement relegated to marriage in the novels, whose heroines marry either happily or up or both, is another horizon of change, registered primarily through accompanying details that I call ‘differentials,’ that the novels tend mostly to project or to embed in a story that can’t be told or resolved by the usual means” (“Adapting Jane Austen,” p. 189). Differentials take the form of characters, scenes, or alternative plot lines that the ideological thrust of the novel’s main storyline seems unable to co-opt or manage. For example, Mary and Henry Crawford’s performative (rather than earnest) sensibilities, Miss Bates’s useless verbosity, and Mrs. Elton’s desire to remake Highbury society for her own benefit rather than for its own “good” exemplify significant but futile elements of resistance to improvement’s distillation of the plenitude of everyday experience into only what is good for the nation and its women (Galperin Historical Austen 2003/2005, pp.  154–213). Austen does not represent the future, as the plot would have us believe, as an open horizon of possibilities, but rather as a



deterministic horizon of probabilities that limits what is considered possible—for society, for women’s lives, and for the form of the novel. In their resistance or escape from the forward momentum of the main marriage plot, differentials occupy a clandestine realm that operates within and underneath the dominant teleology and take the form of digressions, involutions, and backward glances that do not advance, but in fact delay the protagonist’s movement toward her foregone conclusion. In the section that follows, I provide an analysis of Emma that reads plot and anti-plot together and against one another: such a reading reveals a doubled temporality of forward motion and repeated delays that seek to stall that momentum. In choosing Emma as my main text, I also claim that in order to understand Austen’s subtle and complex treatment of improvement ideology, we should look to Emma, and not only, or primarily, to Mansfield Park. My reading of Emma ends by examining the ways in which Clueless, Bride and Prejudice, and Aisha translate the novel’s twin narrative energies—forward movement and its delay—into the experience of everyday life under neoliberal modernization. The adaptations ruminate on the promises and disappointments of non-teleological development as a realm of open possibilities that keeps at bay a determined future, but perhaps also real progress.

Emma: Moving Forward and Looking Back The future as figured in Emma is a place where Highbury is not; it is a time and a place in which what we are reading about has disappeared, and thus the future is characterized by what is missing rather than by what is available. The desire to delay the future marks the novel from beginning to end. In an early passage, we are introduced to the society that Emma and Mr. Woodhouse keep after the departure of Mrs. Weston. That society consists of Mrs. and Miss Bates and Mrs. Goddard, women whose “quiet prosings,” the narrator says, “made [Emma] feel that every evening so spent, was indeed one of the long evenings she had fearfully anticipated” (Austen Emma 1815/2008, p.  18). Emma’s evenings never manage to make worthwhile the process of getting ready for those evenings, and her “looking forward to exactly such a close of the present day” (p.  18) is really a hope against hope that the evening will not transpire, once again, the same way it did the day before. The future, here cast as the closing of each day, is not characterized by possibility but rather by probability: what Emma really looks forward to is a time when the thing she’s looking



forward to will be over. Emma makes lists of books to read but never reads them (p.  29); she begins plenty of drawings but never finishes them (p.  35). Although making plans and envisioning beginnings evince a “looking forward to,” she never takes the necessary steps to concretize that projected future into a present reality. Completion closes down the possibility that resides in a thing not done, and for Emma, the future amounts to a predictable end as opposed to a happy fulfillment of a set of old values or a new beginning. But the future, in the form of the novel’s forward-moving plot, is inevitable and approaching quickly. The multifaceted present, however, functions as a temporary escape hatch from such an oppressive and already determined future. Emma frequently imagines how other people live the present moment differently from herself. Although she looks down her nose at the Martins of Abbey-­ Mill-­Farm, she is not above being “amused by such a picture of another set of beings” (p. 22). The Martins represent another way of existing in the world, at the same time and place in which Emma also exists, and she cannot help a slight curiosity in them despite her exhortation that “the yeomanry are precisely the order of people with whom I feel I can have nothing to do” (p. 24). Later, Emma and Harriet also indulge in imagining “those among our absent friends who are more cheerfully employed”: “At this moment, perhaps, Mr. Elton is shewing your picture to his mother and sisters, telling how much more beautiful is the original, and after being asked for it five or six times, allowing them to hear your name, your own dear name.” “My picture!—But he has left my picture in Bond-street.” “Has he so!—Then I know nothing of Mr. Elton. No, my dear little modest Harriet, depend upon it the picture will not be in Bond-street till just before he mounts his horse to-morrow. It is his companion all this evening, his solace, his delight. It opens his designs to his family, it introduces you among them, it diffuses through the party those pleasantest feelings of our nature, eager curiosity and warm prepossession. How cheerful, how animated, how suspicious, how busy their imaginations all are!” (p. 45)

Harriet is cheered by Emma’s creation of a simultaneous, alternative present that exists at the same time but in a happier elsewhere. The past likewise functions as a repository for some relief from the future. Harriet’s fourteen-minute visit with the Martin women centers on a collective remembrance of good times spent together, ending with a



readiness “to feel the same consciousness, the same regrets—to be ready to return to the same good understanding” they had felt for each other before Harriet’s rejection of Martin in her quest for upward mobility (p.  147). Emma’s carriage, however, cuts short this respite by taking Harriet away. The promise of reviving the Crown Inn from its dilapidated state into a ballroom for one night allows Emma and Frank to “contemplate its capabilities” and imagine a time when “the neighborhood had been in a particularly populous, dancing state” (p. 155). The ball, however, never transpires, and the plot cuts short the preparations made for it by calling Frank back to Enscombe. Although it seems that the main plot has won this battle by foreclosing on the possibility of the development of Emma’s and Frank’s romance (thus keeping open the way for Knightley), we find out later that Frank’s departure actually forms a piece of the secondary, hidden plot involving Jane Fairfax. As the main plot tries to contain the possibilities that musings on the present and past offer, it also tries to contain experiences of change that cannot be defined as linear progress. Micro-level change is constantly occurring at Highbury: letters come and go, apples are sent and returned, eyeglasses are broken and fixed, visitors arrive earlier or later than expected. Mr. Woodhouse cannot cope with this non-teleological change in everyday life; thus, he lives in perpetual anxiety of everything, down to his inability to regulate the temperature in places other than Hartfield. He never ventures out if he can help it and is unable to head the household on account of his fears. His acute sensitivity, however, acts as a barometer to change that does not produce progress. But what Mr. Woodhouse intuits, Miss Bates verbalizes. While Mr. Woodhouse’s sex and rank allow him to hide away from everyday life, Miss Bates’s position prevents her from doing so, and the way she deals with continuous change is to talk about it, continuously. Not introduced until Volume Two, Miss Bates’s repetitive rambling must, but cannot entirely, be contained by the first and third volumes of the novel. We first meet her when Emma pays the Bateses a visit, and she immediately “overpowers” her visitor with “care and kindness” (p. 122). After asking about Mr. Woodhouse, and talking about a recent visit from the Coles, and touching upon Mr. Elton, Miss Bates checks Emma’s attempt at escape by plunging into an account of an unexpected letter from Jane Fairfax:



‘Oh! here it is. I was sure it could not be far off; but I had put my huswife upon it, you see, without being aware, and so it was quite hid, but I had it in my hand so very lately that I was almost sure it must be on the table. I was reading it to Mrs. Cole, and since she went away, I was reading it again to my mother, for it is such a pleasure to her—a letter from Jane—that she can never hear it often enough; so I knew it could not be far off, and here it is, only just under my huswife—and since you are so kind as to wish to hear what she says;--but, first of all, I really must, in justice to Jane, apologise for her writing so short a letter—only two pages you see—hardly two—and in general she fills the whole paper and crosses half. My mother often wonders that I can make it out so well. She often says, when the letter is first opened, “Well, Hetty, now I think you will be put to it to make out all that chequer-­ work”—don’t you, ma’am? (p. 123)

“All this spoken extremely fast,” the narrator says, and the only reply Emma can squeak out is “something very civil about the excellence of Miss Fairfax’s handwriting,” a reply then repeated twice by Miss Bates to accommodate her deaf mother (p.  123). Miss Bates’s expansive speech manifests time itself: she verbalizes each moment and its attendant thought or action as it passes, and is even able, as in the passage above, to record the traces of certain moments and narrate them later to someone who was not there to witness them. She functions as both an archive of everyday life and a live transmission of events that fall under the radar, as they happen. Perverse though it may seem to say so, Miss Bates’s voluminous speech represents possibility and promise: the promise in the past and the present that characterize the other differentials that operate within and against the forward-moving main plot. Her monologues double back on themselves—three times in the passage above (she reads the letter once to Mrs. Cole, a second time to her mother, and a third to Emma). But each repetition is different, for each is tied to the specific time and place in which the recitation happened: the reading to Mrs. Cole is marked by the fact that she went away after hearing it; the reading to Mrs. Bates is marked by the old woman’s pleasure in listening; and the re-discovery of the letter under the huswife reveals all the layers of tellings and retellings and the historical minutiae of each that would otherwise have been lost. Miss Bates’s speeches go nowhere: there never seems to be a point or a goal to them, and certainly not an end unless someone else interferes. She speaks not for the sake of communication or for the sake of producing an effect, but for the sake of recordation, and more importantly, for the sake of useless sociability. Her sociability threatens Emma and the



forward-moving plot precisely because it cannot be turned to good use; or rather, it is useful only for making life more interesting in the present and for calling up the past, and not at all for the teleological development of the heroine or her society. Miss Bates marks time, and in doing so, marks change, but change figured as lateral movement as opposed to forward momentum. And Miss Bates herself, “a woman neither young, handsome, rich, nor married,” cannot be turned to any use besides marking time— she is unimprovable—and yet, she “enjoyed a most uncommon degree of popularity” and “was a happy woman, and a woman whom no one named without good-will” (p. 17). But even Miss Bates has an awareness of calendrical time, the temporal dimension that acts as a double to her own. She repeats that Jane will come “Friday or Saturday […] Oh, yes, Friday or Saturday next” (p. 124); “next Friday or Saturday, and the Campbells leave town […] the Monday following”  (p. 126). Jane will remain for “three months  […]  at least. Three months […] positively” (p. 124). Homogeneous, empty time ticks by, carrying Miss Bates along its current: her anxious voicings suggest a consciousness of the fact that as time progresses, she “sink[s]” from “the comforts she was born into,” as well as further and further into the past, a relic of a different country (p. 295). While her repeated refrain of naming days, weeks, and months manifests a deep anxiety toward calendrical time, it also shows that she deals with this anxiety by finding a way to read time as a perpetual present, even if that reading is constantly interrupted and can only be maintained for a short while. Miss Bates’s anxiety at feeling the passage of time is only one example of the general sense of unease that rises to the surface throughout the novel. The Box Hill excursion seems to be ill-fated even before it gets started, certainly well before Emma’s checking of Miss Bates. “Seven miles were travelled in expectation of enjoyment…but in the general amount of the day there was deficiency. There was a languor, a want of spirits, a want of union, which could not be got over” (p. 288). Emma acts “gay and thoughtless” with Frank not “from any real felicity” but because “she felt less happy than she had expected” and “laughed because she was disappointed” (p. 289). Miss Bates sums up the day best when she says that “even pleasure, you know, is fatiguing” (p. 300). Pleasure in Emma serves to cover up the nagging “want” and “deficiency,” the feeling that something is missing from present experiences, and that even the present, as it recedes into the past, is already a poor substitute for something else—a kind of real happiness—that should have been there but wasn’t. Like the



avenue of limes at Donwell which “led to nothing; nothing but a view…which seemed intended, in their erection, to give the appearance of an approach to the house, which never had been there,” there remains a sense in the novel of an emptiness that functions as a placeholder for something that never emerged, but whose existence was terminated anyway (p. 283). This sense of something never transpired but already lost, or presently being lost, differs from Burke’s desire to preserve the past. It does not nostalgize what has been, but rather produces a sense that what counts as “what has been,” or, the portion of the past that counts as inheritance, is incomplete. And what has been left out of a Burkean ancient constitution is gone for good without even having had the recognition of existence. It is, as Galperin (2006) calls it, “a missed opportunity,” but an opportunity that was never available to begin with (“Describing What Never Happened,” p. 355). Thus, neither conservative Burkean nor French radical improvement can save it or bring it into being, and the non-­teleological change that ostensibly provides some respite from a foreclosed future only serves to make the absence of real happiness, or real betterment, more strongly felt. This tension between faith and disappointment in non-teleological change as an antidote to coerced teleological development provides the central narrative interest in Amy Heckerling’s Clueless, the 1995 adaptation-­turned-teen-sensation that updates and restages Emma among high school students in 1990s Beverly Hills, California.5 Galperin (2011) argues that Clueless, like Emma, is irreducible to its marriage or courtship plot; instead, it creates a “‘widening’ separation of story and information” that leaves the development of the protagonist “intact, but as an object of interpretation from which the novel overall is increasingly disarticulated” (“Adapting Jane Austen,” p.  190). Like Emma, whom Galperin rightly observes is “far more interesting and attractive as the troublemaker first encountered than she is as Mrs. Knightley at the close” (p. 190), the film’s Emma equivalent, Cher Horowitz, is far more engaging as the conspicuous consumer we meet in the beginning of the film than she is as the “pathetic do-gooder” (p. 190) she becomes to suit the preferences of her stepbrother Josh, the film’s Knightley. Galperin suggests that while the novel resists Emma’s domestic improvement, the film rejects Cher’s entirely, folding the romantic comedy storyline into its astute commentary on the myriad different but relatively equal lifestyle choices that Cher’s generation enjoys. Slang and fashion, he writes, are the principle sites that lodge the film’s argument that the “change and difference occurring



daily” (p. 190)—the sort of change found in the difference between what was new yesterday and what is new today—is the only “improvement” we have, but also the only improvement we need. I suggest that rather than the general currents of language and fashion, it is the late-twentieth-century mall, and more specifically, the act of going shopping in it, that provides Clueless’s challenge to the developmental arc of the courtship plot and its protagonist’s improvement. From the film’s first sequence, which shows Cher getting dressed for school (an algorithmic challenge involving a computer that mixes and matches her clothes until it creates the perfect outfit [00:00:57–00:01:26]), to the way Cher explains the class hierarchy at her high school to new student Tai as if she were explaining the differences between clothing brands (00:22:50–00:23:50), the world of Clueless is a world flattened into various but equally insignificant choices. Cher does not like Josh’s taste in music or television shows (he prefers the “maudlin music of the university station” [00:07:47] and CNN over her trendy pop and MTV), but there isn’t anything inherently better about her own choices, and she knows it. The fact that she can prefer one thing over another, and then afford to obtain what she likes, is her most significant source of (buying) power. The mall provides the center of gravity in Cher’s life, and it centralizes while emanating the power of choice that Cher and her peers possess. After failed attempts at convincing her debate teacher Mr. Hall (the film’s Mr. Weston) to raise her grade, Cher says in voiceover: “I felt impotent and out of control, which I really hate. I needed to find sanctuary in a place where I could gather my thoughts and regain my strength” (00:10:36–00:10:49). The next shot shows the exterior of a mall. Although the editing here is clearly ironic and pokes fun (as Austen’s narrator does) at the protagonist’s superficiality, the mall is nevertheless where Cher finally manages to figure out how to improve her grade, as well as the grades of everyone in her class: make a love match between Mr. Hall and social studies teacher Ms. Geist (the film’s Miss Taylor), an act that makes the two teachers genuinely happy and culminates in the wedding at the end of the film. The film also uses the mall as a synecdoche for non-teleological change and immaturity. At dinner one night, Cher’s father expresses disappointment at Cher’s lack of ambition and wishes she would hurry up and get “a little bit of direction” (00:09:27). To this, Josh quips, “she does have direction—towards the mall” (00:09:30). And near the end of the film Cher is temporarily diverted from her realization that she has loved Josh



all along by a dress she sees in a storefront window, about which she wonders, “Ooh, I wonder if they have that in my size” (01:18:09). Cher’s final choice, a choice that launches her into adulthood, lies between shopping and Josh—between enjoying the limited power she possesses of seeing the world as a bazaar, full of possibilities through which she might navigate according to her own preferences rather than prescriptions of right and wrong; and her future self as Josh’s more disciplined girlfriend. Whereas Galperin sees the film as endorsing consumerism’s escape from the limitations of improvement, I read it as much more ambivalent about the real value a shopper’s world has to offer. Clueless remains on the fence about the kind of improvement it wants to endorse: improvements that entail only change and no betterment, or improvement that claims real progress that it ultimately fails to deliver. For although growing into Josh’s adult world and perspective limits the expansive reality of Cher’s immature world of non-teleological change, the latter is ultimately naïve and temporary and represents a sad state of disengagement for American youth. If her future represents no real improvement on her present, consumerism represents a kind of complacency that jettisons the possibility of real betterment altogether. I have dilated on Clueless because it exemplifies the ways in which adaptations can make their source narratives speak to new historical realities while at the same time use such updating to reflect back on the intricacies of the source text itself. While Austen’s novels do not explicitly lodge their differentials in concrete depictions of shopping, reading her novels within the context of 1990s consumerism helps us to interpret the double temporalities of improvement in her work. Clueless and the popular Indian films I discuss below use shopping as a metaphor to express Emma’s twin narrative energies, as well as the novel’s ambivalence about the turn away from teleology in toto as the solution to escaping the determinism of improvement ideology. The films suggest that in a postmodern, postcolonial world, shopping may provide a temporary alternative to the demands of national and individual maturation—a reprieve from the responsibilities of having to do what’s morally good and socially useful. However, it remains a woefully unsatisfactory alternative that itself limits the possibilities of reimagining a modernity that is truly better than the past.6 The section that follows focuses on Bride and Prejudice and Aisha.7 I first provide an account of improvement discourse in India during the British colonial period and its connections to  the discourse of global south development, through the lens of teleology. I argue that both



colonial improvement discourse and postcolonial development discourse foreclose on a multiplicity of indigenous futures by defining progress as necessarily western and capitalist. I then read the films as responses to such improvement and development discourses. Like Clueless, both Indian films use the metaphor of shopping to reflect the resistance of middle-class youth against accepting a future that has already been decided for them, and the pleasures of possessing a newly acquired purchasing power. Bride and Prejudice embraces the shopper’s sensibility and uses it as a foundation for a multicultural, cosmopolitan attitude toward difference. Aisha, however, finds that foregoing progressive change altogether in favor of enjoying its delay ultimately capitulates to neocolonial capital and forecloses on an alternate understanding of development as socially just betterment that has yet to transpire, but whose termination may be fast approaching.

Development and Discontent in Popular Indian Cinema In late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century British India, liberals like Thomas Macaulay and James and John Stuart Mill sought radical change to indigenous institutions, believing that the English were responsible for liberating India from centuries of oppression stemming from a backward religious hierarchy that inhibited the progress of the masses toward becoming modern subjects. Infusing Indian society with English liberal ideals founded on free trade and individual freedom would bring about the radical improvement of Indian people, while, conveniently, making India a rational, efficient, and immensely profitable part of the modern British economy.8 But the eventual good trading partnership that Britain was to enjoy with India under the liberal model was a long way off: first, Indians would have to undergo moral and educational reform by way of Christianization and an English curriculum; individual improvement would then, after decades and perhaps centuries, create the necessary conditions for social and economic development. Until then, an authoritarian British state was the best way of ensuring that India stayed on its developmental track.9 After the Company’s rule was fully transferred to the Crown, however, imperial policy shifted toward Utilitarianism, which was pessimistic about the Whiggish grand narrative that the early liberals championed. For



Utilitarians Jeremy Bentham and James Mill, the possibility of transferring power and the administration of the state to the Indians remained so far off in the distant future as to be moot: rather than educating the Indians to eventually run the machine themselves, the British would do better to concentrate on building a superior machine. It was in the Utilitarian spirit that administrators of the Victorian Raj set about building railways, erecting factories and training workers, and rapidly industrializing urban areas (Roy 2012, pp. 33–55). Improvement of the bureaucratic state was such a tremendous undertaking that it must begin immediately, but doing so closed off not only alternative possibilities for India’s future but also any possibility that a focus on the present moment without thought to “where we are going” might provide any relief against determinism. Perhaps it was the liberals’ and utilitarians’ belief in India as becoming, as a nation that would be radically different and better in the future than it had been in the past, that led Mohandas K. Gandhi to look uncompromisingly toward the past for the foundation of his nationalist movement and vision of a postcolonial future. Against the tide of liberalism that won the day in imperial policymaking throughout the Victorian period, Gandhi proposed a twentieth-century India more medieval than modern. In Hind Swaraj, Gandhi’s (1921) call to national independence consists of “restoring” India to its “pristine condition” by “returning” to the ancient religions, languages, texts, institutions, and customs of the precolonial past (p.  94). Infused with cultural chauvinism throughout, the pamphlet is curiously reminiscent of the conservative British Orientalists in its argument that the imperialists criticized India’s civilization for what actually made it the best in the world: its unchangeability (p. 53). But the text also evinces an affinity with the early liberals, for the foundation of national swaraj, or national self-rule, was individual swaraj, or moral self-rule. Such moral improvement consisted of a fierce anti-capitalism that rejected machine-made and British-imported goods, as well as what Gandhi saw as the Indians’ own greed for capital accumulation that allowed the British to maintain power. And for Gandhi (1921), as for the British evangelists, moral swaraj was something “far off as yet” (p.  3): the long trek back toward a pre-capitalist and precolonial India nevertheless adhered to the long timeline of economic un-development. After India attained its independence from Britain in 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru combined Gandhi’s self-rule with the capital-intensive, heavily industrial, hulking bureaucratic state of the Victorian Raj. Jettisoning Gandhi’s vision of a precolonial utopia, Nehru modeled the new Indian



state on the Soviet Union, “leavened by social democratic values” (Brass 1994, p. 275). Focusing solely on making India an industrial giant that would depend only on its own resources and labor and driven by a benevolent public sector, Nehru based his plan for India’s future on another country’s present—but this time, not on Britain’s—and the Nehruvian road to progress was just as long as any other had been during the colonial and decolonization periods.10 Progress felt so much like stagnation that Nehru’s administration was termed “the license Raj” (DeLong 2003, p.  184), suggesting not only that forward movement took the form of everyday delay but that the post-independence state did not seem so very different to India’s poor millions than the colonial system. It was onto this long history of long histories of Indian progress that the neoliberal policies of Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh exploded in the early 1990s. The deregulation, import liberalization, access to foreign technology, reduction of marginal tax rates and tariffs, and the process of eliminating license restrictions—in short, the clearing of red tape to make way for private enterprise—that began in the final years of Rajiv Gandhi’s administration were fully pursued with speed and efficiency during Rao’s (DeLong 2003, p. 197). Suddenly, India became an economic growth miracle, developing at an unprecedented pace that seemed to make up for lost time. In the early 2000s, economists predicted “growth at a pace that promise[d] to double average productivity levels and living standards in India every sixteen years” (DeLong 2003, p. 184), and in the 2010 Economic Survey, India was predicted to see double-digit growth in the current decade (Ghate 2012, p. 1). The rapidity with which the country seemed to free itself from the good intentions but massive inefficiency of the license Raj suggested that India had finally found the path to modernity—the path that was no linear path at all, but a belief in the “now-ness” of neoliberal money-making. Acquiring, spending, enjoying, and living for immediate gratification could all happen now, as soon as economic development was unyoked from the normative imperatives of moral and social improvement. Colonial and post-independence adherence to teleological development had assumed that progress must take time because it was a fundamentally collective experience. Gandhi and the British conservatives saw the collective experience of Indian tradition as the touchstone for all Indians in the present; liberals saw India’s future as an Anglicized democracy as something to which the whole population would aspire to reach together; and Utilitarians saw the perfect government as benefiting as



many of the collective as possible. But for the neoliberal developmental model of the 1990s and onwards, space and time shrink down to the individual, each person acting in their own interest, no single interest more valid than any other, no single strategy by which to participate in modernity’s great bounty better than any other. This abandonment of past ideals of a collective progress that sought to spread the wealth (and the poverty) of the nation as it advanced toward a higher standard of living for all produced an economic miracle as uneven as it has been rapid.11 Decoupling economic development from social justice has resulted in capital growth that has not necessarily meant more employment but has encouraged inflation of food costs. “The growth experience across Indian states has been very disparate, with some of the largest states experiencing decelerations in growth in the 1990s […]. In effect, the low growth that characterized the pre-1980s has been replaced by a pattern of high but unbalanced growth in the post-1980s period” (Ghate 2012, p.  1). Tirthankar Roy (2012) has argued that such unbalanced postcolonial growth resembles colonial economic development and its failures in many ways. Both evince an unevenness tied to natural resource constraints and labor concentration, as well as a tendency to benefit some parties over others (Roy 2012, p. 46). The narrative of improvement and development outlined above that runs through the colonial period into the present suggests that the colonial and decolonization periods were marked by long temporal narratives of social and moral improvement that coerced Indian subjects to accept particular understandings of what progress meant and how it should be achieved. This has been met in the postmodern period with a reactionary emphasis on material development without much attention to any narrative of betterment. But if being forced into a colonial model of Anglicized Indianness and a far-off future that offers little more than someone else’s present produced the feeling of constriction and foreclosure, achieving a novel and rapidly obtained wealth on one’s own terms that offers nothing more than more of itself may be no better. Bride and Prejudice and Aisha express both the promises and pitfalls of the neoliberal shock of the now as an alternative to the long wait of improvement ideology. These films not only provide cogent examples of Bollywood’s engagement with the historical narrative of moral and social improvement ideology leading to capitalist economic development in India, they also find a cultural analogue to the contemporary Indian situation in Austen’s reflections on non-teleological change as an alternative to improvement’s forward



charge. The films adapt Austen’s complex engagement with improvement ideology to express vernacular social realities. Read alongside one another, the novels and their adaptations suggest a cross-cultural and transhistorical concern with the disjunction between the discourse of future progress and its enjoyable but unpromising delays.

The Shoppers’ Worlds of Bride and Prejudice and Aisha In the 1990s, the Rao-Singh neoliberal policies and India’s accelerated growth created the ideal cultural and social conditions for Bollywood to make its comeback as the most popular form of Indian cinema. Before the Second World War, Hindi films catered to the educated, affluent middle and upper classes of Indian society residing mostly in urban areas. After the War, people from rural areas who had migrated to cities in search of jobs joined these middle- and upper-class movie-goers, and their presence changed the content and form of Hindi films. Until the mid-1940s, Mumbai filmmakers focused mainly on social issues, the independence movement, and problems in post-industrial India. In the early 1940s, a massive shortage of raw film stock and other economic problems that beset the film industry pushed producers to make light musicals to attract a larger audience (which now included the less educated masses) to see them through their financial problems. The first formulaic Bollywood blockbusters, Kismet, Shakuntala, and Ram Rajya, were all made in 1943 as a result of Hindi cinema’s transition to popular forms and content. Formulaic films dominated the Mumbai market until the New Indian Cinema movement and the Indian New Wave rose to prominence in the 1950s and 1960s. The New Indian Cinema and the Indian New Wave (together referred to as Indian parallel cinema) turned deliberately against the song-and-dance sequences, melodrama, spectacle, and plot digressions of popular cinema. Directors such as Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak, and Shyam Benegal turned a serious eye to socio-political problems that beset a modernizing India and the plight of the rural poor, drawing on the realism and naturalism of postwar European art cinema, particularly Italian neo-realism. Parallel cinema, with its social democratic values, was funded and promoted by Nehru’s state apparatus through the National Film Development Corporation and the Film Institute at Pune (Gokulsing and Dissanayake 2012, p.  7). Against this backdrop,



Rao-Singh neoliberalism laid the groundwork for popular cinema’s resurgence. With private enterprise expanding the middle class and its access to goods and information, more people could afford to watch movies at home rather than go to the theaters, thus rapidly spreading the consumption of movies in video form. But if people did want to go to the theaters, the late 1990s also saw multiplexes patronized by affluent and middle-­ class families spring up in urban areas. Big budget, star-studded Bollywood rose out of the changes in audience, forms of consumption, and free-­ market distribution of the new India. Unlike New Indian Cinema, Bollywood received funding from private enterprise as opposed to the state, and thus has been seen to reflect the ideology of free-market capitalism responsible for its existence. Indeed, the economic policies of the 1990s affected not only the industrial and reception side of Bollywood, but its content as well. Rini Bhattacharya Mehta (2011) writes that the “transition” of the 1990s “coordinated and rearranged its [Bollywood’s] various generic orientations to adapt to an increasingly neo-liberal attitude towards economics and culture” (p.  4). Bollywood began to popularize globalized, capital-­ driven phenomena such as basketball and Valentine’s Day; global brand names appeared in films, and product placement became frequent, then unabashed (p. 5). In the 1990s, familiar Bollywood tropes such as traditional family values and young love miraculously aligned with a capitalist work ethic. At the turn of the millennium, the individual Indian citizen’s successful participation in globalization became “the diegetic signifier for national value or pride” (p.  2). India’s rise in a globalized world was rebranded as the new nationalism, and Bollywood positioned itself as “this new, global-oriented nationalism’s unofficial ideological apparatus” (p. 2). In many ways, both Bride and Prejudice (B and P) and Aisha position themselves ideologically alongside the Rao-Singh development policies of the 1990s. Both marry traditional Bollywood film language and content with an “MTV” aesthetic and particular attention to the middle class, globalization, and the diasporic community. The performance by American pop star Ashanti lip-syncing a Punjabi song on the Goa beach in B and P (00:33:02–00:34:44) and the interspersion of short scenes that look like television cosmetics commercials in Aisha (e.g. 00:18:43–00:19:06), in addition to the many non-resident Indian characters from the UK and US that make up the films’ supporting casts, all reflect Bollywood’s realignment with global capitalism. I argue, however, that whereas B and P



evinces optimism about neoliberal development—and accounts for its lure as a reaction to India’s long marches ahead that tried to transform India into something it was not, rather than appreciating what it was—Aisha expresses through its differentials development’s discontents. B and P seeks to replace a sense of India as needing to be improved with an appreciation, and indeed, a kind of advertisement, of what India is, suggesting that the last thing millennial Indians need is to be marched through yet another long narrative of moral and social progress. The film suggests that non-teleological development, development that does not seek to “better” morally or socially nor impose a single definition of what is “good” for the individual and the nation, is morally superior to teleological improvement because the former refrains from imposing one culture’s values over another’s. Teleological improvement ideology implies normative categories of civilizational “forwardness” and “backwardness” determined by a dominant power. Although B and P’s championing of anti-normative pluralism provides a pointed response to the normative judgments imposed by colonial and post-independence improvement narratives, the film problematically couches this ethical position in an uncritical acceptance of late capitalist consumption—and the novelty that new products and trends provide—as all the improvement we need. A shopper’s sensibility, satisfied with enjoying the variety of choices the market has to offer and choosing between them according to individual preference rather than moral or social good, is ultimately billed as an expression of enlightened multiculturalism and tolerance of diversity. In Clueless, shopping remained an explicit action performed by Cher and her friends. Shopping in B and P, however, is metaphorically enlarged into the film’s central message of intercultural understanding between India and the west: Indians and westerners espouse different ways of being, but neither way is better than the other way. They are, like the many things on offer in a market or a shopping mall, simply different. The modern cosmopolitan subject—figured in B and P as both the protagonist, Lalita Bakshi (the film’s Lizzie Bennett, played by Aishwarya Rai), and the viewer—may admire these different ways of being, appreciate them all, and then, in Lalita’s case, choose which parts of each lifestyle she wants to adopt to build her own way of being modern in the modern world.12 The elevation of individual preference over communal responsibility allows Lalita to remain distinctively and traditionally Indian despite marrying a white American husband.



Whereas Clueless represents improvement ideology as Cher’s maturation, B and P uses the character of Will Darcy (Martin Henderson) as the representative of the ideology it seeks to tear down. Darcy, who is set to inherit his mother’s global chain of luxury hotels, embodies the “improver’s gaze.” Arriving in Amritsar on a scouting mission to see what cheap land he can develop into pleasure palaces catering to rich western patrons, Darcy only has eyes for what India could and should be—after he has finished improving it according to his own standards. With its emphasis on the improver’s desire to make “useless” land profitable, B and P references the early nineteenth-century definition of improvement as the privatizing and capitalizing of common land that figured so prominently in Austen’s novels. But the film’s restaging of Romantic-era land improvement in postcolonial India ratchets up the political stakes of the early nineteenth-­ century idea: it’s one thing to improve the land in one’s own country, but quite another to harbor designs on land in the postcolonial world. Darcy enacts Repton’s improver’s gaze through imperial eyes. Mary Louise Pratt’s (1992) theory of the imperial gaze argues that even the seemingly harmless act of looking can be an act of imperial conquest (pp. 38–68). In the mid-eighteenth century, the European botanist, armed (only) with specimen cases and the new Linnean system of classification, traversed the interior of Africa, surveying, collecting, and classifying fauna. Although a peaceful, intellectual creature as different from the swashbuckling conquerors of the past as could be, the botanist used the act of looking to transform and reappropriate, to colonize by way of reinscription. This rational reorganization of reality by the “landscanning” (Pratt 1992, p. 60) eye could then lead to an imagination of the landscape in its more improved and enlightened form. Imperial eyes conquer by failing to see: they re-cognize in order to imagine what the present could and should be in the future under the imperialist’s own benevolent management. Such an imperialist view of a land and its people informs the way in which B and P depicts Darcy’s view of India. The opening sequence of B and P sets up a contrast between how India “really is” versus how Darcy sees it (00:00:48–00:02:43). The camera takes the viewer to the Bakshis’ farm, panning quickly across an expanse of tall, waving green plants, allowing us to catch glimpses of happy laborers here and there, cutting and pruning with scythes. The scene depicts an agrarian idyll that recalls a Gandhian vision of agricultural national independence founded on manual labor, small-scale farms, and traditional, sustainable cultivation. But lest



we think that the “ideal India” is an India of the past, we see that this traditional way of life is not without some modern improvements: Lalita— perky, smart, and sassy—sits atop a fuel-powered tractor, clipboard in hand, supervising the workers while tossing them a flirtatious smirk once in a while (00:00:50–00:01:10, 00:02:01, 00:01:23–00:01:35). She is a modern Indian woman, a sexual, independent being whose local knowledge combined with pluck and can-do attitude will modernize rural India on its own terms. These images are cross-cut with shots of a plane landing at Amritsar airport. Darcy and his two British Indian friends descend the steps of the small aircraft (00:01:40–00:01:49). A close-up of Darcy’s face shows his disappointment at the place at which he has arrived (00:01:47). A smaller version of the tractor that Lalita rides atop appears, hauling the passengers’ luggage in an orange cart behind it (00:01:48–00:01:54). Darcy asks, “Is this the conveyor belt?” (00:01:50)—but his irony isn’t so much funny as it is distasteful and embarrassing. Already miffed at having to retrieve his own luggage, he is then forced by the inconveniently un-­ modern conditions of the airport to haul his own bag on top of his head, which he does with great difficulty (00:01:59). The crane shot that follows depicts the maelstrom of urban Amritsar life: pedestrians sharing a wide road with cars, jeeps, animal-drawn carts, bicycles, motorcycles, scooters, pedicabs, and rickshaws (00:02:11). Such a beautiful display encourages the viewer to appreciate Amritsar despite Darcy’s clear distaste for it. The next scene shows him shoved uncomfortably into a tiny taxicab and driven into the middle of the chaos (00:02:35–00:02:41). When we find out the purpose of Darcy’s visit, we feel even more justified in our contempt for him. Darcy’s first appearance on screen depicts him as a landscanning “seeing-man” in the act of viewing the Indian present in terms of what he believes needs to be done to usher it into the future. His imperial eyes transform the Punjabi landscape into real estate. Like Pratt’s Linnean botanist, Darcy interrupts existing networks of historical and material relations among people, architecture, and land, and reorganizes the province into a capitalist American pattern of value. For Darcy, the visible present is as good as past as he focuses on the untapped potential of what he sees. Darcy’s imperial eyes judge what they see as either modern or backward, profitable or without value. For him, India’s teleological development will achieve fulfillment when the whole country looks like Goa, an Indianized version of Beverly Hills, with glittering azure swimming pools,



five-star hotels, and beach concerts that bring in western celebrities. This is made clear when the main characters jet off to Goa on an outing designed to bring about a match between Lalita’s sister Jaya (the film’s Jane Bennett) and Darcy’s friend Balraj (the film’s Bingley), and Darcy finally seems to relax back into his comfort zone (00:25:18–00:34:44). The film establishes an equivalency, however, between Goa and Bakshi Villa. If Goa offers American luxury, the provincial countryside offers something different but no less valuable: the traditional family network, a quiet, contemplative life, and, as the opening sequence suggests, an indigenous, rural alternative to western modernity. As Lalita says to Darcy upon their second meeting: there is nothing wrong with having standards, “as long as you don’t impose them on others” (00:22:30). B and P rejects the mid- to late nineteenth-century monogenist idea that America’s today is India’s tomorrow, that there is only one path leading to a single definition of modernity that developing nations would do well to start down as soon as possible. Despite its resistance to imperialist, teleological improvement ideology, however, much of the film centers, ironically, on Darcy’s reform, a moral reeducation that entails his dissociation from and eventual rejection of his own progress discourse. Moral and material development run counter to each other in the film: in order to win the beautiful, modern Indian woman, Darcy must learn to appreciate the beautiful, modern India, without wishing for its development to look like the American sort. Darcy’s moral reform depends on his capacity to replace an ideology of improvement with a delight in difference, variety, and multiculturalism. In fact, all of the characters, including the Indian ones, must learn this lesson. Lalita learns that succumbing to her mother’s expectations that she marry for money and stability, rather than for love, may not be as bad as she thought. Her visit to the suburban Los Angeles tract home owned by her cousin Kohli and her best friend, Chandra Lamba (the film’s Mr. Collins and Charlotte Lucas), converts her to the idea that different couples possess different expectations of matrimony, and that her desire for an equal partner will not necessarily make her happier than Chandra, who settles for a doting provider (01:17:11–01:18:34). On the same trip, Mrs. Bakshi learns that diasporic life may not be as good as she thought: she finally gets the chance to be the offended instead of the offender as she listens to Darcy’s mother expound on why visiting India is no longer necessary: “what with yoga and spices and Deepak Chopra, [and] the wonderful Eastern things here, I suppose there’s no point in travelling there



anymore” (01:20:53–01:20:58). The last scene of the film depicts a double wedding procession for Jaya and Balraj and for the protagonists themselves (01:44:29–01:45:41). Both couples sit in covered chairs mounted on top of elephants, and the last shot shows “Just Married” signs attached to the animals’ hindquarters (01:45:10). Darcy has been successfully converted: wearing a white, bejeweled Nehru tunic, and noticeably more tanned than when we first saw him walking off the plane (01:45:01), Darcy’s transformation suggests that he has finally understood that the Indian way of getting married is no worse than the American way, just different. Thus, the two narrative lines of the plot dovetail at the film’s conclusion: the two protagonists can get married when Darcy trades in the improving intentions of his imperial eyes for an appreciation of difference. If the plot—Darcy’s eventual rejection of his imperialist understanding of how India should modernize—was all there was to the film, then B and P might be said to do a commendable job of decolonizing the eyes of the colonizer. But, like Emma and Clueless, the plot is not all there is to the story. Even while the main plot criticizes the American capitalist for his desire to see India proceed toward a predetermined future, other aspects of the film celebrate the pleasures of late capitalist consumption, which, one might argue, is just another form of western neo-imperialism. The metaphor of conspicuous consumption acts as a thread that connects several of the film’s subplots. Just as Kohli returns to India to shop for a wife, Mrs. Bakshi and the other Indian mothers of her village are shopping for husbands for their daughters, preferably rich Indian husbands, or husbands of Indian heritage, who live abroad. When Balraj (whose law firm represents corporate interests in the UK) enters the ballroom of a pre-­ wedding party at the beginning of the film, the maternal gaze turns on him hungrily, provoking Darcy to remark, “Is it me, or is every woman over fifty giving you the eye?” (00:05:28–00:05:31) Even quiet, well-­ behaved Jaya confides to Lalita as they dress for the party that although she’s afraid to admit it, she hopes that someone “loaded” and “shopping” will choose her out of the crowd (00:03:02–00:03:15). Consumption of material goods stands in for non-teleological development in B and P because the endless cycle of new products being offered for sale seeks only to gratify a consumer’s immediate desires, rather than seeking to impose a long, drawn-out wait for—and rigid and narrow definition of—what’s “good” for the nation. Thus, consumerism is figured as a sort of postcolonial freedom. But the film’s major musical sequence puts a twist on this idea: in this sequence, the viewer becomes the buyer and



India itself is what’s for sale. The day after the party, Lalita, Chandra, and the bride go shopping in the marketplace (00:14:56–00:20:10). The women are accosted by friendly, well-wishing merchants looking to hawk their goods to middle-class consumers. The sari-maker measures bolts of cloth against the bride, the henna artist leads her to a stool and offers her services, the florist and snack sellers each sing the praises of their products and emphasize their importance in the wedding ceremony. The jeweler advertises “fancy pearls and precious stones, imported from far and wide” for the “24-karat bride” (00:17:09–00:17:17). In chorus, the vendors declare, “Your wish is our command; we’ll supply what you demand” (00:15:58–00:16:02). As the musical sequence ends, the camera pulls up to an impressive crane shot, revealing that the vendors themselves are wearing clothes that provide as much eye candy as their products: they are color-coordinated to create a rainbow mandala for the viewer’s consumption (00:19:53–00:20:10). They create a spectacle that is extra-diegetic: the people, now indistinguishable as individuals, no longer even look like human beings, but a design made for the aesthetic enjoyment of the spectator. We look down at them from above their heads while they sing, “marriage has come to town.” The viewer has become the shopper, and India—including its human population—is offered up to be consumed. Darcy’s imperial eyes have been transferred to the viewer. Instead of an imperial gaze that seeks to transform India’s backward present into a modern American future, however, the imperial gaze of the viewer is characterized by uncritical consumption. Recalling Darcy’s mother’s faux pas, the viewer can consume all of India’s visual delights without ever leaving the comfort of an armchair. Considering B and P’s thoroughly globalized production—with shooting locations in the UK, US, and India; seven production companies including the UK Film Council and Pathé Pictures International; twelve international distributors spread across the US, UK, Netherlands, Italy, Singapore, Malaysia, and Argentina13—it is no surprise that the film targets this foreign armchair viewer just as much, or perhaps more, than it courts the domestic Indian moviegoer. From the anticipation of acquiring a partner to the wedding ceremony itself, to the ways in which the film positions the viewer as window-­shopper of all that India has to offer, B and P unabashedly moralizes against an imperialist assignation of improvement and its western trajectory in the language of the free market. As in Clueless, shopping in B and P is an aspect of millennial life as important as marriage, dating, or falling in love. Even Lalita, the only character who at all pushes against the market



mentality of marriage, casts her gaze around Darcy’s Beverly Hills hotel (01:18:48–01:19:03), calculating what she might be able to get with her own sexual purchasing power. Chadha’s film suggests that it is only one particular brand of capitalism that is objectionable—the kind that recalls nineteenth-century British imperialism in its imposition of a foreign model of long-term improvement that devalues “things as they are” and favors things as they should be. The film accepts consumer capitalism, however, and its promotion of the immediate gratification of material goods because it does not seek to impose a timeline or hierarchical standards on Indian progress. Each bride can decide for herself what prejudices suit her best, and the story of character development in the film is the story of fashioning a life out of a variety of different but equal possibilities. B and P depicts the seduction that economic deregulation offers to a society seeking to separate once and for all from its long history of waiting to be improved. Ultimately, the film’s value-flattened, neoliberal, “multi-culti” position fails to provide a real alternative to the imperial agenda of Darcy’s improving gaze. The shopper’s sensibility, with its uncritical acceptance for all things just as they are, masks the qualitative unevenness of India’s “miraculous” development: difference is not always simply variegated sameness; it is also often the result of social injustice, unequal access to resources, and the failure of economic policies to benefit those with the greatest needs. The film’s ideological  alignment with the logic of consumption prevents it from doing anything more than using capitalist economic development to fight improvement ideology, or using neo-imperialism to fight the old imperialism. B and P is unable to offer a corrective to coercive improvement ideology that goes beyond the desire to enjoy life now instead of waiting for the moral and social “good” that colonial and post-­ independence governments promised were waiting up ahead, somewhere in the future. Aisha, however, is significantly bothered by what it sees as neoliberal capital’s failure to be the engine of a just and collective betterment. Shot entirely in India (Delhi, Mumbai, and Rishikesh) and produced and distributed by Indian companies,14 Aisha seems targeted at domestic and diasporic Indian audiences rather than the international and western audiences that B and P aimed to please. With little capital investment in foreign viewers, its plot can afford to be less centered than B and P’s on espousing pluralism and equal intercultural exchange between east and west. More importantly, Aisha can also afford to be less ideologically invested, and therefore more critical, of the neoliberal practices of global



free trade that B and P, as an international consumer product, clearly benefits from. Although the domestic orientation of Aisha cannot be said to produce directly the film’s subtle critique of neoliberal development, it does suggest that the stakes of registering an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with global economic development are lower than they are in B and P. Aisha, faithful to its source novel, expresses a widespread anxiety about what market logic suppresses, namely, that consumer capital’s promotion of non-teleological development as the only change we need covers up the nagging sense of want and deficiency that I identified in Emma. Aisha foregrounds the novel’s disappointment in knowing that as change happens, time also passes, and that a certain unspoken something now missing will soon have been missed completely. The shopper’s sensibility and its disinterested, non-judgmental attitude that refuses to take a position on what is better or worse for anyone other than oneself has a short shelf-­ life here. A contemporary fusion of Hollywood and Bollywood, Aisha is on one level more an adaptation of Clueless than of Emma. It announces its indebtedness to Heckerling’s film in the opening sequence which shows Aisha Kapoor, played by Sonam Kapoor,15 recklessly zipping through Delhi in a yellow Volkswagen Beetle, an offspring of Cher’s white Jeep (00:01:26–00:02:29). Like Clueless, Aisha buzzes with brand names, mobile phones, mansions, and manicured lawns. The father-daughter dynamic is much the same, and the friendship between Aisha and Pinky Bose mirrors that of Cher and Dionne. The first part of the film (up to the Intermission) shares Clueless’s exuberance in putting off one’s improvement into a mature, adult self with a shopper’s sensibility that attends only to immediate pleasures. Despite the movies’ similarities, however, there is more at stake in adopting a shopper’s sensibility for Aisha and her wealthy friends than for Cher and hers. Perhaps even more so than B and P, the first half of Aisha advertises the triumph of neoliberal development over normative improvement in India’s post-Nehruvian era. In the parts of India that Aisha frequents, the country has certainly “caught up” with the most developed areas of the developed world. More wealthy, more urban, and more conspicuous in their spending than the Bakshis, the Kapoors and their friends have achieved in a few decades what it took the English over 250 years to do. The 1990s interruption of the long histories of Indian improvement produced the possibility of using consumer capitalism to define one’s philosophy toward life. Although the Indian middle class and the American



middle class may have developed unevenly, the former seen as being “behind” the developmental world average and the latter “ahead,” both have now embraced non-teleological development as the measure of being developed in the contemporary world. But uneven development gets a critical look in Aisha that reveals it not as a thing of the past but as an ongoing problem that non-teleological change cannot hide and is in fact responsible for producing. At the end of the opening sequence, we watch as the yellow Beetle pulls up to a posh hotel (00:02:29): Aisha has been racing through the city because she is late to her aunt’s wedding, a match for which she proudly takes credit. Along the way to the hotel, however, for just a split second, the camera picks up an image that Aisha herself seems not to see as she whizzes by: a man riding a bicycle who passes another man leading a camel on foot on the side of the busy highway (00:01:47). The juxtaposition of these three types of transportation yields a clear visual depiction of present-day uneven development. Either the camel is an anachronism to the Beetle, or the Beetle is an “anatopism” to the camel, something in its right time but not in its right place.16 But the camel and the Beetle are not out of sync: the nonchalance with which the film registers old and new forms of transportation—and the old and new ways of living that correspond to them—suggests that uneven access to modern technology is characteristic of everyday life in millennial India. Aisha’s experience of economic progress is, like her driving style, fast and furious. But the camel driver’s experience of economic progress is much slower: for him, Aisha’s “now” is still very far off in his future; he experiences her forward movement as delay. The scene uses this visual juxtaposition of Aisha’s and the camel driver’s lack of synchronicity to register an uneasiness about the development it seems to extol. Like Cher, Aisha experiences non-teleological change as the ability to fashion and refashion her identity out of the endless choices the global consumer market has to offer. She need not choose her car, her clothes, or the way she drives according to a narrative of moral or social improvement, but simply out of individual preference. For Aisha, the Rao-Singh neoliberal trade policies have made possible the shopper’s sensibility that provides the happy prolongation of her youth. But the camel driver experiences these same policies as a literal and figurative relegation to the side of the road, an imperative to navigate development carefully in order not to get run over.



Aisha, however, does not simply deposit all of the discontent toward non-teleological development with the have-nots. The film does not burden those left behind by neoliberal development with the entire responsibility of being dissatisfied. The ones who benefit from such development, too, find its plenitudes unfulfilling. One such character is Shefali (the film’s equivalent of Emma’s Harriet Smith and Clueless’s Tai), a young, middle-­ class woman from the countryside lucky enough to have connections in the city. Shefali’s upwardly mobile aunt and uncle have sent her to Delhi to find a husband, and hopefully, a ticket in to Delhi’s fast-paced modern lifestyle. At Aisha’s art show, Shefali, looking out of place and awkwardly provincial, proudly announces that she, too, is an artist, for she took an interior decorating class once at her local college, an announcement that is met with barely hidden smirks from Pinky (00:11:47–00:12:30). Shefali’s good-natured personality can only hide so much of her anxiety about getting married to a man from the city. She explains to Aisha, for instance, that of all the men who have come to scope her out, no one has returned for a second visit, nor has anyone even sent a reply (00:12:35). Randhir, Aisha’s guy-pal and heir to a successful confectionary company, mistakes Shefali’s traditional sari and braid for evidence that she has just come from a wedding: everyone else at the art show is wearing western dress (00:13:29–00:13:37). Trying to divert attention from Shefali’s embarrassment, Aisha says that there are no eligible bachelors left in Delhi, for “all the good ones are either gay or Arjun [the film’s Knightley/Josh],” to which Shefali replies with a quizzical look, “gay?” (00:12:39) The punch-line comes at the expense of the fish-out-of-water, on the one hand, making fun of her as a country bumpkin unaware of the possibilities of modern relationships, but, on the other hand, registering her discomfort with the benefits of modernity. These exchanges reveal that perhaps Shefali’s preferences, habits, and values would not be compatible with the men she is forced to consider as partners for the sake of financial gain. Shefali does have her eye on someone, though, a fellow from her own village also trying to make it in the big city. His name is Saurabh (Mr. Martin), and he works in the BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) sector, or as Aisha glosses it, “those people who call us in the afternoon and ask if we want a credit card” (00:38:50). Saurabh runs into Shefali and Aisha at the animal shelter where Aisha has taken to volunteering, and after eavesdropping on Shefali’s short conversation with him, Aisha gives her opinion: “How middle class” (00:38:58). Once Aisha sees how Shefali’s attachment to her traditional customs keeps holding her back from the life



her aunt and uncle want her to have, Aisha embarks on an improvement project to give Shefali new clothes, new cosmetics, and a new love interest (Randhir): in short, all the right options for social advancement. The central irony that the film reveals about postmodern consumer capitalism is that not all possibilities are in fact created equal: there are still normative values associated with what and how one chooses to navigate one’s way through a world of equally insignificant choices. No moral or social betterment inheres in Aisha’s choice of clothes, cosmetics, and partners, but her choices in these areas do make her more fit to exist in Delhi than Shefali’s choices. The neoliberal, consumerist enjoyment of the “now” that B and P held up as a corrective to the long narratives of moral and social improvement that suspended happiness for some future moment has created its own set of inequalities based on the very choices for immediate gratification it extends. Shefali’s life choices are not as good as Aisha’s, not because they are socially unjust or morally bad, but because they reflect a lack of understanding of which status symbols represent modernity at any given moment. Being modern in Aisha’s world, in which modernity is always “here” but what defines it is constantly changing, remains as elusive as it was during the colonial period when modernity was always somewhere other than here in India. Aisha transfers Darcy’s imperial eyes, which saw nothing in the Indian countryside to appreciate but only what was available for improvement, to its heroine, who sees in Shefali only a modernization project in need of her own humanitarian intervention. This transfer suggests that the roles of improver and improved no longer map neatly onto western and Indian subjects, respectively, but that such roles define unequal power relationships within postcolonial Indian society as well. Aisha, the urban upper-­ crust improver, has in mind for her middle-class provincial subject a progress narrative that won’t take as long to yield results as progress narratives of the past, but bears the imprint of imperial ideology nonetheless. In the film’s “makeover” sequence—a montage that shows Shefali’s transformation from traditional girl to modern woman—Aisha and Pinky take Shefali shopping at all the most expensive stores in Delhi (00:15:56–00:19:06). Part fashion advertisement and part showcase for creative editing and cinematography, the mall montage updates the traditional Bollywood lyrical interlude, a digressive sequence that takes the characters away from the main narrative for a moment into a fantasy space in which emotions or thoughts that cannot be revealed in the “real” world find expression. Such interludes usually involve an elaborate musical and



dance sequence, but here, although non-diegetic upbeat music plays in the background, the dancing is transformed into stylized shopping. The sequence begins with a shot of Aisha and Pinky walking confidently into the mall, ready to discern what’s hot and what’s not, and the handheld point-of-view shots that follow manifest their “shopper’s gaze,” roving quickly across rows of accessories in close-up, looking for the right items. Sandwiched in between the shot of the women and the point-of-view shots, however, is a quick 360 of Shefali, looking disoriented and frazzled in this foreign land (00:16:02). The 360 performs something like free indirect discourse: Shefali’s inner feelings are projected onto the way she is depicted by the camera, which functions as the cinematic equivalent of Austen’s narrator. Thus, we could also read the point-of-view shots that follow the 360 as another form of Shefali’s disorientation and lack of confidence about which products in this flattened world of choice are the “right” products to access an upward mobility she does not even really want. The sequence provides its own contrapuntal reading in which Aisha’s improving eyes that seek to transform Shefali into something she is not are met with Shefali’s own perspective that emphasizes her discomfort with a transformation she cannot but accept for the sake of “bettering” herself. The film’s ability to convey both perspectives at once allows for the discourse of neoliberal development and its discontents to be communicated simultaneously. Shefali is not the only one who feels trapped and disempowered in Delhi’s world of variety and choice. Pinky’s disposition throughout the film ranges from mildly annoyed to downright angry. She cannot quite put her finger on the cause of her dissatisfaction, but her inability to decide what she wants to do with her life evinces a sense that although she has infinite options, she possesses no real choices that will make her happy. At first she wants to be a “weather girl” (00:05:24), a wish then replaced by wanting to be the editor of Elle magazine (00:41:45), both of which, despite being career opportunities, are never really employment possibilities. Aisha’s plan to improve Shefali annoys Pinky terribly, but not because she cares for Shefali in any detectable way. Pinky is nasty to Shefali in almost every scene in which they appear together: laughing at her use of the word “hi-fi” at Aisha’s art show (00:12:25), jumping out from behind a rack of clothes to scare her during the makeover sequence (00:17:57), cutting off her braid ruthlessly and then waving it in her face (00:17:09), mocking Shefali’s real sadness at losing her traditional hairstyle in the name of modernity. Whereas Aisha is earnest, though misguided and



unselfconscious about trying to “help” Shefali, Pinky uses her only as a person to put down and make herself shine by comparison. Something is missing from Pinky’s life, and her agitation, indecisiveness, and mean-girl bullying registers an amorphous but significant discontent with the non-­ teleological development that she nevertheless enjoys and works to her advantage. Pinky’s bad attitude expresses her discontent at how empty life is, now that immediate pleasures have replaced an expectation of betterment in the far-off future. But her discontent can also be seen as a form of a more widespread sense of unease in the film. When Aisha tries to play matchmaker between Shefali and Randhir (who does double-duty as the Mr. Elton character) by abandoning them at a guest house in Defence Colony (00:27:31–00:31:15), she gets a flat tire as she makes her getaway and is forced to call her Knightley for a lift (00:31:18–00:31:28). Right before she high-tails it out of the hotel driveway, Randhir tells her to stay in the car and lock the doors while he goes to ask about the restaurant Aisha invented as an excuse to get them to the hotel (00:28:31). On the phone, Arjun tells her again that “the area isn’t safe; just lock the doors and stay in the car” (00:31:54) until he arrives. When the scene crosscuts to Shefali and Randhir, walking nervously in the dark, trying to find their way home, Randhir gets impatient with Shefali’s slow pace on very high heels, and reminds us once again that “this is a dangerous place,” that they must get out fast, even though there does not seem to be another soul around (00:32:18–00:32:58). The only person outside of the cast of characters we’re familiar with that shows up in this scene is Aisha’s childhood friend Dhruv, whom she meets at the door of her aunt’s house (to which she has walked alone, against Arjun’s advice [00:33:13]). The film’s Delhi looks as unpopulated as Austen’s Highbury—and just as safe. Nevertheless, the dialogue suggests that the characters intuit something dangerous and unsettling lurking just beyond their sheltered lives. Later, the friends decide they need a break from Delhi and take a short vacation to scenic Rishikesh. When Aisha gets out of the car to ask directions from a local pedestrian, Randhir admonishes her yet again: “Talking to strangers in such a place? It’s dangerous!” and gives her a can of pepper spray (00:44:23). Again, no real danger ever manifests, but the characters seem to feel it always close at hand. The Rishikesh expedition (00:42:36–1:03:33) functions as the film’s Box Hill excursion, the point at which things really start to fall apart. Aisha’s jealousy over Arjun’s gorgeous Indian-American colleague rises to



a pitch, resulting in tension between the two main characters. Shefali considers rejecting Saurabh’s marriage proposal against her own wishes in order to impress Aisha (00:40:40–00:41:39, 00:49:47–00:50:20). And Randhir’s own marriage proposal and sexual proposition to Aisha meets with ridicule and his own pepper spray used against him (00:57:13–00:58:52). Aisha’s mantra that appears in the opening sequence, “I love my life” (00:08:00), is put to the test in the second half of the film. And like Box Hill, the Rishikesh trip also initiates the turn in the heroine’s moral development, in which she finally realizes that she is the one who needs to be reeducated. Like Emma, Aisha ends up either apologizing to, or being forgiven in advance, by everyone. She even says “I’m sorry” to Saurabh, who at first cannot make out why he is owed an apology; to his confused look Aisha replies, “Just like that. You’re very nice’” (01:46:16–01:46:26). Her explanation that isn’t one seems to communicate something to him anyway, for he smiles and thanks her. The viewer knows she is sorry for looking down on him for being middle class and for trying to talk Shefali out of accepting his proposal; Saurabh, however, never heard her make any of those comments. But the apology does not change their uneven relationship; it will take much more than Aisha’s superficial moral improvement to create any real progress for class relations in modern India. And although Shefali gets her guy and the chance to tell Aisha off for seeing her merely as a “project” (01:33:57), she still has to figure out a way to get by in the everyday world of a rapidly changing India without the advantages that Aisha possesses. Aisha ultimately learns to subscribe to Arjun’s reading of Shefali, that she’s just fine the way she is and should not be the object of Aisha’s improvement project—a reading that bears a strong resemblance to the injunction to appreciate India, just as it is, in B and P. Aisha’s imperial eyes, the film’s ending suggests, have been opened; but the Aisha of the film’s first half was at least sensitive to the fact that neoliberal development renders too many people “unfit” for modernity, and that there is indeed something wrong with that. Sure, everyone has the right to be just as they are, but those who fail to keep up with the endless cycles of non-teleological change that define, but also obscure, what it means to be modern in modern India, will certainly fall behind. The hopeful non-teleological change represented in Emma’s narrative stalls and digressions that resist the heroine’s domestication take on new life as a cosmopolitan sensibility of anti-colonial pluralism and tolerance in B and P. But Aisha explores the social injustice of the flattening out and



covering up of real inequalities that such acceptance of the status quo renders. In Aisha, the promises of non-teleological development are met with discontent. Emma’s daydreams and Miss Bates’s circumlocutions possess an anti-colonial quality in their arrest of improvement’s teleology to make space for a plenitude of ways of being female without being domestic. The Bollywood afterlives of Emma’s resistance to improvement recalibrate her hope in non-teleological change as both anti-colonial and neocolonial. Although the economic history I outlined above reveals neoliberal development as continuous with colonial improvement, the seduction of the former as immediate fulfillment and “free” of judgment can make it seem like resistance to the latter. As the new millennium wears on, however, change that happily does not claim betterment seems too little equipped to combat a history of change that claimed improvement but delivered only domination, or that claimed betterment but delivered only more of the same. Aisha finally makes a faithful return to Emma’s nagging sense of want, her sense of missing something and something missed, like the absence to which Donwell’s avenue of limes leads. The dissatisfaction of Aisha’s characters with “things as they are” makes Emma’s Romantic-­ era unease relevant to today’s middle-class Indian young adults, and registers the need for socially just betterment and collective progress—a universal and always timely demand.

Notes 1. See Tuite (2000, pp.  93–115), Jordan (2000, pp.  29–55), Mee (2000, pp. 74–92), Natarajan (2000, pp. 149–72), Mohapatrajatindra and Nayak (2000, pp. 201–18), and Park (2000, pp. 219–32) in Park and Sunder-­ Rajan (2002). 2. In Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790/2009), Burke argues that the principle difference between the English and French national characters is that the English venerate “inheritance” (p. 31) over new “fabrication” (p.  31), that they act according to “the principle of reference to antiquity” (p.  31), “analogical precedent” (p.  31), and “philosophical analogy” (p.  34) rather than wholesale, immediate, or revolutionary change. “A spirit of innovation is generally the result of a selfish temper and confined views,” he writes; “people will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors” (p. 33). Against the foolhardy desire for innovation, he offers instead the prudent concept of improvement: “a sure principle of conservation” does not “exclud[e] a principle of improvement,” leaving “acquisition free” but “secur[ing] what it acquires”



(p. 33). Always add, in other words; never subtract—but add slowly and with caution, in the manner of repairing the walls and building on the “old foundations” of “a noble and venerable castle” (p. 35). 3. Mary Chan’s (2006) essay, for instance, supports Duckworth’s reading by claiming that although discussion of “change” lies at the center of the novel, resistance to change is the novel’s overwhelming attitude. Tim Watson (2005) and George Boulukos (2006) argue that Sir Thomas Bertram represents the benevolent, rather than the abusive, slave-master who takes up as his burden the improvement of his charges’ morals. Thus, Austen’s seemingly progressive position on slavery should be read as a version of Burke’s conservative philosophy on improvement—a slowly and steadily evolving improvement of the moral condition of the colonized by their upright English masters. Other critics recast Austen’s view on improvement as much more progressive. Richard Quaintance (1998) argues that the novel is deeply preoccupied with making a place and a life for oneself in a competitive, market-oriented world in which one must capitalize on one’s existing strengths. Situating Austen’s novels historically within the economic pressures forced onto England as a result of the Napoleonic trade embargo (1806–1812), Colin Winborn (2004) reads Austen as highly concerned with the national burden of improving resources, rather than trying to uphold an old social order. Katherine Kickel (2008) (in a rare essay that takes a novel other than Mansfield Park as its primary text in discussing Austen and improvement), argues that General Tilney’s use of clock-time to improve his estate’s productivity in Northanger Abbey is necessary and effective, although emotionally astringent, and that Tilney represents what Austen saw as the gentry’s timely improvements to their estates in light of the new pressures it faced. 4. Thus, we should read Burke’s haranguing of Warren Hastings, the first Governor-General of Bengal, whom he accused of corruption and abuse of power and tried unsuccessfully to impeach in Britain’s Parliament between 1788 and 1795, as a call for future leadership of India to be better than it was in the past, or for nineteenth-century improvers to replace eighteenth-­ century despots. See Burke, India: The Launching of the Hastings Impeachment: 1786–1788, (Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke, vol. 6), P.J. Marshall and William B. Todd, eds. 5. Clueless and Aisha occupy significant places within a long list of film and television adaptations of Emma. Notable cinematic adaptations include Douglas McGrath’s 1996 Emma, a sparkly, comedic period adaptation starring Gwyneth Paltrow that contrasts interestingly with its near-­ contemporary, Clueless, in its emphasis on plot and teleology, rather than “differentials” and delay. Notable television adaptations include the 1972 six-part BBC miniseries starring Doran Godwin, the 1996 telefilm starring



Kate Beckinsale, and the 2009 four-part BBC miniseries starring Romola Garai. 6. For a discussion of how Clueless expresses a neocolonial world view, see Gayle Wald (2000) in Park and Sunder Rajan (pp. 233–48). 7. In addition to Bride and Prejudice and Aisha, the Tamil-language film Kandukondain Kandukondain (2000) represents another important popular Indian cinematic adaptation of an Austen novel. Directed by Rajiv Menon, the film also stars Aishwarya Rai, as Meenakshi, the film’s Marianne Dashwood, and restages Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (1811) in Tamil Nadu, with explicit reference to the early period of the Sri Lankan Civil War (1983–2009). The film’s opening sequence shows Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) paratroopers leaping out of a helicopter into densely wooded Sri Lanka, led by Major Bala, the film’s Colonel Brandon, played by the Malayalam cinema star Mammootty. Bala loses his leg to a land mine during the sequence, and his injury, combined with the IPKF’s failure to bring about the end of the war, drives Bala’s alcoholism and taciturnity during the first part of the film, as well as his self-sacrifice and chivalry in the latter part of the film, when he tries to bring about a union between Meenakshi and Srikanth (the film’s Willoughby) to promote her happiness despite his own love for her. The fortunes of Meenakshi, her older sister Sowmya (the film’s Elinor Dashwood), and their mother roughly echo the Dashwood women’s own: they are forced to leave their ancestral home because of a contested or unexpressed will after the death of the family patriarch. The film’s dislocated women relocate from their village to the urban capital of Madras, where Sowmya finds work in the information technology industry and Meenakshi becomes a musician and singer. The rural/urban, traditional/modern divide and the effect that gender has on those navigating that divide in a specifically South Indian context make Menon’s film an interesting and inventive instance of adaptation as reuse, appropriation, and indigenization. Although Kandukondain Kandukondain is a notable example of the kind of postcolonial response to a colonial text with which this chapter is concerned, the film does not foreground questions of coercive versus agential, limited versus capacious, or teleological versus differential improvement to the extent that B and P and Aisha do. Furthermore, B and P and Aisha speak to the concerns of one another, as well as back to Clueless as a common point of reference in an intertextual dialogue with which Kandukondain Kandukondain does not engage. My lack of focus on the latter film reflects only the contours and limitations of my own argument, and not at all on the quality of the film or its relevance to a comprehensive understanding of Austen’s significance in popular Indian cinema.



8. Conservatives like Burke and Thomas Munro railed against the Liberals’ desire to break up and uproot an old and venerated society with timeworn, established traditions. They saw radical Anglicization as disrespect toward the heritage of the Indian past: whereas Liberals devalued Indian culture as stagnant, immobile, and unchanging, conservatives valued it highly for those same reasons. But even for the conservatives, India was not to be left to mark time on its own without British interference; rather, now that Britain had acquired much of it and benefitted from its resources, it had the responsibility to lead it—slowly and by way of preserving its past to inform present circumstances—into the future as a modern trading partner. Eric Stokes (1959/1982) has written that the conflict between these two philosophies produced a British Raj that was benevolent in theory but authoritarian in practice (p. xvi). 9. This liberal historiography of India’s radical Anglicization leading to improvement in every sphere of life, and finally to independence, defeated the conservative philosophy by the mid-1830s, a victory that owed much to Macaulay’s writings on Indian education and free trade (Stokes 1959/1982, p. 44). 10. Nehru’s strategy implied heavy dependence on imports, foreign exchange, and foreign aid in the first stage of the process, then increasing economic self-sufficiency, and only after achieving that would the focus shift toward development of agriculture, job creation, balanced regional development, and bettering the quality of life for the rural poor (Brass 1994, pp. 275–76). The span of years between Nehru’s administration and that of his grandson, Rajiv Gandhi—years roughly termed “the Nehru Dynasty” by many historians—saw no fewer than five “Seven-Year Plans” (Brass 1994, p. 276) that hoped to bring about state-driven economic development. 11. Chetan Ghate (2012) writes that “while India’s economic growth has been impressive, rapid growth has been accompanied by a slow decline in poverty, widening regional disparities, and continuing sociopolitical instability. The incidence of extreme poverty remains high. Large sections of the population continue to be deprived of basic health and education” (p. 1). 12. Rai is perhaps India’s most celebrated female cinema star, and one of the few “to straddle Hollywood and Bollywood” (Rosenbaum 2007, p. 60). After winning the Miss World Contest in 1994, Rai appeared in her first cinematic role as Kalpana in the Tamil-language film Iruvar (1997). Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, Rai averaged three to four roles per year in popular Indian films before being cast as Lalita Bakshi. After B and P, Rai’s first primarily English-language film, she appeared in The Mistress of Spices (2005), an English-language UK-US coproduction written by Chadha and directed by B and P’s screenwriter Paul Mayeda Berges, the UK-India coproduction Provoked: A True Story (2006), and



Hollywood blockbusters The Last Legion (2007) and The Pink Panther 2 (2009). For an analysis of Rai’s non-Bollywood roles, see Shingler 2014. In 2004–2005, Rai was also the international face of L’Oreal cosmetics, appearing in L’Oreal print and televisual advertisements around the world; significantly, however, in India, she appeared in L’Oreal’s advertisements for “White Perfect,” a skin-lightening cream that professed to reduce melanin production (Osuri 2008, p. 114). Goldie Osuri has written that Rai’s light skin tone and green eyes has made her an “Indian Bollywood star who is an embodiment of an assimilable marketable transnational cosmopolitan femininity” (p.  117) that is “complici[t] with a Euro-American capitalist ideal of modernity and whiteness” (p. 118). Rai’s celebrity status as both Indian film star and cosmopolitan beauty subscribes to “EuroAmerican discourses of diversity which are eager to embrace an approximation of whiteness” and strictly “marketable” forms of cultural difference (p.  119). In relation to my argument in this chapter, we can read Rai’s extra-diegetic transnational circulation as part and parcel of B and P’s commoditization of India and advancement of multicultural capitalist values in opposition to teleological collective development. 13. Accessed 12 Dec 2014. 14. Aisha was produced by the Anil Kapoor Film Company and PVR Pictures and distributed by Aap Ka Colors India in 2010. com/title/tt1509732/companycredits?ref_=ttfc_sa_3#production. Accessed 8 Jan 2020. 15. Kapoor, like Rai, is as defined by her off-screen celebrity image as her onscreen performances. Kapoor comes from an established and famous Bollywood family: her grandfather was a film producer, as is her uncle, Boney Kapoor; her father is the actor Anil Kapoor, successful in Bollywood in the 1980s and 1990s, and who later appeared in non-Bollywood coproductions such as 24 (2001), Slumdog Millionaire (2008), and Mission Impossible: The Ghost Protocol (2011) (Viswamohan 2014, p. 76–77). Anil is a producer as well and owns the production company Anil Kapoor Film Company, which produced Aisha. Also like Rai, Sonam Kapoor appeared in L’Oreal cosmetics advertisements, as well as advertisements for Electrolux, Colgate, Lux soap, and Mont Blanc (Viswamohan 83). Kapoor has cultivated her brand as a Bollywood film star explicitly in relation to haute couture and European-American high fashion. Quoting a film commentator, Viswamohan writes that Kapoor is “the undisputed queen of fashion. The flag bearer when it comes to red carpet glory. The perfect muse to photographers. The favourite cover girl of the glossies. […] So much so, that the actor is at the risk of being overshadowed by her divalike stature. […] She rocked the red carpet in Dior, Alexander McQueen, Dolce & Gabbana, and placed India on the international fashion circuit”



(pp. 73–74). An Indian female colleague once told me that Sonam Kapoor is the celebrity from whom young Indian women learn about brand names in the first place. If Rai represents an “acceptable” form of diversity within a globalized culture of white capitalist femininity (see note 12), Kapoor has purposefully curated a similar image by crafting herself as an Indian-global fashion icon “representative of [the] global aspirations of India’s middle class” (p. 74)—aspirations that were “practically unimaginable in the economic and cultural environment that prevailed before India’s adoption of a neoliberal policy” (p. 74). 16. For more on the relationship between anachronisms and anatopisms, see Chandler (1998, p. 108).

References Austen, Jane. 1814/2003. Mansfield Park. New York: Penguin. ———. 1815/2018. Emma. New York: Oxford University Press. Bhattacharya Mehta, Rini. 2011. Bollywood, nation, globalization: An incomplete introduction. In Bollywood and globalization: Indian popular cinema, nation, and diaspora, ed. Rini Bhattacharya Mehta and Rajeshwari V. Pandharipande, 1–14. London: Anthem Press. Boulukos, George E. 2006. The politics of silence: Mansfield Park and the amelioration of slavery. Novel: A Forum on Fiction 39 (3): 361–383. Brass, Paul R. 1994. The politics of India since Independence. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Burke, Edmund. 1790/2009. Reflections on the Revolution in France. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ———. 1991. India: The launching of the Hastings Impeachment: 1786–1788. In The writings and speeches of Edmund Burke, ed. P.J. Marshall and William B. Todd, vol. 6. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Oxford Scholarly Editions Online, 30 May 2014. Web. Accessed 7 Jan 2020. Chan, Mary. 2006. Mansfield Park as greenhouse: ‘The Effect of Education’ in Mansfield Park. Persuasions On-line 27 (1). Accessed 5 Feb 2014. Chandler, James. 1998. England in 1819: The politics of literary culture and the case of Romantic historicism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. DeLong, J. Bradford. 2003. India since Independence: An analytic growth narrative. In In search of prosperity: Analytic narratives on economic growth, Dani Rodrik, 184–204. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Duckworth, Alistair M. 1971. The improvement of the estate: A study of Jane Austen’s novels. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press. Galperin, William. 2003/2005. The historical Austen. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.



———. 2006. Describing what never happened: Jane Austen and the history of missed opportunities. English Literary History 73: 355–382. ———. 2011. Adapting Jane Austen: The Surprising Fidelity of Clueless. Wordsworth Circle 42 (3): 187–193. Gandhi, Mohandas K. 1921. Hind Swaraj or Indian home rule. Madras: G.A. Nateson and Co. Ghate, Chetan. 2012. Introduction. In The Oxford handbook of the Indian economy, ed. Chetan Ghate, 1–29. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Gokulsing, K.  Moti, and Wimal Dissanayake. 2012. From Aan to Lagaan and beyond: A guide to the study of Indian cinema. Staffordshire: Trentham Books. 2020a. Bride and Prejudice. tt0361411/. Accessed 12 Dec 2014. ———. 2020b. Aisha Company Credits tt1509732/companycredits?ref_=ttfc_sa_3#production. Accessed 8 Jan 2020. Jordan, Elaine. 2000. Jane Austen goes to the seaside: Sanditon, English identity and the ‘West Indian’ schoolgirl. In The postcolonial Jane Austen, ed. You-Me Park and Rajeswari Sunder Rajan, 29–55. London: Routledge. Kickel, Katherine. 2008. General Tilney’s timely approach to the improvement of the estate in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. Nineteenth-Century Literature 63 (2): 145–169. Mee, Jon. 2000. Austen’s treacherous ivory: Female patriotism, domestic ideology, and empire. In The postcolonial Jane Austen, ed. You-Me Park and Rajeswari Sunder Rajan, 74–92. London: Routledge. Mohapatra, Himansu S., and Jatindra K. Nayak. 2000. Farewell to Jane Austen: Uses of realism in Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy. In The postcolonial Jane Austen, ed. You-Me Park and Rajeswari Sunder Rajan, 189–204. London: Routledge. Natarajan, Nalini. 2000. Reluctant Janeites: Daughterly value in Jane Austen and Sarat Chandra Chatterjee’s Swami. In The postcolonial Jane Austen, ed. You-Me Park and Rajeswari Sunder Rajan, 141–162. London: Routledge. Osuri, Goldie. 2008. Ash-Coloured whiteness: The transfiguration of Aishwarya Rai. South Asian Popular Culture 6 (2): 109–123. Park, You-Me. 2000. Father’s daughters: Critical realism examines patriarchy in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Pak Wansǒ’s A Faltering Afternoon [Hwichǒngkǒrinǔn Ohu]. In The postcolonial Jane Austen, ed. You-Me Park and Rajeswari Sunder Rajan, 205–217. London: Routledge. Pratt, Mary Louise. 1992. Imperial eyes: Travel writing and transculturation. London: Routledge. Quaintance, Richard. 1998. Humphry Repton, ‘any Mr. Repton,’ and the ‘Improvement’ metonym in Mansfield Park. Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 27: 365–384. Rosenbaum, Alana. 2007. Dangerous kisses: The changing face of Hindi cinema. Metro: Media & Education Magazine 152: 60–65.



Roy, Tirthankar. 2012. India and the world economy, 1757–1947. In The Oxford handbook of the Indian economy, ed. Chetan Ghate, 33–55. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Said, Edward W. 1993/1994. Culture and imperialism. New York: Vintage Books. Shingler, Martin. 2014. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan: From Miss World to world star. Transnational Cinemas 5 (2): 98–110. Stokes, Eric. 1959/1982. English utilitarians and India. Delhi: Oxford University Press. Tuite, Clara. 2000. Domestic retrenchment and imperial expansion: The property plots of Mansfield Park. In The postcolonial Jane Austen, ed. You-Me Park and Rajeswari Sunder Rajan, 93–115. London: Routledge. Viswamohan, Aysha Iqbal. 2014. Haute couture and the discourse of stardom in globalized times: Sonam Kapoor as Hindi cinema’s representative fashion icon. South Asian Popular Culture 12 (2): 73–88. Wald, Gayle. 2000. Clueless in the neo-colonial world order. In The postcolonial Jane Austen, ed. You-Me Park and Rajeswari Sunder Rajan, 218–234. London: Routledge. Watson, Tim. 2005. Improvements and reparations at Mansfield Park. In Literature and film: A guide to the theory and practice of film adaptation, ed. Robert Stam and Alessandra Raengo, 53–70. Malden, MA: Blackwell. Winborn, Colin. 2004. The literary economy of Jane Austen and George Crabbe. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing.

Filmography 39. 2001. [TV series] USA: Imagine Entertainment, 20th Century Fox Television. Aisha. 2010. [Film] Dir. Rajshree Ojha. Screenplay by Devika Bhagat. India: Anil Kapoor Film Company, PVR Pictures. Bride and Prejudice. 2004. [Film] Dir. Gurinder Chadha. Screenplay by Paul Meyeda Berges and Gurinda Chadha. USA, UK, India: Pathé Pictures International, UK Film Council, Kintop Pictures, Bend It Films, Inside Track. Clueless. 1995. [Film] Dir. Amy Heckerling. Screenplay by Amy Heckerling. USA: Paramount Pictures. Emma. 1972. [TV miniseries] Dir. John Glenister. UK: BBC. ———. 1996a. [Film] Dir. Douglas McGrath. UK, USA: Miramax, Matchmaker Films, Haft Entertainment. ———. 1996b. [TV film] Dir. Diarmuid Lawrence. UK, USA: A+E Networks, Chestermead, Meridian Broadcasting. ———. 2009. [TV miniseries] Dir. BBC: Jim O’Hanlon. UK. Iruvar. 1997. [Film] Dir. Mani Ratnam. India: Madras Talkies. Kandukondain Kandukondain. 2000. [Film]. Dir. Rajiv Menon. India: Sri Surya Films, V Creations.



Kismet. 1943. [Film] Dir. Gyan Mukherjee. India: The Bombay Talkies, Ltd. Mission Impossible: The Ghost Protocol. 2011. [Film] Dir. Brad Bird. USA, United Arab Emirates, Czech Republic, Russia, India, Canada: Paramount Pictures, Skydance Media, TC Productions. Provoked: A True Story. 2006. [Film] Dir. Jag Mundhra. UK, India: Raj Film Productions. Ram Rajya. 1943. [Film] Dir. Vijay Bhatt. India: Prakash Pictures. Shakuntala. 1943. [Film] Dir. V. Shantaram. India: Rajkamal Kalamandir. Slumdog Millionaire. 2008. [Film] Dir. Danny Boyle. UK, India: Celador Films, Film4, Warner Bros. The Last Legion. 2007. [Film] Dir. Doug Lefler. UK, France, Slovakia, Tunisia, Italy, Bulgaria: Dino De Laurentiis Company, Quinta Communications, Ingenious Film Partners. The Mistress of Spices. 2005. [Film] Dir. Paul Mayeda Berges. USA, UK, Isle of Man, India: Kintop Pictures, Balle Pictures, Capitol Films. The Pink Panther 2. 2009. [Film] Dir. Harald Zwart. USA: Metro-Goldwyn-­ Mayer (MGM), Columbia Pictures, Robert Simonds Productions.

Moral Management: Spaces of Domestication in Jane Eyre and I Walked with a Zombie

Despite their differences, Emma, Bride and Prejudice, and Aisha all register the centrality of time to the conceptualization of improvement in the nineteenth century and its afterlife as development in the twenty-first century. Space, however, provided an equally important conceptual component to Romantic and Victorian improvement ideology. As much as improvement in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries relied on a belief in the future as necessarily brighter than the present and the past, it also relied on an understanding of space as limited and bounded. Improvement conceived in temporal terms evinced an optimism about what the most “forward” societies of the world could achieve in all areas of human experience. But improvement conceived in spatial terms was decidedly more measured in scope and expectation: if improvement’s temporality defined a process by which the limitations of the present would be transcended in the future, the spatial conception of improvement relied on a process of contraction, confinement, and the establishment of boundaries that marked off an “inside” of improved space from an “outside” of savagery, waste, and threat. The process of land improvements described by Austen at the turn of the nineteenth century sought to increase the value of private property by landscape design and agricultural modernization that turned waste land into productive land yielding valuable commodities. Such improvements would not have been possible without the land marked out for improvements having first been enclosed, or turned from common fields into © The Author(s) 2020 V. Y. Kao, Postcolonial Screen Adaptation and the British Novel,




private property. The enclosure movement began informally in the medieval and early modern periods throughout the English countryside and culminated in formal Parliamentary Acts of Enclosure, hundreds of which were passed throughout the eighteenth century. The Acts made what had been a social trend into a fact of law, dispossessing the poor and un-landed of their communal rights to use common and waste lands and open field farms by consolidating such land for the sole use of a single property owner and his descendants. During the Napoleonic Wars, the enclosures of the English countryside represented one manifestation of a national preoccupation—and indeed, a national policy—of contraction and inward withdrawal in the face of international pressures. Colin Winborn’s (2004) study of Austen and George Crabbe argues that the authors’ formal concerns with “spatial economy” reflect the ways in which the Napoleonic trade embargo (1806–1812) invoked a national consciousness about the need to turn England’s limited resources “to the best possible account” (p.  1).1 Winborn argues that Austen and Crabbe saw the process of contraction as necessary and beneficial to the wartime English economy and to literary form: Crabbe’s couplet and Austen’s economic prose reflect the ways in which a lack of freedom, movement, and space can generate a better product than unchecked expansion.2 Austen and Crabbe conceived of confinement as “virtuous restriction, independence and inner means” (p. 106), a way to produce the agency and responsibility of doing for oneself instead of relying on others. Winborn’s argument suggests a connection between land improvements, or the management of physical space, and moral improvement, or the management of psychological space. The spatial restrictions that forced England to capitalize on the resources within its own national boundaries produced an ethic of individual resourcefulness, hard work, and a definition of morality that relied on using one’s own labor to turn the self into its best possible version. Both lands and individuals could be improved through restriction, management, and careful cultivation; meanwhile, too much freedom of movement, uncontrolled growth, and spatial release signified danger to a self whose good development relied on confinement. The connection between spatial enclosure and moral improvement allows us to understand how Jacques Tourneur’s Second World War-era Hollywood horror film I Walked with a Zombie (1943) uses its source novel Jane Eyre to explore the possibilities and challenges of its own historical moment. My reading of the film argues that if, as Jane Eyre



suggests, the making of subjectivity relies on an individual’s relationship to her inhabited space, then a similar formula might also inform the making of an independent nation out of an enslaved and colonized population. The film reads Jane’s narrative of “development” as a series of instances in which the individual is enclosed in spaces that seek to produce a docile, domestic subject. Jane’s moral improvement entails a psychological constriction and narrowing down of possibilities that correspond to the spaces she inhabits. The film analogizes Jane’s situation with that of early twentieth-­century workers on a Caribbean sugar plantation that bears the memory and descendants of British West Indian slaves. For the plantation workers, Jane acts as a warning sign: one’s acceptance of enclosure in an absolute space creates the docile subject. To create the conditions for revolution, then, the workers must reconceptualize the plantation space and use the very grounds of the master’s power against him. Anticipating the challenges that newly independent nations would face, however, the film ends with ambivalence as to whether a reconceptualization of space can alone bring about a more just society. This chapter’s first section reads Jane’s habitation of three architectural spaces in the novel—Lowood, Thornfield, and Ferndean—as the development of an increasingly disciplined and domesticated subject that results from her enclosure in the spaces around her. I draw upon the work of Neil Smith, David Harvey, Michel Foucault, and Yi-Fu Tuan to illustrate the ways in which the organization and experience of space produce psychological effects. I then examine how the film translates Jane’s spatial disciplining into cinematic form, and the implications for such translations within the historical context of British West Indian slavery. The last section uses the work of Michel de Certeau, Henri Lefebvre, and Edward Said to show how the film suggests the possibility of transforming plantation space into postcolonial space, a suggestion that anticipates the wave of post-Second World War decolonization contemporary with the film’s release.

Jane Eyre’s Enclosed Spaces Neil Smith (1991) has written that “in the transition to capitalism, the Enclosures represented a remarkable historical creation of absolute space. As capital extends its sway, the entire globe is partitioned into legally distinct parcels, divided by great white fences, real or imaginary” (p. 85). For Smith, the twentieth- and twenty-first-century organization of space



under global capitalism known as “uneven development” had its beginnings in the creation of the Enclosures’ absolute and partitioned spaces, and furthermore, “at a different scale, today’s world is divided into 160 or more discrete nation states, and this is as much a necessity for capital as the geographical partitioning of private property” (p. 85). Thus, the enclosure and partitioning of common space into individuated parcels of private property represents a proto-capitalist and eminently modern understanding of land distribution and use. David Harvey (2006) has argued that the absolute spaces created by Enclosures entailed not only a conceptual shift in notions of physical space and its ownership but also a shift in the kind of knowledge and social relations that could be produced within the boundaries of such a space. “Absolute space is fixed and we record or plan events within its frame,” Harvey writes, and such space also provides “the primary space of individuation […] and this applies to all discrete and bounded phenomena including you and me as individual persons” (p. 121). Enclosures not only created the bounded space of private property but helped to delineate the “space” of the individual. Harvey writes that by making spaces absolute, bounded, and differentiated, the individual acquires “a sense of mastery” over such spaces “from which all uncertainties and ambiguities could in principle be banished and in which human calculation could uninhibitedly flourish” (p.  121). The goal of enclosing and partitioning geographic spaces, then, is mastery. It involves the marking out of a territory that can be managed, disciplined, and enhanced by human labor. The enhancement, or improvement, of a parcel of land depends on its ability to be controlled and cordoned off from the untamed nature surrounding it. Harvey’s connection between physical space and individual or psychological space suggests that human improvement depends likewise on control, management, discipline, and a separation between the improved individual and others who bear the “natural” defects that improvement has presumably banished. One significant problem with such a process of enclosing and disciplining property and individuals, however, is the specter of reversion, for if such a process is artificial to begin with and requires great human effort to sustain, then what has been improved always has the capacity to return to its natural chaotic state. Like Smith and Harvey, Foucault (1979) writes that the purpose of spatial discipline is to produce “docile bodies” in whom the power and energy to work is increased while the possibility of those bodily forces being used for revolutionary ends is diminished (p.  138). In other words, “utility” and “obedience” increase



simultaneously. Discipline “dissociates power from the body; on the one hand, it turns it into an ‘aptitude’, a ‘capacity’, which it seeks to increase; on the other hand, it reverses the course of the energy, the power that might result from it, and turns it into a relation of strict subjection” (p.  138). In order to head off the possibility of reversion at its source, spatial discipline transforms all of the subject’s powers to good use, even those inimical to the system that governs the subject. Like Winborn’s reading of the Regency era’s economization of all resources for the good of the nation, even those once considered unfit, Foucault writes that spatial discipline capitalizes on all sources of vitality and brings them into subjection. It neutralizes the political potency of all the subject’s powers and turns them into an “aptitude” and “capacity” for self-discipline and the maintenance of order. For Foucault, moral improvement relies on the containment, rather than eradication, of subversive and dangerous energies in order to direct them to uphold the status quo. Allowing the forces that threaten to tear down the established order to fly out unchecked makes them destructive, but to enclose and manage them makes them constructive in maintaining that order. Jane Eyre’s moral improvement can be helpfully understood through Foucault’s terms: her juvenile anger at injustice undergoes containment and transformation into a controllable erotic vitality that accounts for Rochester’s attraction to her later in the novel. The English spaces in Jane Eyre are configured to enclose anger and sexual deviance, to keep these volatile passions lodged safely within both physical space and emotional psyche. The spaces of Lowood, Thornfield, and Ferndean manage and control the forces that threaten to undermine an established patriarchal and class structure rather than purifying them out of the domestic space, for they provide an energy that recharges the established structure itself. Jane’s anger at injustice is what threatens to make her unmanageable, but it is also what makes her special, different from Blanche Ingram, Céline Varens, and Rochester’s other failed possible wives. Her protest against what oppresses her gives Jane her special quality and unique attraction, but Bertha Mason’s presence in the novel acts as a warning of what Jane’s energy might become if insufficiently domesticated. What makes Jane the right mate, in other words, also makes her a liability, and confining her within Ferndean’s densely enclosed space is the only way to ensure the precarious moral management upon which domestic happiness depends. Foucault’s examples of the disciplinary spaces that produce improved subjects consist mainly of architectural interiors—asylums, boarding



schools, army barracks, island factories—and as such provide relevant insight into Jane’s experience with her own indoor spaces. The first architectural element that Jane sees after she steps off the coach that brings her to Lowood from Gateshead is a “wall before me with a door open in it” (Brontë 1847/2008, p. 42). The wall serves as an impassable boundary separating the managed spaces inside Lowood from the borderless country outside. It keeps at bay the “great grey hills [that] heaved up round the horizon,” and the “wild wind rushing amongst trees” (p. 42). Inside the wall, the students keep their feelings in tight check, while the very landscape outside heaves and rushes, as if expressing the emotions the girls must repress. The door, however, acts as a point of ingress, a weak spot in the fortress where the uncontrollable emotions symbolized by the wild landscape can enter and wreak havoc on the discipline exacted indoors. Like the chimney in the red-room at Gateshead, about which Miss Abbott warns Jane that “something bad might be permitted to come down” and “fetch you away,” the door is a point of intrusion into the known space by elements of the unknown (p. 13). Once through the door in the wall, Jane traverses a series of regulated spaces that illustrate Foucault’s (1979) definition of an enclosure as a “protected place of disciplinary monotony” (p. 141). First, she enters a foyer in which she sees a building “spread far” with “many windows,” an image that emphasizes, as Leggatt and Parkes (2006) have observed, Lowood’s uniformity in design and purpose of producing standard issue employees to fit into a wage labor economy (p.  169). She then goes through another door leading into a passage which takes her to a fire-lit room in which she meets Miss Miller, who takes her further into the labyrinth “from compartment to compartment, from passage to passage,” until they emerge “from the total and somewhat dreary silence” into a “wide, long room, with great deal tables” around which sit “a congregation of girls” (Brontë 1847/2008, p. 43). In this wide room where one would expect discussion and community living, the girls are in fact compartmentalized, each bound to concentrate on her own studies. Jane hears not conversations but only “the combined result of their whispered repetitions” (p. 44). The next day, she explores the school’s grounds, observing that “the garden was a wide enclosure, surrounded with walls so high as to exclude every glimpse of prospect” (p. 49). The windows, she now notices in the daylight, are all “mullioned and latticed” (p. 49), impeding vision of the open space outside. A veranda exists, but it too is covered; and “the broad



walks [are] divided into scores of little beds for the pupils to cultivate, and each bed had an owner” (p.  49). The images comprising the school’s grounds recall the enclosure and partitioning of physical spaces in Smith and Harvey, as well as Foucault’s account of individual improvement on a mass scale that seeks to repress unique traits in favor of standardized personalities. Lowood’s girls are separated and their activities strictly managed to encourage individual responsibility while also discouraging collective action. As Jane becomes accustomed to Lowood, however, she realizes that the school’s management of space which seeks to enclose and discipline the girls can only influence their external actions. Jane discovers that improvement is cosmetic: whatever Brocklehurst “might do with the outside of the cup and platter, the inside was further beyond his interference than he imagined” (p. 64). Jane’s metaphor is a spatial one: the outside of the cup and platter are thin and breakable, but the inside can be filled and refilled. Even a temporary emptying of what is inside leaves the space ready to be filled again: passions can be replenished and thus never truly drained. Miss Temple and Helen Burns exemplify the ever-replenishing emotion that Jane’s cup and saucer metaphor describes. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar (1979) have argued that in their deepest psychological recesses, both characters strive against the Lowood ideal of the humble, quiescent, lower-middle-class Christian woman, despite not showing any outward signs of resentment (p. 346). I find, however, that the ways in which Miss Temple and Helen repress their true feelings rather than eliminate them is precisely what the Lowood model of improvement intends to teach. Mr. Brocklehurst says as much in his remonstration of Miss Temple for spoiling the girls by ordering more and better food for their dinners than the school has allotted. The way to render the pupils “hardy, patient, and self-­ denying” is not to “neutralize” their “disappointment of the appetite” by replacing bad food with good; instead, their disappointment “ought to be improved to the spiritual edification of the pupils, by encouraging them to evince fortitude under the temporary privation” (p.  63). Brocklehurst intends to recast or reinterpret the girls’ anger, not to neutralize it; he aims to manage it by redirection into “fortitude.” Helen and Miss Temple shine as exactly the kind of energetic but docile bodies he wants to produce. By the time the adult narrator Jane looks back on her experience at Lowood, she has internalized Brocklehurst’s philosophy of moral improvement as spatial discipline. From explosive little girl, to angry student, to



one who learns (through Helen’s and Miss Temple’s examples) how to control her anger, she is trained by the school’s enclosures and partitions to place her own limitations on life’s possibilities: “I had had no communication by letter or message with the outer world: school-rules, school-­ duties, school-habits and notions, and voices, and faces, and phrases, and costumes, and preferences, and antipathies: such was what I knew of existence” (pp. 84–85). Hemmed in for ten years by Lowood’s building with its two wings, the sectional garden, and the hilly horizon, Jane has learned to translate the enclosed spaces of the school’s architecture and grounds into a moral management of her wild inner landscape: “what seemed better regulated feelings had become the inmates of my mind. I had given in allegiance to duty and order”; “I appeared a disciplined and subdued character” (p.  84). Self-control and self-discipline are possible when one’s world is small and isolated, when the space one inhabits is harshly regulated and permeated by Miss Temple’s “serene atmosphere,” which Jane discovers she had been “breathing in her vicinity” (p. 84). Although Lowood manages to discipline Jane’s emotions, the final scenes of her school experience illustrate improvement’s instability. A subtle change in the environment has the potential to inflame the emotions that disciplinary space seeks to capitalize and manage. When Miss Temple leaves Lowood to get married, Jane’s spatial awareness shifts, and open space takes on new significance: “My eye passed all other objects to rest on those most remote, the blue peaks: it was those I longed to surmount; all within their boundary of rock and heath seemed prison-ground, exile limits. I traced the white road winding round the base of one mountain, and vanishing in a gorge between two: how I longed to follow it further!” (p. 85). The open space surrounding Lowood that Jane once described as a “wild” and “heaving” chaos suddenly reveals its own sort of order, one that leads her along a clear path marked out by a stark white road, around a mountain, into a gorge, and away from Lowood. Jane’s eye discerns a map that will lead her out of her prison-ground. Within her rock-and-­ heath boundary, Jane learned to manage her anger because few outside influences could penetrate Lowood’s borders. But Miss Temple’s removal opens up a psychic space that allows the thought of a “beyond” to enter. The door inside the wall through which she arrived ten years ago now stands ajar. How much liberation her departure from Lowood represents, however, proves questionable as the path leads her to Thornfield, a space that rivals Lowood in its demand for moral management. Gilbert and Gubar’s



(1979) analysis of the novel as Jane’s “escape-into-wholeness” (p.  336) reads the departure scene as a crucial turning point in her struggle to leave behind social, economic, and familial structures that devalue the poor and single woman. But Thornfield’s spaces provide no such potential for the development of Jane’s freedom. In fact, understanding what Thornfield means for Rochester reveals much about his expectations for Jane’s domestication. The English manor’s confining architectural interiors differ significantly from the “open spaces” of his Great House in Spanish Town, Jamaica. Rochester uses Thornfield as a corrective to the moral regression produced, he believes, from the unregulated spaces of his Caribbean sugar plantation. Thornfield’s enclosures continue the disciplining work figured as moral improvement that Lowood began, making Jane’s flight from the school a movement toward greater constriction rather than toward its release. The story of the Rochester family in the West Indies teases out the imperial implications of Jane’s move from Lowood to Thornfield. As Rochester relates in his autobiographical narrative to Jane (Brontë 1847/2008, pp. 304–306), his father and older brother saw the British West Indian colonies as a space of possibility and a source of regeneration for their wealth. For the Rochesters, England provides little opportunity for a second son to make his own way. Constrained by a system of patrimony that would threaten the value of the family estate, the older Rochesters send Edward out into the colonial space that offers him the chance to make a wealthy match with Bertha Mason. Edward, trapped by a limited income at home, is persuaded by his father and older brother to see the colonial heiress as his ticket to freedom, possibility, a new existence, and the liberty of living as a rich man. For the Rochesters, Jamaica waits as an “open space” for superfluous siblings to make their mark. Yet, openness in colonial discourse is associated not only with vastness but with a lack of correct cultivation and wasted potential—a lack of spatial and moral improvement. Eve Stoddard Walsh (2012) writes that underlying the discourse of planting in the Americas “is the idea that land occupied only by savages is not really inhabited; as John Locke puts it, such land is waste land, barren. To be made civilized, useful to humanity, it must be made into private property, and to be made into private property, it must be worked in a rational and industrious way” (p. 5). Mary Louise Pratt (1992) has written that “imperial eyes” see what the present environment has to offer in terms of its potential conversion into future profit. Thus, the imperial gaze is an



eminently improving one that characterizes the colonial space as a tabula rasa on which to create something out of nothing by the colonizer’s labor.3 The Rochesters understand the “openness” of Jamaica in terms of the opportunity it offers for commercial profit and a social place for Edward, from which he would have been closed off in England. Yet, along with the potentiality of the colony’s open spaces comes the fear of inhabiting an uncivilized and perhaps uncontrollable landscape. Yi-Fu Tuan (1979) has characterized all architecture as an attempt to protect the human subject from the “landscape of fear” surrounding it, a landscape that is frightening precisely because of its openness. He writes: “every human construction—whether mental or material—is a component in a landscape of fear because it exists to contain chaos. […] The material landscapes of houses, fields, and cities contain chaos. Every dwelling is a fortress built to defend its human occupants against the elements; it is a constant reminder of human vulnerability” (p. 6). Openness makes the improver vulnerable at the same time as it presents him with opportunity. For Tuan, fear of the land is inextricably bound up with improvement of the land, for “every cultivated field is wrested out of nature, which will encroach upon the field and destroy it but for ceaseless human effort” (p. 6). Fear of reversion, or the inability to tame in the first place, shadows colonial expansion. When surrounded by a landscape of fear in the colonies, boundaries take on great importance. Tuan goes on to say that “every human-made boundary on the earth’s surface—garden hedge, city wall, or radar ‘fence’—is an attempt to keep inimical forces at bay. Boundaries are everywhere because threats are ubiquitous” (p. 6). But trying to contain the forces of chaos that become defined as such when an absolute space is created also works against its own purpose: once a space is enclosed, all other space around it becomes Other and a possible threat. Creating an “inside” always also creates an “outside.” For Edward Rochester, the boundaries established by his house in Jamaica fail to keep out the surrounding chaos of the tropical environment. The lack of clear distinctions between “inside” and “outside” created by the porousness of the architectural space in which he lives with Bertha contributes most profoundly to his sense of fear of the landscape. The ever-open casement of his window exposes the interior of the house to the “sulphur-steams” and the “mosquitoes” that “came buzzing in and hummed sullenly round the room.” The sound of the sea “rumbl[ing] dull like an earthquake,” the black clouds and the moon, and the feeling of an oncoming hurricane hang in the air, making him feel “physically



influenced by the outside atmosphere and scene” (Brontë 1847/2008, p. 307). As Bertha’s madness progresses, Edward feels the need to enclose himself even further inside the house to keep out not only the dense atmosphere but also the reminder of Bertha’s presence in his life. The “thin partitions” of the West Indian house allow sound to travel through easily: “though two rooms off,” he hears Bertha’s foul language, and the walls “oppos[e] but slight obstruction to [Bertha’s] wolfish cries” (p.  308). Edward, wanting ever more enclosure, finds himself increasingly trapped but also increasingly exposed. The lack of enclosure of the West Indian house allows Edward’s volatile nature too much freedom and puts him in danger of “contracting” the insanity that, by his account, seems to waft freely through the tropical air.4 His narration to Jane of his West Indian life suggests that he interprets his resolution to commit suicide as an example of how easily one can catch the island’s “disease.” Although he resolves to shoot himself, the impulse leaves him after only a moment, “for, not being insane, the crisis of exquisite and unalloyed despair which had originated the wish and design of self-destruction, was past in a second” (p. 308). In fact, Edward’s recounting of his momentary lapse into insanity reflects Victorian ideas regarding the nature of madness. Early in the nineteenth century, those who were diagnosed with mental illness were thought to be ill by nature, madness being considered an affliction that either did or did not affect one. The ill were kept in asylums, often unsanitary and prison-like, similar to the way that Bertha is kept in Thornfield.5 Later, Victorian psychologists believed such treatment to be inhumane and suggested instead that madness was not a disease but a lack of discipline or inability to manage the passions and feelings experienced by everyone. The psychologist John Barlow wrote that those who believe mental illness to be a disease should note for a short time the thoughts that pass through his mind, and the feelings that agitate him: and he will find that, were they all expressed and indulged, they would be as wild, and perhaps as frightful in their consequences as those of any madman. But the man of strong mind represses them, and seeks fresh impressions from without if he finds that aid needful: the man of weak mind yields to them, and then he is insane. (qtd in Bourne Taylor and Shuttleworth 245)

The difference between sane and insane, then, is only a matter of management. Edward’s narrative suggests that his spatial proximity to Bertha and



his inability to create spatial distance between himself and the island’s unimprovable elements produced the lax discipline responsible for his moral contamination. Thus, he resolves to remove Bertha to Thornfield, where enclosure and separation behind thick walls will contain her “degradation” (Brontë 1847/2008, p.  309) and keep it from spreading. Thornfield’s spaces can produce the moral management that his Jamaican house could not. Thus, we should read Thornfield as a space intended to produce the docile domestic subject, not one that offers her freedom. For Rochester and for Jane, Thornfield represents a spatial production of moral discipline. The first thing Jane sees as she approaches the house is a gate: “the driver got down and opened a pair of gates: we passed through, and they clashed to behind us” (p. 95). The moment recalls the opening and immediate closing of the door upon her arrival at Lowood. Inside, she encounters a space like a Chinese box with rooms nested inside and leading into one another. The dining room opens into the drawing room, and the drawing room encloses the boudoir. The dining room, acting as the boundary between the two inner rooms and the house’s exterior, displays furniture that is beautiful but “imposing” (p. 104). The drawing room, decorated as a “fairy place,” contrasts with the authority of the dining room, suggesting the spatial containment of the irrational (p. 104). The Chinese box ultimately contracts into a hall of mirrors: the boudoir houses several that create the illusion of additional interiors (p. 104). Jane’s heritage tour of Thornfield’s third story, led by Mrs. Fairfax, emphasizes the house’s enclosure of English history and culture. While the lower floors comprise “the light and cheerful region below” (p. 108), the third story rooms are “dark and low,” with an “air of antiquity” (p. 105). Hundred-year-old bedsteads populate the space, along with antiquated chairs and stools, on whose “cushioned tops were yet apparent traces of half-effaced embroideries, wrought by fingers that for two generations had been coffin-dust […]. All these relics gave the third story of Thornfield Hall the aspect of a home of the past: a shrine of memory” (pp. 105–106). Rochester wanders the Continent and brings home exotic decorations and a French ward, but these reside on the lower levels and in the rooms that are used in everyday living. Meanwhile, Englishness gets pushed back into “the hush” and “the gloom” of the house’s unused floor (p. 106). The description of the antique beds “shut in, some of them, with doors of oak; shaded, others, with wrought old English hangings” emphasizes the closing in and shutting up of English heritage (p.  106). For Rochester, the heir of all past generations of Thornfield patriarchs, the



past manifests as a burdensome clutter of responsibilities. After the death of his father and brother, the estate devolved onto Edward, forcing him to assume the duty of improving the family’s assets so their value might increase for the next generation. The past imprisons those charged with its safekeeping. By relegating it to its own space and allowing that space to become neglected, Rochester thumbs his nose at his family’s history and his obligation to it—a sentiment which culminates in his marriage to Jane and the destruction of Thornfield itself. Bertha plays an integral part in the burden of Englishness that Rochester wants to shove away. Chosen as a partner for Edward because of her wealth, she would allow the family’s assets to be kept whole and passed down whole. Grafting new wealth onto an old family and its “good race” (p. 305), Bertha plays as vital a part in sustaining the “purity” of that good race as her own racial and geographical origins keep her always other to it. Thus, although Bertha may seem out of place on the third floor amidst the objects of English heritage, she is exactly where she should be. Her spatial location in the house represents the notion that hereditary improvement—which seeks the preservation of English character by defining what is and what is not English—necessitates its own contamination. It comes as no surprise, then, that contamination happens in and around Thornfield, despite its efforts to divide and section off its different spaces. Contamination most often figures in the novel through sound. The first time she meets Rochester riding by on his horse, Jane thinks to herself as she walks alone on the lane toward Hay that the town “was yet a mile distant, but in the absolute hush I could hear plainly its thin murmurs of life,” and “the sough of the most remote” streams (p.  111). Sound brings near what is far; it brings the foreign home. Inside the hall, Jane hears Bertha’s laugh in the corridor on the third floor as a “clamorous peal that seemed to wake an echo in every lonely chamber; though it originated but in one” (p. 107). The sound of Bertha’s laughter cannot be managed no matter how secluded she is or how restricted her movements. Her voice travels as effectively across the boundaries of Thornfield as it did in the Jamaican house. At Rochester’s party (intended to goad Jane into jealousy over Blanche Ingram) the voice of his first wife—“a savage, a sharp, a shrilly sound that ran from end to end of Thornfield Hall”— mingles with the voices of Blanche and Jane, contenders for her replacement (p. 205). Jane’s reference to Bluebeard’s castle signifies Thornfield’s arrangement of space so as to keep the “dead” wife separate from the living wives; but the presence of sounds in the hall thwarts such a separation.



Perhaps Thornfield remains after all too open, despite its enclosures and partitions, to contain effectively the subversive forces that Bertha (and Jane) represents. It fails to keep past, present, foreign, and domestic in their separate and rightful places. The only thing left to do is eradicate the space entirely, to erase Edward’s colonial past and Jane’s class inequality, allowing their new relationship to begin on democratic terms. However, as Stephen Clingman (2009) suggests, the move falls short of the revolution it promises: “Brontë has brought the house down only to reconstitute it on more acceptable foundations…The novel has embodied a form of, if not renovation, then at least a project of home improvement” (p. 145). The exchange of Thornfield for Ferndean provides a space “more modest, more moral, more equitable in gender terms. Yet it is adjacent, contiguous, near to Thornfield, ‘almost the same, but not quite’, a version not of menace but renewal” (Clingman 2009, p. 145). Ferndean might be a morally improved Thornfield, but it is not a starting-over. In fact, Ferndean adapts Bertha’s sequestration to a new wife and a new location, this time to a place where even sound “falls dull, and dies unreverberating” (Brontë 1847/2008, p. 447). Ferndean impresses Jane at first glance as a place so secluded as to be uninhabitable. Ringed by a dense barrier of trees, Jane’s world shrinks to its smallest size yet. She will live in a tighter enclosure here than at Lowood, or Thornfield, or even Marsh End, despite St. John Rivers’s constant surveillance. Rochester succeeds in taking “mademoiselle to the moon,” as he says to Adèle earlier in the novel (Brontë 1847/2008, p. 266). Isolation functions as the new sequestration, and while Rochester frees himself from the burden of inheritance that Thornfield represents, Jane’s passions are allowed no outlet. She must redirect all her vitality and energy, the unstable elements of her character that attracted but also threatened Rochester, to the maintenance of his domestic bliss. The re-confinement of the woman to the new home recharges a social order that is stabilized when it manages to incorporate all unstable elements within itself. Transformed from orphan outsider to good bourgeois wife, Jane recharges the center from its margins. Attractive because she resembles Bertha just enough to remain different, Jane’s journey of spatial discipline makes the safely exotic the cornerstone of domestic happiness.



From Plantation to Nation: The Transformation of Colonial Space in I Walked with a Zombie In Imperial Leather, Anne McClintock (1995) argues that the discourses of domesticity and domestication, or gender and imperialism, aligned during the nineteenth century. “As European men crossed the dangerous thresholds of their known worlds,” she writes, “they ritualistically feminized borders and boundaries” (p.  24). Imperial discourse persistently gendered female the imperial unknown: the territory to be discovered, conquered, and eventually improved often bore the symbolic shape of the female body. Women served as the “boundary markers of imperialism, the ambiguous mediators of what appeared to be—at least superficially—the predominantly male agon of empire” (p.  24). Male imperial discourse used women to establish the “inside” and “outside” of civilized space, what was properly domestic (English) versus what needed domesticating, and what must not be violated by the indigenous people and environment. Thus, male imperial discourse was characterized by “a fear of boundary loss accompanied by an excess of boundary order” (p.  26), and both required the presence and symbol of the female.6 Although McClintock focuses on narratives set in colonial territories, her analysis applies equally well to Jane Eyre. The twinned discourses of domestication and domesticity characterize the simultaneous imperial and female subjugation at work in the architectural spaces of the novel. Both the English and the West Indian female body require enclosure in an excess of boundary order. Furthermore, Bertha’s sexual body mediates Rochester’s colonial experience. He needs her to produce English heirs and maintain English wealth, and in order to accomplish both, he must first conquer the tropical environment that threatens the loss of his own psychological boundaries against insanity. Rochester must domesticate colonial territory to achieve a successful domestic union with Bertha, and his failure to do so drives his second attempt at matrimony with Jane. Although Jane is English, she repeatedly voices parallels between herself and colonized or enslaved men and women, and is figured similarly by those who have power over her. In her early outburst at John Reed, she calls him a “murderer,” a “slave-driver,” and a “tyrant” (Brontë 1847/2008, p. 11), and herself a “rebel slave” (p. 12). She characterizes herself as a “heterogeneous thing” (p. 15), an “uncongenial alien” (p. 16) in her aunt’s home. At Lowood, Brocklehurst compares her to “a little heathen who says its prayers to Brahma and kneels before Juggernaut”



(p.  66). Livid at Rochester’s (feigned) decision to send her away from Thornfield once he is married, she insists to Rochester that they are “equal,” despite their differences in position and wealth (p. 253), comparing him to a “sultan” (p. 269) and herself to a rebel slave in his “seraglio,” who will “preach liberty” and “stir up mutiny” among the other women until he signs a charter to free them all (p. 269)—to which he responds that he will attach her to a “chain” and wear her in his bosom (p. 270). The novel suggests that similar injustices underlie the slave trade and the governess trade, indentured servitude and marriage, and the making of the docile body in both the white English wife and the racially marked colonial subject.7 McClintock’s analysis also reveals that the imperial understanding of improvement as a process (civilizing colonial territory and making it profitable), and as a state of being that separates one category of humans from another, both depended on spatial organization. Her emphasis on boundaries and borders suggests that the creation of absolute spaces that operate as their own totalities, separate from the chaotic, “open” spaces beyond, was crucial to land and human improvement in the colonies. Earlier in this chapter, I framed my theoretical discussion of improvement in domestic terms, contextualizing the English Enclosure Acts as one manifestation of the larger national interest in self-sufficiency. I argued that the language of discipline and labor—“cultivation,” “restriction,” “management”— applies equally well to land and human subject. In the remainder of this chapter, I argue that the imperial version of land and human improvement evinces the same reliance on spatial enclosure and partitioning as its domestic counterpart. McClintock’s analysis adds to my general framework an important gender dimension, and it is through the constellation of spatial enclosure, moral improvement, and the imperial feminine that we should read not only Jane Eyre but also its relationship to I Walked with a Zombie. I Walked with a Zombie is the second of three collaborations by producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur for RKO Radio Pictures, preceded by Cat People in 1942 and followed by The Leopard Man in 1943. Lewton and Tourneur met doing second-unit work on MGM’s A Tale of Two Cities (1935), produced by David O. Selznick and directed by Jack Conway (Bansak 2003, p. 421). Both filmmakers emigrated to the US as children and grew up in the households of famous Europeans working in Hollywood—Tourneur’s father was the prolific French silent film director Maurice Tourneur, and Lewton lived with his mother and siblings



in the home of his maternal aunt, Alla Nazimova (Bansak 2003, p. 421), a Russian-American stage actress, director, and early sound-film performer famed for her unconventional lifestyle. Although their partnership at RKO lasted less than a year, Lewton and Tourneur added an aesthetic and literary dimension to the Hollywood B-movie horror genre that elevated their films above the reliance on stage-­ prop monsters and cheap thrills that characterized it. “We tossed away the horror formula right from the beginning,” Lewton said of their films. “No grisly stuff for us. No masklike faces, hardly human, with gnashing teeth and hair standing on end. No creaking physical manifestations. No horror piled upon horror” (Siegel 1973b, p.  31). Instead, the filmmakers suggested horror rather than showing it by making viewers read into the “dark patches” of a shot their own worst imagined fears (Vieira 2019, para. 7). Lewton was especially interested in adapting literary source texts for horror cinema. He used Cornell Woolrich’s American pulp novel Black Alibi (1942) as the source for The Leopard Man, for instance, as well as Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Premature Burial” (1844) for Isle of the Dead (1945), and Robert Louis Stevenson’s short story “The Body Snatcher” (1884) for his film of the same title released in 1945 (Preston). I Walked with a Zombie took its cardinal plot points from Jane Eyre, but its title from a nonfiction article of the same name by Inez Wallace that appeared in American Weekly. On a trip to Haiti, Wallace apparently met plantation workers whose “minds and vocal cords had been utterly destroyed from poison (or drugs)” (Bansak 2003, p. 146). They could, however, understand simple commands and carry them out obediently, and thus lived as enslaved workers (p.  146). Wallace used the figure of the zombie as a metaphor to describe the workers’ mental and physical states. Lewton was given the title for the picture by RKO executive Charles Koerner (p. 143) and decided to make “a West Indian version of Jane Eyre” out of what he considered “a ludicrous title” (p. 145). Speculating on what might have accounted for Lewton’s association of Wallace’s title with Brontë’s novel, Bansak writes that Lewton “may have recalled Orson Welles’s 1936 voodoo stage version of Macbeth,” which was well-received by critics, as well as Welles’s own adaptation of Jane Eyre, his current project at the time (p. 146). In fact, Lewton had briefly worked on Welles’s Jane Eyre before leaving MGM for RKO (p. 146). Lewton had also worked on Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, “a modernized reworking of Jane Eyre,” while apprenticing with Selznick, so “there was no reason why Lewton couldn’t do his



own variation” of “one of his favorite novels” (p. 146). While Bansak’s tracing of the links between English governesses and Caribbean zombies is certainly plausible, Lewton’s (and Tourneur’s) fascination with how to use cinema as a medium to express the dark side of domestic life runs through all of their projects together. Voodoo can thus be seen as one of several ways by which they explored the irrepressible psychological forces that threaten to burst open the seams of civilized society. All three of the RKO pictures Lewton and Tourneur made explore the uncontrollable urges and emotions that cannot be contained by civilized domestic spaces or the boundaries of proper behavior. The Leopard Man, their third collaboration, is perhaps the first realistic exploration of the psychology of a serial killer in American film (Preston 2009, para. 3). In The Leopard Man, a black leopard given to a nightclub performer by her boyfriend escapes from his leash and is subsequently blamed for the murders of three young women. The true killer, however, turns out to be human, a former professor of zoology turned museum curator, who cannot explain why he feels, and cannot control, the urge to murder. Their first collaboration, Cat People, tells the story of Irena, a Serbian-born illustrator who transforms into a panther when aroused, either sexually or in anger. Despite her attempts to keep her inherited curse in check, by, for instance, not consummating her marriage, she ends up killing her husband’s lover and the psychologist who desires to possess her, both while in her animal form. After the killings, unable to live within the confines of human society any longer, she goes to the zoo to find her real kin, the panther, who kills her as he escapes his cage—only to be run over by a car moments later, a conclusion that ultimately allows the film to tame the wild forces it unleashed. Irena is the darker and more volatile version of Jessica Holland, the zombie at the center of the filmmakers’ adaptation of Jane Eyre. Irena, Jessica, and Bertha are all women who have become less-­ than-­human by their lack of moral management. The plot of I Walked with a Zombie centers on Jessica (Christine Gordon), the beautiful wife of English sugar planter Paul Holland (Tom Conway). Paul and Jessica live in the Great House at the Holland family’s sugar plantation, Fort Holland, located on the fictional West Indian island of Saint Sebastian. Paul, a harsh and disciplined English colonist, inherits the plantation from his father. Paul’s younger half-brother, Wesley Rand (James Ellison), is an American and the son of Paul’s mother and her second husband, an American missionary who worked on the island. Wesley drinks, broods about Paul’s unfair share of power in the family estate, and



chases after women, including Jessica herself. Jessica sits at the center of the brothers’ power struggle over their imperial assets, and her sexual choice of Wesley over her husband creates a domestic scandal that becomes a public matter, considering the family’s prominence on the island. One night, Wesley and Jessica decide to run away together but are stopped by Paul. The movie remains unclear as to how exactly Paul punished Jessica for her transgression, but the result was that she developed a “tropical fever” that, in the words of the family’s doctor, burned up parts of the spinal cord which produced a zombie-like state (00:17:49). Later, we find that the doctor’s assessment is contested by Paul’s and Wesley’s mother, the missionary’s widow who now runs a clinic serving the plantation’s black workers. It turns out that Mrs. Rand (Edith Barrett) asked the voodoo priest at the houmfort, the voodoo temple located deep within the sugarcane fields, to turn Jessica into a zombie to keep her from breaking apart the family. Unable to speak or act on her own will, Jessica floats through the gardens and verandas of Fort Holland like a sleepwalker. She can, however, obey simple commands, especially those of her husband. Paul keeps her confined to a tower in the Great House’s courtyard, where Alma (Teresa Harris), a black West Indian maid, looks after her. But Paul’s preference of keeping her at home rather than sending her to an asylum drives him to hire a Canadian nurse, Betsy (Frances Dee), for additional care.8 Betsy’s first-person point of view provides, for the most part, the film’s narrative voice. The “I” in the title refers to Betsy, and hers is the voice we hear in the first voice-over of the film, which occurs immediately after the opening credits. She says, “I walked with a zombie. It does seem an odd thing to say. Had anyone said that to me a year ago, I’m not at all sure I’d have known what a zombie was. I might have had some notion that they were strange and frightening, even a little funny. It all began in such an ordinary way” (00:01:00–00:01:19). The establishment of a present narrator relaying past events from her own point of view suggests the film’s alignment of Betsy with Jane Eyre. But Betsy is not strictly the Jane character, nor are any of the other characters faithful cinematic translations of Brontë’s characters to screen. Instead, the film combines aspects of different characters to explore how the power injustices of the novel play out in the colonial space. Paul Holland resembles most closely Edward Rochester, but his repression of his attraction to Betsy also recalls St. John Rivers. Rivers and Rochester also align through Wesley Rand: Rochester’s brooding and dissipation following his marriage to Bertha is reflected in Wesley’s



demeanor, but so is Rivers’ missionary lineage and his lifelong pining after a woman he cannot have. Betsy and Jessica, at first glance, most readily lend themselves to cinematic equivalents of Jane and Bertha, respectively. But their first initials (Jane/Jessica; Betsy/Bertha) might also suggest the possibility of reading the film as the novel’s prequel: Betsy, the second wife of the English imperialist, will share her patient’s domestic abuse and psychological distress, and it will be Betsy who becomes Bertha the madwoman in Thornfield’s upper rooms. The initials also suggest, however, that we might read the film as the novel’s sequel, in which Jessica as the Jane character, a docile and tamed version of Bertha, ends her life as her own limit case: a zombified woman. For the interesting thing about Jessica is that although she functions as the madwoman of the Great House, she is also the image of absolute docile femininity. She dresses in a flowing, pure white nightgown, has no will of her own, and indeed, has no choice but to obey her husband’s commands. Unlike Bertha, who remains unimprovable, Jessica has undergone successful moral management by being robbed of her interiority. The film suggests a radical interpretation of domesticity: Jessica’s zombification renders her the perfect domestic female subject, a bad woman tamed—through complete self-annihilation—into a good wife. There exists a final pairing of characters whose shared characteristics further reveal the film’s commentary on the twinned discourses of domestication in gender and empire. This pairing consists of the white female zombie and the black male zombie. The title of the film actually misleads, for in addition to Jessica, the Holland plantation bears yet another zombie. This is Carrefour (Darby Jones), a black male sugar cane worker, whose history remains a mystery throughout the film. Jessica and Carrefour create a striking visual parallel: both actors are extremely tall and thin, and their movements are unnaturally circumscribed (Jessica glides, Carrefour shuffles). Their visual similarity, despite their racial difference, points to a symbolic similarity: the wife and the worker must both be transformed, or improved, into docile subjects. The plantation disciplines individuals just as it disciplines the land. Jessica and Carrefour represent the crossing of discourses of domesticity and domestication: the colonizer’s power depends on the moral management of both the white woman and the black colonial subject. The cultural history of white and black zombies in the Americas further clarifies the film’s pairing of Jessica and Carrefour. Prior to the release of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), zombies were



creatures to be pitied rather than feared. Whether white or black, zombies were erstwhile human beings who had lost all agency and self-­consciousness, who were often kidnapped, subjugated, and forced into labor (sexual or manual) against their will. White zombies almost always referred to women, and black zombies usually referred to black male enslavement on Caribbean plantations. Zombiedom also possessed a particular connection to voodoo, a religion that syncretizes African beliefs and Catholicism and is a direct product of the transatlantic slave trade. Although voodoo is often treated as “backward” or a “holdover” from the slaves’ African origins, it is in fact integral to the making of the New World.9 The film White Zombie, directed by Victor Halperin and released in 1932, exemplifies the connections that early Hollywood made between white and black zombies, voodoo, and slavery in the Caribbean. White Zombie, set in Haiti, tells the story of wealthy plantation owner Charles Beaumont, who meets a beautiful American woman on a boat going to Haiti and arranges for her impending marriage to occur on his plantation to steal her away from her fiancé. He elicits the services of Murder Legendre (Bela Lugosi), a decadent European émigré who owns a sugar mill operated entirely by black zombies, figured in the film as “perfect” slaves who work tirelessly for no pay and are, of course, maintenance-free. Legendre zombifies the woman and she becomes Beaumont’s love slave. Eventually, Beaumont and Legendre engage in a power struggle and plunge off a cliff to their mutual death, breaking the spell under which the woman was held by the zombie master and returning her to the arms of her American fiancé. White Zombie expresses early twentieth-century fears about white female slavery. Ann Kordas (2011) writes that Americans who saw White Zombie upon its release would have been familiar with the notion of white slavery as the abduction of sexually promiscuous white women by villainous men, who then held the women captive as prostitutes (p. 26). These women, it was suggested, received captivity as their just punishment. Kordas writes that the figure of the white zombie expressed fears about the New Woman, whose independence and sexual liberation threatened the patriarchal social order. A 1943 magazine article titled “Interesting Facts About Zombies—The Walking Dead” advised that “if you keep your skirts clean, you have nothing to worry about” (qtd in Kordas 2011, p. 27). As the white zombie of Fort Holland, Jessica functions as the colonial New Woman, a woman to be somewhat pitied but mostly chastised. Jessica embodies the woman gone wrong and justly punished. Likewise,



Bertha’s confinement in Brontë’s novel can also be seen as a form of punishment for her extramarital sex as opposed to a husband’s benevolent act of keeping safe his mentally ill wife. White Zombie also expresses early twentieth-century fears about the zombie master. The zombie master often took the form of a mixed-race, Jewish, or southern European man schooled in the uses of black magic by his ancestors. Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert writes that the various versions of female zombie enslavement hint that “the urge to transcend or subvert race and class barriers” is “one of the repositories of the sorcerer’s lust” (qtd in Bishop 2010, p. 67). White zombiedom indexes the fear of miscegenation, which itself represents a loss of the colonizer’s social dominance. If the dark magician penetrates the body and mind of the lily-white wife, the twin colonial projects of domesticity and domestication fail together. White zombies represent the penetration of the enclosed space of the Great House by the unimprovable spaces and people beyond its walls. They signify the containment, but also the irrepressibility, of women’s sexuality and cross-racial desire. The colonial wife’s purity makes her the moral center of the colonial project, but it also makes her a liability. Her contamination by what lies outside the House gates undermines the colonizer’s moral and economic supremacy. If the figure of the white zombie indicates the paradox of imperial domesticity, the black zombie reveals how that same paradox lies at the center of imperial domestication. The black zombie exemplifies the “perfect” slave, the docile but ever-productive black male body that makes possible and profitable the Caribbean plantation system. Just as Jessica’s zombification transforms a bad woman into a good wife, Carrefour’s zombiedom represents the transformation of the black man from a threat to a pillar of the established social order, recalling Foucault’s notion that moral management contains, rather than eradicates, subversive energies, and redirects them to uphold the status quo. The connection between zombies and indentured servitude originates in Dahomean legend, in which the zombie is understood to be a human being without a soul. A sorcerer’s malignant magic gives an individual the look of the dead; the person’s family, thinking him dead, buries the body, upon which the sorcerer “raises” the body and sells it into servitude in a far-off place, where the family will never find him (Bishop 2010, p. 69). With the Atlantic slave trade, the legend took on new meaning and became a haunting allegory for the collective experience of African slaves forcefully relocated to the Americas to live out their days absent their



souls. Zora Neale Hurston’s Tell My Horse (1938/2009) gives a moving account of the zombie’s metaphorical power when used to describe the “living death” of slavery: It is not good for a person who has lived all his life surrounded by a degree of fastidious culture, loved to his last breath by family and friends, to contemplate the probability of his resurrected body being dragged from the vault—the best that love and means could provide, and set to toiling ceaselessly in the banana fields, working like a beast, unclothed like a beast, and like a brute crouching in some foul den in the few hours allowed for rest and food. From an educated, intelligent being to an unthinking, unknowing beast. Then there is the helplessness of the situation. Family and friends cannot rescue the victim because they do not know. They think the loved one is sleeping peacefully in his grave. They may motor past the plantation where the Zombie who was once dear to them is held captive often and again and its soulless eyes may have fallen upon them without thought or recognition. (p. 181)

Forcefully removed from one’s family and community, dehumanized, and made to live in a new place from which there is no escape, the slave’s experience is akin to the zombie’s: the slave dies to his former autonomous self, is buried in the slave-ship’s hold, and resurrected in the New World as a docile but vigorously laboring body. However, the figure of the black zombie also alludes to the hidden and inexplicable power of voodoo, a force that eludes the master’s management of his land and resentment of his workers. While voodoo is associated with enslavement, it is also connected to the first slave rebellion in the New World that successfully produced an independent postcolonial nation. In his account of the Haitian Revolution of the 1790s, C. L. R. James (1938/1963) writes that the rebellion that instigated the Revolution began with a voodoo ceremony. “Voodoo was the medium of the conspiracy” (p. 86), James states, and slaves came from miles around to the voodoo temples, or houmforts, to sing, dance, and participate in the rituals. Meanwhile, they also exchanged political news and made plans. A houngan, or voodoo priest, led the first revolt in 1791 in which the slaves of Saint Domingue set fire to the cane fields and massacred their white masters (pp. 86–88). The violence of the Revolution served as the haunting double of colonial cruelty. But the Revolution also mirrored the colonizer’s own overthrow of social oppression back home: the French Revolution. Occurring simultaneously with the class-based revolution in



France, the Haitian slave revolt tested how far the French were willing to extend their “universal” principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity. James’s account reveals that although many members of the working class felt “the defence of the Rights of Man abroad was the defence of them at home,” the bourgeois interests in the National Assembly had profited too much from the slave trade to allow the slaves their citizenship (p.  77). After more than a decade of war, Haiti finally gained its independence in 1804, and under the leadership of Jean-Jacques Dessalines purged its entire white population. Both white and black zombies suggest that the perfection of the colonizer’s control brings with it the threat of the loss of that control. Lurking in the shadows of the ideal colonial space—the plantation populated with docile white female and black male bodies—lies the collapse of that economic and political system. In the rest of this chapter, I show how I Walked with a Zombie uses voodoo to indicate revolutionary energies circulating on the plantation that cannot be confined or capitalized upon for labor productivity. To do this, I focus on the film’s portrayal of the houmfort, the voodoo temple hidden in the cane fields, as the competing center of power on the plantation vis-à-vis the Great House. Voodoo, the dark double of the imperial system, possesses an advantage over the dominant order by not relying on spatial enclosure to produce its desired effects. On the contrary, the power of voodoo lies in its omnipresence, its ability to circumvent the boundaries created by the plantation system and affect all those who inhabit the space, those who reside in the Great House, as well as those who work in the fields. I argue that voodoo explodes the plantation’s discipline by infusing the colonial space with new use and new meaning. This reuse through reinscription of space by the black workers transforms the plantation into a symbol of a new and independent nation. Subjected to similar spatial disciplining as Jessica and Jane, the workers refuse to submit, and instead chart their own course toward decolonization through the reinterpretation of space. Improvement on the Plantation Archaeological evidence has revealed that British West Indian sugar plantations in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were quite uniform in their spatial organization. This master plan reflects what Henri Lefebvre has called a capitalist production of space. The creation of a sugar island necessitated the obliteration of indigenous populations and natural



ecosystems and the wholesale re-creation of an artificial space on top of such a “tabula rasa” entirely devoted to the production of sugar as a cash crop for the maximum benefit of its owners (Armstrong and Kelly 2000, p. 375). The plantation represents an extreme case of how land improvement creates an absolute space, a totality closed in upon itself that operates according to standardized measurement and profit calculation. An aerial view of Jamaica, Barbados, Tobago, or other sugar islands during the British colonial period would have looked like enclosed and partitioned plots of land, each owned by a master planter and his family who lived in the Great House situated at the top of a hill to catch the cool breeze (Ohm Clement 1997, p. 100). These houses were often designed with their main windows facing their “neighbors,” such that one could look from hilltop to hilltop and see where each planter’s land began and ended (p. 100). With the geography of entire islands carved up to form improved parcels, there existed little remaining space to conceive of as being “outside” the system.10 The plantation’s spatial layout confirmed the notion that there existed no outside to the system, for each element in the plantation’s design was strictly controlled and regulated in relation to all its other elements. By 1700, standard models for plantation layout had been generated, and by the early nineteenth century, planters designing new estates could consult manuals and guides such as Thomas Roughley’s The Jamaica Planter’s Guide, or, a System for Planting and Managing a Sugar Estate or Other Plantations in that Island, and Throughout the British West Indies in General (1823/2010). Thus, the design of the plantation as a space was relatively uniform across the British West Indies. A case study of the Seville plantation in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica that operated between 1670 and the early nineteenth century reveals a specific example of the general layout. The African slave population lived in villages located on land at the margins of the plantation considered unsuitable for cane cultivation. Any cultivable land was used for cane, especially the land closest to the water for efficient irrigation. The “African village” stood in close proximity to both the cane fields and the processing works to minimize time lost to travel. The sugar works, or the manufacturing complex that converted the cane into refined granules for consumption, occupied a central location enabling everyone to come and go easily. The sensitivity of sugar cane to oxygen exposure after being cut necessitated the rapid transition of the cut cane to the sugar works for processing, so easy access to the works was of the highest importance. The Great House and managerial housing (for overseers)



lay between the key economic variables—labor, fields, and works—to maximize surveillance of all operations, but especially of the workers’ activities (Armstrong and Kelly 2000, pp. 375–377). At Seville, the Great House was completely exposed to the African village. This allowed the master to monitor his slaves personally. But such a design also allowed his slaves to monitor him. Maureen Harkin’s (2002) reading of Matthew Lewis’s Journal of a West India Proprietor (1834/2008) emphasizes the mixed blessing of mutual surveillance in such plantation design. Matthew Lewis, author of the best-selling gothic novel The Monk (1796), owned two slave-owning plantations in Jamaica which devolved to him in 1812 from his father. His Journal compiles accounts of his visits there in 1816 and 1818; he died on the second return voyage, and the Journal was published posthumously. Lewis’s Journal participated in a tradition of travel writing about the West Indies in which the differences between European and West Indian spatial arrangements were most frequently a topic (Harkin 2002, p. 145). Lewis’s account focuses on himself as a recipient of a public gaze and his lack of privacy as the master of the plantation who is highly visible to his slaves. In what can best be described as a reverse panopticon, Lewis finds that the location of his Great House in a place that allows him to see all has failed to give him the sense of power that should accompany it, and in fact has exposed him to being seen by all around him. The architectural design of the house itself makes matters worse. He writes about “being obliged to live perpetually in public,” with everything one does being “seen and known” because “the houses are absolutely transparent; the walls are nothing but windows—and all the doors stand wide open” (Lewis 93–94; qtd in Harkin 2002, p.  143). Lewis’s account suggests that the “specular relations serve the slave population rather than their masters,” and the inspector becomes the inspected when the space designed to secure his power is used against him (Harkin 2002, p. 144). Lewis’s Journal and the Seville plantation reveal that for the master as well there existed no “outside” of the plantation. The totalizing space of the plantation that enclosed the slaves also enclosed the master, and power figured as spatial centrality could just as easily make the master vulnerable as dominant. The psychological crisis that Rochester experiences while living in his Jamaican house with Bertha takes on greater significance when placed in this context. Rochester feels vulnerable to Bertha’s insanity because the walls of his house are too thin, and this exposure is made more unbearable by the tropical air that wafts through his window, bearing with



it, he believes, any number of physical and psychological maladies endemic to the environment. Rochester’s account recalls Lewis’s description of his own house as “transparent.” Rochester’s fear of “catching” Bertha’s and Jamaica’s disease is one way of articulating a more general fear of increased exposure, despite, or indeed because of, increased confinement. Spatial enclosure encourages, but also subverts, moral management. The depiction of the Great House in I Walked with a Zombie presents another case of the master’s spatial vulnerability due to his enclosure within the house. Betsy’s first encounter with the Great House at Fort Holland is with its closed wrought-iron gate (00:05:12–00:05:36). The point-of-view shot that follows (from Betsy’s perspective) shows the Fort’s garden and steps leading to a covered veranda (00:05:25–00:05:36). Both of these architectural elements—the gate and the covered veranda—recall Jane’s description of Lowood, and the gate resonates as well with her first encounter with Thornfield. The camera pans to show the windows of the house, which, in the heat of the day, have blinds drawn over them, preventing us from seeing inside and shutting the house in upon itself. A painted background suggests in outline the existence of another wing of the house that shares similar characteristics. The background creates the sense of a labyrinthine interior, a house that stretches on and on, enveloping its inhabitants—similar to the compartments and passages that Jane passes through on her first night at Lowood. The cane fields, through which Betsy and Jessica walk to find the houmfort in the film’s central scene, mirrors this labyrinthine structure: the visual parallel identifies the Great House and the houmfort as competing locations of power on the plantation. Whereas the exterior of the Great House creates the sense of its inhabitants’ confinement, the interior suggests their exposure and vulnerability. A sequence of three long shots of the interior rooms (00:05:38–00:06:15) follows the exterior sequence above. In the first shot, the camera shows a wide and spacious veranda, with a peaked roof, the highest point of which is hidden to suggest more height. Rich furnishings and carpets populate the frame, but the palm fronds encroaching on the veranda, outgrowing the railing that is meant to keep them out, suggest improved nature’s reversion to its original, chaotic state. The veranda also functions as a dining room and so can neither be described as “outside” nor “inside,” recalling Rochester’s and Lewis’s complaints that Caribbean architecture fails to establish safe boundaries. The first shot suggests that the Great House, in its isolation and privileged location, is being slowly engulfed by forces on



the island that the Holland-Rands cannot control and cannot pull into their improving orbit. Moving further into the interior of the house, we see a living space that comprises three different floors, perhaps a visual homage to the three floors at Thornfield. The space again suggests height and spaciousness but also the danger of openness and lack of safe enclosure. On the left side of the frame, a white curtain billows into an open casement window. The viewer’s eye is drawn to the curtain because it is the only moving object in the shot. The inward-blown curtain visually expresses Rochester’s fear of contamination from exposure to the air.11 The last of the three shots takes place in Betsy’s room (00:06:00–00:06:15). The vertical lines created by the bedposts and curtain folds paired with the dramatic horizontal shadows cast by the venetian blinds gives this space, unlike the two previous spaces, a feeling of restriction and confinement. Jane’s reference to Lowood as a “prison” is given visual shape here. In the subsequent shot, a servant calls Betsy in to dine with Paul and Wesley for the first time (00:06:16), and her exit into the garden reveals that the blinds are in fact attached to flimsy French doors, liable to let all manner of things into the room even while trapping Betsy within it. The noir aesthetic invoked here by the low-key lighting and heavy shadows creates the sense of impending doom and a pre-determined fate—the downfall of the Holland-Rands and the decolonization of the plantation—that the principal characters fail to detect.12 One place at Fort Holland proves even more imprisoning than Betsy’s room: the tower in the garden where Paul keeps Jessica. The entrance to the tower lies through a door in its outer wall, visually connecting the tower with Lowood and Jessica’s spatial enclosure with Jane’s. Able to escape the tower itself but unable to go far, Jessica wanders through the garden by moonlight, unseeing and unresponsive. In the sequence in which Betsy and Jessica meet for the first time (00:09:12–00:13:35), Betsy sees Jessica walking through the garden as she readies herself for bed. Later that night, she wakes to the sound of a woman crying, leaves her room to investigate, and enters the tower. Extremely low-key lighting presents in dramatic chiaroscuro a staircase that takes Betsy up into the tower’s bare second story. Betsy’s shadow looms large behind her on the blank walls and yawning empty spaces. She calls out “Mrs. Holland?” a few times to no answer, and then sees Jessica coming up the stairs behind her. Jessica approaches Betsy, her back to the camera, and the frame reveals only Betsy’s horror-stricken face as she screams (the single loud moment



in an otherwise quiet film) and runs to the other side of the room. The next shot shows a close-up of Jessica’s face: haggard, eyes wide open and lined thickly with black makeup. When Paul and the servants rush in after hearing Betsy scream, however, the camera pans across Jessica’s face a second time, showing the makeup removed, her cheeks full and absent the deep shadows. In fact, she looks like a normal, if sleepy, woman. The scene in the tower and its visual homage to German Expressionism’s exteriorization of the mind’s deepest recesses suggests that the tower is a psychological as well as a physical space. The tower limits Jessica’s physical movements, but it also indicates Betsy’s exposure to the “supernatural” forces of the island—its voodoo—that the plantation’s spatial and moral management cannot control. On one hand, the scene suggests that voodoo affects Betsy from the beginning, before she even realizes that the workers possess their own form of power. If Jessica’s dark, sunken visage is real, and not a result of Betsy’s imagination, then voodoo is responsible for changing the way Jessica looks. But on the other hand, perhaps Betsy falls victim to her own black magic: an imagination that creates a monster out of Jessica by failing to see her domestic oppression is liable to make Betsy fall in love with the oppressor himself. We imagine that Betsy, like Jane, will eventually play a complicit role in her own domestication and share the fate of her trapped predecessor. This becomes especially clear in a dialogue that Paul and Betsy share near the end of the film (00:52:04–00:52:52): Paul:

You remember the first night I saw you. You were looking at the sea. You were enchanted. I felt I had to destroy that enchantment, make you see ugliness and cruelty. Betsy: You were trying to warn me. Paul: No, I was trying to hurt you. It was the same way with Jessica. I had to hurt her. Everything she did or said made me lash out at her…Since you’ve been here, I’ve seen how fine and sweet things can be between a man and a woman, how love can be calm and good. I’d rather not have that sort of love than have it and destroy it…It’s no good for you to stay, so long as I have this fear of myself. Paul’s compulsion to harm seems as unmanageable as Jessica’s sexual deviance. His resentment toward her never ceases to replenish itself. Paul’s psychological disease suggests that imperialism infects itself with its own



black magic and traps the colonizer in his own injustice, brutality, and madness. The brothers’ mutual hatred, Paul’s damaged psyche, Jessica’s suffering, and Betsy’s inability to do anything but reproduce the status quo suggests that for the Holland-Rand family and the colonial plantation system it represents, there is nowhere to go but down. As Gwendolyn Audrey Foster (2008) observes, the film represents colonialism and the white family as “diseased” and in decay, while black Haitian culture and the black population are symbols of regeneration (p. 153). In the final section of this chapter, I argue that the workers’ reinscription of the cane fields from an improved space of labor exploitation and cash crop production to a space for community creation through voodoo ceremony hastens the decline of the colonizer’s power and re-produces the plantation space as the grounds upon which to forge a new postcolonial nation. The Houmfort and the Great House: Voodoo Rising If the Great House at Fort Holland represents the “inside” of European civilization, the voodoo temple, or houmfort, represents its “outside.” The Holland-Rands’ self-enclosure recalls Tuan’s “landscape of fear,” for the boundaries of their fortress redefine what lies beyond as a chaos of unmanageable natural and social forces that threaten the masters’ dominance. The film uses voodoo to represent these natural and psychological elements of the land and its workers that remain unconfined, unregulated, and unimprovable, and invokes the historical connection between voodoo, slave rebellion, and national independence in Haiti by placing the houmfort at the spiritual and political center of the black workers’ lives.13 Whether or not the houmfort actually emanates the “magic” or “spells” that harm the Holland-Rand family remains unclear; however, the houmfort nevertheless provides a source of vitality that escapes the imperial-­ capitalist improvement ideology that tries to harness and capitalize on it. Although the houmfort sits at the center of the sugar cane fields, it has no place in the sugar economy and cannot be made to fit its rationalized structure. Paul and Wesley alternately fear voodoo and dismiss it, and although they have lived alongside it since they were boys, as Paul says (01:01:58), they think of it only as something that lies outside the gates of the Great House, in which the workers indulge on their downtime. What the brothers do not realize, however, is that voodoo—and the failure of spatial improvement and moral management that it



represents—has already penetrated their wrought-iron gate. Furthermore, it has been brought in by one of their own in an attempt to recharge and stabilize the family’s power. This secret intrusion is revealed at the end of the film’s central scene, the night walk that Betsy and Jessica take through the cane fields to find the houngan, the voodoo priest, at the houmfort (00:36:36–00:46:20). Betsy, disheartened by the failure of the family doctor’s treatments of Jessica, takes her to the houmfort to see what the maidservant Alma calls the “better doctors” (00:34:08, 00:34:43). Their walk through the cane fields reveals the difference between how the colonizer and the colonized understand the connection between space and power. Fort Holland maintains its power through centralization and contraction, represented by the iron gates that keep out all intruders that may contaminate its pure residents. But the houmfort acts as a point out of which subversive elements emanate. The night walk comprises a sequence of medium to medium-long shots that reveal little more than the women framed by stalks of cane. The absence of aerial shots in this sequence refuses to give the viewer a visual map of where the women are going. Thus, as the camera tracks along with them, it creates a sense of lost orientation. The mise-­ en-­scene offers only cane and more cane, and thus the women seem as if they traverse the same spaces again and again. In The Practice of Everyday Life, Michel de Certeau (1984) describes two figures, the voyeur and the walker, that correspond to different ways of viewing the city. The voyeur’s is an imperialist’s point of view: it transforms the lived experience of the city below into a readable text seen from above. The voyeur’s aerial map represents “an oblivion and a misunderstanding of practices” (p. 93). The walker’s point of view, however, resists the voyeur’s mapping of the city into a readable form: “The ordinary practitioners of the city live ‘down below,’ below the thresholds at which visibility begins” (p.  93). Although Certeau’s text addresses the city in particular, his formulation applies equally well to the plantation space, as portrayed in the film’s night walk scene. The decision to exclude crane shots and bury the viewer in undifferentiated and confusing space forces the viewer to recognize the existence of two very different ways of looking at the cane fields: the master’s way and the workers’ way. For the master, the cane represents simply the raw material that must be processed in order to yield a product that can be sold for a profit. The workers are simply there to perform the labor of transforming the cane into sugar. The master’s “aerial” view of the fields sees them as one aggregate mass that plays one specific role in the larger plantation economy; in other words,



cane is nothing more than a commodity.14 But the “walkers,” or the cane workers, experience the fields below the threshold of the colonizer’s gaze, and for them the space bears much more detail, variety, and meaning. The walker’s point of view “escap[es] the imaginary totalizations produced by the eye” and reveals the “strangeness” of everyday spaces (Certeau 1984, p.  93). The workers, intimately familiar with the fields, and who experience it as lived, rather than simply seen, imagined, or calculated space, also invest it with meaning (what Certeau calls “strangeness”) that escapes the colonizer’s detection. For Certeau (1984), the walker’s point of view is actually a practice, or a use of space that can transform it into something that resists, rather than produces, capital. He writes: “These practices of space refer to a specific form of operations (‘ways of operating’), to ‘another spatiality,’ (an ‘anthropological,’ poetic and mythic experience of space), and to an opaque and blind mobility characteristic of the bustling city. A migrational, or metaphorical, city thus slips into the clear text of the planned and readable city” (p.  93, italics original). The film represents voodoo as one such form of operations, a practice of the workers’ everyday lives that infuses the fields with a poetic, mythic, and human-centered experience. Voodoo creates a “metaphorical” space that slips into the clear text of the planned and readable plantation, and thus creates social and political volatility within an absolute space meant to discipline individual behavior. This reinscription of the fields becomes clear when Betsy and Jessica encounter a series of mysterious objects—Alma calls them “obeah signs” (00:37:03)—hung or placed in different parts of the fields. First, they see an animal skull held up by a pole (00:37:54), followed by a dead animal hanging from a tree branch (00:38:18), then a hanging gourd punctured with holes (00:38:48).15 Next, they see a human skull with a broken jaw, ringed by rocks (00:39:05). At this moment, the music of conch and drums fills the soundtrack, suggesting the women’s proximity to the houmfort. Although we never find out what these objects denote, it is clear that they do mean something, and furthermore, that they structure and give meaning to the spaces in which they are located. Perhaps they mark boundaries, the crossing of thresholds, or an especially sacred space for ritual. The objects’ presence suggests that this aggregate mass of cane is actually a highly differentiated space marked out according to voodoo beliefs, a systematic understanding of reality equally as powerful as the capitalist system of sugar production. The objects sacralize a space improved by imperialism as simply economic and imply that voodoo



“secretly structure[s] the determining conditions of social life” for the workers, and functions as a “reappropriation” of the “mode of administration” that organizes plantation space (Certeau 1984, p. 96). More importantly, again to use Certeau’s framework, voodoo “elude[s] discipline without being outside the field in which it is exercised” (p. 96), turning the colonizer’s space against its intended use. Voodoo is one of Certeau’s “things extra and other” that “insert themselves into the accepted framework, the imposed order,” and operate underneath and against that order (p. 107). What looks like a sea of sugarcane to the colonizer and simply a means of making money is reinscribed by the colonized into a “habitable” space (Certeau 1984, p. 106) infused with meaning that cannot be improved to profitable account. With their spatial practice, the workers turn a space that dehumanizes them into a space for community-building. What the women see next on their walk crystallizes the workers’ reinscription of the fields: the silhouetted image of Carrefour, extraordinarily tall and upright, his statuesque build looking like a monolith against the light. The camera, mimicking the movement of Betsy’s flashlight, zooms in on his foot, then tilts up to his face, showing eyes bulging and unblinking (00:39:39–00:39:42). The black zombie, the metaphor for the perfect slave, also serves as the houmfort’s guard. The scene transforms the docile black worker, the legatee of slavery, into the protector of the forces of opposition to the very system that created him. The perfect slave turns out to be—recalling Jane’s description of herself—also “the rebel slave.” Carrefour’s appearance at the temple’s entrance suggests that despite the efforts of moral management, there will always exist in the slave, the colonized, and the exploited worker a reserve of power fueled by grievance at injustice that, like Miss Temple’s and Helen’s cup of resentment, is endlessly refilled. The film represents that reserve as voodoo, a way of existing on the colonial space that remains in excess of what the plantation system can improve to its advantage. Carrefour allows the women into the houmfort because of the voodoo patch that Alma, who anticipated their confrontation with the black zombie, pinned to Jessica’s cloak (00:37:22). As the pair emerges through an opening in the cane, the vegetation becomes thicker and begins to look less like stalks of sugarcane and more like the natural landscape of the island: as we get closer to the houmfort, the cash crop loses its dominance. Finally, we see the houmfort, an open pavilion rather than an enclosed space. The sabreur, the master-of-ceremonies in voodoo ritual, dances



with a possessed woman while other dancers form a circle around seated drummers. From a small hole made in a door at the far end of the pavilion, a female voice intones, “Where are my people? Let them bring me the rice cakes. Let them dance and be happy” (00:42:57). The voudoisants, including Betsy and Jessica, form a line to speak to the god through the hole in the door. When it is Betsy’s turn, the door opens and she is pulled through. Someone lights a match in the dark, and standing before her is Mrs. Rand, Paul’s and Wesley’s mother. Mrs. Rand explains that when her second husband died, she was “helpless.” The people she was trying to serve “disobeyed” her. “Then accidentally,” she continues, “I discovered the secret of how to deal with them. There was a woman with a baby. Again and again, I begged her to boil the drinking water. She wouldn’t. Then I told her that the god Shango would kill the evil spirits in the water if she boiled it. From then on, she boiled the water. […] It seemed so simple to let the gods speak through me” (00:44:35–00:45:10). A scuffle outside cuts her explanation short: curious about Jessica’s demeanor, the sabreur stabs her in the arm with his sword, and the crowd discovers that she does not bleed, a sure sign of a zombie. The houngan orders the agitated crowd to allow Betsy and Jessica to hurry back to the Great House. One reading of the houmfort sequence might argue that Mrs. Rand’s presence in the temple represents imperialism’s penetration into the very forces that oppose it: there is no escape from improvement, for as Harvey suggests, capitalist land management is absolute. Thus, power is present everywhere, even in its own subversion.16 I suggest instead that the opposite occurs: power relies on what it tries to differentiate itself from, on what will eventually destroy it. The conclusion of the film’s central sequence bears out my reading. The morning after Betsy and Jessica return to Fort Holland, the police commissioner and the family doctor (representatives of imperial law and western science) come to discuss Jessica’s fate. The island has become charged with tension, as the voudoisants have been drumming constantly since the women’s departure and scheming, according to the commissioner, to bring Jessica back to the houmfort. The unrest has caused the island to erupt in rumors and gossip about the scandalous behavior going on at the master’s house. Under pressure of Paul’s being transported to the police station for questioning, Mrs. Rand confesses that not only did she ask the houngan to turn Jessica into a zombie, she did so in a state of possession:



I entered into their ceremonies. I pretended I was possessed by their gods. But what I did to Jessica, when she wanted to go away with Wesley…that night I went to the houmfort. I kept seeing her face smiling because she was beautiful enough to take my family in her hands and tear it apart. The drums, the chanting, the lights. I heard a voice speaking in the sudden silence: my voice. I was speaking to the houngan. I was possessed. I told him the woman at Fort Holland was evil and asked him to make her a zombie. (00:58:45–00:59:29)

Mrs. Rand, who uses voodoo as a guise for her rational knowledge, and in doing so, hopes to discipline the black workers’ religious beliefs and superstitions, is herself contaminated by the very ideas she deems atavistic and wishes to eliminate. Mrs. Rand’s pretended, then real, trafficking with what she believes to be black magic results in the Holland-Rands being forced to confront voodoo as a real and formidable power. They must contend with voodoo as a rising force on the island at the same time as they sense the deterioration of their own control.17 For Mrs. Rand, the houmfort represents the return of the things she and her late husband worked to repress in themselves and on the island, and as such bears the attraction of the self let go, unmanaged and uncontrolled. For the other white characters, the houmfort functions as the Great House’s antagonist and successor. Its power lies precisely in Fort Holland’s shortcomings: the houmfort does not shore up its sense of superiority and lock it behind gates; instead, it seeps insurrection into the lives of all the characters, black and white. The film shows the transition between an imperial model of centralized power and boundary policing to a postcolonial social organization that decentralizes power and puts community over hierarchy. Although the family’s doctor does not believe Mrs. Rand, calling her “an imaginative woman” (01:00:36), and claiming that Jessica’s fever has “a long Latin name” (00:59:55) and is not the result of “poison or hocus-­ pocus” (01:00:15), the film’s last sequence bears out Mrs. Rand’s story. The sequence (00:49:15–01:08:21) comprises a series of crosscuts showing simultaneous actions taking place at the Great House and the houmfort. The voodoo drums rumble throughout the sequence no matter which space appears before us visually, using sound to suggest voodoo’s penetration throughout the plantation. Paul, confronting Betsy in the garden about her night walk, accuses her of instigating antagonism between the voudoisants and the Great House, but he also confesses his inexplicable



rage and abusive inclinations. The next shot crosscuts to the houmfort, where the sabreur, surrounded by the voudoisants, makes a wax Jessica doll. Another crosscut takes us back to Jessica’s room, where Betsy tucks her into bed. Back at the houmfort, the sabreur teaches Carrefour to recognize and retrieve Jessica by showing him the doll and gesturing to him to grab it. The montage sequence reinforces the Great House and the houmfort as two equally powerful and antagonistic centers of power on the plantation. Spatial and moral improvement confronts the natural and psychological chaos that threatens it—chaos that improvement’s ideology of management has itself created. The sequence culminates in Carrefour’s breaking through the gate at the Great House and asserting the black community as the winner of the contest. Before we even see Carrefour, the billowing curtain in Jessica’s room signals his presence and recalls the first interior shots from early in the film. The soundtrack indicates shuffling feet, and then finally, Carrefour’s enormous shadow appears against the wall over the sleeping Betsy. When Betsy awakens and sees Carrefour’s shadow, and then his body, she calls to Paul, who prepares to confront the black zombie. In a point-of-view shot from Paul’s perspective, the camera shows Carrefour reach out and grab, although it is unclear toward whom these actions are intended. The point-of-view shot suggests that Carrefour tries to grab the master instead of the master’s wife, even though the sabreur clearly instructed him to take Jessica. This ambiguity implies that to possess Jessica is to possess the master himself, or at least his power and authority. Recalling McClintock’s reading of women as boundaries of colonial power, once Jessica has been “contaminated,” so has the entire project of colonial domination. In a surprising twist, however, Carrefour harms neither the master nor his wife. Mrs. Rand, proving her deep involvement with voodoo, commands Carrefour to stop and go back to the houmfort (00:54:48), which he dutifully does. Although it infiltrates the Great House, voodoo may not be what deals the Holland-Rands their final blow. Later that evening, Betsy finds Wesley sitting alone on the veranda. He says that Jessica “ought to be free” (01:03:22) and asks Betsy to induce her death using a lethal dose of drugs, which she refuses to do. After Betsy leaves him, he sees Jessica walk across the garden to the gate, drums pounding on the soundtrack. He gets up and opens the gate for her. Then he turns and pulls an arrow out of the chest of Ti Misery, the figurehead of the ship that carried the first slaves to the island, and that now decorates the fountain at



the center of the Great House’s garden. Crosscut to the sabreur, who pushes the wax doll to the ground and drives a pin into the doll’s heart. We then see Wesley on the beach, arrow in hand, Jessica lying dead at his feet. The editing leaves unanswered the question of who is ultimately responsible for Jessica’s death. Did voodoo influence Jessica and control Wesley’s actions? Or did Wesley’s own despair make him do it? The film leaves ambiguous its answer to the question of whether improvement ideology undoes itself or whether the colonized population’s desire for independence brings about its demise. In the film’s final scene, Carrefour pursues Wesley and Jessica to the beach, and Wesley, afraid that he has come to take her to the houmfort, carries her into the ocean waves, drowning them both (making this Jessica’s third death). Although it seems the film capitulates at last to the Hollywood convention of the black male pursuant and the white female victim (and the white male savior), Carrefour’s passivity and sightless eyes lack the menace to make him a believable perpetrator. And in the final shot, when Carrefour carries Jessica in his arms back to the Great House— not the houmfort—our suspicions of him are further assuaged. But our confusion about the film’s position on the fate of the colonial improvement project deepens. Who controls Carrefour at the end of the film? It is unlikely that the sabreur has allowed him to return Jessica to the Great House, but it is just as unlikely that Mrs. Rand controls him at this point. I suggest that the film’s final portrayal of the black zombie, subservient to no one, but also not in possession of his own will, represents the transitional state of decolonization. In his reading of Carrefour as a figure that represents the transformation of the black male figure in postwar America, Alexander Nemerov argues that while Carrefour reminds us of slavery, he also provides a potent visual symbol of the emergent power of African Americans during the Second World War. The war years marked Hollywood’s transition to a more conscientious portrayal of African Americans, as well as the historical period when black power movements, which rose to their height in the 1960s, began to take shape (Nemerov 2005, pp. 103–117). Describing the shot of Carrefour silhouetted by moonlight in the cane fields, Nemerov (2005) writes: “Strong and imposing, blocking the path, [Carrefour] confronts the audience with a strength that anticipates images of heroically defiant black men in the 1960s and 1970s even as he also harks back to the imagery of lynching. No other figure in the history of American visual culture stands so perfectly at the crossroads between the Scottsboro Boys



and the Black Panthers” (p.  118). Nemerov’s insightful reading of the black zombie as representative of the wartime emergence of power from below applies equally well to the stirrings of the decolonization movement. The film’s depiction of the rising strength of the black man and his community and the declining authority of the European colonizer and the plantation system expresses the spirit of the historical moment of the film’s production and release—a moment when a subjugated population sensed the deterioration of the old social order and the beginning of their promising, but still blurry, independent future. That that future remained uncertain, despite the optimism of the times, is, I argue, the film’s final commentary on Caribbean decolonization, as well as its sage prediction of global south decolonization at large. Edward Said (1990) has written that “if there is anything that radically distinguishes the imagination of anti-imperialism it is the primacy of the geographical in it. Imperialism after all is an act of geographical violence through which virtually every space in the world is explored, charted, and finally brought under control” (p. 77). The film’s depiction of the black workers’ ability to “explode” colonial-capitalist space (Lefebvre 2009, p.  189) by reinscribing it as a space in which to build community and assert their collective reserve of resentment at historical injustice bears out Said’s connection between anti-imperialism and spatial reconstruction. Lefebvre’s injunction to transform a space through reuse, or new use, applies as well to the film’s portrayal of the workers’ infusing the cane fields with new meaning through voodoo rituals and beliefs. Adaptation— in this case, spatial—can be a powerful political tool. But it is the ongoing practice of social justice within such adapted spaces that assures their liberatory potential. The film’s focus on the radically redefined use of the cane fields and the implications of this new use for the entire plantation reflects Lefebvre’s emphasis on “practice” and Certeau’s emphasis on “walking” in not only creating but maintaining the connection between space and freedom. In an interview with Paul Rabinow, Foucault (1999) makes a cautionary pronouncement on the stability of such a connection, stating that spatial organization does not guarantee freedom and liberation, nor does it guarantee domination and oppression. If voodoo has the power to transform the space of the sugar plantation, the power inequalities of the Great House can likewise be reproduced in the houmfort. “It can never be inherent in the structure of things to guarantee the exercise of freedom,” Foucault says; “the guarantee of freedom is freedom” (p. 135). Thus, even the “explosion” of the



plantation space by voodoo’s reinscription does not guarantee the transformation of colonial social relations, even though it makes such a transformation possible. Albert Memmi (2004/2006) has also warned against the repetition of colonial injustices in the postcolonial world. In Decolonization and the Decolonized, he begins the first chapter, titled “The Great Disillusion,” with a grim assessment of the outcome of decolonization: The end of colonization should have brought with it freedom and prosperity. The colonized would give birth to the citizen, master of his political, economic, and cultural destiny. […] Unfortunately, in most cases, the long anticipated period of freedom, won at the cost of terrible suffering, brought with it poverty and corruption, violence, and sometimes chaos. […] The slogans of national unity, heard at a time when everyone felt as if they were members of the same family, have been extinguished, and the faces we see are the pale faces of egotism. […] There has been a change of masters, but, like new leeches, the new ruling classes are often greedier than the old. (pp. 3–4)

The film’s portrayal of the power of the workers’ unity for fomenting revolution and achieving self-determination is tempered by a premonition of the situation Memmi describes. The workers’ community as depicted in the voodoo ceremony, while autonomous and united, is also hierarchical: the houngan and the sabreur occupy high positions that carry the power to “possess” those socially beneath them. The sabreur’s use of the black zombie to do his bidding might intend different ends than the plantation master’s use of the slave, but the means seem all too similar. In both cases, the black, working-class individual serves a higher authority in whose hands his own fate lies. The analogy that the film draws between the Great House and the houmfort bodes well for the workers’ takeover of the master’s position, but ill for what may happen once that takeover is achieved. The historical takeover of plantation Great Houses by state-run heritage foundations represents one of the most common emblems of transition from colonialism to independence in the Caribbean. Eve Walsh Stoddard (2012) writes that in nearly all of the former British West Indian colonies, tourism replaced sugar production as the primary industry after independence, and that the neo-imperialist implications of the latter bear deep connections to the architecture and space of the plantation: “It is a commonplace throughout the Caribbean that tourism has taken the place



of sugar, but the race and power relations of the plantation have transmuted themselves to suit the new economy. In many cases, former plantation houses have become charming inns for tourists. In others, new hotels are designed to echo the architecture of the sugar mill” (p. 35). On the one hand, the replacement of sugar with tourism and the master with the state signifies real change. But on the other hand, it suggests that the spatial organization of the former sugar islands continues to exert a determining force as to what kinds of industry are possible for these new nations. Even after independence, these nations remain dependent on colonial space for the growth of their new cash crop. Tourism represents just one facet of the geopolitical situation in which the Caribbean found itself after the Second World War. As Jason Parker (2008) has written, independence for the British West Indies took a complex route that had to navigate American expansionism, Anglo-American “‘collaboration’ in empire,” and Britain’s continuation of its influence and access to markets and resources. In addition, the West Indies’ postwar independence coincided with the Cold War, and Caribbean leaders went to great lengths to convince Washington that “none of them would become a West Indian Castro” (pp.  10–11). The nationalities of the Holland-Rand brothers allude to these contemporary global affairs. Just as national struggle can be aided by international support, it can also be hindered by superpower competition. I Walked with a Zombie occupies a historical moment, however, when none of these fates was yet written, and the road to independence looked straight and narrow. The film’s contribution to American cinema lies in its poetic depiction of the historic moment before the historic moment—the hope and promise contained in the anticipation of independence before the realities of decolonization began to play out. I Walked with a Zombie testifies to the persistence of nineteenth-century improvement ideology well into the twentieth century, and how that ideology brought about the plantation system—and its demise—in the British West Indies. The relevance of Brontë’s Jane Eyre as a source text for a film about decolonization lies in its expression of how colonial and domestic subjects are made: through the discipline brought about by spatial arrangements that seek to manage, but also to capitalize upon, the discontent of the domesticated. The film recognizes elements of Jane and Bertha in Jessica and the black workers: the white female and black colonial subject share a resistance to injustice that can never be improved away. Through the figures of the white and the black zombie, the film understands white female and black



male domestication as extensions of the land improvement discourse that created the plantation and its economic and social system. For I Walked with a Zombie, Jane’s moral management stands as a cautionary tale against which to write a more hopeful prediction for a postcolonial future. Emma and Jane Eyre reveal that teleology and the link between moral and spatial management formed the foundations of improvement discourse in the domestic English context. Although their adaptations speak to their translatability to postcolonial situations, Austen’s and Brontë’s novels concern themselves with how improvement affected subject formation, land use, and the idea of progress for English subjects and English geographies. In the next chapter, I connect domestic and imperial ideologies of improvement to show that English ideas about progress’s dependence on teleology and the spatial constrictions of morality also underlay nineteenth-century British imperial policy, as it affected both the colonized subject who “needed” to be improved as well as the colonizer doing the improving.

Notes 1. During the trade embargo, Napoleon exacted a constrictive hold on Britain’s economy that amounted to a continental blockade, preventing Britain from import or export relations with the rest of Europe (Winborn 2004, p. 84). Just as improvers sought to turn an enclosed parcel of land into the most profitable version of itself, early century economists such as William Spence, James Mill, David Ricardo, and William Cobbett concerned themselves with how to turn their island nation’s limited resources to the best possible account. 2. Economically, such improvement of domestic resources as a response to England’s international situation benefitted the English economy considerably, making the years between 1793 and 1815  years of growth and increasing wealth despite fighting a major war all the while (Winborn 2004, p. 87). Although the poor experienced much hardship and discontent, farmers found the domestic agricultural demand much to their advantage, and land enclosures were organized on an unprecedented scale to meet this demand with the most efficient methods of cultivation (p. 88). 3. See chapter, “Improvement, Development, and Consumer Culture in Jane Austen and Popular Indian Cinema,” for a discussion of Pratt’s theory of the imperial gaze as an improver’s gaze.



4. On the connection between climate, madness, and nineteenth-century ideas about the degenerate character of the white Creole, see Sue Thomas 2008, pp. 31–53. 5. Carolyn Vellenga Berman (2006) reads Bertha not as a generic racist stereotype of the native Other, but as a figure who “encompasses the unruly wildness that British [slave] emancipators attributed to both Creole blacks and Creole whites. [She] is the amalgamation of two distinct discourses of reform—targeting madhouses and the West Indies—that produces the moral-medical horror of the Creole figure […]. Bertha Mason’s insanity marks the Creole as a target for moral-imperial intervention, thereby emphasizing the equivalent historical mismanagement of madwomen and colonial slaves. Lunatic and/or colonial, Bertha is semi-human because she has not been (properly) tamed” (pp. 130–131). Thus, Bertha is significant because she represents the lack of control over the volatile emotions, both at home and abroad. 6. Berman (2006) also argues that “both slavery and the bourgeois family were forms of domestication, in the sense of adapting humans—like domestic animals—into intimate relations, to the advantage of (a class of) man, within the confines of a household” (p. 12). Thus, the colonial space itself could be seen as “a domesticated home—comprising tamed bits of the wild, with intimately subjected peoples and breeding ‘wives’” (p. 13). 7. See Poovey’s (1997) discussion of Jane Eyre and the disenfranchisement of Victorian governesses and Meyer (1990) on the novel’s figuration of the lower-middle-class woman through the language of racial otherness, colonialism, and slavery. 8. Scholars, including Choudhury (1996), Newman (1995), Loe (1991), Campbell (1982), and Luengo (1976), have commented on the figure of the zombie and its connection to another notable West Indian adaptation of Jane Eyre, Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea (1966/2016). Newman (1995) speculates that Rhys had probably seen I Walked with a Zombie, which predates the novel by 23 years, because “quite minor incidents in the film are echoed in Wide Sargasso Sea” (p.  18). These incidents include Paul Holland’s and Rochester’s feelings of responsibility for their wives’ alleged madness, both men’s refusal to separate from their wives, the islanders in both film and novel singing calypsos about the planters’ family scandals, and the black workers’ desire to take Jessica away from the Great House after suspecting her zombification—a fate which mirrors that of Antoinette’s brother Pierre (pp. 18–19). Newman also notes that the stone steps in the tower that Betsy and Jessica climb during their first meeting are echoed in the novel through Antoinette’s dreams of climbing stone steps (p.  19). Finally, it is a white woman (Mrs. Rand) who performs the voodoo in I Walked with a Zombie—or at least, she invites the voodoo to be performed



on her account—to keep Jessica from breaking apart her family. But the situation goes awry when Jessica’s zombification leads to the brothers’ irremediable falling out and the eventual murder-suicide that ends the film. “In Wide Sargasso Sea,” Newman (1995) writes, “Rhys places particular emphasis on the fact that white people meddling with obeah is dangerous,” an admonition borne out when Antoinette, whose identity as a white Creole is established with certainty in Rhys’s text, fails in her attempt to do black magic on Rochester (p. 19), resulting in her own zombification of sorts as a captive in England, robbed of her free will and agency. 9. See Dayan (1995, pp. 3–65). 10. The most significant exceptions to this were the colonies of marooned, or escaped, slaves located in the mountains, forests, jungles, swamps, or other “inhospitable” areas. See Price (1996, p. 6). 11. Years after completing the movie, Tourneur remembered the trope of the billowing white curtain and the attention given to the film’s set design. In an interview with Joel E. Siegel, he remarked that “the sets, particularly the house, were wonderful. We had a harp with a very soft lulled drape and as the camera went by, the wind blew the drape and it made music. The sets were beautifully dressed. Val was very fussy about furnishings and it paid off” (Siegel 1973a, p. 24). 12. Tourneur went on to make the seminal noir film Out of the Past (1947), whose own dark patches and atmosphere of doom bear resemblances to the films he made with Lewton. 13. It was very important to Lewton that the film’s portrayal of voodoo culture be respectful and accurate. Ardel Wray, who co-wrote the adapted screenplay with Curt Siodmak, recalled in an interview that the voodoo sequences in the film were robustly informed by documented practices. “We were all plunged into research on Haitian voodoo, […] every book on the subject Val could find. He was an addictive researcher, drawing out of it the overall feel, mood, and quality he wanted, as well as details for the actual production” (Siegel 1973b, p. 41). The team hired Sir Lancelot, an influential pioneer of calypso music, as well as a number of “genuine voodoo musicians” to compose the film’s score (Bansak 2003, p. 147). And 3 days after shooting began on October 26, 1942, The Hollywood Reporter announced that “LeRoy Antoine, who is one of the country’s leading authorities on Haiti and Haitian folk music and voodoo, will be the technical advisor on I Walked with a Zombie. Antoine will also teach the negro actors Haitian rhythms for use in voodoo ceremony” (Bansak 2003, p. 147). 14. James Scott (1998) makes a similar argument about aerial views. He writes that in order to rule its population effectively, a state must increase the “legibility” of that population by simplifying the complex life of the society



it governs. It does this by “a series of typifications that are always some distance from the full reality these abstractions are meant to capture. […] Legibility implies a viewer whose place is central and whose vision is synoptic. State simplifications … are designed to provide authorities with a schematic view of their society, a view not afforded to those without authority” (pp. 76–79). 15. Nemerov (2005) interprets these hanging objects as allusions to slave lynchings. He reads Carrefour’s body posture, the figurehead of Ti Misery, and these objects as the film’s set of visual references to the persistence of slavery’s legacies in the twentieth century. See pp. 97–131. 16. An example of such an argument would be Mitchell’s (1991) reading of colonial resistance in Egypt. He writes that “Colonial subjects and their modes of resistance are formed within the organisational terrain of the colonial state, rather than some wholly exterior social space” (p. xi). 17. Gelder (2000) offers a different reading that interprets this scene as an allegory for the limitations of postcolonial studies more broadly. For Gelder, Mrs. Rand’s presence in the houmfort is an aporia into which the difference between white and black, Christianity and voodoo, colonizer and colonized, disappears: Where you expect to find blackness, in other words, you find whiteness: a whiteness that is rational and mystified simultaneously: both banal and fatal, ordinary and extraordinary […]. The forbidden realm of black magic and the transparent world of white magic […] seem somehow, here, to be inhabiting the same space. This feature may in fact provide us with one of the difficulties faced by postcolonial studies which horror texts can lay bare: how to describe that point at which a lack is reconfigured as a surplus; how to tell the difference between the one who possesses and the one who is possessed; how to articulate the point at which scepticism and enchantment touch and affect each other. (p. 97)

References Armstrong, Douglas V., and Kenneth G. Kelly. 2000. Settlement patterns and the origins of African Jamaican society: Seville Plantation, St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica. Ethnohistory 47 (2): 369–397. Bansak, Edmund G. 2003. Fearing the dark: The Val Lewton career. Jefferson: McFarland and Co. Barlow, John. 1998. The power of self-control. In Embodied selves: An anthology of psychological texts, 1830–1890, ed. Jenny Bourne Taylor and Sally Shuttleworth, 243–246. Oxford: Oxford University Press.



Berman, Carolyn Vellenga. 2006. Creole crossings: Domestic fiction and the reform of colonial slavery. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Bishop, Kyle William. 2010. American zombie gothic: The rise and fall (and rise) of the walking dead in popular culture. Jefferson: McFarland & Co. Brontë, Charlotte. 1847/2008. Jane Eyre. Oxford: New York. Campbell, Elaine. 1982. Reflections of Obeah in Jean Rhys’s fiction. Kunapipi: Journal of Postcolonial Writing and Culture 4 (2): 42–50. Choudhury, Romita. 1996. ‘Is there a ghost, a zombie there?’ Postcolonial intertextuality and Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea. Textual Practice 10 (2): 315–327. Clingman, Stephen. 2009. The grammar of identity: Transnational fiction and the nature of the boundary. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Dayan, Joan. 1995. Haiti, history, and the gods. Berkeley: University of California Press. Certeau, Michel de. 1984. The practice of everyday life. Trans. Steven Rendall. Berkeley: University of California Press. Foster, Gwendolyn Audrey. 2008. The corruption of the family and the disease of whiteness in I Walked with a Zombie. In A family affair: Cinema calls home, ed. Murray Pomerance, 149–160. London: Wallflower Press. Foucault, Michel. 1975/1979. Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage. ———. 1999. Space, power and knowledge. In The cultural studies reader, ed. Simon During, 2nd ed., 134–141. London: Routledge. Gelder, Ken. 2000. Postcolonial voodoo. Postcolonial Studies. 3 (1): 89–98. Gilbert, Sandra M., and Susan Gubar. 1979. The madwoman in the attic: The woman writer and the nineteenth-century literary imagination. New Haven: Yale University Press. Harkin, Maureen. 2002. Matthew Lewis’s Journal of a West India Proprietor: Surveillance and space on the plantation. Nineteenth-Century Contexts 24 (2): 139–150. Harvey, David. 2006. Spaces of global capitalism: Towards a theory of uneven geographical development. London: Verso. Hurston, Zora Neale. 1938/2009. Tell my horse: Voodoo and life in Haiti and Jamaica. New York: Harper Perennial. James, C.L.R. 1938/1963. The black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo revolution. New York: Vintage Books. Kordas, Ann. 2011. New south, new immigrants, new women, new zombies: The historical development of the zombie in American popular culture. In Race, oppression and the zombie: Essays on cross-cultural appropriations of the Caribbean tradition, ed. Christopher M.  Moreman and Cory James Rushton, 15–30. Jefferson: McFarland & Co.



Lefebvre, Henri. 2009. State, space, world: Selected essays, ed. Neil Brenner and Stuart Elden. Trans. Gerald Moore, Neil Brenner, and Stuart Elden. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Leggatt, Judith, and Christopher Parkes. 2006, Dec. From the red room to Rochester’s haircut: Mind control in Jane Eyre. ESC: English Studies in Canada 32 (4): 169–188. Lewis, Matthew. 1834/2008. Journal of a West India proprietor. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Loe, Thomas. 1991. Patterns of the zombie in Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea. World Literature Written in English 31 (1): 34–42. Luengo, Anthony E. 1976. Wide Sargasso Sea and the gothic mode. World Literature Written in English 15 (1): 229–245. McClintock, Anne. 1995. Imperial leather: Race, gender, and sexuality in the colonial conquest. New York: Routledge. Memmi, Albert. 2004. Decolonization and the decolonized. Trans. Robert Bononno. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Meyer, Susan L. 1990. Colonialism and the figurative strategy of Jane Eyre. Victorian Studies 33 (2): 247–268. Mitchell, Timothy. 1991. Colonising Egypt. Berkeley: University of California Press. Nemerov, Alexander. 2005. Icons of grief: Val Lewton’s home front pictures. Berkeley: University of California Press. Newman, Judie. 1995. I Walked with a Zombie: Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea. In The ballistic bard: Postcolonial fictions, 13–28. London: Arnold. Ohm Clement, Christopher. 1997. Settlement patterning on the British Caribbean island of Tobago. Historical Archaeology 31 (2): 93–106. Parker, Jason C. 2008. Brother’s keeper: The United States, race, and empire in the British Caribbean, 1937–1962. New York: Oxford University Press. Poe, Edgar Allan. 1844/2012. The premature burial. London: Read Books Ltd. Poovey, Mary. 1997. The anathematised race: The governess and Jane Eyre. In Jane Eyre: Contemporary critical essays, ed. Heather Glen, 168–195. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Pratt, Mary Louise. 1992. Imperial eyes: Travel writing and transculturation. London: Routledge. Preston, Scott. 2009. The strange pleasure of the Leopard Man: Gender, genre and authorship in a Val Lewton thriller. Cineaction 71, December. https:// Accessed 8 Feb 2020. Price, Richard. 1996. Introduction: Maroons and their communities. In Maroon societies: Rebel slave communities in the Americas, ed. Richard Price, 2nd ed., 1–30. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.



Rhys, Jean. 1966/2016. Wide sargasso sea. New York: Norton. Roughley, Thomas. 1823/2010. The Jamaica planter’s guide, or, a system for planting and managing a sugar estate or other plantations in that island, and throughout the British West Indies in general. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Said, Edward. 1990. Yeats and decolonization. In Nationalism, colonialism, and literature, ed. Terry Eagleton, Fredric Jameson, and Edward W. Said, 69–95. University of Minneapolis Press: Minneapolis. Scott, James C. 1998. Seeing like a state: How certain schemes to improve the human condition have failed. New Haven: Yale University Press. Siegel, Joel E. 1973a. Tourneur remembers: Recollections as told to Joel E. Siegel. Cinefantastique 2.4: 24–25, Summer. ———. 1973b. Val Lewton: The reality of terror. New York: Viking. Smith, Neil. 1991. Uneven development: Nature, capital, and the production of space. Oxford: Blackwell. Stevenson, Robert Louis. 1884/2001. The body Snatcher. In The body snatcher and other tales, 1–16. Mineola: Dover Publications. Stoddard, Eve Walsh. 2012. Positioning gender and race in (post)colonial plantation space: Connecting Ireland and the Caribbean. New  York: Palgrave Macmillan. Thomas, Sue. 2008. Imperialism, reform, and the making of Englishness in Jane Eyre. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Tuan, Yi-Fu. 1979. Landscapes of fear. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Vieira, Mark A. 2019. Darkness, darkness: The Films of Val Lewton: Looking back at a B-Movie master. Bright Lights Film Journal. March 14. Accessed 7 Feb 2020. Winborn, Colin. 2004. The literary economy of Jane Austen and George Crabbe. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing. Woolrich, Cornell. 1942/1982. Black alibi. New York: Ballantine Books.

Filmography Body Snatcher, The. 1945. [Film] Dir. Robert Wise. USA: RKO Radio Pictures. Cat People. 1942. [Film] Dir. Jacques Tourneur. USA: RKO Radio Pictures. I Walked with a Zombie. 1943. [Film] Dir. Jacques Tourneur. Screenplay by Curt Siodmak and Ardel Wray. USA: RKO Radio Pictures. Isle of the Dead. 1945. [Film] Dir. Mark Robson. USA: RKO Radio Pictures.



Leopard Man, The. 1943. [Film] Dir. Jacques Tourneur. USA: RKO Radio Pictures. Night of the Living Dead. 1968. [Film] Dir. George A. Romero. USA: Image Ten. Tale of Two Cities, A. 1935. [Film] Dir. Jack Conway. USA: Metro-Goldwyn-­ Mayer Studios. White Zombie. 1932. Dir. Victor Halperin. USA: Victor & Edward Halperin Productions.

Conquest and Improvement in the “Graveyard of Empires”: The Men Who Would Be Kings in Afghanistan and Vietnam In chapters “Improvement, Development, and Consumer Culture in Jane Austen and Popular Indian Cinema” and “Moral Management: Spaces of Domestication in Jane Eyre and I Walked with a Zombie”, I focused on the relationship between time, space, and improvement ideology. I argued that in the British domestic context, a belief in teleological development— of the future as the repository of progress—and adherence to enclosed and regulated space to manage unruly elements both environmental and psychological provide the foundation for a coercive and restrictive form of improvement linking progress to capitalism that carries over into the twenty-first century. Non-teleological forms of beneficial and just change, as well as self-determined and decentralized systems of labor and authority, are excluded from an understanding of what it means to improve, progress, or become “better.” In this chapter, I explore what happens when domestic improvement ideology moves out into the Empire. Focusing on Rudyard Kipling’s short story “The Man Who Would Be King” (1888) and John Huston’s film adaptation of the same title (1975), the chapter looks at one of the most important challenges that improvement ideology faced in the nineteenth century when it was exported to British India: the need to reconcile it with, but also distance it from, conquest. I trace a history of how different figures and texts tried to turn the conflict between conquest and improvement into a productive dialectic for imperial policy. I examine the argument between eighteenth-century Orientalists and Anglicists about India’s © The Author(s) 2020 V. Y. Kao, Postcolonial Screen Adaptation and the British Novel,




present and future development along improvement’s stages of progress, the use of Alexander the Great as a model of how conquest and improvement could work together, and Kipling’s redirection of improvement discourse back on the imperialists themselves. Finally, I place Huston’s film at the end of this conversation as a text that restages Kipling’s story as an allegory for the fate of the American empire in the Vietnam War. Contextualizing the film among other Vietnam-era films, I argue that Huston uses Kipling’s redefinition of improvement’s purpose to justify the continuation of western imperial ventures. Kipling’s story portrays India’s potential arrival in the modern era as inextricably bound to, and dependent on, the success of the British imperial project of improvement. Improver and improved were thought to operate on different but intersecting trajectories of time: Britain’s destiny as an empire hinged on pulling its crown colony into modernity, and Britain’s present state of advancement served as a model for India’s future. In what follows, I explore improvement ideology’s implication of colonizer and colonized in a shared destiny. I look specifically at how the improver’s dependence on his own improving labors for his moral progress formed the basis for how the British conceived of their role in nineteenth-­century British India, and how self-improvement continued to inform American humanitarianism in the twentieth century. The tension between conquest and improvement lay at the heart of the question of proper conduct and governance in the British Empire in India in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Standard accounts of British India suggest that a definitive shift in imperial policy took place at the turn of the nineteenth century: the conquest-centered ideology that dominated the eighteenth century gave way to a more enlightened, improvement-­centered attitude of imperial paternalism at the start of the nineteenth century.1 Eighteenth-century imperial leaders such as Robert Clive and Warren Hastings had established the East India Company’s dominance in Bengal through the sheer military might of the Company’s armed forces. These early imperialists concerned themselves mainly with their own interests and were willing to do what was necessary—through force, bribery, or other coercive means—to maintain it. By the end of the eighteenth century, however, the Clive-Hastings model of bad imperial behavior came under close scrutiny by Parliament and the British public. Edmund Burke’s vilification of Hastings during the Governor-General’s impeachment trial (1788–1795) stimulated public outcry against the Company’s mismanagement. Nicholas Dirks (2006) writes that Burke’s



energetic prosecution of Hastings, and the eighteenth-century model of colonial corruption he exemplified, was largely responsible for setting the Empire’s nineteenth-century agenda as one of reform—of the British themselves, no less than their colonized populations. Imperialism as self-­ improvement and improving others won the day over conquest and violent subjugation. Other scholars have argued, however, that improvement as an imperial policy amounted to little more than putting a benign face on what continued to be a conquest-oriented empire. Gauri Viswanathan (1989), for instance, sees improvement as a new form of conquest in the case of Indian education. By the time Parliament passed the East India Company’s charter in 1813, public sentiment was ripe to chart a new course for the British Empire in India by absolving its own sins through cleansing the sins of others. The charter of 1813 concretized this sentiment by enjoining the Company to assume a new responsibility for Indian education and relaxing the restrictions against missionary activity. Viswanathan (1989) argues that although the charter was meant as a sort of secular atonement for the Company’s history of depredations, a way to “remedy the wrongs committed against the Indians by attending to their welfare and improvement” (p. 24), underneath the rhetoric of reparations was the understanding that the civilizing mission would bind Indians to British rule more effectively, more permanently, and at less cost than violent conquest. By the end of the second decade of the nineteenth century, the Liberals had convinced government and the public that a policy of assimilating the natives to English institutions, laws, manners, and the English language was indeed the best way to serve the people of India and to create a long-lasting economic dependency on the home country (Stokes 1959/1982, p. xiii–xiv). Improvement was the new-and-improved version of conquest, and although less violent, enacted a cultural imperialism all the more insidious for its low profile. I argue, however, that the relationship between conquest and improvement in British India was more complicated than either the standard or critical narrative proposes. As Viswanathan (1989) suggests, the Empire’s turn to improvement in the nineteenth century did not make a clean break with its eighteenth-century roots of conquest. However, I propose that this was due more to the debate over the nature and implications of improvement’s historical and moral relationship to conquest than a purposeful design of veiled coercion. Nineteenth-century British imperialists understood improvement not only as a new kind of conquest; some also



understood conquest as the most effective form of improvement. Others understood the two as different but related aspects of a single project, each necessitating the other. And most importantly, many defined that single project as a world-historical fiat linking Britain with the imperial ambitions of the ancient West. In nineteenth-century India and Afghanistan, Britons found their opportunity—and obligation—to resurrect from the “graveyard of empires”2 Alexander of Macedon’s campaign to rule the near East and Central Asia. In the following section, I trace a history of how different figures and texts tried to turn the conflict between conquest and improvement into a productive dialectic for imperial policy. Kipling’s story highlights the unsettled relationship between these approaches to imperial rule and overturns the major assumption held in common by nearly all positions in the debate.

New Britons and Old Greeks: Conquest and Improvement in India and Afghanistan The figure of Alexander the Great and the many ways in which British imperial discourse invoked him illustrates the unsettled relationship between conquest and improvement in the nineteenth century. Alternately read as a violent, selfish brute and a great man with a master plan, Alexander was used at times to justify Britain’s own conquest-oriented ideology, and at other times to exemplify how conquest and improvement could work together as two parts of the same project, each necessitating the other. The lore surrounding Alexander and his imperial activity in India and Afghanistan was crucial to the way British imperialists understood their role in subjugating and civilizing South and Central Asian populations. Nineteenth-century Indian Civil Servants and Company operatives were encouraged to interpret Alexander’s empire as the first stage of their own, and to see the lands and peoples of Asia as having lain dormant since Alexander’s departure from the area over two thousand years earlier. For these imperialists, the later civilizing phases of the West’s long and arduous task of improving Asia justified its early, violent stage. This grand narrative of improvement, which encompassed conquest as a necessary first step, coincided with Britain’s own transition from eighteenth- to nineteenth-­century imperial leadership style. A central question surrounding Alexander was whether he merely lusted after conquest or wanted to spark the development of the East. The



conflict between these two styles of rule, as illustrated in competing interpretations of the ancient leader, manifested itself in a variety of ways, but few more telling than the curriculum developed to train aspiring young imperialists. As part of its turn from eighteenth-century plunder and profit to nineteenth-century civilization and management, the East India Company established professional training colleges for the young men who would be dispatched to India to handle its affairs. The East India College settled at Haileybury in 1809, with a curriculum including “Classics, Arithmetic and Mathematics, Elements of General Law, &c, and Oriental learning” (Danvers et al. 1894, p. 15). Haileybury “produced a breed of officials very different from the old, most of whom had come to India in early adolescence and grown up amidst the violence of the Company’s conquests” (Washbrook 1999, p.  400). These new officials spent their formative years at home “receiving instruction on the scientific principles of political economy from the likes of Thomas Malthus, and imbibing the atmosphere of British evangelical revival” (Washbrook 1999, p. 400). The Haileybury curriculum included examination questions that revealed the difficulty in defining Alexander as either conqueror or improver. The questions encouraged students to respect Alexander’s unparalleled courage in battle and his consideration of valor as sufficient reward for victory, suggesting that excessive gloating or celebrating after victory was unbecoming. For example, one such question reads: What circumstances made Alexander anxious to commence his expedition to India? What was the extent of his views? Quote any passages of Quintus Curtius that bear upon this point. Examine the statement of this author with regard to Alexander, that he was “semper bello quam post victoriam clarior” (“being always more illustrious in war than after victory”). (qtd in Hagerman 2009, pp. 348–349)

Conquest, by this reading, attends Alexander almost as his moral due: being conquered by such a paragon would itself constitute a kind of improvement for the Asians he defeated. His noble performances during and after war exemplified the moral dignity to which his opponents should aspire. Yet, the same question also implies that Alexander enjoyed the excitement of violent conquest more than the colonial administration required after one’s victory to stabilize an empire. It takes hard work and constructive effort not to leave Asia a desert after one has made a desert of



it. This reading implies that conquest interested Alexander more than the larger project of improvement to which conquest was supposed to lead. Whether by design or accident, the Company’s use of Alexander in its curriculum ultimately served two important functions. The first was to use the descriptions of indigenous lands and peoples of Central and South Asia that appeared in the classical sources on Alexander to promote the idea that Indians represented a stagnant or retrograde race. Using ancient sources to interpret modern India, many servants of the Empire concluded that the civilizations of India had made no progress or had actually declined since Alexander encountered them. This interpretation led to the second function of the Company’s classical curriculum, the establishment of the belief that Alexander was a leader uniquely endowed with the requisite military genius, courage, and personal charisma to conquer and then improve this stagnant race and its lands. However, his world-historical mission of uniting East with West was cut short due to the inability of his men to bear the burden of such a vast undertaking. Thus, it was the British Empire’s task to carry on his mission, and doing so would require both an eighteenth-century imperial style of individual despotism and a nineteenth-­ century reorientation of empire toward benevolence and improvement. Throughout the nineteenth century, ancient texts were seen as scientific and anthropological sources of information on India, both for those who never saw it and the civil and military personnel who spent much of their careers there. Hagerman writes that the belief that ancient accounts of India written by Quintus Curtius, Arrian, Plutarch, and Diodorus Siculus provided accurate and important modern information on the subcontinent stems from the writings of the first Orientalist scholars, who lamented the dearth of “reliable” Indian sources on the history and anthropology of the region. In his “Third Anniversary Discourse,” William Jones (1799) writes that the indigenous histories of India he had come across were “involved in a cloud of fables” (p. 25), that is, too fictional, mythical, and based on narrative, rather than factual, rigorous, or scientific. For Jones (1799), the Indians’ self-representation of their history was flawed because it did not provide the kind of facts that fit the European definition of what was scientific and useful. Thus, he turned to Greek sources to reconstruct his own version of the history of India. Indigenous histories, it seems, suffered from the same problems from which many Europeans believed contemporary Indians suffered: the inability to break from their ancient superstitions and atavistic reliance on myth and reorient themselves according to modern rationality and science.



Jones believed that Indian and Central Asian peoples had actually declined from the time of their encounter with Alexander. He interpreted the ancient sources as giving descriptions of lands and peoples that superseded his own eyewitness observations of the level of civilization the Asians occupied at present (Hagerman 2009, p. 358). For Jones, Asian civilizations were retrograde, but because of the possibility of former grandeur that such an unraveling of development suggested, Asian civilization was not hopeless and could regain its former illustriousness if improved by the right guides. Thus, for the Orientalists, an improvement-centered British Empire should reconstruct Asian history and re-teach it to the Asians of the present who were unable to understand it correctly for themselves. In doing so, the British shepherds would restore Asian civilizations to what they once were, improving the present by resurrecting its past. There were others, however, who argued that South and Central Asia had never achieved a great civilization, that the developmental paradigm of the region was not retrogression but stagnation. In his History of British India, James Mill (1817/1975) argued that the level of civilization in India had never changed, that “the manners, institutions, and attainments of the Hindus, have been stationary for many ages; in beholding the Hindus of the present day, we are beholding the Hindus of many ages past; and are carried back, as it were, into the deepest recesses of antiquity” (p.  248). This wholly stagnant view of Indians, however, did not prevent Mill from believing in the possibility of their improvement. But unlike Jones, Mill believed that the only way Indians could be valuable participants in the modern world was to adopt English laws, language, and culture under an English colonial administration. The Indians’ improvement must be guided entirely by European ideals because there was nothing in their past worth restoring: “Only in such circumstances could India be viewed and presented as a tabula rasa on which British administrators […] could write a tale of real progress and improvement: that is to say improvement unadulterated by elements of what Mill considered a primitive and stagnant civilisation unable to advance on its own” (Hagerman 2009, p. 362). Jones’s Orientalism saw conquest as only the first part of a larger project of improvement, in which the restoration of India’s history to its degraded modern descendants justified initial military conquest of those descendants. But Mill’s Anglicism understood conquest itself as a form of improvement, perhaps the only form of improvement available to a population that had never, and would never, manage to develop on its own.



Mill’s understanding of conquest as improvement suggests that any form of western contact amounted to an advancement of Indian civilization, and any advancement amounted to conquest over the stagnancy characteristic of that civilization in its original form. Mill’s Anglicism eventually won out over Jones’s Orientalism and was adopted by Lord Cornwallis, Hastings’s successor, as official policy in the decades leading up to the Indian Rebellion of 1857. The Anglicist view, even more so than the Orientalist, justified the assumption that ancient sources provided accurate physical and anthropological information about the land and its inhabitants for use by nineteenth-­ century Company functionaries. In the first half of the century, it became popular for those dispatched on military and civilian expeditions to carry along with them a copy of Curtius or Arrian, as one might carry one’s Baedeker on the Continent, and go exploring the ancient sites mentioned in these texts. This activity was especially popular among those dispatched to Afghanistan, for it was widely known that Afghanistan was the site of many of Alexander’s battles. Mountstuart Elphinstone and Alexander Burnes both adopted the Anglicist view of Asian stagnation and led diplomatic missions on behalf of the Company to the Amir of Afghanistan, Shah Shuja, to secure British interests against the two largest imperial threats in the nineteenth century, Napoleon for Elphinstone and Russia for Burnes. Both were also interested in Alexander’s history in the area and took with them copies of the ancient sources to use as guides to the territory. Both produced written accounts of their travels that brought knowledge of Afghanistan to a popular and scholarly readership at home and created stereotypes of the land and people of the region that would outlast the British Empire itself.3 These texts blend Alexander’s past with scholarly and journalistic accounts of Afghanistan’s present, validating for their readers at home the argument for the stagnation of Asian civilizations. Elphinstone’s An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul and Its Dependencies in Persia, Tartary, and India (1815/1969) comprises detailed geographical information on all of the regions then considered to be part of Afghanistan, as well as information on its history, tribes, and customs. The work’s intricate organization of subjects reflects an Enlightenment rationality and systematization in its attempt to produce an accurate picture of the country as it stood in the first decade of the nineteenth century. Despite these efforts at being current, however, Elphinstone begins the book with a narrative of his journey westward from India that reveals the



influence of the ancient past on his modern expedition. Pausing on the banks of the river Jhelum on the way back from their mission to the Shah, Elphinstone and his team stop to look around them and consult a copy of Curtius’s History of Alexander the Great. Elphinstone (1815/1969) writes that their surroundings matched “precisely” (p. 80) the description given by Curtius of the point at which Alexander crossed the river Hydaspes— Elphinstone and Burnes both used the Greek names for Afghan and Indian geography. While he and his men searched for the ruins of the city of Taxila, founded by Alexander after winning over his first Afghan king as an ally, he had tried to imagine “the fleet of Alexander” being borne along the current of the river Hyphasis (Hagerman 2009, pp. 345–346).4 Almost twenty years later, Burnes arrived at the Hyphasis in search of the twelve colossal altars that Alexander built “to indicate the limit and glory of his expedition” (Burnes 1834/1973, p. 7). Burnes believed the altars marked the exact spot where Alexander’s armies mutinied and forced him to retreat. After discussing the contradictions in his ancient sources as to the exact place the altars should lie, he and his companions search the area for remains and clues, finally concluding that “if any traces of them be hereafter found, they probably lie lower down” (p. 7). In his three-volume bestseller, Travels to Bokhara (which Elphinstone helped him to prepare for publication), Burnes (1834/1973) records that he marked a passage of the copy of Curtius he was carrying with him when he happened upon a place in “Ancient Bactriana,” on the way from Balkh to Bokhara, that looked to him to be exactly the same as Curtius’s description. He notes only a single difference between the ancient source and the present landscape: “Though it has no springs, and a river does not now pass its walls, yet the country is intersected by the canals of one that flows from the neighboring mountains, the water of which is artificially divided before reaching the town” (I. p. 245). Both explorers used Curtius as a modern guidebook with up-to-date information on the region, and in Burnes’s case, even an acknowledgment of change between past and present is couched as a slight modification that still validates the notion that the region had been stagnant for ages. Elphinstone and Burnes took with them to Afghanistan the view of a stagnant land and its people that James Mill espoused about India. Their reliance on the ancient sources about Alexander, and their interpretations of these sources as correct and accurate modern descriptions, served to validate the Anglicist view and disseminated it to a popular readership. Instead of arguing for the resurrection of ancient Asian traditions, history,



customs, and culture, as the Orientalists did, the accounts of their adventures argued instead for the resurrection of ancient western imperialism as the way to usher the Indians and Afghans into the modern age. Resurrecting Greek civilization, instead of Indian or Pushtun, as the source of improvement for indigenous populations denied those populations any role in their own modernization, placing it solely into the hands of a paternalist British Empire that desired to improve itself by improving those in its charge. If the curriculum at Haileybury blurred the line between conquest and improvement, and Anglicist views of Asia argued for conquest as a form of improvement, nineteenth-century historians tried to create a productive synthesis of the two imperial styles. The nineteenth century inherited from the Enlightenment two main interpretations of Alexander. Montesquieu, Arnold Heeren, William Robertson, and John Gillies argued for Alexander’s “grand vision of a unified, Eurasian empire suffused with Hellenic civilization” (Hagerman 2009, p.  367). From this perspective, Alexander was a great and heroic improver of the territories he conquered, bringing enlightenment and spreading civilization and commerce to the dark and barbaric regions of the world. This reading of Alexander expresses the larger Whiggish historiographical view of modernity that Robertson, Gillies, and other historians of the Scottish Enlightenment propounded: the future would necessarily be an improvement on the past, and the inexorable march of progress was teleological and geographically disseminated from Europe outward. This view trusted in Alexander’s rational and humanitarian plan, despite how individual acts of cruelty might look. On the contrary, Baron de Saint-Croix saw him as a tyrant who conquered only for the sake of conquest with no thought to improvement or a civilizing mission (Hagerman 2009, p. 367). George Grote revived this view in the mid-nineteenth-century, arguing that Alexander was too oriental (as a Macedonian) to be a proper Greek in the first place, and was further contaminated by his conquests in the Orient to the point where he lost the guiding light of Hellenism himself (Hagerman 2009, p.  367). Thus, Alexander represented the destruction and degradation of civilization, rather than its spread and further development. Some historians, however, attempted to chart a middle course between the opposing views inherited from the Enlightenment. Alexander Tytler, Lord Woodhouselee’s Elements of General History, Ancient and Modern (1801) and William Mitford’s History of Greece (1784–1810) accepted and lamented Grote’s suggestions of Alexander’s contamination by



oriental despotism and debauchery through conquest. However, they argued that such behavior was nevertheless “an acceptable trade-off” for one such as Alexander, whose ultimate goal of unification and improvement excused his individual acts (Hagerman 2009, p.  367). Tytler also argued that Alexander rectified the offenses against land and people caused by his violent conquests by establishing cities that served as centers of learning, art, and commerce—outposts of progress in the wasteland that he himself created.5 Thus, nineteenth-century readers absorbed the notion that conquest by force and benevolent, paternalistic improvement of the conquered were two parts of the same project; furthermore, the former was justified by the intentions and grand scope of the latter. Empire could be a force for good, despite scandalous beginnings; perhaps it even needed its ugly early phase to clear a path for its ultimately charitable and moral future. The understanding of empire as a dynamic enterprise consisting of different phases that constituted a single mission resonated with contemporary events concerning British India. The trials of Clive and Hastings had brought the scandals of imperial corruption to the forefront of Britons’ minds. The trials caused significant concern about the contact between upright British gentlemen and despotic Orientals, as well as the blow that bad imperial behavior dealt to global public relations. But there was also the sense that Clive and Hastings were, despite their corruption, ideal heroic imperialists for their sheer ingenuity, resourcefulness, and brash derring-do—qualities that leaders of empires such as Alexander’s, and now Britain’s, needed, to subdue defensive indigenous populations too ignorant to recognize the arrival of the torch of enlightenment. Clive and Hastings operated during a time when the Company needed to secure its footing in Bengal and establish itself as the dominant economic power in India. Such a time, and such activities, needed such men: a stringent rule of law would have prevented them from securing the Company its authority. Thus, their actions could be justified when seen in the context of a long historical trajectory in which they played merely the first part. Their eighteenth-century imperial style could be seen as necessary, but also repudiated as something which was done in the past but now no longer, since the Empire had entered a new phase. Scholars have suggested that we read Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King in similar narrative terms. Nigel Joseph (2010), for instance, argues that we should see the protagonists, Daniel Dravot and Peachey Carnehan, as throwbacks to an eighteenth-century imperial style out of sync with an



organized and centralized modern nineteenth-century state. Danny and Peachey, lower-middle-class Clives and Hastingses, aspire to the latter’s power and conquest in Kafiristan, a region of modern-day Afghanistan and ancient Bactria. Although they represent a necessary and romantic imperial era, the two are ultimately unable to be brought under the discipline of the state. Their inability to be drawn into the long historical narrative of the Empire’s civilizing mission makes them anachronistic: as unimprovable elements, they linger on the periphery of an improvement-­ oriented state, and they must be eliminated. Joseph’s reading limits the story’s temporal axis to an opposition between eighteenth-century conquest and nineteenth-century administration, and is indicative of a larger body of criticism that bounces back and forth between these two periods, trying to answer the question of whether the story celebrates or critiques British imperialism in Asia, with most critics concluding that it remains ambivalent.6 My own reading introduces a longer temporal axis by excavating the ways Kipling’s text aligns Greek imperial antiquity to British imperial modernity. This temporality is crucial because the conquest/improvement ambivalence at the heart of the story is itself tied to an ambivalence inherent in the nineteenth-century conceptualization of its new role in Asia, a conceptualization rooted in British imperialism’s reliance on Alexander and his ancient empire as models for their own modern imperial leadership and purpose. The fact that Alexander was invoked both to glorify and mitigate conquest, as well as to define improvement in all sorts of ways, explains why a conquest/improvement problematic sits at the center of nineteenth-century improvement discourse. My expansion of the story’s temporal axis into antiquity does not change its fundamental ambivalence about empire; rather, it enriches our understanding of the reasons for that ambivalence. In the section that follows, I recontextualize Kipling’s dilemma as one that reflects the unresolved tensions between conquest and improvement that an antiquity/ modernity axis surfaces.

Unlikely Improvers: Kipling’s “The Man Who Would Be King” The protagonists of Kipling’s story strike the reader as exactly the type of imperialists who should not be in charge of leading an improvement-­ oriented empire. Daniel Dravot and Peachey Carnehan, two ex-members



of General Frederick Roberts’s army that fought in the Second Afghan War (1878–1880), have turned to wandering and vagabondage after being released from their terms of service. Rather than return to England, where their lower-middle-class status promises them little in the way of employment, they loaf around India doing odd jobs and blackmailing local princes. Their class status, irresponsibility, bad work ethic, and moral emptiness make them seem truly unimprovable, and their temporary success at making Kafiristan a “damned fine Nation” (Kipling 1888/1999 p. 267) seems more the result of accidental good fortune than smart strategy and proper conduct. But although it seems that these would-be kings represent the antithesis to nineteenth-century improvement discourse, they do in fact adopt an improving attitude toward many aspects of their adventure. First, they actually make an effort to improve themselves. The “Contrack” that Peachey shows the narrator and which he and Danny sign in front of him, binds them to keep “away from the two things that make life worth having”: women and liquor (p. 255). On the back of the “greasy half-sheet of notepaper” on which the Contrack is written, the two jot down information about the country they plan to conquer after consulting the sources provided for them by the narrator (pp.  254–255). The scene parodies improvement discourse’s emphasis on self-discipline while seeming to support it: surely, this is not what the missionaries had in mind when they advised reform through temperance and education; still, it is as good an attempt as we can expect from these two. For Danny and Peachey, whose livelihoods depend on lying, stealing, and blackmailing, signing the Contrack actually does amount to a great sacrifice. At the same time, the narrator treats this sacrifice ironically, suggesting that their attempt at moral uplift only further reveals their moral degradation. In addition, their decision to improve themselves is merely instrumental: they do not change their opinion on the value of liquor and women, but only give them up so that they may conquer more effectively. Thus, the story shows the characters as fairly adequate self-improvers, but only in the context of its larger critique of the project of self-improvement as a whole. The story gives a similarly measured, but significant, critique of Danny’s and Peachey’s transition from conquerors to improvers, and in doing so, references Alexander and several strains of the conquest/improvement debate surrounding him. After making their way through Afghanistan disguised as a priest and his disciple, the two see a small group of men running down a valley chasing a larger group of men. The small group of men



are fair, “fairer than you or me—with yellow hair and remarkable well built,” Peachey says to the narrator (Kipling 1888/1999, p.  261). The comment alludes to a popular legend expounded by Burnes and other British explorers of a “lost white race” consisting of the descendants of Alexander and his soldiers living in the mountains of Central Asia (McBratney 2011, p. 27). The two decide to help the fair men win against their enemies and fire their rifles at the larger group, winning over the allegiance of the fair ones. In similar fashion, the two set off on a campaign helping certain tribes defeat their enemies and bringing all the victorious tribes under their power by drilling everyone in the maneuvers of their own former regiment. Soon, they conquer “the whole country as far as it’s worth having,” as Danny says, through violence and military force (Kipling 1888/1999, p. 264). One day, Danny comes marching down a hill with a train of hundreds of men and a gold crown on his head, exclaiming to Peachey that he is “the son of Alexander by Queen Semiramis,” and Peachey is his younger brother (Kipling 1888/1999, p.  265). The reference to Alexander gestures to the notion of the British Empire as the modern successors of Alexander’s failed but valiant effort to bring the whole of Asia under civilized western rule. But it also suggests the nineteenth century’s use of Alexander as a model for the ways in which conquering and improving can work together as two parts of the same project, the first paving the way for the second. In his next words to Peachey, Danny exclaims, “‘we don’t want to fight no more. The Craft’s the trick, so help me!’” upon which he shows his partner that the Chiefs and priests in his retinue are, miraculously, fellow Freemasons, or at least practice a form of religion that resembles Freemasonry enough to believe the two Englishmen can initiate them into a more advanced degree of the Craft (p. 265). Although Peachey worries about the institutional consequences of impersonating Grand-­ Masters and setting up lodges without authorization, Danny wins him over by explaining that “‘It’s a master-stroke o’ policy,’” and “‘it means running the country as easy as a four-wheeled bogie on a down grade’” (pp. 265–266). The next night, after perhaps the greatest stroke of luck the two could hope to get, in which the Master’s Mark sewn onto Danny’s apron matches the image cut into the stone underneath the statue of the Kafirs’ most important idol, the two strategically raise their most helpful allies to the degree of Master Mason, “not in any way according to Ritual,” Peachey says, “but it served our turn” (p. 267).7



With the help of Freemasonry, Danny and Peachey transition from militant conquerors to peaceful religious leaders, ostensibly promoting and developing the culture of Kafiristan by educating their leaders in religious ritual instead of destroying culture by violent conquest. History seems to have doubled back on itself: the British sons of Alexander find, conquer, and improve the ancient Greek sons of Alexander, who have halted in their development for the last two thousand years, marking time until their next great European leader emerges. Danny expresses this notion when he says, “‘These men aren’t niggers; they’re English! Look at their eyes—look at their mouths. Look at the way they stand up. They sit on chairs in their own houses. They’re the Lost Tribes, or something like it, and they’ve grown to be English. […] They only want the rifles and a little drilling’” (Kipling 1888/1999, p. 269). The Kafirs become, in Danny’s vision, not only Greek descendants but budding Englishmen, their Greek ancestry providing the proof and foundation of their improvability. Kin to the English, they remain stuck in a primitive stage of civilization. The Englishmen’s meeting with the Kafirs amounts to the future meeting up with its own past. Danny takes it upon himself to bring his kin up to speed, and in a spasm of modernization that would put Walter Scott’s highlanders to shame, he makes the Kafirs accomplish two thousand years of development in just a few months. The scheme of the past meeting up with the present, and the present imperialists taking over where the ancient ones left off, recalls nineteenth-­ century imperial discourse’s narrative of the British as Alexander’s successors in civilizing Asia. The scheme also sustains the Anglicists’ belief in the stagnancy of Asia and its civilizations. Danny and Peachey seem to have made contact with specimens of living history who have waited for their next king in an unchanging world that could have come right out of the ancient written sources. The story sets up the possibility of improving the Kafirs to reach their full potential of becoming English, so that they can be conscripted into helping Danny build the northwestern arm of the British Empire: the remnants of the old join up with and aid the new western power. The moment above also accords with the Orientalists’ version of Indian history as retrograde instead of stagnant. If these are indeed the descendants of Alexander, they remain unaware of their glorious past and stand in need of the British Empire to help them remember it. The fact that they have retained some of the qualities of their western heritage, as Danny suggests, such as their habit of sitting on chairs, suggests that they



have slipped from the level of civilization attained by their ancestors but can be restored to it by the right leaders. Despite its alignment with Anglicist and Orientalist understandings about Asian development, Kipling’s story manages to subvert two important assumptions underlying the conquest/improvement debate, namely, that the project of improvement is morally capacious enough to justify its early conquest phase, and furthermore, that Britain is the best and truest successor to Alexander’s imperial ambitions. “The Man Who Would Be King” suggests that rather than a vast, complete, and awesome undertaking done by the most developed civilization in the world, improvement as colonists experience it on the ground is instrumental, incomplete, boring, and temporary. In addition, by turning the arguments for the stagnation or decline of Asian civilization back onto the British themselves, the story suggests that Britain may itself be too backward to inherit Alexander’s mission. First, the story reveals that improvement is not all-encompassing, but instead, very incomplete. India is described as comprising two different regions: on the one hand, the region controlled by the British authorities, and on the other hand, the Central India States or “Native States,” left predominantly to handle their own affairs and only cursorily overseen by British authorities. The narrator first meets Peachey in an Intermediate train car on his way to the “wilderness” (Kipling 1888/1999, p. 245)— the area surrounding Jodhpore in the state of Rajasthan. He and Peachey converse about the “pickings to be got out of these Central India States” (p. 245), which the narrator glosses for the reader a few paragraphs later: I had heard, more than once, of men personating correspondents of newspapers and bleeding small Native States with threats of exposure, but I had never met any of the caste before. They lead a hard life, and generally die with great suddenness. The Native States have a wholesome horror of English newspapers which may throw light on their peculiar methods of government, and do their best to choke correspondents with champagne, or drive them out of their mind with four-in-hand barouches. They do not understand that nobody cares a straw for the internal administration of Native States so long as oppression and crime are kept within decent limits, and the ruler is not drugged, drunk, or diseased from one end of the year to the other. They are the dark places of the earth, full of unimaginable cruelty, touching the Railway and the Telegraph on one side, and, on the other, the days of Harun-al-Raschid. (p. 247)



The narrator’s racist description of the States emphasizes their lack of improvement. The States do business according to bribes, corruption, and suppression of information. They remain “backward” and “pre-modern”: although they have loose connections with “the Railway and the Telegraph”—technological improvements introduced by the British—the internal happenings of the State are unchanged from the times of the Thousand and One Nights. The description of the Native States suggests that Britain’s improvement-centered empire benefits only part of the Indian population and leaves certain areas out of its jurisdiction. Rather than an all-encompassing project sweeping across Asia from the West, British improvement proves to be a much more piecemeal assemblage of outposts that fails to coerce a great number of inhabitants in the territory it occupies. The lack of British control over large swathes of the Indian Empire, by conquest or by improvement, recalls Alexander’s own failure in rallying his men to bear the burden of such a vast undertaking. Such a portrayal of the limits of British power and influence in India questions Britain’s fitness for completing Alexander’s mission. A similar sense of British ineptitude pervades the narrator’s descriptions of India’s British-controlled territories. Since the Native States have such a reputation for backwardness, it would seem that the region tightly controlled by the British would provide an educative contrast to them, that the “civilized” region would be industrially and economically developed, its inhabitants enjoying a fast-paced, modern urban lifestyle. The narrator’s description of his everyday routine as an editor in Lahore, however, proves that the situation is otherwise. He works in an office where there are “no incidents outside the daily manufacture of a newspaper” (Kipling 1888/1999, p.  248). His only visitors are those he can barely tolerate: missionaries preoccupied by petty quarrels and a sense of self-importance, impoverished theatrical companies, crack inventors, secretaries of ball-­ committees, and ladies who demand visiting cards printed “at once, please” (p. 249). Tedious as they are, these tasks form “the amusing part of the year.” The dull part consists of “six other months when none ever comes to call, and the thermometer walks inch by inch up to the top of the glass, and the office is darkened to just above reading-light, and the press-­ machines are red-hot of touch, and nobody writes anything but accounts of amusements in the Hill-stations or obituary notices” (p. 249). The heat suggests a suffocating and stagnant condition in which nothing but unimportant things enervate the narrator. Even during the lively part of the year, “most of the paper is as blank as Modred’s shield” (p.  249). The



reference to King Arthur’s traitorous nephew suggests that there is nothing courageous, valiant, or important to report even on the “improved” side of the country’s divide. Living in this part of the Indian Empire feels just as stagnant, or perhaps as retrograde, as the part that has seen little British influence. The most up-to-date “news” is as old as a medieval weapon, and although many of those who come to visit the narrator are, conspicuously, improvers—Zenana-mission ladies, brother missionaries, and women whose presence in India is supposed to provide the place with a domesticating influence—their actions prove either ineffective or insincere. The obituary notices that fill the paper suggest that Britons do not stride ahead, energetically implementing technological, moral, and educational progress, but are instead falling ill and dying. The narrator contrasts this image of a stagnant Indian Empire with Europe, where he suggests the world’s action now takes place. While he spends his time dealing with the insignificant and the tedious, “all the time, the telephone-bell is ringing madly, and Kings are being killed on the Continent, and Empires are saying, ‘You’re another,’ and Mister Gladstone is calling down brimstone upon the British Dominions” (Kipling 1888/1999, p. 249). When the outbreaks of disease in India become so bad that “the less recording and reporting the better,” the Continental “Empires and the Kings continue to divert themselves as selfishly as before” (p. 249). Not only is British India stagnating, it is falling behind the Continental empires whose kings are involved in interesting intrigue and conquering new territories at a time when expansion has become unpopular in London. Others in the world are the movers and the shakers, and Britain is becoming not only stagnant but retrograde. Kipling turns Anglicist and Orientalist assessments of Indian civilization back onto Britons themselves. The narrator describes his job as a news reporter as one that involves mostly waiting for news to come to him from other places instead of actively going in search of news himself. His existence in a holding pattern acts as an analogy for British India as a whole, which has ceased to be the empire of progress and now waits for news of how other countries are engaging in action. The narrator writes: “One Saturday night it was my pleasant duty to put the paper to bed alone. A King or a courtier or courtesan or a Community was going to die or get a new Constitution, or do something that was important on the other side of the world, and the paper was to be held open till the latest possible minute in order to catch the telegram” (Kipling 1888/1999, p. 250). The narrator waits for news regarding a king, or if one is actually dying, news



of the man who would be the next king of that nation. But the “thing that was keeping us back, whatever it was, would not come off […] and the whole round earth stood still in the choking heat, with its finger on its lip, to wait the event” (p. 250). Just as the waiting game nears its fever pitch, Danny and Peachey turn up at the narrator’s office and tell him of their plans to become kings of Kafiristan. Thus, Britons in India, represented by the figure of the narrator, wait for their next leaders—the next agents of world history—just as the Kafirs await their next kings to bring them into the modern era. The British resemble Alexander’s descendants more than his imperial successors: marking time, they wait for history to move them, rather than the other way round. These scenes suggest the temporariness of world leadership, that existence at the top of improvement’s developmental hierarchy is short-lived and rife with competition. Even the ones in front can be left behind, and perhaps, the story suggests, Britain’s turn at the helm is up. Kipling’s story inserts itself into the debate over the roles that conquest and improvement should play in a modern, nineteenth-century Indian Empire by challenging several of the debate’s central positions and assumptions. The temporal axis of this debate cannot be reduced to the opposition between eighteenth-century conquest and nineteenth-century administration, but instead stretches back toward the imperial ambitions of the ancient West. Kipling’s weaving together of old Greeks and new Britons, Alexander and his self-appointed sons—fictive and historical— reveals a complex ambivalence about the relationship between conquest and improvement. This ambivalence is rooted in nineteenth-century interpretations of ancient texts that lauded and criticized Alexander’s imperial style as well as his empire’s mixture of violence and benevolence. That ambivalence toward Alexander and his empire provided the problematic foundation for how nineteenth-century Britons understood their roles in Asia—as conquerors and improvers, inheritors of the past and belated vanguards of the future.

The West, Conquered But Improved: Huston’s The Man Who Would Be King If Britain inherited the dual mission of Alexander’s imperial project in Asia, it also echoed the ancient empire’s downfall, losing much of its nineteenth-­century empire after the twentieth-century’s two world wars.



John Huston’s adaptation suggests that the US made it part of its “manifest destiny” to step into Britain’s place and become Alexander’s descendants’ descendants, the third iteration of western imperialism’s dual vision of conquering and improving Asia. “Manifest destiny,” a phrase coined to describe America’s westward expansion across its own continent, signified a “belief in their [Americans’] obligation to export their benefits to less privileged civilizations abroad” (Karnow 1984, p.  12). In the late nineteenth century, Americans saw manifest destiny as something very different from earlier European colonialism. The US did not need foreign raw materials or markets because it could rely on its own vast natural and human resources. Furthermore, America was founded on the principle of opposing colonialism, and its own history as a former British colony led to the belief that America would never inflict a yoke on others that it had struggled so hard to throw off. But this unique “sacred responsibility” to bring modernity to the world in the form of democracy and freedom became ever more blurred with the need to become the most dominant geopolitical power in the world—in other words, improvement began to necessitate conquest. The rhetoric of US leaders reflected this belief that conquest and improvement could, and must, work together, and that the lofty goal of improvement would justify its earlier violent phase. After a turbulent late nineteenth century, in which the US defeated Spain in the Spanish-­ American War (1898) and annexed Hawai’i, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines, US leaders emphasized the beneficent role the US would play in the twentieth century. Woodrow Wilson, for instance, did not imagine that any country besides the US could “make the world safe for democracy” (Karnow 1984, p. 12). Looking toward the second half of the twentieth century, Franklin D.  Roosevelt maintained that “international postwar peace and stability would depend on America’s global leadership” (Karnow 1984, p.  12). Although the European colonies would achieve independence throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, they would, American leaders hoped, be shepherded by the US politically and economically, as well as spiritually and morally—by force, if necessary. The tune is more than a little reminiscent of the improvement discourse of the British Empire. Twentieth-century American manifest destiny and American exceptionalism are the afterlives of nineteenth-century British imperial improvement. The continuation and broadening of the British imperial project in Asia by the Americans was enjoined by Kipling himself in “The White



Man’s Burden” (1899). The poem exhorted Americans to become the kind of beneficent and responsible imperial administrators in the Philippines that Kipling believed the British were in their own colonies.8 If Alexander and the British Empire had both failed to break Asia from its barbaric and backward traditions and usher it into the modern world, then surely, western imperialism’s third try to improve the east would succeed. Indeed, America seemed best positioned to do so as the most geographically west of western powers, the most temporally “new,” and the most industrially progressive. As the US emerged from the Second World War, it seemed poised to take up the torch of two former imperial powers in Asia and renew the notion of improvement as the justification for a new American— and old western—dominance. The Vietnam War, however, questioned America’s ability to conquer all those to whom it felt destined to bring progress and enlightenment.9 For the first time since its birth as a nation, the US lost a war to a foreign power—and not just any foreign power, but a band of guerilla peasants employing methods that looked primitive at best compared with American military technology. But with defeat came a public reconsideration of what it meant to “win” or ‘lose” a war that claimed so much from both sides. Winning did not differ much from losing, if, either way, young men died terrible deaths, went missing forever, or returned home traumatized and disabled, unable to reintegrate into society. Furthermore, advances in photographic and televisual technology made more possible than ever before Americans’ consumption of images of war violence as documented by war journalists. Through media, Americans were confronted with a sense of national guilt for their role in creating such images as “the napalm girl,” “the immolated monk,” and the bullet-to-the-head execution of the North Vietnamese soldier—images that became iconic emblems of what an American empire cost.10 Despite the criticism of American imperialism that such images effected, however, they also confirmed and perpetuated stereotypes of Asians as either abject and helpless—and thus in need of improvement—or naturally prone to extreme violence, and thus a barbaric threat to western civilization in need of conquering.11 An enemy that used civilians as shields and women, children, and monks as terrorists surely stood to benefit from an imperial strategy that combined violent suppression with civilizing improvement—indeed, violent suppression in the name of civilizing improvement. Thus, the question of American imperialism in Vietnam became difficult to parse: on the one hand, the communists needed



putting down and the Vietnamese people needed modernizing; on the other hand, it had become clear years before the fall of Saigon that the US had failed to do either, but in the process of trying had turned our soldiers and ourselves into monsters. In the wake of such utter defeat, both moral and military, it became imperative to find a way to save the narrative of American imperialism and its improvement project. John Huston found the antidote to America’s quest for self-validation in the modifications he made to Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King when adapting it to the screen. Kipling’s Danny and Peachey come off as self-aggrandizing bandits who get much luckier than they deserve. They represent the worst aspects of Britain’s imperial project—its greed, plunder, its lack of foresight. Huston, however, manages to separate the imperial project from the imperialists themselves, and while condemning the former, he is able to condone, and at times even lionize, the latter. The film suggests that although western imperialism may fail to bring enlightenment to the “savages,” it remains a worthwhile endeavor for its ability to transform the imperialists themselves into humanitarians, or at least into men nobler in deed and spirit than how they began. The film redirects the recipient of improvement’s beneficence from the colonized to the colonizers themselves and in so doing answers the question of how to save the narrative of American imperialism. Huston’s film portrays Asians as certainly in need of civilizing, but if western intervention fails to bring civilization to them, the Asians themselves are at fault for being too ignorant to accept it. Thus, the imperialists need not worry about the net result of their improving intentions in relation to those they came across the sea to improve; the experience of trying to implement their good will would be enough to improve themselves. And if an experience that should produce moral improvement produces instead moral degradation, then the fault lay with the western individual himself, with some kernel of unimprovability inherent in him, much like the stubborn barbarism of the Asians. Through the film’s portrayal of “primitive” South and Central Asians, its celebration of the fraternal bonds formed only during violent conflict, and the way it contrasts its two male leads to signify the improvement of one and the backwardness of the other, The Man Who Would Be King validates American imperialists in Vietnam even while criticizing the imperialist mission they happen to be carrying out.



The Long Road to Vietnam Beginning as a classic 1950s Hollywood action film set in an exotic location, The Man Who Would Be King subsequently became, first, a tribute to British imperial adventure films; second, a critique of imperialism itself; and finally, by the mid-1960s, a critique of American imperialism specifically. Throughout this metamorphosis, the film also grew increasingly interested in how imperial adventure shapes the character of imperialists themselves.12 The production history of The Man Who Would Be King reveals a film formed over a period that coincided with America’s transition from undefeated superpower to humbled giant. Huston began thinking about the project in the early 1950s, although the film did not see its release until 1975. In 1954, he began working on a screenplay with Peter Viertel, with whom he had worked on The African Queen (1951).13 This first draft turned Kipling’s British working-class soldiers into Americans, a decision that alludes to one of Kipling’s presumed inspirations for his characters, the explorer Josiah Harlan (1799–1871), the first American in Afghanistan. Harlan traveled across the northern part of the country in the first half of the nineteenth century and was proclaimed King by members of the indigenous tribes (Rabel 2007, pp. 111–112).14 At this stage, Huston planned to cast Humphrey Bogart as Danny and Clark Gable as Peachey. Neither was willing to commit to the project, however, and Huston turned his attention instead to making Moby Dick (1955). By the end of that project, he had signed on the Scottish writer Aeneas MacKenzie to continue writing The Man Who Would Be King, and MacKenzie contributed much of the witty dialogue that remained in the final draft of the screenplay. With MacKenzie, the film acquired a subtle warning against US imperialism, using the fate of the British Empire as an allegory for the fall of all world powers. Huston also saw his adaptation of Moby Dick as an allegory of American aggrandizement and obsessive pursuit of an enemy, intending at one point to film the final confrontation between Ahab and the whale at Bikini Atoll, America’s postwar nuclear testing site (Chapman and Cull 2009, p. 157). Bogart’s death in 1957 dampened Huston’s desire to continue the project. His interest was revived, however, when he thought to cast Clark Gable and Cary Grant, using Grant to give The Man Who Would Be King the feel of a tribute to Gunga Din (1939), a feeling that remains in the final version through the character of Billy Fish (Beckerman 1981, p. 184). In 1960, however, Gable died, as did MacKenzie two years later. Huston



replaced MacKenzie with Anthony Veiller, with whom he had worked on his Second World War documentaries made for the US War Department, and the lead actors with Richard Burton and Marlon Brando. By this point, the script called for Peachey and Danny to kill one another after turning against each other. Film historians James Chapman and Nicholas J. Cull (2009) read this change as reflecting the sense that “the imperial adventure of Vietnam was opening bitter divisions within American society,” and that “there was obvious contemporary parallel for a plot in which an imperial dream was destroyed by the fact that it divided the imperialists” (p. 159). Huston had explored such division a decade earlier in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), in which two American knockabouts much like their British counterparts, Peachey and Danny, enjoy the adventure of getting rich in a poor foreign country until greed and paranoia results in one attempting to murder the other and the treasure literally disappearing into the wind. In 1970, producer John Foreman saw the potential of the film to participate in the Vietnam-era “buddy film” genre. Foreman, who produced Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, encouraged Huston to revive what seemed like the ultimate dead-end project. Huston again thought of the film as a tribute, this time to Butch Cassidy rather than Gunga Din, emphasizing the director’s turn in the film’s late stages toward using the movie as an allegory for American rather than British imperialism. Huston asked Paul Newman and Robert Redford to reprise their roles in his movie, but Newman declined, saying, “For Christ’s sake John, get Connery and Caine” (Chapman and Cull 2009, p.  161). The final casting of Sean Connery as Danny and Michael Caine as Peachey allowed Huston to use The Man Who Would Be King to explore lives lived on the margins of Empire through Connery’s Scottishness and Caine’s Cockney identity, both played up in the film. Huston had taken up working class and ethnically minor imperialists before, as in the character of Charlie Allnut, the Canadian riverboat operator played by Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen (1951). Such imperial outsiders belong on a continuum with the would-bes, has-beens, rejects, and down-and-outers that remained a consistent interest to him throughout his career.15 The final screenplay was co-written by Huston himself and Gladys Hill, with whom he had worked on eight previous films, beginning with Freud in 1962 (Glance 2017, p.  102). According to Huston, the final script incorporated many elements of the former scripts but remained more faithful to the original source text (Glance 2017, p. 91). Jonathan Glance



(2017) notes that “although the variant screenplays of The Man Who Would Be King…are not [currently] accessible, Huston does mention some changes that differentiate this November 15, 1974, version from the previous ones that apparently followed the expectations and clichés of the films of their day” (p.  92). For instance, in one of the previous scripts, both men were to fall in love with the same woman, Roxane (Shakira Caine), a plot element Huston did not favor; thus, “Huston and Hill replaced the ‘boy-girl romance’ with more of a buddy-picture bromance, a change incidentally more faithful to Kipling’s protagonists” (p.  92). Huston and Hill’s version of the script was also responsible for adding Kipling into the film as a character, played by Christopher Plummer (p. 92). Huston had read and loved Kipling’s works since childhood. In a 1965 interview, Huston said that the first script of The Man Who Would Be King was based on his reading of Kipling’s story at age twelve or thirteen and the impressions the story made on him (Glance 2017, p. 93). These impressions may help to explain why the film began its long production life as a high adventure drama—of the sort that would appeal to an adolescent boy—and only eventually develop into a commentary on American imperialism as the mature director’s mind worked over its childhood recollections. The film’s evolution alongside the evolution of America’s status in Vietnam provides the context in which we should view the film’s argument that the experience of conquest is improving for the imperialists themselves because it brings out the dormant moral goodness necessary to turn the conqueror into a genuine improver. In his discussion of “real and disguised westerns,” Robert B.  Ray (1985) writes that many of classic Hollywood’s genre movies were “thinly camouflaged westerns”—genres such as the gangster movie, the musical, and the screwball comedy all deployed the “outlaw hero-official hero confrontation” as a central motif (p. 72). If the pure western “reassured its audience about the permanent availability of both sets of values” and negated the necessity to choose between the maverick’s solitary freedom and the family man’s social responsibility, the disguised versions peddled variations of “the same story [that] allayed other anxieties left unresolved by the frontier mythology’s influence on the various sectors of American experience” (p.  75). Ray’s thematic paradigm suggests that we read Hollywood films not only for what they say (for plot, setting, and obvious generic markers) but for the broader cultural narratives about America’s place and exceptionalism in which they might participate. Thus, just as we can identify real and



disguised westerns, we might also look for real and disguised Vietnam War films, films made by Hollywood during the Vietnam War that share qualities or comment on themes espoused in “pure” Vietnam War films. In the section that follows, I suggest that we read The Man Who Would Be King as a disguised Vietnam War film that participates in Hollywood’s conversation about Vietnam and American imperialism, even though it directly references neither. As a period adaptation, the film intervenes in the issues contemporary with its release as well as the questions that preoccupied its source text. Thus, The Man Who Would Be King is both a Vietnam film and an inheritor of the debate about British India’s imperial destiny stretching back to Alexander and his ancient empire. From “Men on the Spot” to Sympathetic Survivors: Reading Huston’s Film In the chronology of Vietnam War films and their attitudes toward American involvement, The Man Who Would Be King falls between the pro-war propaganda of John Wayne’s The Green Berets (1968) and the anti-war dramas of the late 1970s, such as Hal Ashby’s Coming Home (1978) and Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter (1978).16 Huston’s celebration of how the adventure of western imperialism conducted in Asia could turn men into “kings,” in spirit anyway, recalls the portrayal of the Green Berets as supermen in Wayne’s film. Made as an attempt to recharge flagging public support for the Vietnam War, The Green Berets presents an image of the kind of dignified masculinity that is supposed to come from being a soldier.17 In an early scene, Colonel Mike Kirby’s (John Wayne’s) Green Berets hold a press conference at which each soldier introduces himself in German and English to a group of journalists, showing off his mental as well as physical capabilities. Two commanding officers answer questions posed to them by left-leaning reporter George Beckworth (David Janssen), one of Peachey’s “narrow-chested chaps with long noses for looking down at you” (The Man Who Would Be King 00:11:35). Beckworth represents the conglomeration of countercultural forces jeopardizing the war effort—an unsupportive government, pacifists, and intellectuals—and he asks the sergeants if the US is truly needed in Vietnam. In reply, one of the commanders dumps a Chinese-made gun, a Russian-­ made rifle, and a box of Czechoslovakian ammunition on the table in front of Beckworth, proving through action, not words, that only the US can prevent the spread of communism throughout the world, and implying



that the Green Berets, whom we’ve just seen shirtless and jogging, are the best weapons in the US arsenal. After the conference, Kirby asks Beckworth if he has ever been to Southeast Asia, to which the journalist answers that he has not. Kirby and one of his soldiers walk away with a knowing look, implying that liberals who have never been in combat should not presume to draw conclusions about the ethics of war. In the first half of The Man Who Would Be King, Danny and Peachey fit right in with Kirby and his “men on the spot,” action men who effect change in Asia rather than ineffectually deliberating its moral consequences. The opening sequence (Side A, 00:00:21–00:02:16) suggests that it is precisely men like Kirby, his Green Berets, and Huston’s own heroes that are needed to civilize the uncouth South and Central Asians shown on screen. The sequence depicts a bazaar, and the use of a roving camera constantly tracking, panning, and tilting to get “up-close-and-­ personal” with its subjects gives the sequence a documentary-like feel that contrasts sharply with the stationary, wide-angle, and extreme long shots that dominate the film’s narrative portion. The camera weaves its way through the crowd as if the point of view belongs to the eyes of a tourist. Immediately, one notices the lack of industry or modern technology: manual labor creates all of the commodities sold in this market. A shot of a group of metalworkers firing metal in a wood-burning oven and hammering it out by hand cuts to a vendor measuring grain using a traditional scale. Two men carrying water jugs attached to a pole pass in front of a man shaving another’s head with a straight razor; then cut to two quick shots of men hand-sharpening tools and hand-sewing cloth. A tracking shot follows that shows two men hand-dying indigo textiles in a barrel of water, but as the camera moves, the tone of the scene begins to change, and we feel we are being led into the inner recesses of the market, where more exotic things happen. The camera tracks in quickly on a group of blind men chanting indistinguishably, then cuts to a snake-charmer, a scorpion-tamer, and a man who pours boiling water into his mouth and onto his face. The camera finally stops and lingers on a child holding two snakes, one in each hand, and gazing at them fondly, as if they were his favorite toys. Although the camera remains in motion throughout the opening sequence, the first part of the sequence shoots the vendors at eye level, suggesting an outsider’s curiosity and interest in the workers and their work. The second part of the sequence, however, shoots the performers at a low angle, looking up at them to signify the camera’s position as part of



the spectating audience sitting at ground level. The low angle on the performers also makes them look larger than they are and dominant in the space of the frame, suggesting the power they hold over their audience. The first part of the sequence suggests that the Indians need development: they need industry, technology, and machines, or else they will forever be prevented from advancing their civilization. The sense of curiosity that the camera’s movement suggests also encourages us to see the Indians as quaint, a living time capsule of the ancient past that stirs our historical interest as much as it invokes our pity. The second part of the sequence, however, suggests not only a society that lacks development but a culture steeped in superstition and scandalous practices, especially in their treatment of children. The sequence’s coming to rest on the child holding his snakes indicates that moral degradation underlies the scenes of exotic entertainment that may at first have seemed harmless. The sequence as a whole evinces the Anglicist attitude that Indians need a civilized foreign power to pull it out of the dark ages: they need improvement in the form of modern industry, but they must first accept the yoke of western guidance, by coercion if necessary. Recalling Haileybury’s exam questions about Alexander’s valor, the film suggests that conquest itself may be a form of improvement for such a “backward” people.18 The last shot of the sequence changes tone abruptly, showing a horse-­ drawn carriage in a long shot, going by at dusk. The stationary camera and the change in color palette—from the bright blues of the bazaar scenes to romantic reds and sepias—suggest a feeling of nostalgia. We realize that the previous scenes depict an India that is gone, a time and place lost to what it needed most: the improvement agenda of the Victorian Raj. The change in tone recalls the Orientalist attraction to India’s strange but unique traditions and customs and prefigures one of the repeated lines that occurs throughout the narrative portion of the film, “different countries, different customs, mustn’t be prejudiced”—a line spoken by both Danny and Peachey at various times and with varying degrees of irony. The line distills the Orientalist philosophy on preserving Indian cultural heritage without seeking to improve it through western prejudices. In the context of this shot, the suggestion is that the strange and wondrous (but no longer scandalous) images that we have just seen indicate not only a wild and “natural” India of the past, but the sorts of adventures an adventure-­seeking imperialist—a Clive, Hastings, Danny, or Peachey— might find in such a lawless place. Thus, the last shot suggests that the sun has sadly set on the conquest-oriented empire that encouraged the spirit of



adventure celebrated throughout the rest of the film. But the shot  also suggests that the sun has finally set on the retrograde Indian civilization that can now begin a new dawn under the benevolent guidance of British improvement. When the plot-centered portion of the film begins, Danny and Peachey seem to belong to the bygone India of the opening sequence and are portrayed as resourceful and fearless individuals whose ingenuity and loyalty to one another mitigates their violence and cultural insensitivity. The extreme long and wide-angle shots that portray their journey from Lahore up the Khyber Pass through Afghanistan and into Kafiristan depict them as two tiny figures, alone against the inhospitable (but incredibly beautiful) terrain, with only their wits and each other to rely on (Side A, 00:30:51–00:43:02).19 Thus, when the two get robbed by a group of tribesmen at the base of the Hindu Kush and manage to turn the situation to their advantage by assaulting the tribesmen and stealing their mules (A, 00:33:22–00:35:47), we excuse the objectionable nature of the vignette and cheer them on. As they make their way across the snowy mountains, the film’s use of wide-angle and extreme long shots to diminish the bodies but enlarge the spirits of the protagonists makes it easy to forget that their journey is associated with the British Empire at all. Individual heroism becomes a proxy for state conquest so subtly, and indeed, through such spectacular cinema, that the pair’s conquering intentions nearly drop off the map. Even when the Empire is directly referenced, the film focuses on the ways in which serving in the Empire improves young men—by increasing their courage and allowing them to form bonds of brotherhood they would not otherwise form—rather than focusing on the conquering that these men do while serving. When the adventurers find that “their bridges have been burnt, so to speak” (A, 00:39:05), as Peachey says (referring to the crumbling of the ice bridge they walked over to enter Kafiristan), they take shelter in a cave and wait to freeze to death. The scene, shot as a two-­ shot of the men sitting next to each other, focuses on the bond between them and redefines the project of imperial conquest as the cultivation of fraternity,20 a sentiment expressed by Peachey when he tells Danny that he will “do the necessary” when the fire goes out (A, 00:40:06). In the shot-­ reverse-­shot sequence that follows, they muse on what a shame it is, “our getting so close and not making it” (A, 00:40:15). The dialogue transforms their childish irresponsibility into manly confidence:



D: Peachey, in your opinion, have our lives been misspent? P: Well, that depends on how you look at it. I wouldn’t say the world is a better place for our having been in it. D: Oh, hardly that. P: Nobody’s going to weep their eyes out at our demise. D: (indignantly) And who’d want them to, anyway? P: And we haven’t many good deeds to our credit. D: (after a pause) None. None to brag about. P: But how many men have been where we’ve been? And seen what we’ve seen? D: Bloody few! And that’s a fact! P: Why, even now, I wouldn’t change places with the Viceroy himself, if it meant givin’ up my memories. D: Me neither! (A, 00:40:37–00:41:18) They continue to reminisce about the memorable events of their service, and their laughter mounts until it causes an avalanche that fills in the crevasse the crumbling of their ice bridge created, allowing them to cross into Kafiristan after all. The familiar refrain of “The Minstrel Boy,” which functions throughout the film as a personal fight song for the two, fills the soundtrack as Peachey says (the two framed in another two-shot), “Danny! We can get on!” (A, 00:42:36). Their loyalty to one another and positive attitude literally creates a path that leads them out of a hopeless situation. The scene exemplifies the film’s argument that conquest’s adventuring spirit improves those with enough pluck to have it in the first place. This spirit performs a magic trick on the plot but also on the viewer’s opinions about imperial conquest.21 Rather than a greedy desire to acquire land, labor, and spoils, conquest becomes the crucible in which men of character are identified and formed. Peachey’s early lines that sound off on the loss to the national interest by bureaucrats that have “ruined” India by stopping men like him “from getting anywhere” (A, 00:11:23–00:11:55) align with the central argument in The Green Berets: that if more soldiers had “manned up” like Kirby and his troops, the US would have won the war years ago. But the film does not remain in league with the conquest mentality Wayne’s picture sells; Huston’s portrayal of imperialism develops an ironic charge. After arriving in Kafiristan, the discourse of improvement—which ostensibly justifies the violent conquest the two have accomplished—becomes a running joke that functions as a central motif throughout the film’s first half. After their first victory, for instance, Peachey orders their interpreter, Billy



Fish, to lead them to Ootah, the leader of the Er-Heb people, so that the Englishmen can “begin his education” (A, 00:47:28). In the three-shot that follows—and that prefigures their three-way conspiracy to make the Kafirs believe Danny is the immortal son of Alexander—Billy says to Danny and Peachey that he often tells Ootah about “Englishmens”: how they “give names to dogs, take off hats to womans [sic], and march into battle, left-right-left-right!” (A, 00:49:36–00:49:43) Billy delivers the line goofily, in the manner of the classic Babu figure, and Danny responds ironically, “Bringing enlightenment to the darker regions of the earth” (A, 00:49:45). The response suggests that British “enlightenment” amounts to no more than a handful of idiosyncratic habits and recalls the moment in Kipling’s (1888/1999) story when Danny implies that any population can be made into Englishmen with “rifles and a little drilling” (269). Unlike conquest, which truly improves the character of the conquerors themselves, the civilizing mission, as the first half of the film portrays it, is at best a set of glorified good manners, and at worst, a dishonest trick. A scene depicting the Kafirs’ first drilling lesson uses a tracking camera to follow Danny, as he paces between the lines into which the men have been assembled and delivers the following monologue: Now listen to me, you benighted muckers! We’re gonna teach you soldiering—the world’s noblest profession. When we’ve done with you, you’ll be able to stand up and slaughter your enemies like civilized men! But first, you shall have to learn to march in step and do the Manual of Arms without even having to think. Good soldiers don’t think. They just obey. Do you suppose if a man thought twice, he’d give his life for Queen and country? Not bloody likely! He wouldn’t go near the battlefield! One look at your foolish faces tells me you’re going to be crack troops! Him there, with the five-and-a-half hat size, has the makings of a bloody hero! (A, 00:56:22–00:57:13)

Like the scenes involving Billy Fish, this scene also treats the notion of “civilization” ironically. Danny’s comment about teaching them to slaughter each other like civilized men suggests that there is nothing more “civilized” about the English than the populations they wish to conquer; in fact, the hypocrisy of the English makes them worse. But while Danny’s lines criticize the civilizing project, they uplift the figure of the conqueror. On the one hand, Danny’s crack about soldiering as the world’s noblest profession is intended as a joke, for, as the rest of the monologue bears out, there is nothing “noble” about slaughter,



obedience, and stupidity—the very qualities that make a good soldier. On the other hand, soldiering is precisely what has made Danny and Peachey fit for their current conquest, and the film argues that it has actually made them nobler men. Their stupidity, especially, suggests a kind of innocence or purity of heart that the smarter strategists of the British Empire take advantage of (like the magistrate to whom the film’s Kipling turns the two in for impersonating journalists early in the film). It is precisely Danny’s and Peachey’s lack of intellectual development—the fact that they do not “think twice”—that makes their courage, bravery, and loyalty to one another possible and encourages us to rally behind them despite our knowledge of what their victory will mean for the Kafirs. Danny, especially, exemplifies the stupid man of character. In the second half of the film, the two friends begin to go their separate ways: Danny becomes a true leader of the Kafirs with a sincere interest in improving their quality of life, while Peachey remains the plunderer he always was. For Peachey, anything goes, as far as satiating one’s lust for power and greed are concerned. He becomes the bad imperial strategist who uses Danny’s stupid good nature to his advantage. Soon after the two win their first battle, Peachey reveals that he has been the brains of their operation all along, an operation whose objectionable qualities the film is now, for the first time, taking seriously. After seeing that Danny did not bleed after being shot with an arrow during battle (A, 01:04:55–01:05:50), the Kafirs begin to believe that Danny is the immortal son of their god and ancient conqueror, Alexander the Great, whose departure from Kafiristan all but arrested time itself in the country. The people, Billy explains, have been waiting ever since Alexander’s departure for his son, “Sikander” the Second, to return to rule in his place (A, 01:10:08–01:11:05). Here, the film references not only Kipling’s story but the imperial cultural context of its time, reminding viewers familiar with the source text of its nods to nineteenth-century interpretations of Alexander’s empire as the first stage of Britain’s own. The friends, joined by Billy in a three-shot, discuss what to do about Danny’s mistaken identity. Danny, with innocent goodwill, says that the arrow stuck in his bandolier, hidden from the Kafirs because it was worn underneath his shirt, and that Billy better tell them the truth immediately. But Peachey thinks differently: “Say you was an ignorant Kafiri. Who would you rather follow, a man or a god? Now, we’re here to conquer this country, ain’t we? With you as a god, it’ll take half the time and half the trouble!” (A, 01:12:01–01:12:16). Cutting Billy out of the planning as the scene cuts to a two-shot, Danny tells Peachey that “the



idea, it’s a bit blasphemous-like” (A, 01:12:18), and he fears what will happen if the Kafirs find out the truth. Then, cutting Danny out of the strategizing as well, the scene shifts to a tracking shot that follows Peachey alone as he paces back and forth across the room, concocting his ill-­ intended plot. The next sequence shows that Peachey’s scheme has worked, for each successive shot shows an increasing number of followers marching behind the protagonists (Side B, 00:00:34–00:02:05). Fortune certainly favors Danny, but as the film continues, we begin to believe that Danny deserves it, too. Danny becomes the peaceful, beneficent improver; Peachey, by contrast, appears increasingly savage and unscrupulous.22 The sequence showing Danny presiding over a court (B, 00:22:16–00:25:25) exemplifies the difference between Danny’s and Peachey’s imperial styles, virtuous leader versus self-serving thief. The composition of the two-shot has by now completely changed: instead of Peachey strategizing while both actors face the camera, Danny now sits in the central foreground while Peachey has moved far into the background framed by a doorway. After punishing a man for capitalizing on his wife’s infidelities and creating a makeshift welfare state, Danny issues a court recess to tell Peachey that to keep up appearances, he should bow before Danny when Kafirs are around. Peachey, with his back turned to the camera, reluctantly agrees, his body language suggesting that he feels edged out of the action as their scheme becomes less a scheme and more a genuine thing for Danny. Even Peachey, in voiceover, says, “You have to take your hat off to Daniel Dravot. He dealt out justice as though he wrote the book” (Side B, 00:26:05–00:26:09). Ever since his first act of generosity in which he stops Ootah from beheading one of his enemies, Danny has developed a moral conscience that has transformed the film’s belief in improvement’s possibilities. The plot’s denouement (B, 00:41:34–00:50:58) reiterates that Peachey remains morally undeveloped and perhaps was unimprovable to begin with, whereas Danny has grown by leaps and bounds. It proceeds much like that of Kipling’s story: Roxane, afraid of being married to a god, bites Danny on the cheek during their wedding ceremony, making him bleed and proving that he is not divine, but mortal. A battle ensues between the Kafirs and their conquerors (including Billy Fish), which the Kafirs win. They march Danny out to the rope-bridge that Peachey built and cut it loose, sending Danny tumbling into the crevasse; they crucify Peachey but let him go when they consider it a miracle he lived through it. But the small differences between film and story are significant and suggest that despite the



switch in the film’s second half to believing the discourse it criticized in its first half, the film ends where it began, lionizing the experience of conquest as morally improving for the conquerors. The last battle sequence of the film (B, 00:45:21–00:48:28) comprises a series of long shots and highangle shots showing the protagonists escaping from a stone-throwing mob of monks. They and the riflemen that Peachey trained are surrounded when they run out of ammunition, and Danny apologizes to Peachey for the megalomania that has sealed their fate. In the original story, it takes Danny quite a long time to realize that the jig is up, and that his belligerent fantasies about returning to slaughter the people who so disrespected a god are useless. But the film speeds up Danny’s turnaround significantly, and it does not take him long to ask for Peachey’s forgiveness, which Peachey gives immediately, “free and full” (B, 00:49:05), with a smile that signifies the return of their old friendship. Instead of ending with a sense of the imperialists’ failure, the sequence emphasizes the fact that their adventure has humbled them both, strengthened their loyalty to one another, and made them even less afraid to face imminent death. After Danny tumbles to his death (B, 00:50:58), Peachey returns to civilization (represented by the film’s Kipling and Anglo-British society) to tell their tale. Despite his bad behavior throughout the film, Peachey is rehabilitated in this last sequence into a sympathetic survivor who has seen his best friend killed in action. Even Peachey, who could not grow up and govern Kafiristan, undergoes some realization of his own limitations as a conqueror as a result of seeing his friend die. This “rebranding” of Peachey as a physically and psychologically damaged victim is made even more explicit in the last scene when he tells Kipling about his crucifixion (B, 00:51:35–00:52:03). The failure of Peachey’s mission—symbolized through his injured body and mind—and his ability to accept his failure and bear his injuries alone across the mountains and back into Kipling’s office, makes even Peachey seem at least a little morally improved at the film’s end. No longer dangerously confident, Peachey realizes that there are just some battles one cannot win—battles that involve unimprovable populations—and the most responsible thing one can do in the aftermath of failure is to come back and tell one’s story. Anti-War but Pro-Empire: Saving American Imperialism If we place Peachey in the context of late-1970s Vietnam War films, he resembles the figure of the returned veteran.23 When we see him in



close-­up shots at the beginning and end of the film, his blackened face and hands allude to napalm burns or immolation (although in terms of the plot are probably the result of frostbite). He has just returned from a conflict with a population of unruly and barbaric Asians resistant to the civilization he and Danny bring to them in the form of an organized military, civil infrastructure, and peace among warring tribes. He returns badly injured and emotionally traumatized, the latter resulting from his witnessing the brutal death of his friend at the hands of savages. The physical horror of the war is embodied in a single image: Danny’s severed head, revealed in close-up as the film’s final shot (B, 00:53:53). The shriveled purple head links the film to Vietnam-inflected horror films of the late 1960s and early 1970s that routed the inexplicable brutality and otherworldly terror of the War through the horror genre. George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1969), for instance, broke the figure of the zombie from its traditional Haitian use as an allegory of slavery and turned it into an allegory for the killing machine that the Vietnam combatant becomes. Romero’s zombies are mindless cannibals, people who have lost their souls by killing other humans. Bob Clark’s Dead of Night (1972) involves a young man who is killed on the battlefield in Vietnam and mysteriously returns home to America as a zombie, a motif that prefigures “returning vet” films such as Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976). The first mainstream American films to address Vietnam, the returning vet subgenre focused on the consequences of the war rather than Americans’ direct involvement in it. Travis Bickle, Taxi Driver’s protagonist played by Robert De Niro, depicts the veteran as a violent and deranged killer, a symbol of American courage in war gone wrong. Bickle registered the fear that these men could never be reintegrated into normal American life. There exists another subgenre of Vietnam films, however, that also uses the returned veteran as a central figure, the anti-war drama of the late 1970s. The returned veteran of early 1970s horror and thriller films was a menace to society, an individual broken beyond repair. These movies espoused a mild anti-war sentiment, and only indirectly, scaring viewers into the realization of what was happening to our young men as a result of their participation in the War. By contrast, anti-war dramas such as Coming Home and The Deer Hunter depicted two possibilities of what the returned veteran might be: a crazy and violent pariah dangerous to himself and others, or, a humbled patriot who turns his grievances into civil disobedience and peaceful protest. Although the first half of The Man Who Would Be King shares much in common with the content and tone of The Green



Berets, the second half prefigures the late 1970s anti-war drama in its ability to “save” American imperialism by lionizing the self-improvement of its warriors, even while tempering its support of imperialism itself. Brave as they are in their strong opposition to the War and moving portrayal of the challenges facing returned veterans, anti-war dramas of the late 1970s nevertheless focus nearly all of their narrative attention on Americans themselves—on what the war took from American servicemen, their wives and families, and American society. Some, like The Deer Hunter, also emphasize the cost to friendships between American men and the fraternal bonds that characterize “salt of the earth” American life. But an interesting aspect of these anti-war dramas is that they do not portray the outcome of the War as entirely bad, especially for those who mature and learn valuable moral lessons from their experience. In fact, for some of the characters, the war brings out their dormant good qualities and refines them, in much the same way that Danny, and eventually, even Peachey, are improved by imperial conquest. Like The Man Who Would Be King, many 1970s anti-war dramas also involve a contrast between the moral development of two male protagonists. One man is represented as growing up in response to the war and gaining from his experience, while the other man cannot. In the Vietnam films, the fate of the latter often ends in suicide. In Coming Home, for instance, veteran Luke Martin (Jon Voigt) channels his anger at his paralysis, and his feeling of being exploited by his own government, into a disposition of helping others in his situation. An early sequence that shows Luke colliding with VA hospital volunteer Sally Hyde (Jane Fonda) in the hospital hallway, as he uses his cane to pull his gurney around in an attempt to find someone to change his urine bag, shows a man stuck in the throes of victimhood (00:18:30–00:19:40). After their collision results in his dropping the urine bag and spilling its contents all over the floor, he screams at the hospital workers, blaming them for his helplessness, knocks things over, and narrowly misses striking a male nurse with his cane. His developing relationship with Sally, however, represents the beginning of his healing. Soon, he discovers his innate capacity for empathy and aid, represented most poignantly in a two-shot that places him behind Billy Munson (Robert Carradine) as Billy tries to sing and play his guitar as he used to do before the War (00:43:30–00:44:05). Luke’s placement behind Billy shows him as a physical and emotional beacon of support for Billy, who suffers from deep psychological trauma and ends up taking his own life, unable to find the reservoir of strength to improve his condition that



Luke was able to tap. His desire to benefit others continues to grow, and the closing sequence of the film shows him giving a counter-recruitment speech in a high school auditorium (02:00:28–02:05:25). A tracking shot shows Luke speaking to the crowd from his wheelchair, the rapt faces of the students and other speaker (a pro-recruitment Marine Corps sergeant), and finally a close-up of Luke’s face. With great emotion, he enjoins the students not to believe the rhetoric of war heroism promulgated by movies and recruiters. He reveals that he must live with what he did in Vietnam for the rest of his life. His remorse gives way to a vital inner strength, however, and Luke ends his speech by invoking his own moral development as a result of his experience: “When you get over there, it’s a totally different situation. I mean, you grow up real quick, because all you’re seeing is a lot of death. […] I don’t feel sorry for myself. I’m a lot fuckin’ smarter now than when I went. And I’m just tellin’ you, there’s a choice to be made here” (02:01:54–02:05:25). The “choice” refers not only to military enlistment but to the choice of whether to use one’s tragedy as a source of inspiration for moral improvement or to be destroyed by it. This choice is made demonstrably clear in the intercutting between Luke’s speech and the suicide of the other male protagonist of the film, Bob Hyde (Bruce Dern). Bob is Sally’s husband and a captain in the Marines, who, like Billy, is unable to pass the test of self-improvement represented by American imperialism in Vietnam. From the beginning of the film, we sense that there is something wrong with Bob, or at least, as the Rolling Stones song that plays like an anthem behind the opening credits suggests, he is a man “out of touch” and “out of time” (00:02:49–00:05:57). Bob wants desperately to be a war hero and wishes that the Vietnam War truly was the way Wayne portrayed it in The Green Berets. Bob lives in the American imperial rhetoric of the past, not in the reality of the Vietnam War in the present, and his inability to channel his disillusionment into positive action drives him to suicide. The fact that Bob and Luke compete for the same woman emphasizes the difference between the two men: between the moral development of one and the moral degradation of the other, the strength of one and the weakness of the other. Ironically, American imperialism has been good for the one who opposes it and bad for the one who supports it. Coming Home rescues a shred of dignity for American imperialism by turning the narrative of improvement onto the imperialists themselves, even while criticizing the larger project of geopolitical domination.



The Deer Hunter advances a similar argument through the contrast it makes between its male protagonists. Michael (Robert De Niro) and Nick (Christopher Walken) are young working-class men from small-town Pennsylvania who enlist in the army and get sent to Vietnam. They end up in a North Vietnamese prisoner-of-war (POW) camp, where they are forced to play Russian roulette against each other, an experience that traumatizes Nick and keeps him circulating through the roulette games in Saigon’s red light district. Michael, who heroically rescues them from the POW camp, returns to Saigon after his discharge to rescue Nick a second time, but arrives just in time to see Nick take the “one shot”—the film’s central refrain—that kills him (e.g. 00:18:39). Even before Vietnam, Michael was always the alpha male of the group of friends to which he and Nick belonged. His loyalty to Nick always surpassed the fun-and-games hi-jinks the others valued, and Michael’s moral and physical dominance is expressed in the many wide-angle aerial shots of him hunting alone in the woods. Early in the film, Michael says that he always hunts alone—“I don’t want any surprises”—while Nick says that the thing he likes best about hunting “is the trees” (00:19:14–00:19:57). Just as there has always been something superior about Michael, there has always been something a little “off” about Nick. The scenes in Act I that depict the innocence of pre-War America are peppered with shots that foreground Nick shaking his hips to an ensemble performance of “I Love You, Baby” (00:13:54–00:16:14) and allude to his being an unfit partner for his girlfriend, Linda (Meryl Streep), whom Michael also loves. Nick’s unimprovability gets expressed through the film’s portrayal of his questionable heterosexuality. By contrast, Michael improves significantly. He returns from Vietnam chastened by what he considers his failure to save Nick and schools his friends back home about the seriousness of death, chastising their immature attitude and behavior toward it. Vietnam brings out Michael’s inherent leadership capacity, and his humbling by the inability to be the hero he wanted to be turns him into a different kind of hero, a grown-up who can get past his guilt and heal his community. Although The Man Who Would Be King differs from Coming Home and The Deer Hunter in not directly depicting events associated with Vietnam, it shares the later films’ redirection of the improvement narrative back on the imperialists themselves. The three films also share the argument that self-improvement represents at least one good thing to come out of western imperialism. The later films push their criticism against American imperialism further and do so more directly than The Man Who Would Be



King; because it spent much of its twenty-five-year evolution as a classic adventure film, The Man Who Would Be King tempers its criticism of empire and pokes fun at improvement ideology rather than confronting the violence of conquest head-on. However, The Man Who Would Be King shares with the anti-war films their praise of brotherhood cultivated in ill-­ advised wars and the use of contrast between male leads to illustrate the possibility of self-improvement for those who deserve it. For Huston, Kipling’s redirection of the improvement narrative back on the improvers themselves connected nineteenth-century improvement ideology with twentieth-century improvement discourse and provided the rationale for America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. The Man Who Would Be King looks forward to the anti-war dramas released a few years after it and back to the patriotic pro-war film that preceded it. By accomplishing this as an adaptation, however, it also connects twentieth-century American imperialism with nineteenth-century British imperialism and its ancient Greek model. From Alexander’s empire, the British and American empires inherited the notion that conquest and improvement can and must work together to build an ultimately benevolent empire. Huston’s film highlights Kipling’s intervention into the Alexander debates, namely, his distinction between improvement ideology, which fails to justify the harm done to the indigenous by conquest, and the reality of improvement as an incomplete, tedious, and unstable compromise that nevertheless represents real betterment in the moral lives of the imperialists themselves. The film argues that the Vietnam War, fought ostensibly in the name of improvement ideology, fails to deliver it to Asians while sacrificing young American lives. However, the War nevertheless brought about its own improvements in the development of strong American men. Ironically, the trope of the war’s creation of men of character that figures centrally in The Man Who Would Be King and the anti-war films examined here set the stage for the Rambo cycle24 and other Vietnam revisionist action films that followed on the heels of Coming Home and The Deer Hunter.25 In many ways, The Man Who Would Be King registers the swinging of postwar Hollywood’s pendulum between support and criticism of American imperialism. To riff on the opening song of Coming Home, Huston’s film is “of its time” and “in touch” with the social and historical events that developed alongside its own evolution into a completed text. But it is also a film out of its time, reaching back to remain in touch with the debates about proper imperial style that so occupied its source text. The Victorians’ belief in the ultimate beneficence of their empire, which



crystallized in the figure of Alexander and the uneasy blend of conquest and improvement that he represented, finds new resonance in Huston’s allegory of the American empire and its efforts to fashion its future kings through high-spirited adventure in Asia.

Notes 1. See, for instance, Washbrook (1999) and Moore (1999). 2. Afghanistan has been called the “graveyard of empires” since antiquity (Jones 2010, p. xxxiv). The phrase refers specifically to the staggering losses that Alexander the Great and his Greek-Macedonian army suffered in Bactria (now part of Afghanistan) in 330  BC, losses that ultimately forced Alexander to retreat (Jones 2010, p. xxv). But the phrase has also been used in reference to the defeats of subsequent imperial powers that have tried to conquer the region: the British Empire in the nineteenth century, the Soviet Union (1979–1989), and, as Jones argues, the current American Empire. 3. See Fowler’s (2007) engaging account of the legacies of British-Empireera stereotypes of Afghanistan as they resurface in the discourse surrounding Operation Enduring Freedom and the renewal of Anglo-American military presence in Afghanistan. See especially her account of British and American journalists’ use of Kipling “as a resource for describing Afghanistan to British audiences” (pp. 49–50). 4. For an historical account of the relationship between Elphinstone and Shah Shujah, and the failure of the British Empire’s efforts to secure the Shah as an ally—a loss which led to the First Anglo-Afghan War—see Ewans 2002, pp. 40–73. Fowler (2007) reads “Peachey and Dravot’s illfated attempt to conquer the region … [as] an almost parodic replay of the First Anglo-­Afghan War” (p. 29). 5. Tytler (1840) writes in his explanation of Alexander’s Egyptian campaign that [t]he taking of Gaza opened Egypt to Alexander, and the whole country submitted without opposition. Amidst the most incredible fatigues, he now led his army through the deserts of Libya, to visit the temple of his father Jupiter Ammon. On his return, he built Alexandria, at the mouth of the Nile, afterwards the capital of the Lower Egypt, and one of the most flourishing cities in the world. In choosing the site of this city he gave a proof of his great judgment and policy, it being admirably fitted for a common emporium of commerce for the eastern and western worlds, by its two adjacent seas, the Mediterranean and Red Sea. Twenty other cities of the same name were reared by him in the course of his



conquests. It is such works as these that justly entitle the Macedonian to the epithet of Great. By establishing in the midst of deserts those nurseries of population and of industry, he repaired the waste and havoc of his conquests. But for those monuments of his glory, he would have merited no other epithet than that assigned him by the Brahmins of India, The mighty Murderer. (p. 42, emphasis added) 6. See, for instance, Draudt (1984), Shippey and Short (1972), Meyers (1968), and Fussell (1958); and more recently, Sullivan (1993), Banerjee (2011), and Almond (2002). 7. On Kipling’s own involvement with Freemasonry and the Masonic influence within the British Empire, see Harland-Jacobs (2007) and Rich (1995). For an account of how Freemasonry influenced Kipling’s understanding of his position as an imperialist in India, and his later writings on India, see McBratney 2011, pp. 26–27. 8. On the ‘special relationship” (Plotz 2011, p. 37) that Kipling had with the US and his complex understanding of Anglo-American solidarity, see Plotz (2010, 2011). 9. On the “American myth” and Vietnam’s “disruption” of it, see Hellman 1986, pp.  3–40; on how Vietnam was subsequently folded back into American myths and “fantasies” about its supremacy in the world, see Franklin (2000). 10. See Chong 2012, pp. 33–126. Franklin (2000) also reads the last of these images—the 1968 execution of a National Liberation Front (“Viet Cong”) prisoner by General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, head of the South Vietnamese police—in relation to The Deer Hunter. Franklin argues that the film reverses the roles of shooter and victim, reimagining American soldiers as victims of the war and the NLF as ruthless murderers (pp. 14–17). 11. See Chong 2012, pp. 1–32. 12. For more on the production history of The Man Who Would Be King, see McBride (2001) and Voeltz (2002). On how The Man Who Would Be King fits into Huston’s long career as an actor and director in Hollywood, see Long (2001). 13. Another of Huston’s British adventure films, The African Queen (1951) presents an interesting comparison to The Man Who Would Be King. Set in German East Africa in 1914, an English spinster, Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn), works with her missionary brother to save souls for Christianity in a small African village. When the Germans conscript the villagers and burn their huts to the ground, her brother goes mad from the guilt of being unable to protect his flock and dies. Rose is befriended by Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart), a Canadian steamboat operator, and eventually ­persuades him to turn his boat into a torpedo to attack a German gunboat in the name of patriotism. The farcical plot and ridiculing of mis-



sionary work suggest that the British Empire itself is undeserving of the individuals who serve it, especially the intrepid Rose, whose derring-do far outstrips Charlie’s. Romance takes the place of fraternity for this pair, but Rose’s natural leadership abilities and courage under fire make her a rather “mannish” woman, and a “brotherly love” for adventure, not entirely unlike Danny’s and Peachey’s, develops between them as they make their way downriver. 14. Nagai (2009) in “God and His Doubles” writes that another model for Kipling’s Danny was likely James Brooke (1803–1868), the ex-East India Company operative who sailed for Borneo as an adventurer in 1838 and became the “White Rajah of Sarawak” in 1841. Nagai (2009) contextualizes “The Man Who Would Be King” and Conrad’s Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness in relation to Brooke and the trope of the white European man who becomes a “native god,” a trope that greatly influenced the “construction of the western subject” in the “non-Western space of power” (p.  100). Marx (1999) writes that William Watts McNair (1849–1889) may have provided another source of inspiration for Danny’s character. McNair was the first white man to travel to Kafiristan disguised as a hakim. Marx’s essay also gives much helpful historical context as to how much was actually known about Kafiristan at the time of Kipling’s writing “The Man Who Would Be King.” McBratney (2011) offers another possibility: Danny and Peachey are throwbacks to the “Punjab style” of John and Henry Lawrence, “whose success within the ‘non-regulation’ province of the Punjab during the 1840s inspired Anglo-Indians of the 1880s, including Kipling, to yearn for a rejection of the administrative style of impersonal, centralized governance dominant at the time in British India” (pp. 27–28). 15. Such a cast includes the dishonorably discharged in Across the Pacific (1942), crooks and swindlers in Beat the Devil (1953), defrocked clergymen in The Night of the Iguana (1964), aging cowboys and boxers in The Misfits (1961) and Fat City (1972), Scottish highway robbers in Sinful Davey (1969), and lawbreakers turned lawmakers (reminiscent of Danny’s own trajectory) in The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972). 16. For more thorough accounts of American narrative films about the Vietnam War produced during this period, see Adair (1981), Anderegg (1990), Muse (1995), and Dittmar and Michaud (1990). 17. Huston’s own film about the soldier’s “dignified masculinity,” Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967), was released a year earlier than The Green Berets (1968). Adapted from Carson McCullers’s novel by Gladys Hill and Chapman Mortimer, Reflections tells the story of Major Weldon Penderton (Marlon Brando), a closeted homosexual, who, in public, exudes a persona much like that of Wayne’s Colonel Kirby. Sexually impotent toward his wife, Leonora (Elizabeth Taylor), Penderton becomes attracted to Private



Elgee Williams, a young enlisted soldier with his own sexual obsession for Leonora. Penderton and Williams, along with a flamboyant Filipino domestic worker and his employer, the alcoholic Lieutenant Colonel Morris Langdon, dramatize a crisis of traditional notions of masculinity and their failure to control women’s sexuality (represented by Leonora’s promiscuity) and psychological disorder (represented by Langdon’s mentally ill wife, Alison). Although Reflections is set during the Second World War, contemporaneous with McCullers’s 1948 novel, it was made and released during the early years of America’s combat engagement in Vietnam. The film’s trailblazing exploration of sexual dysfunction and mental illness in relation to men at war, and its remorseless portrayal of military corruption and dishonesty, makes it another good example of a disguised Vietnam film. 18. Codell (2010) reads the opening sequence as “a string of stereotypes” and suggests that it was partly responsible for the film’s banning in Afghanistan (p. 39). 19. The Khyber Pass sequences were shot on location in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. Much of the rest of the film was also shot in Morocco, including the Indian bazaar and street scenes, shot in Marrakesh. Other filming locations included Glen Canyon, Utah, and the Grande Montée in Chamonix, France (Kreitzer 2002, p. 118). 20. Bascom (1998) has argued in relation to Kipling’s original story that its “highest good is not order, nor is it discipline or work. It is fellowship itself…. The two self-made kings and their silent partner [the narrator] are admirable not because they have done something inherently good, but because what they have done they have done together” (p. 169). 21. A similar magic trick occurs in The African Queen when Rose and Allnut find themselves moored among the dense river reeds and lacking any sense of direction of how to continue downstream. Allnut is feverish, they are out of provisions, and it seems that their attempt to save the British Empire will end in their wasting away on The African Queen. Rose prays that God will “open the doors” for them and judge them only by their love for each other, whereupon the camera pulls back into a crane shot to reveal that they have made it to within a few hundred yards of their destination and are only trapped by the low water level. A miraculous rain floods the river while the two sleep, and in the morning, they find that perhaps, like Peachey and Danny, their loyalty to one another has delivered them from death after all. On the varieties and functions of “magic” in Kipling’s fiction, especially in relation to the transformative potential of the middle class and its values, see Kucich 2007, pp. 136–195. 22. A similar rift opens up between the two characters in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Dobbs, played by Humphrey Bogart, turns hubristic and conniving, and dies while trying to make off with the entirety of the loot,



while Curtin, played by Tim Holt, keeps his head and his humanity, despite being tempted, and survives. 23. Huston’s interest in the figure of the returned veteran began early in his career when he made Let There Be Light (1946), a documentary about psychologically damaged Second World War veterans sponsored by the US War Department, which then sequestered it until 1980 for its uncompromising portrayal of the men’s suffering. Light tells the story of a three-part treatment regimen for veterans with psychological disorders: interviews between returned soldiers and psychologists in which the soldiers talk about their experiences, followed by occupational and group therapy, and finally, reintegration with their families and full discharge. This road to wellness, however, is belied by the men’s speech impediments developed in combat, the brusqueness and insensitivity of the doctors, the “cures” delivered by injections of sodium amatol, and the questionable therapeutic value of making hobby horses and playing sports. Of the documentaries Huston made for the War Department, Let There Be Light comes closest in subject and tone to the disenchantment with armed conflict that the Vietnam War represented to the American public—and the 1970s films Hollywood made to express it. Unfortunately, the 1980 prints of the film were of such poor quality and the soundtrack so garbled and unclear that much of the film’s significance was missed upon its release. It was not until 2012, when the Library of Congress’s National Film Preservation Foundation released its masterfully restored version of the film, that its true power could be seen and heard. For more on the history of the film’s suppression, release, and restoration, see Simmon (n.d.). Let There Be Light is now available online, free of charge, at the National Film Preservation Foundation’s website. 24. Rambo: First Blood (1982), Rambo: First Blood, Part II (1985), Rambo III (1988), Rambo IV (2008), and Rambo: Last Blood (2019). 25. Jeffords (1989) writes that the Vietnam War regenerated “the concepts, constructions, and definitions of masculinity in American culture” and restabilized a gender system built on male authority and power (p. 55). She reads the Rambo cycle in particular as exemplifying Hollywood’s portrayal of the post-Vietnam triumph of heteronormative masculinity. Boyle (2009), however, suggests that the war produced the opposite effect on discourses of American masculinity. She writes that post-Vietnam Hollywood films “pluralized” masculinity and showed that “gender is performative, amorphous, and historically contingent,” as well as bisected by race, sexuality, and disability (p. 1).



References Adair, Gilbert. 1981. Vietnam on film: From the green berets to apocalypse now. New York: Proteus Books. Almond, Ian. 2002. Lessons from Kipling and Rao: How to re-appropriate another culture. Orbis Litterarum: International Review of Literary Studies 57 (4): 275–287. Anderegg, Michael, ed. 1990. Inventing Vietnam: The war in film and television. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Banerjee, Bidisha. 2011. The native as ‘(an)other’ self: Colonial anxiety in Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Man Who Would Be King’. Kipling Journal 85: 7–20. Bascom, Tim. 1998. Secret imperialism: The reader’s response to the narrator in ‘The Man Who Would Be King’. English Literature in Transition 31 (2): 162–173. Beckerman, Jim. 1981. On adapting ‘the most audacious thing in fiction’. In The English novel and the movies, ed. Michael Klein and Gillian Parker, 180–186. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing. Boyle, Brenda M. 2009. Masculinity in Vietnam War narratives: A critical study of fiction, films and nonfiction writings. Jefferson: McFarland. Burnes, Alexander. 1834/1973. Travels in Bokhara, together with a narrative of a voyage on the Indus. Vol. 1–3. Karachi: Oxford University Press. Chapman, James, and Nicholas J. Cull. 2009. Projecting empire: Imperialism and popular cinema. London: I.B. Tauris. Chong, Sylvia Shin Huey. 2012. The oriental obscene: Violence and racial fantasies in the Vietnam era. Durham: Duke University Press. Codell, Julie. 2010. The ideological adventure of The Man Who Would Be King. In John Huston: Essays on a restless director, ed. Tony Tracy and Roddy Fynn, 33–46. Jefferson: McFarland. Danvers, Frederick Charles, Monier Monier-Williams, Steuart Colvin Bayley, Percy Wigram, Brand Sapte, et al. 1894. Memorials of old Haileybury college. Westminster: Archibald Constable. Dirks, Nicholas B. 2006. The scandal of empire: India and the creation of imperial Britain. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, Harvard University Press. Dittmar, Linda, and Gene Michaud, eds. 1990. From Hanoi to Hollywood: The Vietnam War in American film. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. Draudt, Manfred. 1984. Reality or delusion? Narrative technique and meaning in Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King. English Studies 4: 316–326. Elphinstone, Mountstuart. 1815/1969. An account of the kingdom of Caubul and its dependencies in Persia, Tartary, and India. Graz: Akademische Druck – u. Verlagsanstalt. Ewans, Martin. 2002. Afghanistan: A short history of its people and politics. New York: Perennial, HarperCollins Publishers.



Fowler, Corinne. 2007. Chasing tales: Travel writing, journalism and the history of British ideas about Afghanistan, Studia Imagologica, Amsterdam studies on cultural identity. Amsterdam: Rodopi. Franklin, H.  Bruce. 2000. Vietnam and other American fantasies. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press. Fussell, Paul. 1958. Irony, freemasonry, and humane ethics in Kipling’s ‘The Man Who Would Be King’. ELH 25 (3): 216–233. Glance, Jonathan. 2017. A screenplay-centric analysis of Huston’s The Man Who Would Be King. In John Huston as adaptor, ed. Douglas McFarland and Wesley King, 91–103. Albany: The State University of New York Press. Hagerman, Christopher. 2009. In the footsteps of the ‘Macedonian conqueror’: Alexander the Great and British India. International Journal of the Classical Tradition 16 (3–4): 344–392. Harland-Jacobs, Jessica L. 2007. Builders of empire: Freemasons and British imperialism, 1717–1927. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press. Hellman, John. 1986. American myth and the legacy of Vietnam. New  York: Columbia University Press. Jeffords, Susan. 1989. The remasculinization of America: Gender and the Vietnam War. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Jones, William. 1799. The third anniversary discourse, on the Hindus. In The works of Sir William Jones, vol. 1, 19–34. London: G. G. and J. Robinson. Jones, Seth G. 2010. In the graveyard of empires: America’s war in Afghanistan. New York: W.W. Norton. Joseph, Nigel. 2010. Robert Clive and imperial modernity. Comparative Literature and Culture 12 (2): 1–8. Karnow, Stanley. 1984. Vietnam: A history. New York: Penguin Books. Kipling, Rudyard. 1888/1999. The man who would be king. In The man who would be king and other stories, ed. Louis Cornell, 244–279. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ———. 1899/1940. The white man’s burden. In Rudyard Kipling’s verse, Definitive ed., 321–323. Garden City: Doubleday. Kreitzer, Larry J. 2002. The son of god goes forth to war’: Biblical imagery in Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Man Who Would Be King’. In Borders, boundaries and the Bible, ed. Martin O’Kane, 99–125. New York: Sheffield Academic Press. Kucich, John. 2007. Imperial masochism: British fiction, fantasy, and social class. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Long, Robert Emmet. 2001. Introduction. In John Huston: Interviews, ed. Robert Emmet Long, vii–xiv. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. Marx, Edward. 1999. How we lost Kafiristan. Representations 67: 44–66. McBratney, John. 2011. India and empire. In The Cambridge companion to Rudyard Kipling, ed. Howard J.  Booth, 23–36. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.



McBride, Joseph. 2001. John Huston finds that the slow generation of King has made it a richer film. In John Huston: Interviews, ed. Robert Emmet Long, 56–59. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. Meyers, Jeffrey. 1968. The idea of moral authority in The Man Who Would Be King. SEL: Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900 8 (4): 711–723. Mill, James. 1817/1975. The history of British India. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Moore, Robin J. 1999. Imperial India, 1858–1914. In The Oxford history of the British empire, Vol. 3: The nineteenth century, ed. Andrew Porter, 422–446. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Muse, Eben J. 1995. The land of Nam: The Vietnam War in American film. Lanham: Scarecrow Press. Nagai, Kaori. 2009. God and his doubles: Kipling and Conrad’s ‘The Man Who Would Be King’. Critical Survey 21 (2): 88–102. Plotz, Judith. 2010. How ‘The White Man’s Burden’ lost its scare-quotes; Or Kipling and the New American Empire. In Kipling and beyond: Patriotism, globalisation and postcolonialism, ed. Caroline Rooney and Kaori Nagai, 37–57. London: Palgrave Macmillan. ———. 2011. Kipling’s very special relationship: Kipling in America, America in Kipling. In The Cambridge companion to Rudyard Kipling, ed. Howard J. Booth, 37–51. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Rabel, Robert J. 2007. The imitation of Alexander the great in Afghanistan. Helios 34 (1): 97–119. Ray, Robert B. 1985. A certain tendency of the Hollywood cinema, 1930–1980. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Rich, Paul. 1995. Kim and the magic house: Freemasonry and Kipling. In Secret texts: The literature of secret societies, ed. Marie Mulvey Roberts and Hugh Ormsby-Lennon, 322–338. New York: AMS Press. Shippey, Thomas A., and Michael Short. 1972. Framing and distancing in Kipling’s ‘The Man Who Would Be King’. The Journal of Narrative Technique 2 (2): 75–87. Simmon, Scott. n.d. Let there be light film notes. National Film Preservation Foundation. Accessed 12 Mar 2020. Stokes, Eric. 1959/1982. English utilitarians and India. Delhi: Oxford University Press. Sullivan, Zohreh T. 1993. Narratives of empire: The fictions of Rudyard Kipling. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Tytler, Alexander Fraser (Lord Woodhouselee). 1840. Elements of general history, ancient and modern, to which are added a table of chronology, and a comparative view of ancient and modern geography. 5th ed. London: T. Cadell.



Viswanathan, Gauri. 1989. Masks of conquest: Literary study and British rule in India. New York: Columbia University Press. Voeltz, Richard A. 2002. John Huston, Sean Connery, Michael Caine, and the epiphany of The Man Who Would Be King. McNeese Review 40: 40–50. Washbrook, D.A. 1999. India, 1818–1860: The two faces of colonialism. In The Oxford history of the British empire, Vol. 3: The nineteenth century, ed. Andrew Porter, 395–421. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Filmography Across the Pacific. 1942. [Film] Dir. John Huston. USA: Warner Bros. African Queen, The. 1951. [Film] Dir. John Huston. Screenplay by James Agee and John Huston. UK/USA: Romulus Films, Horizon Pictures. Beat the Devil. 1953. [Film] Dir. John Huston. UK/Italy/USA: Romulus Films, Dear Film, Santana Pictures Corporation. Coming Home. 1978. [Film] Dir. Hal Ashby. Screenplay by Waldo Salt and Robert C. Jones. USA: Jerome Hellman Productions, Jayne Productions. Dead of Night. 1972. [Film] Dir. Bob Clark. Canada/UK/USA: Dead Walk Company, Impact Films, Quadrant Films. Deer Hunter, The. 1978. [Film] Dir. Michael Cimino. Screenplay by Deric Washburn. USA: EMI Films, Universal Pictures. Fat City. 1972. [Film] Dir. John Huston. USA: Columbia Pictures, Rastar Pictures. Green Berets, The. 1968. [Film] Dir. Ray Kellogg and John Wayne. Screenplay by James Lee Barrett. USA: Batjac Productions. Let There Be Light. 1946/1980. [Documentary] Dir. John Huston. USA: U.S. Army Pictorial Services. Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, The. 1972. [Film] Dir. John Huston. USA: Coleytown Productions, First Artists. Man Who Would Be King, The. 1975. [Film] Dir. John Huston. Screenplay by John Huston and Gladys Hill. UK/USA: Columbia Pictures, Devon/Persky-­ Bright, Allied Artists Pictures. Misfits, The. 1961. [Film] Dir. John Huston. USA: Seven Arts Productions. Moby Dick. 1956. [Film] Dir. John Huston. UK: Moulin Productions, Warner Bros. Night of the Iguana, The. 1964. [Film] Dir. John Huston. USA: Seven Arts Productions. Night of the Living Dead. 1968. [Film] Dir. George A. Romero. USA: Image Ten. Rambo III. 1988. [Film] Dir. Peter MacDonald. USA: Carolco Pictures. Rambo IV. 2008. [Film] Dir. Sylvester Stallone. Germany/USA: Lionsgate, The Weinstein Company, Millennium Films. Rambo: First Blood. 1982. [Film] Dir. Ted Kotcheff. USA: Anabasis N.V., Cinema ‘84, Elcajo Productions.



Rambo: First Blood, Part II. 1985. [Film] Dir. George P. Cosmatos. USA/Mexico: Estudios Churubusco Azteca S.A., Anabasis N.V. Rambo: Last Blood. 2019. [Film] Dir. Adrian Grunberg. USA/Bulgaria: Lionsgate, Millennium Films, Campbell Grobman Films, Dadi Film Group, Balboa Productions, Templeton Media. Reflections in a Golden Eye. 1967. [Film] Dir. John Huston. USA: Warner Bros./ Seven Arts. Sinful Davey. 1969. [Film] Dir. John Huston. UK: Mirisch-Webb, The Mirisch Corporation. Taxi Driver. 1976. [Film] Dir. Martin Scorsese. USA: Columbia Pictures, Columbia Pictures, Bill/Phillips, Italo/Judeo Productions. Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The. 1948. [Film] Dir. John Huston. USA/Mexico: Warner Bros.

Unaccounted Modernities in Tess and Trishna

Since the late 1990s, the discourse of multiple modernities has become significant within postcolonial studies.1 A revisionist approach to the study of history and culture, multiple modernities scholarship seeks to recover or reveal forgotten or ignored understandings of modernity that provide alternatives to the capitalistic, western modernity made prevalent throughout the world by European colonialism. This chapter argues that although the ethical intentions behind such discursive practices are important, the desire to “save” these versions of modernity relies on many of the same assumptions inherent in capitalist improvement discourse. Both measure value by utility, and both assume the teleological development of the agential subject and the connection between agency and speech. In an effort to propose an alternative both to improvement ideology and the revisionist discourses that criticize it but follow its logic nonetheless, I read Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891b) and its recent film adaptation, Trishna (2011), as examples of texts which register the disappearance of alternatives to capitalist modernity without trying to rescue them. In doing so, I put pressure on the humanitarian assumption that the western improver improves men and women of the global south by giving them a voice, and suggest that humanitarianism that lacks reflection about its connection to improvement ideology risks reenacting imperial power relations in the contemporary developing world. The notion of multiple modernities challenges classical theories of modernization prevalent in the 1950s that assumed that “the cultural © The Author(s) 2020 V. Y. Kao, Postcolonial Screen Adaptation and the British Novel,




program of modernity as it developed in modern Europe […] would ultimately take over in all modernizing and modern societies,” and that a single version of modernity would “prevail throughout the world” (Eisenstadt 2002, p.  1). The many versions of modernity that emerged after the two world wars failed to bear out this assumption of convergence: the newly independent nations of the global south did not exhibit the developmental trajectory that nineteenth-century improvement ideology had foretold.2 Bourgeois western modernity—the doctrine of capitalist economic growth as progress, secularization, individualism, industrialization, the rule of law, and representative government—did not take hold everywhere, took hold in various ways incompletely, or was transformed by encounters with non-western cultures. The key argument of multiple modernities has been that “forms of modernity are so varied and contingent on culture and historical circumstance that the term itself [modernity] must be spoken of in the plural” (Fourie 2012, p. 52). Furthermore, just as “the modern” and “the west” were revealed as non-identical, so too was improvement ideology found to be something other than the universal betterment in life quality it claimed to be. Scholars of multiple modernities agree that bourgeois western modernity was exported to the non-western world through imperialism and colonialism. Eisenstadt (2002) proposes that it first affected East and Southeast Asian societies, and then spread into West Asia and Africa (p. 14). “By the end of the twentieth century, it encompassed nearly the entire world, the first true wave of globalization,” and the “appropriation” by non-western societies of certain aspects of western modernity “entailed the continuous selection, reinterpretation, and reformulation of these imported ideas” (Eisenstadt 2002, p. 15). Beyond the consensus of how modernity became multiple, however, there exists much debate over what the critical field of multiple modernities should concern itself with. One side of the debate proposes accepting the fact that western modernity has already won the day as the hegemonic discourse of what it means to be modern, and that it functions as the primary reference point for non-­ western societies’ understandings of their own modernity. Regardless of whether non-western societies appropriated or rejected certain aspects of western modernity, they cannot but engage with it on some level. Dilip Gaonkar (2001), for instance, writes that it is “virtually impossible” to “blithely abando[n]” (p. 14) western modernity and its discourse; thus, the critical force of multiple modernities lies in particularizing—and thus, de-universalizing—western modernity by studying its “creative



adaptations” (p.  18) from specific postcolonial “national/cultural sites” (p. 15). The agency resides in the details: examining what is rejected and what adapted reveals “where a people ‘make’ themselves modern, as opposed to being ‘made’ modern by alien and impersonal forces, and where they give themselves an identity and a destiny” (p.  18). Dipesh Chakrabarty’s (2007) Provincializing Europe performs a similar act of decentering of the western categories of historicism and capital, but does not deny the centrality of these categories: “the understanding that ‘we’ all do ‘European’ history with our different and often non-European archive opens up the possibility of a politics and project of alliance between the dominant metropolitan histories and the subaltern peripheral pasts” (p. 42). Chakrabarty’s interest is in recovering those subaltern pasts that “enact other ways of being in the world” not “automatically aligned with the logic of capital” that nevertheless exist proximately to, and are sublated within, that logic (p.  66). Paul Gilroy (1993) has likewise argued that the way to decenter classical western modernity is to expose its underbelly, its inextricability from modern slavery and the barbarity it seeks to purge.3 The other side of the debate, however, says that trying to decenter western modernity while buttressing its dominance lacks the radical rethinking necessary to effect the decentering that such work claims to do. Walter Mignolo (2011) has argued that “epistemic delinking” from the western discourse of modernity is the only “decolonial option” (p. 315), that “it is not enough to change the content; the terms of the conversation must be changed” (p.  122). For Mignolo, the task facing postcolonial studies is to rediscover and reveal pre-modern and pre-colonial conceptualizations of time and space and revive them as true alternatives to western modernity. Rao, Shulman, and Subrahmanyam (2002), for example, have answered Mignolo’s call for delinking by tracing a pre-colonial tradition of historiography in South India that refutes the notion that British colonialism brought the concept of linear time to Indians.4 The main point of contention between these positions lies in whether the western conception of modernity that forms the end point of nineteenth-­ century improvement ideology should occupy the central node of discussion about postcolonial modernity. Should multiple modernities be considered variations on a single option or discrete alternatives to that option? Different as these positions are, they both call for the retrieval of histories lost to, interrupted by, or confronted and amalgamated with modern European colonialism and the western discourse of modernity.



Mignolo and Rao, Shulman, and Subrahmanyam seek to retrieve pre-­ modern categories that, once rediscovered and understood, can contribute to new postcolonial epistemologies. But even Gaonkar, Chakrabarty, and Gilroy seek to recover pieces of the story of western modernity itself— its violence, its constitutive hybridity—that have been written out of history. In its desire to retrieve and recover, multiple modernities exhibits an ethical disposition similar to other revisionist critical modes. Feminism, new historicism, and race, class, ethnic and cultural studies have also worked to reclaim the people, events, and narratives that have been historically overlooked or undervalued by drawing attention to them and giving them voice.5 This critical attempt to recover the “undesirable” parts of history that destabilize western modernity’s “idealized self-­ understanding of bourgeois modernity” (Gaonkar 2001, p. 2) is a reaction to the capitalist notion that profit or use equals value, a notion that underlies western modernity itself and the ideological improvement ethos that supports it. As Anne-Lise François (2008) has argued, improvement ideology combines a “capitalist investment in value and work” and “the Enlightenment allegiance to rationalism and unbounded progress” (p. xvi). Improvement reduces life’s complexity down to the difference between what has the potential to be made more profitable by the feats of labor and technology, and what shows no promise for such an enterprise, and thus has no place in modernity. Useful things belong to the march of progress and are worth attention and investment; useless things are labeled unimprovable and unmodern. Parceling life into such reductive terms creates conditions for the loss of experiences that fall outside of improvement’s calculus: those things that cannot be made to do remain unaccounted for. Against this train of thought, revisionist modes of critical engagement have suggested that even those things deemed unprofitable or unsuitable to a capitalist narrative of progress nevertheless have value and should be recorded for their own sake. François (2008) writes that such critical practices “share an ethos of attending to unobserved, not-for-profit experience rather than results entered on the public record” (p.  21): they make the uncounted count. This chapter proposes that these efforts essentially enact the same logic of capitalist improvement they criticize. Although they seem to offer an alternative to improvement ideology, these critical practices fail to extricate themselves from the logic of making things “count.” François (2008)



writes that the “crass, calculating… ‘worrying’ of time for material gain” can be “recast” as “the willingness to pay patient attention, whether in the hopes of opening the eyes of others to their ideological mystification, or of fostering recognition of previously neglected literary traditions, or even of correcting the misperception, indeed nonapprehension” of “unaccountable practices” (p. 25). The “heroic, articulating energies” of the improvement project “never burn more intensely” than when driving critical practices that desire to rescue the “minor, nugatory, unworthy, [and] insignificant” by articulating them ever more forcefully (p. 25). François (2008) suggests instead that we find ways of maintaining the ethical spirit behind revisionist critical practices while not taking for granted that more exposure and more articulation are the best means of resisting capitalist improvement ideology. In this chapter, I challenge the assumption that to retrieve uncounted histories of modernity represents the only ethical treatment of those histories. The chapter explores the tension between the desire to account for past and present experiences that fall outside improvement’s profitizing calculus, and the choice to allow such experiences to erode away, detected but unsaved. Although the latter, like the former, attends to uncounted experiences of modernity, it resists improvement’s desire for progress because it does not try to make such experience “matter” in the history of critical practice or cultural memory, allowing its loss to improvement’s grand narrative to be felt all the more. Both the desire to count and the choice to leave uncounted inform Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891a/2008) and Michael Winterbottom’s Trishna (2011), a film adaptation of the novel set in twenty-first-century Rajasthan and Mumbai, India. In both texts, improvement ideology wants to turn history to profit, to make it count, and to make it pay, while the silences, gaps, elisions, and moments of withholding in the texts resist this demand for accountability. The female protagonists in novel and film, Tess and Trishna, represent alternative conceptions of modernity that go against the improvement ideologies that inform the actions of the texts’ male protagonists, characters who marry a capitalist desire to turn waste to profit and a revisionist impulse to uncover hidden narratives and make them count. The two female characters embody the possibility of organizing modern life according to collectivity and mutual aid instead of competition and profit. Both novel and film use their female protagonists and minor characters to foreground moments of withholding, silence, and non-narrativity that refuse to be incorporated into a



profitable project of articulation in order to resist the capitalistic improvement energies of its men. But the alternative modernities that these texts “offer” are in fact described only in terms of their loss—their passage into the realm of the counterfactual before becoming possible realities. In drawing attention to disappeared or disappearing conceptions of non-­ capitalistic or non-western modernity, Tess and Trishna circumvent the complicity in capitalist improvement ideology exhibited by revisionist criticism. In doing so, both novel and film reevaluate the ethics of “rescuing” the voices western modernization silences.

Hardy’s Improving Men The criticism on Hardy often describes him as a “transitional” figure, a writer historically positioned to occupy the dual roles of last Victorian novelist and first modern poet, and whose works are deeply concerned with the transition from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century (Flynn 2010, p.  87). The Wessex novels evoke the disappearance of centuries-­old traditions and customs to the inevitable modernization of English society, and an accompanying desire to record historical continuity and geographic particularity before the future destroys both.6 Hardy’s preoccupation with the loss that accompanies change might seem to suggest his affinity with, or anticipation of, multiple modernities discourse and its desire to retrieve lost alternatives to the present. But instead of trying to recover and reclaim, Hardy registers the possibilistic by drawing attention to its obsolescence, to its absence after having passed into the realm of the counterfactual. The early nineteenth century conflict between opposing definitions of improvement frames Hardy’s depiction of the continuity that abides in a place and the revolutionary change created by modern technologies. This conflict is best illustrated by the difference between Humphry Repton’s and Edmund Burke’s understandings of improvement.7 Repton (1752–1818) inherited landscape designer Capability Brown’s business and aesthetic, and was a figure of controversy whose sudden and vast estate reorganizations met with both support and disapproval. Alistair Duckworth (1971) shows how Jane Austen in Mansfield Park makes Repton representative of “the improver” generally, whose “drastic alterations to landscape” and “radical” change of an estate’s design often involved “not only the indiscriminate cutting down of trees and the magical creation of rivers and lakes but, on occasion, the relocation of whole villages which blocked the prospect and the redirection of roads by special



acts of Parliament” (pp.  44–45). Such a figure and his projects struck Austen as “emblems of inordinate change,” and suggested that the “adoption of Reptonian methods” entailed “dangerous consequences for the continuity of a culture” (p. 45). The continuity of a culture, and that continuity’s dependence on the responsible stewardship of property, is precisely what Burke feared would be lost to revolutionary political activity. Duckworth writes that Austen held a Burkean vision of proper improvement to an estate and the community it supports. For Burke, “to ‘improve’ was to treat the deficient or corrupt parts of an established order with the character of the whole in mind; to ‘innovate’ or ‘alter,’ on the other hand, was to destroy all that had been built up by the ‘collected reason of the ages’” (Duckworth 1971, pp.  46–47). In The Reflections on the Revolution in France, Burke (1790/2009) argues that the English Revolution improved the deficient parts of an orderly and traditional culture, whereas the French Revolution destroyed a culture’s inheritance through radical innovation and alteration. Duckworth (1971) concludes that for Austen, Reptonian improvements were as destructive to an inherited, harmonious social order as was the French Revolution, for the grounds of an estate represented in small an entire society and its geographic particularity. This early-century debate on the proper improvement of land and human culture provides a helpful frame of reference for Hardy’s late-­ century depiction of the opposition between preservation and modernization. In Tess, Alec D’Urberville and Angel Clare represent the continuation into the modern era of the struggle between Reptonian and Burkean notions of improvement. The Stoke-D’Urbervilles’ approach to property improvement can be seen as a late-century adaptation of Reptonian aesthetics of estate innovation. Angel represents the countervailing approach to improvement that takes its cue from Burke’s conservative reliance on precedence as a way of tailoring the future to what has already been established in the past. Considering Hardy’s interest in the continuity, legacy, and gradual evolution of a particular location and its human culture, one might assume that Hardy adopts Burke’s prescriptive of slow and steady change over sudden and drastic innovation. I want to suggest, however, that Hardy is critical of both early-century approaches to improvement, for, different as they are, both of these approaches evince an Enlightenment utilitarianism that makes the past actively do so as not to let it go to waste, not to let it merely be.



Alec, the Stoke-D’Urbervilles, and their property The Slopes use the past to improve the present, disregarding the past as an end in itself and seeing it only as raw material for the profit it might bear in the present. The description of The Slopes emphasizes its “recent erection, indeed almost new,” and its garish “rich red” “that formed such a contrast with the evergreens of the lodge” and the “soft azure” of the woods (Hardy 1891a/2008, p. 43). The Slopes sits just outside The Chase, “a truly venerable tract of forest land; one of the few remaining woodlands in England of undoubted primaeval date, wherein Druidical mistletoe was still found on aged oaks, and where enormous yew-trees, not planted by the hand of man, grew as they had grown when they were pollarded for bows” (p. 44). The juxtaposition of these neighboring pieces of land suggests that whatever used to exist where The Slopes now sits has been improved beyond recognition and without care to maintaining a good fit with its surroundings. The particularity of the land has been lost, for “everything looked like money—like the last coin issued from the Mint” (p. 44). If everything can be reduced to its exchange value, to coins issued from the Mint, then any unique aspect of the land loses its special character and becomes interchangeable with everything else. The problem with improvements of the kind that characterize The Slopes is not simply that the new has changed the old: Hardy (1891a/2008) does not advocate a return to the pre-human world.8 Instead, the problem with improvements at The Slopes is that they reflect a way of seeing the past with an opportunistic and exploitative eye. The change wrought upon The Chase by The Slopes is analogous to Simon Stoke’s turning the historical D’Urberville name to present profit by connecting it with his own. The narrator describes Stoke’s choice of the D’Urberville name as an act of picking out the choice bits of history without regard to anything but their use value: “Conning for an hour in the British Museum the pages of works devoted to extinct, half-extinct, obscured, and ruined families appertaining to the quarter of England in which he proposed to settle he considered that d’Urberville looked and sounded as well as any of them; and d’Urberville accordingly was annexed to his own name for himself and his heirs eternally” (p. 45). “Not an extravagant-minded man,” Stoke seems even comically sheepish in his excessively “reasonable” method of annexation, “never inserting a single title above a rank of strict moderation” (p. 45). But his offense is not moderate. Stoke does not perform a purposeful “regrafting” of his own name onto the D’Urberville lineage. He chooses the D’Urberville line randomly, for it “looked and sounded as



well as any” of the other names that happened to be in the book he haphazardly found. Stoke knows nothing of the character of the D’Urbervilles nor of the woods on top of which he built his home. Ancient names and ancient land, once unique and embedded in the fabric of history, are reduced to interchangeable units by the single calculus of what new value they might bring. Like the Stoke-D’Urbervilles, Angel Clare also values the past for what it might yield to benefit himself in the present. Angel believes Tess to be an extension of the natural environment he associates with his ideal of rural life. Tess’s simple and innocent disposition restored to her ancestors’ refined sensibilities and education would articulate perfectly his desire to live a refined and sophisticated agrarian life—the marriage of intellect and manual labor to which he directs his life’s aim. While Alec’s attempts to improve Tess rely on disciplining her and making her dependent on his beneficence, Angel’s improvement of Tess is based on his idealization of her “purity” as virgin and nature goddess: “It was then, as has been said, that she impressed him most deeply. She was no longer the milkmaid, but a visionary essence of woman—a whole sex condensed into one typical form. He called her Artemis, Demeter, and other fanciful names, half-­ teasingly—which she did not like because she did not understand them” (p.  146). Angel’s idealizing of Tess is linked to his keen interest in her D’Urberville heritage. Although Mr. Crick tells Tess that Angel has no use for old families, Angel himself admits to his father that he is “tenderly attached to them,” “lyrically, dramatically, and even historically” (p. 184). His sentimental attachment to the past seems to be just what Simon Stoke was missing when he attached D’Urberville to his own name. But Angel’s attachment manifests itself as the desire to restore the past to its former glory for his own present benefit. Tess restored to her “original” refined manners, education, and polish would be the crowning achievement of Angel’s unorthodox decision to become a farmer instead of entering the church like his brothers: To produce Tess fresh from the dairy as a d’Urberville and a lady he had felt to be temerarious and risky: hence he had concealed her lineage till such time as, familiarized with worldly ways by a few months’ travel and reading with him, he could take her on a visit to his parents and impart the knowledge while triumphantly producing her as worthy of such an ancient line. It was a pretty lover’s dream, if no more. Perhaps Tess’s lineage had more value for himself than for anybody in the world besides. (p. 229)



Thus altered, Tess would prove that his choice had been the correct one, and that the agrarian life was indeed as idyllic as he imagined it to be, a place where the free-spirited pagan and the aristocratic lady could coexist. Angel wants Tess to coalesce the many ideals he holds, to be a piece of the past that validates his present life. For Angel, Tess is the perfect raw material upon which to work because the material itself is of good quality to begin with. In free indirect discourse, the narrator expresses Angel’s notion that “though untrained,” Tess was “instinctively refined” as the result of her inheritance, and “her nature cried for his tutelary guidance […] cried out to be restored to its former refinement” (p. 199). Thus, Angel’s style of improvement is based on restoration through reconstruction: with his progressive ideas and modern education, he would transform a backward and pre-modern Tess into an updated but historical version of herself. What makes her so attractive to him is her potential to be retroactively improved to the status of her ancestors: she is an experiment in turning back the clock, in erasing the degradations of intervening generations and returning to a “purer” state of agrarian England populated by noble families in their pure state. Angel’s valuation of Tess’s lineage is a capitalist evaluation of what an old bloodline is worth: like renovating a fallen manor house, Angel wants to restore Tess’s aristocratic value by giving her the cultural polish to match his perception of her good genetic stock. Such a renovation would make Tess much more “sale-able” to his parents as a suitable match, in the way a good piece of property can attract a better buyer when restored to its original charm.9 Shed of her embarrassing provincialisms, Tess would also help Angel account for his chosen career path: she would exemplify the successful yoking of the aristocratic “head” to the farmer’s able “hand,” the very combination that Angel seeks to fulfill as both thinking and laboring man. Tess refined would represent a way to turn the past into a profit-­ bearing and fashionable emblem of a modern class of educated and sophisticated middle-class farmers. The novel shows how its improving men and their single-minded desire to turn history to profit do not, in fact, improve lives at all, but instead wreak disastrous effects on the people with whom and environments with which they come in contact. For improvement is not simply a general concern with making the future better than the past, but an ideology by which the improver gets to decide which parts of the past matter and which do not, which have value and which do not—according to the reductive and single calculus of benefit to the improver himself. The



novel’s ways of circumventing improvement logic, then, serve to question the ideology’s ethics. By including examples of withholding, silence, and non-narrativity, the novel provides an escape hatch by which certain moments can elude improvement’s quest for more investment opportunities, more objects for improvement. Moments in which the accounts of minor characters fail to make an impact, or the novel deliberately withholds its account of central plot points, are moments in which a lack of revelation, speech, or articulation becomes a means of dodging improvement’s desire to turn the past to account. In these moments, the novel meditates on the difference between those things that eventually become “history”—and therefore subject to improving energies—and those that remain in the realm of the counterfactual and become improvement’s missed opportunities.10 If history is the always-partial account of things that “count”—the events and figures considered “valuable” enough to designate as having happened or existed—then what lies outside of that articulated record comprises the wealth of possibilities that might have been. Such possibilities, although cast aside by the historian as “uncounted” or “uncountable,” live in the realm of the counterfactual and contain potential that was not, cannot, and will not be used by those who seek to profit by the past. Within the novel’s moments of withholding, gestures toward characters unnamed, and mentions of actions not pursued inhere a kind of potential that remains outside the grasp of improvement because it has already been consigned to the waste bin of history before it can become history revised. The hidden sexual encounter between Alec and Tess exemplifies the novel’s use of silence to bypass improvement ideologies. In the “Preface to the Fifth and Later Editions” of Tess, Hardy (1891a/2008) writes that this novel begins where other novels end: “the great campaign of the heroine begins after an event in her experience which has usually been treated as fatal to her part of protagonist, or at least as the virtual ending of her enterprises and hopes” (p.  4). Tess’s nocturnal encounter with Alec D’Urberville in The Chase that results in her bearing his child should be the last event in the novel, after which the heroine makes her graceful exit, and the reader is left to ponder the virtue of sexual purity and the vice of sexual indulgence. But what is arguably the central event of the novel happens not at the novel’s end, but at the beginning, wedged into the gap between Phases One and Two. The event that determines the rest of Tess’s life is hidden from the reader, and because the child dies, seems to leave no trace.



After Tess buries the child Sorrow, she “transplant[s]” herself into the “deeper soil” of a new place, determined to forget the past and begin a new life as a new person (Hardy 1891a/2008, p. 144). This re-beginning, a transition into what Gillian Beer (2002) calls “the afterlife” from “the life before” (p. 18), requires a silencing of the already-silenced event in her past. In order to have any hope of an “afterlife” with Angel, Tess must make her prior life with Alec disappear. What Angel says to her on their wedding night is true, that Tess is her own reincarnation: “the woman I have been loving is not you,” but “another woman in your shape” (Hardy 1891a/2008, pp. 248–49). Tess prior to her confession is a woman without history; afterward, she is a woman with a past. Tess’s speech act, however, her big revelation, is communicated to the reader through yet another moment of silence. The novel elides Tess’s speaking of the event: the Fourth Phase ends as Tess begins her confession and the Fifth begins with Angel’s reaction to it. The account of the signal event of the novel goes twice unaccounted, despite being recounted. Furthermore, in the aftermath of Tess’s revelation, it seems that her act of accounting for herself is not enough. As the subtitle to the Fifth Phase (“The Woman Pays”) suggests, Tess must spend the rest of the novel paying a debt for not accounting earlier for what has been all along, and will remain, undiscoverable by the reader. Although it hides the sexual encounter itself, the novel is punctuated by possibilities as to how that encounter might have turned out differently. Small, insignificant moments of the text point to conversations and happenings that might have changed Tess’s history had they been said or done—but they were not; these possibilities close down almost immediately after they are opened and before they can be realized. For example, the unnamed women working alongside Tess in the fields at Marlott let on about the sexual encounter that “‘A little more than persuading had to do wi’ the coming o’t, I reckon’” (p. 103), though none of them acts on this information or uses it to vindicate Tess’s reputation. The women also reveal the presence of unnamed villagers who might provide corroborating evidence: “‘There were they that heard a sobbing one night last year in The Chase; and it mid ha’ gone hard wi’ a certain party if folks had come along’” (p. 103). The comments indicate Hardy’s commitment to building into the novel different interpretations of Tess, some that become part of her “history” and some that are lost. But more importantly, the comments suggest the contingency of the sexual act: although it forms the



central event in the novel, it might have gone differently if those who could have intervened had done so. The novel also alludes to alternative accounts of Tess’s family history, only to record that they have been lost before the reader gets to hear them. At Talbothays, for example, Mr. Crick informs Tess about an old woman who once told him “that a family of some such name as yours in Blackmoor Vale came originally from these parts,” but Crick “took no notice of the old woman’s ramblings” (p.  123). Her ramblings recall Parson Tringham’s rambling off to John Durbeyfield the history of his family. The novel’s recording of Tringham’s version contrasts with its recording of the loss of the old woman’s, suggesting that the antiquarian’s history survives while oral history wears away. Perhaps it is Crick’s mention of the old woman that leads Tess to wonder after Angel’s proposal of marriage, “‘Why don’t somebody tell him all about me?’ she said. ‘It was only forty miles off—why hasn’t it reached here? Somebody must know!’” (p. 193) The narrator’s response, that “nobody seemed to know” (p. 193), does not fit with what the novel has established. Indeed, other eyes and ears witnessed, and other voices passed on, the events about which we read. The text’s glances at the gossip of minor characters reveal the contingency of the major plot points and gesture toward alternate historical records that go unheard, and then erode away. History is buried, exhumed, and buried again in Tess. The historical event in question is always already hidden from us, as it is happening in the present, as well as when it is recounted as a thing of the past. Alec tries to improve himself with an aristocratic name, Angel with an aristocratic lineage: such names and lineages embody the kind of history considered to have positive value embedded within it, the kind of history worth recording because of its use in establishing links between past and present locations of power. However, the event that the novel refuses to disclose and the alternative narratives it refuses to realize, are, in some sense, the opposite—pieces of the past that fall away into the realm of the counterfactual and whose loss gives official history its value as such. The two kinds of history the novel presents are diametrically different, and the novel allows them to remain so, not attempting to turn unofficial history into official record. In doing so, the novel differentiates itself from the revisionist criticism mentioned earlier. It suggests that the way to resist the profitizing impulses of capitalist improvement that inform the value system of historical recordation may not be to enact what is essentially the same impulse in trying to account for those parts of history that that discourse leaves out.



Instead, registering the loss of such histories might actually provide a way of resisting improvement’s demand for accountability by evading its logic altogether.

Tess: Counterfactual Evolution as Alternative Modernity The improvement ideologies represented by Alec and Angel promote a bourgeois western definition of modernity. Both ideologies participate in a capitalistic and Enlightenment utilitarianism that makes the past actively do rather than allowing it to be. The Stoke-D’Urbervilles’ Reptonian desire for novelty and indiscriminate use of the past for present profit represent the kind of innovation and individualism responsible for England’s rapid industrialization and worship of capitalist economic growth. Although Angel’s version of improvement emphasizes restoration over innovation, he shares with the Stoke-D’Urbervilles their distinguishing between those pieces of the past that are “useful” and can be modernized, and those that are “backward” and should be improved away. Both male protagonists disregard the past as an end in itself and see it only as raw material for the profit it might bear in the present. By the time Hardy wrote and published Tess, the protest he lodged against capitalist improvement ideology through his portrayal of Angel and Alec was already belated, as industrialism had long since triumphed in Britain by century’s end. Industrial progress was the engine of the single version of modernity that would, recalling Eisenstadt (2002), seek to “prevail throughout the world” as it reshaped the indigenous economies of the colonies. A self-conscious knowledge of this belated protest tempers the novel’s gestures toward its counterfactual narratives, unrecorded histories, and moments of withholding. The allusions to narrative possibilities not included in the plot evince a sense of their own futility, but the novel does not try to compensate for its inability to “tell” and “record” effectively. Like the minor characters’ digressions and the novel’s handling of the hidden sexual encounter at its center, Tess Durbeyfield herself represents another way that things might have gone, but didn’t. Tess’s case, however, bears directly on Hardy’s vision of a kind of modernity that could act as a true alternative to the western capitalist version—she is the closest Hardy comes to rescuing a lost understanding of the modern in the revisionist sense. But that “rescue” is tempered by its own belatedness, by



the knowledge that Tess’s path toward a communitarian future had already been occluded before we encounter it as a possibility. The critical literature remains divided over whether the novel represents Tess as the last of a degenerate race, or if it portrays her instead as the first of a new kind of organism (Niemeyer 2003, p. 101). Peter Morton (1984) claims that Tess follows a standard neo-Darwinian worldview that emphasizes the determinism of natural selection (p. 42). Neo-Darwinism “reaffirmed the pessimistic side of Darwinism” and the individual’s helplessness in the face of inheritance. For Morton, Tess “fails to perceive the non-material legacy bequeathed to her by the mindless forces of heredity which control her motivation” (p.  44): Tess’s grand mistake is that she “believes she chooses her destiny”—a “tragic self-deception” (p.  48). J.  R. Ebbatson (1975) has argued, however, that “Hardy’s natural tendency” is “always to balance the remorseless laws of biological struggle” with “a far more romantic apprehension of the world” (p. 248). Hardy believed in both the deterministic and possibilistic powers of nature; thus, Tess exhibits both a fatalistic pessimism as well as an “unfettered pantheism” where humans are linked directly to landscape, animals, and seasons (Ebbatson 1975, p. 250). Although subject to certain biological principles such as natural and sexual selection, humans share in that “great passionate pulse of existence” that cannot be restricted by social laws (pp. 250–51). “Against the life of organic process, with its potential for happiness or misery, stands the coercive power of law, opinion, and morality” (p. 251): nature frees, while human society makes individuals powerless and insignificant. Building on Ebbatson’s reading, Bruce Johnson (1977) has proposed that Tess represents the first of a new human species whose worldview is shaped by the “awareness of the evolutionary oneness of all life”; she is “precisely the essence toward which evolution has driven man” (Johnson 1977, p. 276). Johnson argues that the aspect of Darwinian science that interested Hardy most was the sense of the “evolutionary connections among all life (the relatedness of man and ‘lower’ forms)” (p. 272). Tess acts as an appeal for inclusiveness rather than a complaint against determinism and competition. In Hardy’s autobiography, he writes that “Altruism, or the Golden Rule, or whatever ‘Love your Neighbor as Yourself’ may be called, will ultimately be brought about I think by the pain we see in others reacting on ourselves, as if we and they were a part of one body. Mankind, in fact, may be and possibly will be viewed as members of one corporeal frame” (qtd in Johnson 1977, p.  272). Whereas Alec represents the total



destruction of the old by the new, and Angel idealizes the old by trying to restore the present to its former state, Tess represents the evolution of humans toward a vision of ecology and an understanding of the individual’s continuity with the community and nature, while not being subject to either. Tess’s approach to the past is to use it as an opportunity to create a particular disposition, one that orients the self toward a sense of one’s connectedness to all that is beyond the self, the lives of others in the past as well as in the present. The best use of the past, then, is to foster fellow-­ feeling with “nature’s teeming family” (Hardy 1891a/2008, p. 298). The reader first encounters Tess as a member of the community of Marlott. She exists as a member of the women’s club before being singled out as an individual character and the novel’s protagonist. The club, moreover, exists to promote charity and mutual aid formed in ancient times to solicit charitable donations in cases of sickness or death (Hardy 1891a/2008, p. 422n17). The club-walking, like the old oak copses and irregular belts of timber, reveals a “trace” of Marlott “in its earlier condition” (Hardy 1891a/2008, p. 19): “The forests have departed, but some old customs of their shades remain. Many however linger only in a metamorphosed or disguised form. The May-Day dance, for instance, was to be discerned, on the afternoon under notice, in the guise of the club-revel, or ‘club-walking’, as it was there called”; “It had walked for hundreds of years, if not as benefit-club, as votive sisterhood of some sort; and it walked still” (p.  19). The narrator describes the club as a single, ever-evolving entity. Though its members change from generation to generation, the club itself acts as an organism that retains a conceptual and even physical coherence despite its variations. Gillian Beer (2002) has written that Hardy drew on Huxley and Darwin to imagine hereditary descent not only as a force of determinism that acts on the individual but as “shared afterlives” (p. 25). Angel’s appearance at the dance reaffirms the notion of the club as organism. One of the young women presses Angel to choose a dancing partner, and the scene sets up the perfect opportunity for sexual selection: the individual most fit to reproduce the species will be chosen. But instead, Angel’s decision-making process and eventual choice emphasizes mutual aid over competition: The young man thus invited glanced them over, and attempted some discrimination; but as the group were all so new to him he could not very well exercise it. He took almost the first that came to hand, which was not the



speaker, as she had expected; nor did it happen to be Tess Durbeyfield. Pedigree, ancestral skeletons, monumental record, the d’Urberville lineaments, did not help Tess in her life’s battle as yet, even to the extent of attracting to her a dancing-partner over the heads of the commonest peasantry. So much for Norman blood unaided by Victorian lucre. (p. 23)

Read within a neo-Darwinian framework, the passage might indicate the overwhelming role of chance, of the randomness that rules the universe as opposed to the order that should be found in a world with a creator. But it can also be read as Hardy’s choice to underscore the fitness of a group despite the presence of exceptional individuals. Angel cannot distinguish between individuals, but nevertheless judges the fitness of the group of women as a whole to be sufficient, whereas his brothers fear being seen among “a troop of country hoydens” (p. 22). The narrator’s commentary that “pedigree, ancestral skeletons, monumental record, the d’Urberville lineaments, did not help Tess in her life’s battle as yet” is ironic, for neither do these ever help her with the many battles that take place in her life subsequent to this opening phase. Likewise, the notion that Tess’s superior individual traits did not serve to elevate her “over the heads of the commonest peasantry” is undercut by Parson Tringham’s aside to John Durbeyfield that “there are several families among the cottagers of this county of almost equal lustre” (p. 15) as the D’Urbervilles. The references to Tess’s ancestry do not single her out as the fittest member of the group, but instead provide a different way of emphasizing the notion of continuity that the club’s mutual aid and group cohesion also invoke. Although Tess may be an exceptional creature, she “move[s] on with the whole body” (p. 21), connected to her ancestors in the past and her fellows in the present. But it is precisely Tess’s ability to think in terms of continuity and inclusiveness that makes her the fittest member of her family and community. Unlike her parents, whose self-centeredness makes them bad leaders of the family unit, Tess is able to be “humanely beneficent” (p. 43) to her siblings and a good caretaker of her irresponsible parents. Furthermore, she can imagine the lives of others in her community, even those outside the bonds of family or acquaintance: “It grew later, and neither father nor mother reappeared. Tess looked out of the door, and took a mental journey through Marlott. The village was shutting its eyes. Candles and lamps were being put out everywhere: she could inwardly behold the extinguisher, and the extended hand” (p. 30). Self and other blend into one



community experience as Tess leaves her own body behind and pictures herself in the place of others going through an action that she herself might also do on an ordinary evening. In addition to her sympathy for her human family, Tess also senses her connection to non-human species. Eight months after Angel abandons her, Tess wanders the area surrounding Marlott picking up temporary work. One night she stops in a plantation and hears in the trees overhead a “flutter,” a “gasp,” or a “gurgle,” followed by a fall of a body to the ground (Hardy 1891a/2008, p. 297). In the morning she sees a group of pheasants lying in a bloody heap, some dead, some in the last twitches of death, “pulsating,” “contorted,” and “writhing in agony” (p. 297). Tess guesses that the animals are the victims of a shooting party, and like herself, treated in a way “unmannerly and unchivalrous” (p.  298) by the upper classes (as represented through Alec and Angel). Tess feels her connectedness to the birds, while at the same time, recognizes that their suffering outweighs her own: “‘to suppose myself the most miserable being on earth in the sight o’ such misery as yours!’” (p. 298). The dual perspective leads her to snap the necks of as many birds as she can find, doing a cruel kindness to the animals—and symbolically prefiguring her own life’s end. Tess’s ability to imagine herself in the place of other humans and non-­ humans while maintaining her own judgment about their situation recalls Adam Smith’s (1853/2020) description in The Theory of Moral Sentiments of what true sympathy entails. Smith suggests that sympathy is created not only by observing others’ suffering and “conceiving what we ourselves should feel in the like situation” (par. 241), but by combining emotional identification with impartial moral judgment. “The compassion of the spectator,” Smith writes, “must arise altogether from the consideration of what he himself would feel if he was reduced to the same unhappy situation, and, what perhaps is impossible, was at the same time able to regard it with his present reason and judgment” (Smith 1853/2020, par. 250). One should consider the context of another’s situation and what the appropriate response to that situation would be, and ask if, according to my “present reason and judgment,” would I act as he does now? The process entails a kind of dissociation or splitting, into, on the one hand, the self that imagines itself in the place of the other, and on the other hand, the self that judges what it would do against what it should do. Toward her fellow humans, Tess performs the “imaginary change of situation” upon which sympathy is founded (Smith 1853/2020, par. 274). But it is with the birds that she manages not only to



identify with other suffering beings, but to observe that, to an impartial observer, the birds’ situation should seem worse than her own, thus “abat[ing] the violence of what [s]he felt before [s]he came into their presence” (par. 276). For Smith, the constant back-and-forth between feeling for oneself and others, and judging the propriety of those feelings, is the foundation for an orderly society in which individuals regulate their own emotional state for the general tranquility of the community. At times, however, Tess’s altruism is put to the test and found wanting. At Talbothays, she finds herself in competition against the other dairymaids for Angel’s attention. “She knew herself to have the preference. Being more finely formed, better educated, and, though the youngest except Retty, more woman than either, she perceived that only the slightest ordinary care was necessary for holding her own in Angel Clare’s heart against these her candid friends. But the grave question was, ought she to do this?” (Hardy 1891a/2008, p. 152). Tess gives selflessness her best try, recommending Izz and Retty to Angel, saying to him, “Don’t they look pretty!” and deciding to “obscure her own wretched charms” (p. 155). But the situation can also be read as a battle between mutual aid and competitiveness, rather than among the four dairymaids for a partner. When Angel finds the four of them trapped by a large puddle on their way to church, he offers to carry all four of them across the flooded area. John Glendening (2007/2016) reads this scene as an example of sexual selection: Tess is directly compared to her three competitors and is found to be the fittest due to her beauty and education (p. 71). Angel admits that he has carried the other three women only as an excuse to carry Tess. But the narrator also describes the four women as a single organism: “Four hearts gave a big throb simultaneously”; and “The whole four flushed, as if one heart beat through them” (p. 158). The two ways of figuring the relationship between the individual and the group exist side by side: Tess as an individual who relies on her exceptional traits to be preferred over the rest of the group, and the four women as a single unit trying to ensure that one of them is chosen in order to reproduce the species. The narrator explores the coexistence of these readings by emphasizing Tess’s contentiousness as well as her sympathy: Tess’s heart ached. There was no concealing from herself the fact that she loved Angel Clare, perhaps all the more passionately from knowing that the others had also lost their hearts to him. There is contagion in this sentiment, especially among women. And yet that same hungry heart of hers



compassionated her friends. Tess’s honest nature had fought against this; but too feebly; and the natural result had followed. (p. 161)

Tess’s “honest nature” refers to the sincerity with which she sympathizes with the other dairymaids, and the sincerity, too, with which she tries to discourage Angel’s interest in her. But the “natural result” of the situation is that her self-interest trumps her altruism. Both are described as “natural,” however, indicating that the novel shows two biological tendencies, both a part of human nature and competing for primacy in the evolutionary development of the species. These two tendencies, the individualistic and the community-oriented, can be extrapolated into the two visions of modernity that the novel proposes. On one hand, Tess’s self-interest is analogous to a competitive, antagonistic capitalism represented by the wheat thresher—an improvement-­oriented desire to turn everything to account, to make the past profitable for the present, as Alec and Angel would have it. On the other hand, her fellow-feeling and sense of connectedness to all those around her, human and non-human alike, represents an alternative way of being modern that contests the ideology of improvement propelling the nineteenth century into the twentieth. The question that the novel asks implicitly is, “what will happen next?” What will the afterlife of the nineteenth century look like, a world of improving men or one guided by fellowship and inclusion? The possibility of a notion of modernity that favors the latter arises in the moment when Tess and Angel take the day’s supply of milk to the train station to be distributed through England. The narrator ironically sets the scene as a meeting between the present and the past: a fitful white streak of steam at intervals upon the dark green background denoted intermittent moments of contact between their secluded world and modern life. Modern life stretched out its steam feeler to this point three or four times a day, touched the native existences, and quickly withdrew its feeler again, as if what it touched had been uncongenial. […] No object could have looked more foreign to the gleaming cranks and wheels than this unsophisticated girl with the round bare arms [and] the print gown of no date or fashion. (pp. 204–205)

But it is Tess who best understands what modernity means: the rail system, the mail-cart running on standard time, even the thresher that transforms



wheat into a grain that can be used by others—they all signify increased contact between those who have never seen or imagined each other before: Tess was so receptive that the few minutes of contact with the whirl of material progress lingered in her thought. […] ‘Londoners will drink it [the milk produced at Talbothays] at their breakfasts to-morrow, won’t they?’ she asked. ‘Strange people, that we have never seen.’ […] ‘Noble men and noble women—ambassadors and centurions— ladies and tradeswomen—and babies who have never seen a cow.’ […] ‘Who don’t know anything of us, and of where it comes from; or think how we two drove miles across the moor to-night in the rain that it might reach ’em in time.’ (p. 205)

Angel makes fun of her mention of centurions, taking it as evidence of her ignorance. But it is Tess’s sense of an imagined community connecting herself and those that are wholly other to her—people of different classes, ages, and historical periods—that is the truly modern mindset. Modern life is characterized by “moments of contact,” by “feelers” that stretch outward and connect people and places formerly separate.11 Tess’s inclusivity is more modern than Angel understands. In fact, it is an alternative to his way of being modern: a sense of an ever-evolving species rather than his improving eye for new places and new people to shape according to his ideals. Tess’s sensibility is modern because it encompasses both a feeling of alienation while simultaneously understanding one’s continuity with time and space; it is a broadening of the mind through understanding one’s own insignificance. In the figure of Tess, evolution may close down possibilities for the individual, but it also uses the past to create a thoroughly modern, even avant-garde being. Johnson (1977) proposes Tess as a novelistic experiment in which an individual that had evolved into an example of the perfection of the species—whose deep sympathy for others charts a new evolutionary path—was put on a “blighted star” (Hardy 1891a/2008, p. 39), where human society’s confused values do not allow for her survival. Johnson (1977) writes that although “some critics have seen Tess as eminently unsuited for survival if she is compared with a Spencerian evolutionary ideal […] ‘adaptation,’ as Darwin ambiguously used the word, is a complex set of vibrations between environment and creature and not the ruthless triumph of strength and wiliness, or even of fortitude” (p. 274). The well-adapted individual does not merely survive in a brutish way, but “depends on and furthers the peculiar essence of the species; this in man



means survival with some sensitivity and awareness of our evolutionary kinship with all life” (p. 275). Tess then “would be the ideal of survival, as understood in its subtlest Darwinian sense of a symbiosis with the environment that causes the unique qualities of this species not only to flourish but to flower, to the point, as Darwin sometimes said, of downright ‘happiness’” (p.  275). She is both culmination and commencement: a new creature whose newness lies in her sense of connectedness with the life before, the present life, and the life ahead. However, if Tess represents an alternative modern sensibility, that sensibility remains one that will never transpire, remaining only a novelistic experiment. The view of the nineteenth century presented in Tess is one that looks backward onto it: Tess’s world of horse-drawn reapers and Druidical woods represents a landscape that had largely disappeared by the time Hardy’s contemporary readers encountered it. The railway, bourgeois upstarts, and fashionable new towns like Sandbourne represent the latter part of the century, a modernity that had already overtaken Tess’s world by the time the novel was written. Even Talbothays, with its extensive personnel and complex division of labor, is more modern agri-­business than idyllic rural farm. Thus, there is a sense of belatedness to the novel: the competition between two paths toward modernity that it poses has already been won, and fellowship has not come out the victor. Tess represents a possibility for the evolutionary apex of the species that is itself belated—it is a possibility that has already been closed down. The star onto which Tess has pitched is blighted because it is one on which improvement ideology has won the race to modernity by the time Tess presents an alternative to it. A possibility for a different way of organizing human relations on the brink of the twentieth century opens up for a moment but is just as quickly buried in the heap of possibilities and narratives that the novel accumulates in the category of the counterfactual. The fellowship and mutual aid that Tess represents has been lost, eroded away by improvement’s march onward.

Trishna’s Unclaimed Voice and the Right to Silence Although Winterbottom’s film adaptation, Trishna, shifts Tess’s historical period from the late nineteenth century to the twenty-first, and its location from Dorset to Rajasthan, the film retains the novel’s foregrounding of the tension between improvement’s use of the past for present profit and Hardy’s acceptance of the past’s passing into the realm of possibilities



unrealized. Furthermore, the film presents Trishna as both an object of improvement for the men around her as well as a subject who, like Tess, embodies an alternative conception of modernity, one that prizes emotional ties between women and children, collectivity, and mutual benefit, rather than competition and profit. But the allusion to Tess’s alternative modernity does not stop there; the film stays true to Hardy’s attention to obsolescence: Trishna’s anti-capitalist modernity has already been foreclosed by the world in which she lives. Trishna represents the fourth time Tess of the D’Urbervilles has been transposed to an Indian setting.12 The first was Mann Ki Jeet (1944), a Hindi-language film directed by W. Z. Ahmed, and considered to be lost (Dutta 2016, p. 196). Two extant films, Dulhan Ek Raat Ki and Prem Granth, followed in 1967 and 1996. Dulhan Ek Raat Ki, directed by Dharma Dev Kashyap, translates as “Bride for a Night,” and tells the story of Nirmala, a college-aged woman whose family takes on considerable debt to finance her education. This leads her to take up employment in the house of an elderly blind woman whose son Ranjit (the film’s Alec D’Urberville) pursues her sexually, rapes and impregnates her, and offers to keep her as his mistress as compensation. She rejects his offer, deciding instead to return to her family and give birth to their still-born baby on her own. After a series of events involving Nirmala’s meeting, falling in love with, confessing to, and being spurned, then accepted, by a more loving partner—events that faithfully transcribe Hardy’s source plot with Angel Clare—she stabs Ranjit with a kitchen knife and is caught by the police. The film ends with lines of dialogue in which Nirmala “bitterly voices the human protest at being no more than a puppet in the hands of Fate,” a protest that Shanta Dutta (2016) reads as a clear “echo” of the “(in)famous final paragraph of Hardy’s novel with its ironic dig at ‘Justice’ and its assertion that the powers-that-be had sported with Tess’s life” (p. 199). The themes of destiny and “ill-timed coincidences” also appear in Prem Granth (translated as “Scripture of Love”), directed by Rajiv Kapoor (Dutta 2016, p. 199). Prem Granth adds significant religious and caste context to its translation of Hardy’s cardinal plot points and elaborates at length on the central scene of rape/seduction/impregnation. Dutta (2016) suggests that this central scene in the film be read as akin to a “gang rape because the villain […], a seasoned molester of women as it later turns out, uses his cohorts to bully the girl [Kajri, the film’s Tess] into abject subjection” (p. 199). Kajri is arguably redeemed at the end of the film, however, by her marriage to her original lover, Somen, the film’s



Angel Clare, and her exposure of her perpetrator and his crimes lead to her community’s decision to publicly punish him. The Hindi-language films not only transpose, but genrify, analogize, appropriate, transculturate, and indigenize13 Hardy’s source to comment on twentieth-century Indian manifestations of gender inequality and violence, restrictive social expectations, and caste and wealth divides. On the contrary, Anglo-American adaptations in English have focused on transposing Tess as more-or-less faithful period productions. The most notable of these include Tess (Polanski 1979), starring Nastassja Kinski, Peter Firth, and Leigh Lawson, which won Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Art Direction, and Costume Design; the telefilm Tess of the D’Urbervilles (Sharp 1998) starring Justine Waddell, Jason Flemyng, and Oliver Milburn; and the four-part BBC television series Tess of the D’Urbervilles (Blair 2008), starring Gemma Arterton and Eddie Redmayne.14 In its gorgeous, sweeping location shots and careful attention to composition, color, detail, and object, Trishna recalls the sunrises and mists of Polanski’s film and the rich, romantic hues of Dorset in Blair’s. But Trishna also brings together this traditional period aesthetic with a non-heritage, non-western genre, and a transcultural approach to using adaptation to address contemporary global issues. The film bears resemblances to the Indian adaptations of Tess as well as the Anglo-American ones, and can be seen as an attempt to brings these two bodies of work together. For example, Trishna includes both diegetic and non-diegetic references to Bollywood, and specifically, its Tess adaptations. Trishna performs along to a Bollywood song in her dormitory with her roommates, and shortly thereafter takes actual Bollywood dance lessons in Mumbai and meets real-life Bollywood personalities Amit Trivedi (who also composed the film’s score), Anurag Kashyap (a co-producer of the film), and Kalki Koechlin in a sequence that blurs the distinction between “inside” and “outside” the film (00:56:31–00:57:55, Maier 2016, p. 192). Like Nirmala, Trishna stabs her lover-aggressor in the heart with a purloined kitchen knife: the choice of weapon may reference not only Dulhan Ek Raat Ki, but Prem Granth as well, in which Kajri stabs her attacker with a spear. Dutta (2016) writes that “for an Indian audience, the identification is too obvious to be missed. The image is that of the Goddess Durga slaying the male demon, in a symbolic victory of good over evil” (pp. 200–201). Like the Bollywood adaptations, Trishna relocates the source novel in place and time, commenting on the dangers of being female in a male-dominant society, whether one happens to live in



the nineteenth or the twenty-first century, in Dorset, Bath, Mumbai, or Rajasthan. To the Hindi films’ use of Tess to illustrate such dangers, Trishna adds an exploration of how global tourism and the hospitality industry, the figure of the non-resident Indian, and rapid economic development coupled with increasing inequality exacerbate gender oppression, psychological violence, and neocolonial relationships. The film begins with a traffic accident that debilitates Trishna’s father and destroys the family’s only source of income, their vegetable delivery truck. Trishna’s father sends her away from their village to find work and encourages her to accept an offer of employment from Jay Singh, a non-­ resident Anglo-Indian and heir to his father’s chain of refurbished palatial resorts in Rajasthan. For Jay, Trishna is the human equivalent of a great piece of property—a rare find that other developers have yet to discover or have perhaps passed over, failing to see its potential to be turned into a profitable enterprise. The Singhs’ properties provide stunning settings, and just as the viewer can track the progress of the resorts in their states of disrepair and improvement, the story chronicles Jay’s efforts to reinvent Trishna from a country girl into a worldly woman fit to be the mistress of a powerful global capitalist. Throughout the film, Jay operates as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, or as Alec in Angel’s clothing—a point made by Winterbottom’s choice to combine both of Hardy’s characters into a single character in his film.15 Jay plays the roles of benefactor and oppressor in Trishna’s upward mobility. After becoming pregnant with Jay’s child, Trishna leaves the hotel and returns home to her father, who takes her to a local clinic to abort the fetus. Jay finds her shortly afterward working in a relative’s factory, whisks her away to Mumbai, and introduces her to a group of Bollywood dancers working on the set of a film he is producing. Like a Bollywood film, the Mumbai sequence acts as a fantasy interlude during which Trishna tries to ignore the fundamental social and gender inequalities between herself and her lover.16 But these inequalities resurface when the two return to Rajasthan, Jay having inherited the family business after his father’s death. He becomes increasingly abusive, punishing her for keeping her abortion a secret, until Trishna finally ends the relationship by stabbing him to death with a knife she steals from the hotel’s kitchen. Trishna remains unable to fit into the life that Jay improves her for, but this does not mean that she comes across as a representative of a premodern India. Rather, Trishna is a figure who is unmodern by the standards of the cosmopolitan and urban-dwelling Singhs who occupy



positions of economic power. It is not that Trishna lives outside of the global capitalist economy prior to her relationship with Jay, but rather that her priorities and aims are not those of the economy in which she cannot help but participate. Rather than mobility and purchasing power, Trishna prizes family ties and sympathy between individuals: the moments that most reveal her inner emotional state are those in which she expresses unbridled joy at being reunited with the women and children of her family, especially her favorite sister, Devshri. She lives in a world controlled by the likes of the Singhs, but she is not of that world: she may move among capitalist improvers, but her interior life remains unregulated by them. It is precisely this interior life that the film’s moments of withholding, silence, and non-narrativity protects from being turned into an object of improvement. Although Trishna’s body might be subject to the opportunism of the men in her life, the film’s mise-en-scene and its clever use of the mock documentary genre effectively shield her inner world—her own account of her experience—from Jay and her father. But the film also goes a step further by constructing a spectatorial position that aligns the viewer with her improvers: like them, the viewer combines the desire to modernize her with the pursuit of her “voice.” In fact, the film constructs a viewer who desires to modernize Trishna precisely by giving her a voice, allowing her to speak and thus granting her agency in a narrative plot that seems to deny her just that. While the film constructs the male characters as offenders of the rights of subaltern women, it constructs the viewer as her rescuer—but both offender and rescuer pursue her with the same intentions: to make her “better” according to their own notions of betterment, and to force her to realize her potential as a modern subject. Thus, by constructing the viewer as yet another of Trishna’s improvers, the film criticizes the viewer’s desire to “hear” the voice of the globally southern woman speaking the west’s own script. The film’s resistance to such an appropriation of Trishna’s experience is given the form of silences, pauses, and unanswered questions. As in Hardy’s novel, these forms of negation when rendered cinematically can easily be misread as signs of passivity. In the talkback session of the US premiere of Trishna at the Tribeca Film Festival, a member of the audience asked actress Freida Pinto how she felt portraying Trishna on the screen.17 Pinto responded that she did not like Trishna as a character because she found her frustratingly passive, but she took the role because she saw it as a challenge to try and play a character whose actions and motivations were so inexplicable.18 Pinto’s critique bears out the film’s effectiveness at



constructing the desire to see Trishna improve her situation, the subsequent frustration at her unwillingness to do so, and finally the impulse to intervene on her behalf. But I want to suggest that what can be read as passivity is actually a strategy by which the film allows Trishna to hide in plain sight: it obscures her interiority from the viewer while simultaneously drawing the viewer in with impressive feats of visual stimulation. While offering glimpses of India’s landscapes that seem to belong in a travel brochure and providing lingering shots of Pinto’s face and body, Trishna’s subjectivity remains throughout the film tucked away from the viewer. This tension between inviting the gaze and obstructing it, pulling in and pushing back, seduction and resistance, is the film’s translation of the novel’s competing approaches to history, to make it do or to let it be. The film encourages our unwillingness to allow Trishna’s account of her actions to be lost before being revealed. But the film ultimately obstructs the viewer’s desire to hear her and “save” her; in doing so, it refuses to capitulate to the ideology of improvement inherent in global capitalism and liberal humanism, both of which are invested in making Trishna “count.” From the beginning, the film announces its consciousness of its viewer. The film’s syntax positions its subject from the perspective of the first-­ world tourist of the global south. Like the opening of Tess’s second chapter, the opening sequence of Trishna is constructed through the visual language of tourism. Hardy’s (1891a/2008) description of the village of Marlott begins by characterizing it as “an engirdled and secluded region, for the most part untrodden as yet by tourist or landscape-painter, though within a four hours’ journey from London” (p. 18). The description privileges the reader (and the “traveler from the coast,” the reader’s stand-in) as a pioneer, one of the first to happen upon this “untrodden” area, a secret place that is nevertheless there for any adventurous traveler to stumble upon (p. 18). Trishna begins with a series of establishing shots of India at dawn that resemble still photographs (00:00:48–00:01:17). The cinematic mimicry of scenic photography repeats throughout the film and alludes to the guidebook and the postcard.19 The views of India presented by these shots are of an India picturesque and depopulated, giving the viewer the impression of a place outside of time and space and awaiting the viewer’s look. The scene transitions to Jay and his friends lounging on a hostel rooftop and talking in slurred syllables about their Indian vacation (00:01:21–00:02:01). The friends, seeking secluded places off the beaten track and hidden from the average western tourist, have chosen to stay in



a rural hostel rather than a resort like the ones Jay’s family owns, a choice that suggests their affinity with Hardy’s pioneering travelers.20 The film’s opening suggests to the viewer that he or she, too, is to be let in on the hidden treasures of India that the camera will find. But the western tourist as figured through the young men is anything but polite.21 As the opening credits roll, the men sing and talk rambunctiously in a speeding Jeep, whose driver they force to go off-roading and play chicken with the local drivers (00:02:04–00:03:31). When we next see them touring an ancient Hindu temple, their behavior is irreverent and embarrassing: in what should be a quiet, sacred space, Jay jokes that one of his buddies wants to convert to Hinduism after seeing the images of the half-dressed goddesses, and one of the other men asks if there will be a test at the end of the tour (00:04:01–00:05:00). Instead of allowing the viewer to distance himself completely from this behavior, however, the camera draws us in visually to the tour itself. Fast cutting and handheld motion paired with high angles and rich displays of color provide an alluring mise-­ en-­scene that gives the viewer the ideal temple tour without making them leave home. Tracking shots that take the viewer around temple columns are cut with over-the-shoulder shots from behind the English tourists. The camera mimics the way the characters explore the site but also the way we ourselves might. These early scenes in Trishna show us India as a tourist might see it through a spectatorial position constructed according to the tourist gaze. Urry and Larsen (2011) define the tourist gaze as a “socially organised and systematised” way of seeing difference in people and places separate from one’s everyday experience (pp. 2–4). The tourist gaze is constructed through signs, the meaning of which are determined through “frames” (p. 2) of history, culture, race, gender, and class. Tourism, then, is a collective discourse, a viewing position with a “mass character,” as opposed to “travel,” which connotes an “individual character” (p. 4). Furthermore, the camerawork and editing provide a view of the temple that looks and feels similar to what the on-screen tourist characters are seeing, and thus they act as the viewer’s stand-ins. The viewer’s pleasure in looking conflicts with their identification with the on-screen tourists, however: whereas we enjoy looking at the scenery, we do not enjoy being identified with the rude and disrespectful behavior that the characters exhibit. Thus, the film asks the viewer to be self-conscious about the role of the western tourist as a sociological construction. It suggests that although the viewer’s behavior may differ from that of the young Englishmen, the way in which we see



India may not be so different. The western tourist is a structural position in a global capitalist paradigm that turns foreign travel into a consumable commodity (Urry and Larsen 2011, pp. 49–74). The experience of the foreign is reified; thus, it entails a particular point of view—that which the camera and the English characters assume. The film makes us aware that the western tourist’s gaze is not associated with individual characters or a particular group of viewers, but is rather a function of the film’s syntax. The mise-en-scene and editing turns the visual field of the non-west into a discourse, and communicates a way of gazing that expresses a neocolonial improver’s mindset. The tourist gaze bears important resemblances to the “imperial gaze,” which Ann Kaplan (1997) describes as a “gaze structure which fails to understand that, as Edward Said phrases it, non-American peoples have integral cultures and lives that work according to their own, albeit different, logic […]. The imperial gaze reflects the assumption that the white western subject is central, much as the male gaze assumes the centrality of the male subject” (p. 78). Kaplan (1997) argues that the imperial gaze is intertwined with the male gaze in classic Hollywood films such as Birth of a Nation (1915), King Kong (1933), Tarzan, the Ape Man (1932), and Bird of Paradise (1932)—films in which male travelers to Africa or the Pacific Islands “envisage their journey through the sexual metaphor of mastery and conquering the female body,” something that both imperial and male gazes aim to do (p. 69). The imbrication of imperial and male gazes figures prominently in Trishna, most notably in the film’s collapse of Alec and Angel into Jay. Jay is both oppressor and lover, objectifying Trishna as both a good investment and a body to be owned. But the film unites not only imperial and male gazes, but tourist gaze as well: through its depictions of improvement—of dilapidated historical properties and unmodern Indian female subject—Trishna suggests that all three ways of seeing developing people in the developing world work together to define what it means to “progress,” what it means to be “modern.”22 By merging Alec and Angel into Jay, the film also picks up on the twin imperialist ambitions of the novel’s improving men: Angel goes to Brazil to try out the advanced farming techniques he has learned, whereas Alec decides to become a missionary before being “tempted” back to his old ways by Tess. The film also focuses on what I’ve argued above as the two male protagonists’ desire to turn the past to good account. Alec’s upwardly mobile father grafts the D’Urberville name onto his own to elevate his class status; Angel uses Tess’s lineage to validate his unorthodox life



choices; and Jay and his father restore rundown palaces in Rajasthan into luxurious modern resorts that cater to European tourists. India’s history is made new again for the global hospitality industry, and Jay and his father are uniquely positioned to turn their connections with east and west to good profit. The Singhs represent the seamy side of global power. From the moment Trishna arrives at his father’s hotel in Jaipur, Jay pursues her with Alec’s intensity and obsession. He steals glances at her during training sessions by hotel staff and stares her down as they cross paths in the garden (00:26:53–00:27:03, 00:27:29–00:27:33, 00:32:09), and finally gives orders for her to bring him meals in his private suite (00:32:29). In the cinematic equivalent of the novel’s scene in which Alec teaches Tess to whistle to his mother’s bullfinches (Hardy 66–69), Jay teaches Trishna to whistle while she stands inside of a birdcage feeding his father’s pet budgies, her only protection from Jay a thin wire screen (00:24:29–00:25:02). The screen also obstructs the spectator’s clear view of her—this combined with the constant appearance of European customers served by the Indian staff reminds us that the viewer is implicated in Jay’s treatment of Trishna. When Jay’s father arrives from London, he joins in the pursuit. Using his blindness as an excuse (he is the film’s version of Alec’s blind mother), he manages to circumvent the wire screen to touch her face while he says he wants to “take a look” at her (00:30:36). His “look” is a touch, and we see in one of the film’s few close-ups a facial expression that registers a violation (00:30:43–00:31:04). Jay’s, the tourists’, and the camera’s looks are substitutes for the father’s touch, a touch that signifies the west’s sense of entitlement to “discover” the global south and improve it into a profitable investment. The film’s discovery and improvement of Trishna, however, is ultimately more complex and ironic than the whistling scene suggests. Through a mock documentary style, the film invites but refuses to gratify the viewer’s desire to “know” Trishna’s inner life. In Trishna’s home, Winterbottom uses a montage of brief shots that offer the viewer glimpses of Trishna’s private life beyond that to which Jay and his father have access. Ostensibly, the western viewer is even more privileged than the film’s male characters: we have the ability to penetrate into the private lives of the global working class outside of work time. The camera shows us different members of the family engaged in household tasks, both indoors and out. In the evening, we see the family eating and then Trishna lying awake next to her sleeping brothers and sisters in bed. The emphasis in all of these



shots is on visual storytelling; there is minimal dialogue. Close-ups and medium shots create a sense of intimacy in which the visuality participates: it is as if the narrative film suddenly turned into a documentary of life in rural India. The “objectivity” implied in such a style of filmmaking is criticized by Trinh T.  Minh-ha (1989) as a way in which cinema participates in orientalism: See them as they see each other; so goes the (anthropological) creed. ‘Tell it the way they tell it instead of imposing our structure,’ they repeat with the best of intentions and a conscience so clear that they pride themselves on it…What we ‘look for’ is un/fortunately what we shall find… recording, gathering, sorting, deciphering, analyzing and synthesizing, dissecting and articulating are already ‘imposing our [/a] structure,’ a structural activity, a structuring of the mind, a whole mentality. (p. 141)

The implied targets of Minh-ha’s passage include early twentieth century ethnographic films such as Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North (1922) and Moana (1926), which claimed authenticity in representation by hiding the filmmaker behind the camera’s objective recording of everyday life in foreign places. I want to suggest, however, that Winterbottom is conscious of the historical baggage that shooting a location sequence in documentary style brings, and he adopts it in an effort to expose its assumptions. In an interview with Homi Bhabha, Minh-ha (1999) says that despite her objections to the documentary, working within the form itself may be the best way to undo it. Minh-ha (1999) writes: The fact that the loudest claims to representative truth and information have been voiced and legitimized through the documentary form does not mean that in order to bring about change, one has to banish it and adopt other, more adequate, forms. When handled creatively, repetition is a way of affirming difference. Rather than using it routinely to reproduce the same, one can use it, to continue saying what one has said, to shift a center, to lighten the burden of representation, to displace a form from its settled location, and to create new passages through the coexistence of moments. (p. 23)

Similarly, Winterbottom works from within the form of the documentary to foreground its colonial impulses to know and record. Trishna’s documentary-­ style vignettes are significant for their length: their



abruptness can be seen not only as moments of documentation but as examples of non-narrativity. A shot of Trishna lying awake amidst her sleeping siblings lasts two seconds; her facial expression is blank (00:18:04). We do not know why she is lying awake, and her face gives no indication of what she might be thinking. A two-second shot of an elderly woman in the family shows her simply sitting, face turned away from the camera (00:47:53). The camera ostensibly shows a “real” rural Indian family at home, seeming to “see them as they see each other.” However, Winterbottom’s film lightens its own burden of representing what it shows through a patchwork of coexisting moments disguised as an “objective” documentation of the lives of non-western others. This same technique of playing the documentary against itself is used in the movie’s central nocturnal encounter. After Trishna willingly kisses Jay in a dense wood (00:39:18), the scene cuts quickly to show her walking back to the hotel workers’ dormitory (00:39:44). The camera follows her to the bathroom but is prevented from entering by a dark garment hanging on a laundry line. The garment on the left side of the screen and the dark wall on the right side frame Trishna’s shoulders and back as she faces away from the camera (00:39:53–00:40:03). Such framing creates the sense that the space around her is being cut out, that she is being decontextualized and readied for the process of “recording, gathering, sorting, deciphering, analyzing and synthesizing, dissecting and articulating” (Minh-ha 1989, p. 141). The natural lighting, handheld camerawork, and the clothing that seems naturally and haphazardly placed add to the sense of documentation, but little information is given beyond what the kiss and quick cut communicated. Although the narrative invites sympathy, the visual storytelling distances Trishna from us, effectively communicating that her interior feelings are off-limits. We know that something has upset her, but we remain at a distance from exactly what that is: the dark portions of the screen surrounding her deflect our access to what should be an intimate moment. While Trishna’s blank expressions convey little about her feelings and agency in both the sexual act and the abortion, they do convey that her feelings and agency in fact matter little: when she returns to her family home, the patriarchal power structure dominated by the global capitalists at the hotel is reproduced in small by the family, her father replacing the Singhs. Familial, national, and global power structures are portrayed in the film as a set of nested boxes or concentric circles, congruent in the inequalities they uphold.



Trishna’s silence is perhaps most poignant when she uses it to deflect Jay’s direct questioning about her departure from the hotel. When he finds Trishna at her uncle’s factory, he takes her to an alley and asks her why she left. An over-the-shoulder shot from Jay’s perspective shows Trishna looking at him (and the viewer), then looking down, but not answering. “Tell me,” he solicits again (00:53:23); still nothing but a quick shot of her looking away. A motorbike carrying two riders whizzes by them, drowning out the silence of Trishna’s refusal to respond. The bike is noise and interference that mirrors the disconnect between Trishna and Jay. Again, he tries to get an answer from her: “I tried calling you, your phone was off. Carried on trying to call, it became disconnected. What happened? … We didn’t do anything wrong. Did it feel wrong to you?” (00:53:24–00:53:40) Still, Trishna gives no answer, and here, the camera focuses on the back of her head (00:53:44), replacing the second shot in a classic shot-reverse-shot with an over-the-shoulder shot from Trishna’s point of view. Although it is Trishna’s turn to speak, the camera is still focused on Jay, suggesting that the conversation is not a dialogue but a monologue punctuated by interrogatives. Neither Jay nor the camera is interested in what Trishna has to say; there is no attempt at listening, only injunctions to speak. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (1988) warns that speech can only be heard when it fits the discourse by which it is interpreted. Between the subaltern individual’s “consciousness” of her experience and its externalization— “knowledge”—lies the middle term of “ideological production” (p. 307). There exists no way in which Trishna could translate her experiences to Jay in a way that he would understand without violating the truth of that experience to herself. Jay wants knowledge of her interiority, but the two systems of consciousness operate separately and apart from one another. Thus, to give him what he wants—an answer, a conversation—communicates nothing; rather, it would only expose and offer up her consciousness to interpretation by capitalistic and patriarchal discourses. Jay wants her to account for why she left because he wants to make sense of it, not because such an account would benefit Trishna. Following Spivak’s critique, other postcolonial theorists have sought strategies by which the non-western individual can resist becoming translated. Minh-ha (1989), for instance, writes that in light of the danger of having one’s speech turned into a discourse that speaks for one, “assuming a tone and a position of indirection” may provide a strategy for impeding appropriation:



One can never go to the ruler in a direct way; in order to voice one’s opinion, one has to take an indirect way. Indirection is likely to disturb viewers, including feminists, who expect a film to make a categorical statement, to deliver a positive political message, or to build around a clear story line. But for me, in a context of late capitalism where externalized directness (not to be confused with direct knowledge) is ultimately made to serve reductive and consumerist ends, it is important to work with indirection and understatement, if meaning is to grow with each viewer, and if the interstices of active re-inscription are to be kept alive. (p. 25)

Trishna’s silence and the film’s withholding of her interiority are methods of “understating” and “muting” that refuse to make a statement or deliver a political message that would satisfy the viewer. The film invites us to want to hear Trishna’s account of her experience of living under the thumb of patriarchy, only to block the communication of that experience in an attempt to throw the viewer’s consciousness back onto themselves. In doing so, the film asks us to consider that we may already have spoken for Trishna even while presuming to create a space for her to speak for herself. Like Jay, the viewer also wants to hear Trishna’s account. Many questions have accrued by this point in the film, and her withholding during this crucial scene sends the movie screeching to a halt. This negative space at the center of the film, in which the viewer expects to hear an account but is given only silence, is a moment analogous to Trishna’s blank facial expressions, the empty chairs in the hotel, the lack of information given by the mock documentary style. But it supersedes those other strategies of negativity because it is a moment when the western viewer is directly refused the voice it claims it wants to hear. Spivak’s critique in the “Subaltern” essay of the west’s failure to listen is only indirectly aimed at neo-imperialists; directly, she admonishes the pseudo-transparent western intellectual who, unconsciously imbricated with networks of power, calls upon themselves to represent and speak for the subaltern individual. In so doing, they render the oppressed individual an oppressed Subject, a representation or portrait of the oppressed, an artificial composite. Through the process of turning the subaltern’s account of individual consciousness into interpretable knowledge, the western intellectual fashions an oppressed Subject that reflects their own desires. Such a process, I suggest, can be read as a contemporary reworking of Angel Clare’s restoring Tess to an essentialized ideal that turns out to be an image of himself.



Emmanuel Levinas (1998) warns against precisely such an act of appropriating the other into an aspect of the self in his theory of the “encounter with the face of the other” (p. 202). For Levinas, there are different ways by which a human may engage with another human. The most common ways pull the other into a relationship that is not meant for mutual understanding, but for the benefit of the primary subject’s ego. Adriaan Peperzak (1993) explains: I can see another as someone I need in order to realize certain wants of mine. She or he is then a useful or enjoyable part of my world, with a specific role and function. […] I can also observe another from an aesthetic perspective, for example, by looking at the color of her eyes, the proportions of his face, and so on. But none of these ways of perception allows the otherness of the other to reveal itself. All aspects manifested by a phenomenological description that starts from these perspectives are immediately integrated by my self-centered, interested, and dominating consciousness. These ways of looking at them transform the phenomena into moments of my material or spiritual property. (p. 19)

Jay, his father, Trishna’s father, and the film’s implied viewer wish to engage in dialogue with Trishna that is not dialogic but monologic, that is coercive in extracting an account of her motivations, desires, or suffering that can only be understood when and if it makes sense within a narrative that has already been determined. Levinas (1998) writes that in order to “inver[t] the in-itself and the for-­ itself […] into an ethical self, into a priority of the for-the-other,” and to choose “responsibility for the other man—inescapable and nontransferable,” one must engage in “an encounter with the face of the other” (p. 202). The other’s “face” is an “appearance” through which “he calls to me and orders me from the depths of his defenseless nakedness, his misery, his mortality” (p. 202). As Peperzak (1993) explains, the other’s “‘appearance’ breaks, pierces, destroys the horizon of my egocentric monism, that is, when the other’s invasion of my world destroys the empire in which all phenomena are, from the outset, a priori, condemned to function as moments of my universe” (p.  19). In order to allow the other’s appearance in one’s “egological” worldview to cause the disruption it truly represents, one must allow the other to resist a description that would present them as a particular sort of phenomenon among other phenomena within a universal order of beings. Since they



“show” and “present” precisely those realities that do not fit into the universal openness of consciousness, they cannot be seized by the usual categories and models of phenomenology. The other transcends the limits of (self-) consciousness and its horizon; the look and the voice that surprise me are “too much” for my capacity of assimilation. In this sense, the other comes toward me as a total stranger and from a dimension that surpasses me. (Peperzak 1993, p. 20)

By not responding to Jay’s demands for explanation, and by her impassive, opaque stares that reveal no reasoning or motivation, Trishna is that “face,” that “appearance” of the other within the improving worldview that her lover/aggressor inhabits. She is the irruption that resists being cataloged among the readable and knowable phenomena of improvement’s calculus, the other that transcends accounting by being “too much” for Jay’s capacity for assimilation. But the film also makes her too much for the viewer’s capacity for assimilation. The way the film uses a pseudo-documentary style to shield her inner life from the viewer even as it purports to give access to it, and the way it withholds and silences even as it claims to show, create the conditions for “the recognition of alterity that is at the core of an ethical engagement” (Pietrzak-Franger 2011, p. 29). In The Aesthetics of Silence, Susan Sontag (1969) argues that silence provides respite for that which bears the burden of giving meaning: “in its most hortatory and ambitious version, the advocacy of silence expresses a mythic project of total liberation. What’s envisaged is nothing less than the liberation of the artist from himself, of art from the particular art work, of art from history, of spirit from matter, of the mind from its perceptual and intellectual limitations” (pp. 17–18). I suggest that in Trishna, silence can also be seen as the liberation of the subaltern woman from the west’s listening ears and a release from our expectation of what she would say if she were given the chance to speak. The last sequence of the movie supports this reading by allowing Trishna’s account to become lost before we find out what it might have been. Arriving home after Jay’s murder, she discovers that, although the family has benefited economically from her labor at the Singhs’ hotels, the patriarchal structure of home life remains intact. Insinuating that she brings shame to him and to the family, her father asks her where her husband is, to which Trishna responds in another instance of withholding, “who?” (01:38:53). Answering a question with a question that throws the burden of explanation on the questioner, Trishna continues to refuse to



account for herself. Her father then complains that all of their neighbors know he is living off of his daughter. She responds again with indirection: she says that he should be happy—he has a new Jeep, purchased, of course, by the profits of her indentured servitude (01:39:12–01:39:16). Perhaps the conversation is enough to solidify Trishna’s sense that things have not changed, and that were she to remain at home, her father would send her away to work again. Or perhaps she knows that Jay’s murder will not go uninvestigated, and that her freedom is temporary. Perhaps she wants to avoid facing what knowledge of the murder would do to her family. Whatever the reason, Trishna takes her own life the next day, with the same knife that she used on Jay, after dropping her sister and brother off at school. The scene cross-cuts Trishna’s walk to the place she has chosen for suicide with shots of her siblings saying a school pledge that invokes the students’ allegiance to a Christian God, the family, and the nation (01:41:17–01:43:56). The place Trishna has chosen is barren and deserted; there is no one in sight, no dwellings, and sparse vegetation. Her siblings are surrounded by other children. The juxtaposition is one of doing and acting for others (the family, the nation, the religious institution) against negating the self, and becoming, like the landscape, nothing, absent. Trishna extricates herself from the patriarchal structures of family, nation, and global capitalism while her younger siblings are indoctrinated into them. In Hardy’s novel, Tess hopes that her sister Liza-Lu can be her reincarnation and offer Angel a “do-over” for the mistakes he made the first time around. But the reader senses that it is equally possible that Angel will repeat the harm he committed against Tess toward her less-­ spirited and drabber copy. The cross-cutting of Trishna with her siblings suggests that a similar repetition of social and economic injustice awaits her younger sister, Devshri. Furthermore, the scene suggests that institutions of knowledge often interpreted by the west as indicators of progress and modernity can function as buttresses to patriarchal hierarchies. The last shot of the film is a freeze frame of Trishna’s face as she stabs herself (01:43:57). The frozen image fades to white, after which the credits roll on a black screen. The freeze frame attempts to make permanent, or at least durable, a moment in time; but the fade to white makes that moment—and Trishna along with it—vanish. The white screen signifies only the absence of significance, that something is missing or has disappeared, though it does not exactly signify the end of the movie as does the black screen that follows. The whiteness is another form of silence that acknowledges a possibility of speaking that goes unclaimed, for Trishna’s



final act is a moment of pure loss, neither legibly resistant nor compliant to family or social expectations. Trishna’s suicide allows her own account of her experience to disappear before it can be discovered and interpreted by her father, Jay, the viewer, or anyone. Like Tess’s missing account of her actions in The Chase, the novel’s hiding of the event, and the auxiliary narratives that posit unrealized possibilities, Trishna’s story is allowed to remain counterfactual history. Although cast as objects of the improving men around them, both Tess’s and Trishna’s interior lives—their motivations and explanations—slip out of the record of things that happened, that mattered, that counted. Not included in the historical record of events that contribute to the main narratives of their texts, their inner lives cannot become subjects of improving energies, in the present or the future. Instead of rescuing—or allowing the viewer to rescue—Trishna’s account from disappearance, Winterbottom’s film makes its viewer feel, rather than simply know, its loss, while at the same time making us aware of our desire to improve Trishna into a readable subject. Registering loss by alluding to what could have been, instead of reclaiming what was, Hardy and Winterbottom revise the method but retain the ethical intent of critical discourses such as multiple modernities. Tess and Trishna allow uncounted experiences to circumvent capitalistic and academic agendas of improvement, contributing to a record of disappearances that might nevertheless offer alternatives to a profit-driven modernity.

Notes 1. See, for example, Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic (1993) and Postcolonial Melancholia (2006); Dilip Gaonkar, Alternative Modernities (2001); Shmuel Eisenstadt, Multiple Modernities (2002); Velcheru Narayana Rao, David Shulman, and Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Textures of Time (2002); Priyamvada Gopal, Literary Radicalism in India (2005) and Insurgent Empire (2019), Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe (2007); Michaela Moura-­Koçoğlu, Narrating Indigenous Modernities (2011); Walter Mignolo, The Darker Side of Western Modernity (2011) and Local Histories/Global Designs (revised ed. 2012); Susan Stanford Friedman, Planetary Modernisms (2015), Mukti Lakhi Mangharam, Literatures of Liberation (2017), and Saidiya Hartman, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments (2019). For a volume that brings together the work of scholars from many disciplines, such as literature, postcolonial studies, sociology, and anthropology, that all engage with the notion of multiple



modernities, see Sven Trakulhun and Ralph Weber, Delimiting Modernities (2015). 2. As Elsje Fourie (2012) has put it, “the concept of multiple modernities has emerged to challenge the perceived Eurocentrism and unilinearity of traditional theories of convergence, and has led to renewed efforts to appreciate differing trajectories of contemporary political and social development” (p. 52). 3. See Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (1993). 4. See Rao, Shulman, and Subrahmanyam, Textures of Time: Writing History in South India 1600–1800 (2002). 5. By “revisionist,” I mean the body of literary and cultural scholarship that developed in the 1960s through the present that are commonly grouped under the term “literary theory,” and that, as Catherine Gallagher and Stephen Greenblatt (2000) have written, “signified an impatience with American New Criticism” (p.  2), or the interpretation of literary works largely absent of cultural and historical context. Examples of such scholarship include Marxist, Critical Theory, new historicist, cultural materialist, postcolonial, as well as ethnic, gender, class, queer, and cultural studies approaches to the study of literature and culture. Gallagher’s and Greenblatt’s assessment quoted above is specifically given in the context of new historicism, an approach they describe as “an unsettling of established norms and procedures, a mingling of dissent and restless curiosity” (p. 3), rather than a set method or overarching theory. The authors’ desire to unsettle and revise established norms and procedures, along with their injunction to attend to particularity, and to identify new objects of study and bring them to critical attention (pp. 11–14) are concerns shared by many of the critical approaches often collected under the umbrella term of “literary theory.” Thus, I have grouped them together and emphasized their revisionary thrust here. I do not mean to suggest that all of these critical approaches engage with texts in the same ways, or that they can all be reduced to their revisionary aims. I only wish to emphasize the difference between, on the one hand, critical approaches rooted in the ethical project of discovery, recovery, and making visible and, on the other hand, my own approach in this chapter, which suggests the value of allowing what has the right to be noticed the opportunity to remain hidden. 6. See, for example, Martell (2013), Morgan and Rode (2010), Meadowsong (2009), and Moses (1995). 7. See also my more detailed reading of Reptonian and Burkean approaches to improvement (of property, nation, and individual), and Austen’s engagement with both, in chapter “Improvement, Development, and ­ Consumer Culture in Jane Austen and Popular Indian Cinema” of this volume.



8. In Hardy’s Wessex novels, even the oldest examples of the natural world are somehow compromised by human touch. As Megan Ward (2011) argues, nature for Hardy is always already cultivated. See Ward 2011, pp. 865–882. 9. Comparing Angel’s valuation of Tess to an investor’s valuation of property is especially apt, considering Trishna’s transformation of the novel’s male protagonists into Jay Singh, who equates his investment in Tess with his real estate investments. 10. My understanding of the “missed opportunity” owes much to Galperin (2006), who writes that the concept provides an alternative history to that which “happens” in the plots of Jane Austen’s novels, and thus retains the narrative possibilities that plot leaves out (pp. 355–56). For a more extensive engagement with Galperin, see chapter “Improvement, Development, and Consumer Culture in Jane Austen and Popular Indian Cinema” of this volume, “Improvement, Development, and Consumer Culture in Jane Austen and Popular Indian Cinema.” On Hardy’s mixing of recorded and unrecorded histories in the Wessex novels, see Gatrell (2003). 11. On inclusion as a modern sensibility that arises in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, see Morris (2004). 12. Due to my lack of knowledge of the Hindi language, I have relied upon Shanta Dutta’s (2016) informative article, “Bollywood Adaptations of Tess of the d’Urbervilles,” for my summaries of Dulhan Ek Raat Ki and Prem Granth. My plot synopses summarize Dutta’s much more detailed explications of the films. 13. See chapter “Adapting Improvement: Screen Afterlives of NineteenthCentury Progress” of this volume, “Adapting Improvement: Screen Afterlives of Nineteenth-Century Progress,” for explanations of these various approaches to adaptation. 14. Tess has also been widely adapted for the stage and silent cinema. According to Sarah Maier (2016), notable examples include an 1897 production starring Minnie Maddern Fiske that was later adapted into a silent film in 1913 (also starring Fiske), of which no copies remain; Hardy’s own stage adaptation written in 1924; an opera by Frederic d’Erlanger staged in 1906 that was attended by Hardy in 1909; and another lost silent film released in 1924 (Maier 2016, p. 186). Since 2000, interest in adapting Tess for musical theatre seems to be on the rise. Tess: A New Rock Opera (2020), a period musical written and directed by Annie Pasqua and Jenna Pasqua, had successful runs in both the US and Britain from 2010 to 2014 (www. Alex Loveless and Chris Loveless’s musical Tess of the d’Urbervilles premiered at the New Wimbledon Studio Theatre in London in 2014 (Snow 2014/2020). And most recently, Tess: The Musical, by Night Project Theatre, Michael Blore, and Michael Davies played a



workshop production at the Royal Shakespeare Company in February 2019 (“Tess—a Workshop Performance”). 15. Maier (2016) writes that “Winterbottom collapses the distinction between the lecherous Alec d’Urberville and his hypocritical opposite, Angel Clare” (p. 188). Quoting an interview Winterbottom gave to RottenTomatoes. com, a popular film criticism website, Maier (2016) writes that the director “defend[ed] the move as a natural choice,” saying that “‘Angel and Alec in the book are very clearly and distinctly drawn as a sensual lover and a spiritual lover, and I tend to think that most people are combinations of both those things and there was potential for Jay’s character to be more subtle and interesting by having both aspects of those kinds of characters’” (Winterbottom quoted in Maier 2016, pp. 188–189). 16. The film’s Mumbai sequence can be read as a cinematic expression of Angel’s and Tess’s idyllic time at Talbothays Dairy, as well as their prolonged stop at Bramshurst Court (the “desirable Mansion to be Let Furnished” [Hardy 1891a/2008, p. 409]), where, at the end of the novel, the lovers delay their escape from the police to savor the fantasy of living together as a married couple. I am grateful to an anonymous reviewer for pointing out the connection between the Mumbai sequence and Talbothays. 17. I attended the US premiere of Trishna at the Tribeca Film Festival on 27 April 2012 and witnessed the exchange mentioned here between Pinto and the audience member. 18. Trishna is, on the surface, a much more subdued and inscrutable character than those Pinto often plays. Pinto’s breakout role was in Danny’s Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire (2008), as Latika, a resilient young woman who becomes involved in Mumbai’s gang culture but retains her sense of moral goodness. In 2010, she played the titular character in Julian Schnabel’s Miral, based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Rula Jebreal, about a smart and strong-willed Palestinian orphan growing up in an Israeli refugee camp. Her other roles include two young female professionals—a musicologist in Woody Allen’s You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010) and a primatologist in Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)—an oracle priestess in Immortals (2011), an independent princess in Day of the Falcon (2011), and a self-possessed model in Terence Malick’s Knight of Cups (2015). She also served as a narrator on the documentaries Girl Rising (2013) and Unity (2015), both of which extol the ingenuity and strength of the human spirit, and in the case of Girl Rising, especially that of young women. 19. Urry and Larsen (2011) write that the tourist gaze is “often visually objectified or captured through photographs, postcards, films, models and so on. These enable the gaze to be reproduced, recaptured and redistributed



over time and across space” (p. 4). In my reading, the film objectifies an already objectified idea of India originally associated with the guidebook and the postcard. 20. James Buzard (1993) traces this phenomenon back to the period after the Napoleonic Wars, in which anti-tourism evolved into a symbolic economy in which travelers and writers displayed marks of originality and “authenticity” in an attempt to win credit for acculturation; and visited places were perceived as parts of a market-place of cultural goods, each location chiefly of interest for the demonstrably appropriatable tokens of authenticity it afforded…. Correspondingly, the authentic “culture” of places—the genius loci—was represented as lurking in secret precincts “off the beaten track” where it could be discovered only by the sensitive “traveller,” not the vulgar tourist (p. 6). 21. My use of the term “polite tourist” draws from Adrian Tinniswood (1998), who describes visitors to the country houses of polite society as “polite tourists” who were, ironically, more often impolite than courteous to the owners of the properties they visited. Accompanying the increase in polite tourism in England in the late eighteenth century were incidences of vandalism and theft, as well as general perturbation on the part of country house owners whose private lives were constantly intruded upon by what Horace Walpole called the tourist “plague.” See Tinniswood 1998, pp. 91–99. 22. Furthermore, Kaplan (1997) states that the imperial gaze “carries its own semiotics, such that certain common features recur in images of non-­ western peoples in the Hollywood and British film” (p. 79). In her readings of scenes from the films mentioned above, Kaplan’s point is not to homogenize viewers into an undifferentiated unified audience. She does not suggest that all viewers of classic Hollywood films are imperialists, or male, but that the cinematic apparatus (mise-en-scene, editing, narrative, shot composition, sound—all the ways in which cinema makes meaning) produces an imperialist and male gaze through which a viewer perceives the film. Likewise, when I use the term “we” to refer to the tourist-imperial-male spectatorial position of the viewer of Trishna, I do not mean to reference particular viewers or groups of viewers, or to neglect differences between viewers. Rather, I mean to indicate that the apparatus of the film positions the spectator, regardless of their personal traits or background, as the beholder of the imperial-male-tourist gaze. In Trishna, this gaze is invited and then deflected, created by the film’s apparatus and subsequently criticized by it.



References Beer, Gillian. 2002. Hardy: The after-life and the life before. In Thomas Hardy: Texts and contexts, ed. Phillip Mallett, 18–30. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Burke, Edmund. 1790/2009. Reflections on the revolution in France. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Buzard, James. 1993. The beaten track: European tourism, literature, and the ways to culture, 1800–1918. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Chakrabarty, Dipesh. 2007. Provincializing Europe. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Duckworth, Alistair M. 1971. The improvement of the estate: A study of Jane Austen’s novels. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press. Dutta, Shanta. 2016. Bollywood adaptations of Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Literature Compass 13: 196–202. Ebbatson, J.R. 1975. The Darwinian view of Tess: A reply. Southern Review: Literary and Interdisciplinary Essays 8: 247–253. Eisenstadt, Shmuel. 2002. Multiple modernities. In Multiple modernities, ed. Shmuel Eisenstadt, 1–28. New York: Routledge. Flynn, Suzanne J. 2010. Hardy in (a time of) transition. In The Ashgate research companion to Thomas Hardy, ed. Rosemarie Morgan, 87–100. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing. Fourie, Elsje. 2012. A future for the theory of multiple modernities: Insights from the new modernization theory. Social Science Information 51: 52–69. François, Anne-Lise. 2008. Open secrets: The literature of uncounted experience. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Friedman, Susan Stanford. 2015. Planetary modernisms: Provocations on modernity across time. New York: Columbia University Press. Gallagher, Catherine, and Stephen Greenblatt. 2000. Practicing new historicism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Galperin, William. 2006. Describing what never happened: Jane Austen and the history of missed opportunities. English Literary History 73: 355–382. Gaonkar, Dilip Parameshwar. 2001. On alternative modernities. In Alternative modernities, ed. Dilip Gaonkar, 1–23. Durham: Duke University Press. Gatrell, Simon. 2003. Hardy’s vision of Wessex. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Gilroy, Paul. 1993. The black Atlantic: Modernity and double consciousness. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ———. 2006. Postcolonial melancholia. New York: Columbia University Press. Glendening, John. 2007/2016. The evolutionary imagination in late-Victorian novels: An entangled bank. New York: Routledge. Gopal, Priyamvada. 2005. Literary radicalism in India: Gender, nation and the transition to independence. New York: Routledge.



———. 2019. Insurgent empire: Anticolonial resistance and British dissent. London: Verso. Hardy, Thomas. 1891a. Preface to the fifth and later editions. In Tess of the D’Urbervilles: A pure woman faithfully presented, 4–8. New  York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Citations refer to the Oxford edition. ———. 1891b. Tess of the D’Urbervilles: A pure woman faithfully presented. New York: Oxford University Press. Citations refer to the Oxford edition. Hartman, Saidiya. 2019. Wayward lives, beautiful experiments: Intimate histories of social upheaval. London: Serpent’s Tail. Johnson, Bruce. 1977. ‘The perfection of species’ and Hardy’s Tess. In Nature and the Victorian imagination, ed. U.C. Knoepflmacher and G.B. Tennyson, 259–277. Berkeley: University of California Press. Kaplan, E. Ann. 1997. Looking for the other: Feminism, film, and the imperial gaze. New York: Routledge. Levinas, Emmanuel. 1998. Entre nous: On thinking of the other. Trans. Michael B. Smith and Barbara Harshav. New York: Columbia University Press. Maier, Sarah. 2016. From Wessex to India: Adapting Hardy’s Tess in Trishna. Literature Compass 13: 186–195. Mangharam, Mukti Lakhi. 2017. Literatures of liberation: Non-European universalisms and democratic progress. Columbus: The Ohio State University Press. Martell, Jessica. 2013. The Dorset dairy, the pastoral, and Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Nineteenth-Century Literature 68 (1): 64–89. Meadowsong, Zena. 2009. Thomas Hardy and the machine: The mechanical deformation of narrative realism in Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Nineteenth-Century Literature 64 (2): 225–248. Mignolo, Walter. 2000/2012. Local histories/global designs: Coloniality, subaltern knowledges, and border thinking. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ———. 2011. The darker side of Western modernity: Global futures, decolonial options. Durham: Duke University Press. Minh-ha, Trinh T. 1989. Woman, native, other: Writing postcoloniality and feminism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ———. 1999. Cinema interval. New York: Routledge. Morgan, Rosemarie with Scott Rode. 2010. The evolution of Wessex. In The Ashgate research companion to Thomas Hardy, ed. Rosemarie Morgan, 157–177. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing. Morris, Pam. 2004. Imagining inclusive society in nineteenth-century novels: The code of sincerity in the public sphere. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Morton, Peter R. 1984. The vital science: Biology and the literary imagination, 1860–1900. London: Allen and Unwin. Moses, Michael Valdez. 1995. Hardy: The archaeology of a vanishing life. In The novel and the globalization of culture, 29–66. New York: Oxford University Press.



Moura-Koçoğlu, Michaela. 2011. Narrating indigenous modernities: Transcultural dimensions in contemporary Māori literature. Amsterdam: Rodopi. Niemeyer, Paul J. 2003. Seeing Hardy: Film and television adaptations of the fiction of Thomas Hardy. Jefferson: McFarland. Peperzak, Adriaan. 1993. To the other: An introduction to the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas. West Lafayette: Purdue Research Foundation. Pietrzak-Franger, Monika. 2011. ‘Those ill things’: On hidden spectacles and the ethics of display. Neo-Victorian Studies 4: 24–48. Rao, Velcheru Narayana, David Shulman, and Sanjay Subrahmanyam. 2002. Textures of time: Writing history in South India 1600–1800. New  York: Other Press. Smith, Adam. 1853/2020. The theory of moral sentiments; or, an essay towards an analysis of the principles by which men naturally judge concerning the conduct and character, first of their neighbours, and afterwards of themselves. To which is added, a dissertation on the origins of languages. New Edition. https://oll. Accessed 30 Mar 2020. Snow, Georgia. 2014/2020. Tess of the D’Urbervilles musical to premiere at new Wimbledon studio. The Stage, August 14, 2014. news/2014/tess-durbervilles-musical-premiere-new-wimbledon-studio/ Accessed 2 Mar 2020. Sontag, Susan. 1969. The aesthetics of silence. In Styles of radical will, 3–35. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. 1988. Can the subaltern speak? In Marxism and the interpretation of culture, ed. Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg, 271–313. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Tess: A New Rock Opera. 2020. Accessed 2 Mar 2020. Tess—a workshop performance of a new musical by Night Project Theatre. 2020. Accessed 2 Mar 2020. Tinniswood, Adrian. 1998. The polite tourist: Four centuries of country house visiting. London: National Trust. Trakulhun, Sven, and Ralph Weber. 2015. Delimiting modernities: Conceptual challenges and regional responses. Lanham: Lexington Books. Urry, John, and Jonas Larsen. 2011. The tourist gaze 3.0. Los Angeles: Sage Publications. Ward, Megan. 2011. The Woodlanders and the cultivation of realism. SEL: Studies in English Literature 1500–1900 51: 865–882.

Filmography Day of the Falcon. 2011. [Alternative Title: Black Gold; Film] Dir. Jean-Jacques Annaud. France, Italy, Qatar, Tunisia: Quinta Communications, Prima TV, Carthago Films S.a.r.l., France 2 Cinéma, The Doha Film Institute.



Dulhan Ek Raat Ki. 1967. [Film] Dir. Dharma Dev Kashyap. India: Taxila. Girl Rising. 2013. [Documentary Film] Dir. Richard Robbins. USA, India: The Documentary Group, Double Exposure Studios, Vulcan Productions. Immortals. 2011. [Film] Dir. Tarsem Singh. US: Relativity Media, Virgin Produced, Mark Canton Productions. Knight of Cups. 2015. [Film] Dir. Terrence Malick. US: Dogwood Films, Waypoint Entertainment. Miral. 2010. [Film] Dir. Julian Schnabel. France, Israel, Italy, India, US: The Weinstein Company, Pathé, Eran Riklis Productions. Moana. 1926. [Film] Dir. Robert J. Flaherty. US: Robert Flaherty Productions, Inc. Nanook of the North. 1922. [Film] Dir. Robert J. Flaherty. US, France: Les Frères Revillon, Pathé Exchange. Prem Granth. 1996. [Film] Dir. Rajiv Kapoor. India: R. K. Films Ltd. Rise of the Planet of the Apes. 2011. [Film] Dir. Rupert Wyatt. US: Twentieth Century Fox. Slumdog Millionaire. 2008. [Film] Dir. Danny Boyle. UK, India: Celador Films, Film4, Warner Bros. Tess. 1979. [Film] Dir. Roman Polanski. UK, France: Renn Productions, Timothy Burrill Productions, Société Française de Production. Tess of the D’Urbervilles. 1998. [Telefilm] Dir. Ian Sharp. UK: London Weekend Television. ———. 2008. [Television Series] Dir. David Blair. UK: BBC. Trishna. 2011. [Film] Dir. Michael Winterbottom. UK: Head Gear Films, UK Film Council. Unity. 2015. [Documentary Film] Dir. Shaun Monson. USA: Nation Earth. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. 2010. [Film] Dir. Woody Allen. US: Mediapro, Versátil Cinema, Gravier Productions.

An Afterword and a Word Before: “Strategic Presentism” as Heritage Improved

In early 2015, a group of scholars of Victorian literature and culture formed a collective called “V21.” The acronym, composed of “V” for “Victorian” and “21” for the “twenty-first century,” expresses the group’s purpose in identifying new avenues of research for Victorian studies especially suited to the twenty-first century. As founding members Anna Kornbluh and Benjamin Morgan (2016) put it, “To study the nineteenth century is to be struck almost daily by the sense that it never really went away [.…] ‘V21’ represents an aspiration to notice these resonances and theorize them more robustly. Victorian studies for the twenty-first century, one imagines, would require close attention to the Victorian qualities of the twenty-first century” (par 2). Just as V21 was forming, and looking forward to the new questions twenty-first-century Victorianist scholarship might take up, I was finishing the first draft of this book as a doctoral dissertation. In the spring of 2015, I accepted my degree, thinking that the dissertation represented an end of a period of my life when I learned how to be a Victorianist. I did not know if I would land a job that would allow me to continue to be such a thing. That fall, V21 held its inaugural symposium at the University of Chicago, published its manifesto, and set forth its bold new position in special issues of Victorian Studies and Boundary 2 Online. As V21 continued to ramp up its profile, drawing in new member affiliates, publicizing its ideas through Twitter, and collecting syllabi of innovative courses that both theorized and practiced twenty-first century © The Author(s) 2020 V. Y. Kao, Postcolonial Screen Adaptation and the British Novel,




Victorian studies, I, in some ways, wound down, taking a visiting teaching job that left me little time to write but provided a much-needed paycheck, growing my family, and then landing a more permanent position that did not require me to publish work on Victorians of any kind. I shelved the dissertation. In early 2017, however, I discovered V21, thanks to Twitter’s algorithmic magic that predicted with discomfiting accuracy a group I might be interested in following. I followed. I read the manifesto, and the special issues, and what syllabi and recent work of affiliate members I could find time to read. I was struck by the group’s commitment to redefining, and thus, recuperating in some way, a kind of presentism. The collective hoped that revisiting, revising, and reconceptualizing presentism would provide a new direction for Victorian studies. I had learned that presentism was a bad thing. I had encountered it on lists of things not to do in graduate school. Presentism was, I thought, a way of doing history wrong. It was the tendency to misinterpret the past through the lens of the present, or to use present values, judgments, or frames of reference to misunderstand the past. The founding members of V21 had apparently encountered it as I did: in their introduction to the group’s special issue in Boundary 2, Kornbluh and Morgan (2016) write that presentism usually “designates a lack of historical consciousness,” and a “deformation of our objects of study in our own image, a failure to live up to the alien historical specificity of past documents and things and ideas.” But here they were, asking, despite the scholarly injunction to distance oneself from it, what might be accomplished if we thought of presentism not as an “error,” but as a “robust interpretive mode,” not as a method that displays a “lack” of historical consciousness, but as one that offers “a variety of it,” and not as a “mistake,” but as a “strategy” (par 3). The manifesto’s eighth thesis articulates the group’s redefinition of presentism most precisely, as an awareness that our interest in the [Victorian] period is motivated by certain features of our own moment. In finance, resource mining, globalization, imperialism, liberalism, and many other vectors, we are Victorian, inhabiting, advancing, and resisting the world they made. The aesthetic forms the Victorians pioneered and perfected continue to dominate popular and avant-garde cultural production. The conceptual problems, political quandaries, and theoretical issues they broached remain pressing and contentious. A survey of the Victorian period is a survey of empire, war, and



ecological destruction. Insofar as the world we inhabit bears the traces of the nineteenth century, these traces are to be found not only in serial multiplot narrative, but in income inequality, global warming, and neoliberalism. (V21 2015, par 8)

It dawned on me that what I read in the manifesto, and the other foundational texts of the collective, represented an instance of scholars making improvements upon their scholarly inheritance by adapting an old and discountenanced idea for new use, in a new time, under new conditions. As David Sweeney Coombs and Danielle Coriale (2016) write in V21’s Victorian Studies special issue, in these times of institutional devaluation and defunding of the humanities, Now, more than ever, we need to be able to explain the importance of the nineteenth century for the twenty-first. The V21 Collective was born out of the sense that presentism might be a means for achieving strategic ends. These ends might simultaneously include, among others, the reassessing of our existing literary historical periodizations and the contesting of the fiscal austerity that threatens the survival of Victorian studies as a discipline. (p. 87)

In other words, presentism, retrieved from the dust bin of historical methodologies and renewed as the foundation for a new Victorian studies, will give us not only the means to reevaluate why we do what we do, but the justification for continuing to do it. I was struck with a sense of recognition. What V21 was doing with presentism I sought to do with improvement. Both are concepts that contain, as the blurb for one of V21’s conference plenaries states, “affirmative valences” as well as objectionable ones. V21 marshals presentism’s attention to historical continuity and the implications and consequences of structures, events, and objects that outlast their own time. The group validates presentism’s call “to bring literary criticism to bear acutely on the social and political matters that concern us most” (Kornbluh and Morgan 2016, par 3). In affirming these particular valences, however, the group does not turn a blind eye to presentism’s tendency to encourage a lack of rigor and ahistoricity. V21 also uses presentism to challenge what they see as Victorian studies’ stagnancy due precisely to its fear of misrepresenting the past. Contained in V21’s desire to bring attention to presentism’s affirmatives is the dissatisfaction with an entrenched adherence to “positivist



historicism” within Victorian studies (V21 2015, Thesis 1). Such adherence “sustains a situation in which Victorianists are our own and only interlocutors,” resulting in limited engagement with “scholars who do not care about Victorians as Victorians” (V21 2015, Thesis 2). The Manifesto challenges Victorianists to “mobiliz[e] our historical acumen in the service of abstract and conceptual modes of thought,” rather than “exhaustively describe, preserve, and display the past” (V21 2015, Thesis 4, 1). In response to presentism’s own objectionable connotations, and Victorian studies’ limited success at interdisciplinary collaboration and relevance, V21 advocates “strategic presentism,” not so much as an approach but as a heuristic that combines an attention to historical specificity and questions of theory and form to create “new speculative and synthetic methods” (V21 2015, Thesis 4, 2016). Such methods not only open up the “Victorian frame” but draw upon and laud the variety and importance of all “humanistic ways of knowing” (V21 2015, Thesis 1). The group performs what Jesse Rosenthal (2016) has termed “traditionary maintenance” on Victorian studies itself: “in the automotive sense that we both keep something running and keep repairing it, adding or replacing parts when necessary, so that it continues to run” (par 6). After stumbling upon V21 and its foundational texts, I revisited my own project in its dissertation form. I realized that I sought to mobilize the capacious, alternative, counterintuitive, and possibilistic ways of understanding improvement against its ideological, limiting, coercive, and profitizing definitions. The latter contributed to gendered and racialized domestication, the conceptual underpinnings and material manifestations of empire, and the justification of hierarchical and monologic notions of development and progress under the guise of humanitarian aid. But the definitions of improvement I wished to reclaim and affirm provide ways of circumventing, resisting, and responding to improvement’s long-lasting offenses and consequences. In calling attention to the differences between bad and good improvement, as V21 calls attention to the differences between bad and good presentism, I wished also to justify why we still read nineteenth-century novels—and why, even more mystifyingly, we continue to adapt them. My project was also one engaged in traditionary maintenance: the maintenance of improvement as a still vital and beneficial concept, and the maintenance of the classic novel as a place to discover the many forms it takes. It surprised and gratified me to realize that a group seeking new possibilities for my own field was thinking along the same theoretical lines I was



in regard to how we might revive and reuse the past. Furthermore, they were entertaining many of my own questions: of the big-picture issues centering their publications and symposium, two seemed particularly relevant to my project: “Why read canonical novels today?” and “What ongoing and unmet challenges to conventional disciplinary configurations and field methodologies are posed by the conceptual and political problem of the enormity and persistence of empire?” (Kornbluh and Morgan 2016, par. 1) My own project argued for reading canonical novels alongside their screen adaptations to try to grasp the enormity and persistence of empire by tracing one concept—improvement—through its appearances and modifications through the longue durée of the postcolonial. My project seemed to be the kind of work that exemplified both strategic ends of strategic presentism: it challenged existing literary historical periodizations (Romantic, Victorian, Modern, Postmodern, Contemporary), and offered a reason for the survival of Victorian studies into the future as a discipline that helps to explain why the past continues to matter in the present. A project that represented for me the end of my engagement with Victorian studies was made new again in my eyes as one strategically poised for the forward-looking present and future of the field. I unshelved the dissertation. It is in this spirit of discovering a new purpose for an all-but-abandoned project, the content of which centered on revisiting an old concept and old texts for new purposes, that I offer this afterword as a “before-word,” or, a “word before”—to spin my own modification of Gillian Beer’s (2002) phrase invoking Tess Durbeyfield’s “life before” as Alec D’Urberville’s fallen woman, and her “afterlife” as Angel Clare’s pure muse (p. 18).1 My dissertation certainly was a flawed project in many ways, but rediscovering it through the lens of strategic presentism helped me see it as representative of the kind of work that is to come in Victorian studies. In its questioning of historical periodization, its engagement with the long arc of empire, its desire to bring theory, form, and the disciplines of adaptation, heritage, postcolonial studies, and Victorian studies together, it acts as a “before-word” to many more projects that will continue to explore why the canonical British novel continues to exert its hold on twenty-first-century readers and viewers. It is my hope that this book, in its current and much-improved form, provides one of many possible answers to V21’s call to stretch the “Victorian frame” beyond a field engaged only with questions that are interesting to its own practitioners. By mobilizing an attention to the



historical specificities of improvement in the nineteenth century, and articulating its resonances with post-Victorian notions of progress and development, I hope to show how, indeed, we are Victorian, and why we need to recognize that we are, how we are, and why we are. This project emphasizes how in the twentieth century, we continued, and in the twenty-first century, we still continue to inhabit, advance, and resist the world made by the nineteenth century and its ideologies, a world full of problems, quandaries, and issues that remain pressing and contentious. The canonical novels I discuss offer the opportunity to recognize, if not the origin, at least a former instantiation, of twenty-first-century problems—those “unmitigated negatives” Simon Joyce (2007) refers to and that I mention in the first chapter of this book (p. 170). I hope that this project also demonstrates, however, that if these novels show us how we inherit the harms passed down by the nineteenth century, they also offer us alternatives, escape hatches, and methods of resistance to mitigate them. Thus, reading nineteenth-century novels today helps us to understand our problems and imagine solutions to them, solutions tailored to the twentieth and twenty-­ first centuries but that weave us back into the fabric of nineteenth-­ century life. I chose to begin each chapter with a reading of the novel and a teasing out of forms of improvement—both limiting and capacious—that the novel presents in a nineteenth-century context, and then move to a reading of the film adaptations that show how this double heritage reveals itself in forms transposed, analogized, appropriated, or otherwise altered for a post-Victorian age. I chose to proceed with this method of organizing each chapter, rather than the other way round—that is, beginning with the films and looking back toward the novels—to be responsible to the historical and cultural specificity of improvement before looking at how it travels, how portable it is despite its national and historic origins, and how useful it can be in another place and time. In the previous chapter, I showed how Trishna distinguishes between development, a capacious concept encompassing a plenitude of self-­ determined possibilities, and development discourse, an assertion that participation in the system of global capital represents the only way of becoming modern. The kind of improvements Jay has in mind for Trishna—and for India—are rooted in the desire to identify, rework, and re-brand objects to fit a western capitalist definition of profitable modernity. On the contrary, Trishna’s own sense of the modern emphasizes conceptions of collectivity that offer alternatives to both capitalist individualism



and paternalistic family-hood. The difference between Jay’s and Trishna’s understandings of development updates the discrepancy between the modern subject that Hardy’s improving men envision for their refurbished versions of Tess, and Tess’s own evolution into the first of a new kind of organism. Likewise, in the three previous chapters, I discuss each of the film adaptations in ways that highlight the contrast between development as western capitalist discourse and as socially just progress. Bride and Prejudice and Aisha grapple with the rapid changes that neoliberal consumerism brings to Indian culture and whether such buying power falls prey to development as ideology or harnesses its conceptual power to leave India’s colonial history behind. I Walked with a Zombie reconfigures Jane Eyre’s bildungsroman as a lesson to be learned about imperialism’s masking of discipline as progress, and The Man Who Would Be King demonstrates humanitarianism’s intention to yoke the developing world into western capitalism’s orbit. My readings of the films emphasize their ability to speak to the importance of disentangling development’s ideology from its beneficial potential. I hope that this book demonstrates, as well, the need to rethink not just the boundaries of development but of heritage criticism. Unlinking “heritage” from its historical associations with a conservative British regime allows us to see how British heritage, in the form of its classic novels, has traveled across the globe and been reimagined in various and generative ways. Heritage, after all, is about looking to the past to understand one’s present more acutely. To this end, my reading of the relationship between the novels and adaptations reveals development discourse as the afterlife of nineteenth-century improvement ideology. Bringing together an early century belief in teleology and commoditization, as well as the Victorian ethic of labor as transformative of self and other, improvement ideology reflects a long nineteenth-century preoccupation with the joining of progress to capitalism—the very conjunction that informs the adaptations’ portrayals of development discourse. While the films trace development discourse’s lineage back to nineteenth-century improvement ideology, they also bring out improvement’s critiques layered into Romantic and Victorian novels. By translating and updating the settings, characters, and plots of nineteenth-century British fiction to postcolonial societies, the films argue for the relevance of nineteenth-century novels to the analysis of political, social, and cultural experiences of the twentieth and twenty-­ first centuries, as much as to the nineteenth.



Future work in postcolonial adaptation of nineteenth-century texts might explore not only the metaphorical travels taken by nineteenth-­ century British plots, characters, and social critique but also the physical journeys made by the books and their adaptations, as material objects, as they move around the world. Such projects might consider, for instance, what it would mean to read Jane Austen’s and Thomas Hardy’s novels not as British literature first and foremost, but as cultural objects that circulate in different forms and through different media in the British colonies and post-colonies. Attention to histories of commodity exchange that reflect legacies of intellectual continuity would necessitate delving into the connection between colonial and book history. Existing work that exemplifies this connection include Gauri Viswanathan’s Masks of Conquest (1989) and Priya Joshi’s Another Country (2002) on the uses and reception of nineteenth-century English texts in India. A future postcolonial adaptation study that maintains improvement as its primary focus might reveal how certain novels and films, as rhetorical and material objects, participate in the dissemination, indoctrination, appropriation, and resistance of nineteenth-century improvement ideology in various locations, and at different historical moments. What are some of the sites of pedagogical or pleasurable reading that involved Jane Eyre, for instance, within the British Empire in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and which readers were involved? Likewise, what were the sites at which adaptations of Jane Eyre were viewed during the late colonial period, and where and how are they viewed in our postcolonial moment— which adaptations, and which viewers? Continuities between reader identities and reading and viewing situations may arise. Patterns of responses to a novel and its adaptations among readers and viewers may emerge as well. A study that looks across known instances of reading and viewing, geographically and temporally, might shed even more light on how the ideology and possibilities of improvement are understood and experienced, and whether the connection between improvement ideology and development discourse that this project establishes is strengthened or questioned at the sites of these texts’ consumption. While I hope this book can act as a “before-word” for other projects in Victorian studies specifically, and nineteenth-century studies more broadly, I hope with equal enthusiasm that it presents conjunctions with recent work that engages with historical periods or theoretical approaches and subject areas beyond those I emphasize here. As I worked to put the final touches in place on this project, I noted with interest that several books



published recently, or slated to appear in the coming months, explore various perspectives on cross-cultural adaptation. From a comparison of adaptations within and across British national frameworks,2 to an interpretation of fairy tales across different cultures and media,3 an analysis of how the noir aesthetic appears in Nordic contexts,4 a discussion of post-­ revolutionary adaptations of Bertolt Brecht’s plays in China,5 and two volumes about ancient Greek dramas performed for Latin American and US minority audiences,6 scholarship from various disciplinary backgrounds employing a variety of methods are converging on the question of what gets adapted where, for what purposes, and through what forms. Adaptation studies is becoming increasingly interested in stories of how contemporary texts adapt well-trodden material, regardless of whom that material “belongs to.” Scholars are discovering new ways to theorize and historicize adaptation,7 finding fresh perspectives on well-studied themes8 and authors,9 and turning their attention to understudied historical periods,10 genres,11 and new forms of media.12 Future projects analyzing cross-cultural adaptation may benefit by retaining this book’s postcolonial disposition to identify lasting inequalities wrought by the effects of empire, but focus more on the global dimensions of the questions they pose. Scholars might evaluate nineteenth-century progress ideology and its resurgence in development theory through a global or planetary framework that considers postcoloniality as one of many parts of its story. Such an approach would allow improvement ideology and its critiques to be re-contextualized as part of a long history of globalization that encompasses periods of colonization, decolonization, and postcolonization, as well as economic recessions, climate events, instances of ethnic violence, Internet meme circulation, the rise of Amazon or Google, the disappearance of animal species, or global pandemics. A global or planetary framework would also allow projects that study empire’s afterlives to include texts that do not aim their political critique at empire per se, but nevertheless explore the interaction between its legacies and the legacies of other ideas, actions, or events that affect human life on a global scale. I hope this book contributes to the recognition of postcolonial adaptation as an important and timely field of study with much room to grow, and with the ability to intervene in conversations about how the British Empire outlasted its own time, continuing to influence material conditions and lived experiences in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. I hope, too, to strengthen the effort to distinguish development discourse,



and its capitalist roots in English domestic and imperial ideologies of improvement, from what an understanding of development as agency and human dignity might make possible. The nineteenth century is indeed long: we inherit its ideological constraints as well as the cultural productions that critique them. In Victorian and nineteenth-century studies, in theoretical interventions and scholarly methods, in the ways humans negotiate our present conditions of life as “afterwords” of lives lived long ago, we make the most of our imperfect heritage by adapting what is most beneficial.

Notes 1. See my discussion of Tess’s silenced but invoked “life before” in chapter “Unaccounted Modernities in Tess and Trishna.” 2. Stewart and Munro (forthcoming). 3. Murai and Cardi (forthcoming). 4. Badley, Nestingen, and Seppälä (2020). 5. Zhang (2020). 6. Andújar and Nikoloutsos (2020) and Powers (forthcoming). 7. Two works that exemplify new theorization of adaptation by historicizing adaptation practices are Elliott (forthcoming) and Szwydky (forthcoming). 8. See, for instance, de Bruin-Molé (2019). 9. See, for instance, three recent volumes on Shakespeare: Mallin (2019), Klett (2019), and Pope (2019), and one on Austen: Hopkins (2018). 10. See, for instance, Harrow and Saxton (2020) and Swaminathan and Thomas (2019). 11. See, for instance, Meeusen (2020) and Mitaine, Roche, and Schmitt-­ Pitiot (2018). 12. See, for instance, Le Juez, Shiel, and Wallace (2018).

References Andújar, Rosa, and Konstantinos P. Nikoloutsos, eds. 2020. Greeks and Romans on the Latin American stage, Bloomsbury studies in classical reception. London: Bloomsbury Academic. Badley, Linda, Andrew Nestingen, and Jaakko Seppälä, eds. 2020. Nordic noir, adaptation, appropriation, Palgrave studies in adaptation and visual culture. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan. Beer, Gillian. 2002. Hardy: The after-life and the life before. In Thomas hardy: Texts and contexts, ed. Phillip Mallett, 18–30. London: Palgrave Macmillan.



Coombs, David Sweeney, and Danielle Coriale. 2016. Introduction to special issue: V21 forum on strategic presentism. Victorian Studies 59: 87–89. de Bruin-Molé, Megen. 2019. Gothic remixed: Monster mashups and frankenfictions in 21st-century culture. London: Bloomsbury Academic. Elliott, Kamilla. Forthcoming. Theorizing adaptation. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Harrow, Sharon R., and Kirsten T.  Saxton, eds. 2020. Adapting the eighteenth century: A handbook of pedagogies and practices. Rochester: University of Rochester Press. Hopkins, Lisa, ed. 2018. After Austen: Reinventions, rewritings, revisitings. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan. Joshi, Priya. 2002. In another country: Colonialism, culture, and the English novel in India. New York: Columbia University Press. Joyce, Simon. 2007. The Victorians in the rearview mirror. Columbus: Ohio University Press. Klett, Elizabeth. 2019. Choreographing Shakespeare: Dance adaptations of the plays and poems. New York: Routledge. Kornbluh, Anne, and Benjamin Morgan. 2016. Introduction: Presentism, form, and the future of history. B2o: An Online Journal. V21 Special Issue, October 4. Accessed 21 May 2020. Le Juez, Brigitte, Nina Shiel, and Mark Wallace, eds. 2018. (Re)writing without borders: Contemporary intermedial perspectives on literature and the visual arts. Champaign: Common Ground Research Networks. Mallin, Eric S. 2019. Reading Shakespeare in the movies: Non-Adaptations and their meaning, Reproducing Shakespeare series. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan. Meeusen, Meghann. 2020. Children’s books on the big screen, Children’s Literature Association series. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. Mitaine, Benoît, David Roche, and Isabelle Schmitt-Pitiot, eds. 2018. Comics and adaptation. Trans. Aarnoud Rommens and David Roche. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. Murai, Mayako, and Luciana Cardi, eds. Forthcoming. Re-Orienting the fairy tale: Contemporary adaptations across cultures, Series in fairy-tale studies. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. Pope, Johnathan H. 2019. Shakespeare’s fans: Adapting the Bard in the age of media fandom, Palgrave studies in adaptation and visual culture. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan. Powers, Melinda. Forthcoming. Reclaiming Greek drama for diverse audiences: An anthology of adaptations and interviews. New York: Routledge. Rosenthal, Jesse. 2016. Maintenance work: On tradition and development. B2o: An Online Journal. V21 Special Issue, October 6. Accessed 22 May 2020.



Stewart, Michael, and Robert Munro, eds. Forthcoming. Intercultural screen adaptation: British and global case studies. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Swaminathan, Srividhya, and Steven W. Thomas, eds. 2019. The cinematic eighteenth century: History, culture, and adaptation, Routledge advances in film studies. New York: Routledge. Szwydky, Lissette Lopez. Forthcoming. Transmedia adaptation in the nineteenth century. Columbus: Ohio State University Press. V21. 2015. Manifesto of the V21 collective. V21: Victorian studies for the 21st century. Accessed 21 May 2020. ———. 2016. V21 collective at INCS. V21: Victorian studies for the 21st century. Accessed 21 May 2020. Viswanathan, Gauri. 1989. Masks of conquest: Literary study and British rule in India. New York: Columbia University Press. (Check order of numbers). Zhang, Wei. 2020. Chinese adaptations of Brecht: Appropriation and intertextuality, Chinese literature and culture in the world. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.

Filmography Aisha. 2010. [Film] Dir. Rajshree Ojha. Screenplay by Devika Bhagat. India: Anil Kapoor Film Company, PVR Pictures. Bride and Prejudice. 2004. [Film] Dir. Gurinder Chadha. Screenplay by Paul Meyeda Berges and Gurinda Chadha. USA, UK, India: Pathé Pictures International, UK Film Council, Kintop Pictures, Bend It Films, Inside Track. I Walked with a Zombie. 1943. [Film] Dir. Jacques Tourneur. Screenplay by Curt Siodmak and Ardel Wray. USA: RKO Radio Pictures. Man Who Would Be King, The. 1975. [Film] Dir. John Huston. Screenplay by John Huston and Gladys Hill. UK/USA: Columbia Pictures, Devon/Persky-­ Bright, Allied Artists Pictures. Trishna. 2011. [Film] Dir. Michael Winterbottom. UK: Head Gear Films, UK Film Council.


A Account to count, 199 unaccountable, 193 unaccounted, 189–230 uncounted, 192, 193, 199, 226 Adaptation, types of analogy, 27, 30, 36, 93, 129, 156, 212, 240 appropriation, 7, 22, 24, 25, 27–30, 33, 40n8, 83n7, 190, 206, 212, 214, 221–223, 230n20, 240, 242 commentary, 26, 27, 29, 58, 110, 128, 163, 205 cross-cultural, 25, 26, 28, 29, 33, 36, 49, 65, 243 gentrified, 26, 212 imitation, 16, 26, 60 indigenization, 28–30, 83n7, 212 postcolonial, 7, 22–38, 40n8, 48, 49, 242, 243

transcultural, 28, 39n5, 212 transposition, 26, 29 Afghanistan, 139–182 See also Graveyard of Empires Afterlives, 1–40, 81, 158, 204, 243 Aisha (film), 29, 35, 48, 49, 53, 60, 61, 64–81, 83n7, 85n14, 85n15, 91, 241 Alexander Alexander III, 142 Alexander of Macedon, 142 Alexander the Great, 37, 140, 142–155, 157–159, 164, 166, 169, 170, 177, 178–179n5, 178n2 Anglicists, 37, 139, 146–148, 153, 154, 156, 166 Anti-war drama, see Film genres Appropriation, 7, 22, 24, 25, 27–30, 33, 40n8, 83n7, 190, 206, 212, 214, 221–223, 230n20, 240, 242 See also Adaptations, types of

 Note: Page numbers followed by ‘n’ refer to notes.


© The Author(s) 2020 V. Y. Kao, Postcolonial Screen Adaptation and the British Novel,




Articulation, 22, 25, 29, 31, 58, 117, 134n17, 193, 194, 197, 199 Austen, Jane, 26–27, 36, 47–86, 92, 139, 195, 227n7, 228n10, 242 Emma (novel), 35, 48, 49, 53–61, 71, 74, 76, 80–81, 82n5, 91, 131 Mansfield Park (novel), 26–27, 50, 51, 53, 82n3, 194 Pride and Prejudice (novel), 26, 35, 48 B Beer, Gillian, 200, 204, 239 Bildungsroman, 36, 241 Bollywood, see Indian cinema Boundaries colonial, 100, 126 gender, 105 Bride and Prejudice (film), 26, 29, 35, 48, 49, 53, 60, 61, 64–81, 83n7, 91, 241 Briggs, Asa, 9, 12 British Empire in India, 14, 140, 141, 144 in West Indies, 99, 115, 130 Brontë, Charlotte, 35, 112 Jane Eyre (novel), 36, 92–109, 130, 131, 132n7, 132n8, 139, 241, 242 Burke, Edmund, 50, 58, 81n2, 82n3, 82n4, 84n8, 140–141, 194, 195 Burnes, Alexander, 146, 147, 152 C Capabilities Approach, 5 See also Nussbaum, Martha Capitalism, 2, 3, 6, 8, 16–18, 20, 22, 35, 36, 49, 62, 66, 73, 74, 77, 93, 94, 139, 208, 215, 225, 241 Certeau, Michel de, 93, 121–123, 128

Clive, Robert, 140, 149, 150, 166 Clueless (film), 26, 49, 53, 58–61, 67, 68, 71, 72, 74, 76, 82n5, 83n6, 83n7 Collectivity, 193, 211, 240 Coming Home (film), 164, 173–177 Competition, 14, 130, 157, 193, 203, 204–205, 207, 210, 211 Condorcet, Marquis de, 9–11 Conquest, 14, 37, 68, 139–182 Conservatism, 11 Consumerism, 60, 71, 241 consumer culture, 47–86 Counterfactual, 37, 194, 199, 201–210, 226 Covenant of the League of Nations, 16 Cultural theft, see Appropriation D Darwin, Charles, 14, 204, 209, 210 Darwinism neo-Darwinian framework, 205 neo-Darwinian worldview, 203 Decolonization, 63, 64, 71, 93, 114, 118, 127–130, 243 Deer Hunter, The (film), 164, 173, 174, 176, 177, 179n10 Deregulation, 63, 73 Determinism, 60, 62, 203, 204 Developing (countries), 3–4, 6, 19 Development age of, 6, 17 discourse, 2, 6–22, 49, 61, 240–243 high development theory, 18–21 stages of, 12 Differentials, 52, 53, 56, 60, 67, 82n5, 83n7 Discipline, 12, 18, 19, 22, 23, 29, 33, 60, 93–98, 101, 102, 104, 106, 108, 110, 114, 122, 123, 125, 130, 150, 151, 181n20, 239, 241


Discontent, 61–65, 67, 76, 78, 79, 81, 130, 131n2 Docile subject, 36, 93, 110 Documentary, see Film genres Domestication, 80, 91–134, 139, 156, 238 Domesticity, 52, 105, 110, 112 Duckworth, Alistair, 50, 51, 82n3, 194, 195 E East India College, see Haileybury East India Company, 14, 15, 140, 141, 143 Elphinstone, Mountstuart, 146–147, 178n4 Emma (novel), see Austen, Jane Enclosure(s), 36, 50, 92–94, 96–99, 101, 102, 104–106, 114, 117, 118, 120, 131n2 Enlightenment Continental, 11, 17 Scottish, 38n1, 148 Evolution, 11, 14, 163, 177, 195, 202–210, 241 Eyes imperial, 68, 69, 71, 72, 77, 80, 99 improving, 36, 49, 78, 209 F Film genres adventure, 148, 151, 161–164, 166, 167, 172, 177, 178, 179–180n13, 180n14 anti-war drama, 164, 173, 174, 177 Bollywood (see Indian cinema) documentary, 162, 165, 182n23, 219, 220, 229n18 horror, 36, 39n7, 92, 107, 173 mock documentary, 214, 218, 222 Foucault, Michel, 93–97, 112, 128


G Gandhi, Mohandas K., 62 Gaze imperial, 68, 72, 99–100, 131n3, 217, 230n22 male, 217, 230n22 shopper, 78 tourist, 216, 217, 229n19 Globalization, 3, 23, 29, 31, 32, 47, 66, 72, 190, 243 Graveyard of Empires, 139–182 See also Afghanistan Green Berets, The (film), 164–165, 168, 175, 180n17 H Haileybury (East India College), 143, 148, 166 Hardy, Thomas, 26, 35, 194–205, 210–213, 215, 216, 225, 226, 228n8, 241, 242 Tess of the D'Urbervilles (novel), 37, 189, 193, 211, 212, 228n14 Harvey, David, 93, 94, 97, 124 Hastings, Warren, 141, 149, 150, 166 impeachment of, 82n4, 140 Heritage adaptation, 24, 25 cinema, 7, 22, 23, 25 international, 24 literary, 24, 25 national, 24 Hollywood, 24, 36, 74, 84n12, 85n12, 92, 106, 107, 111, 127, 161, 163, 164, 177, 179n12, 182n23, 182n25, 217, 230n22 Horror, see Film genres Humanitarianism, 6, 34, 39n2, 140, 189, 241 Hume, David, 11



Huston, John, 36–37, 139, 140, 157–178, 179n12, 180n17, 182n23 See also Man Who Would Be King, The (film) I Imperialism, 6, 7, 10, 13, 14, 16, 17, 23, 47, 48, 71, 73, 105, 119, 122, 124, 128, 141, 148, 150, 158–164, 168, 172–178, 190, 241 imperial gaze (see Gaze) Improvement age of, 12 conservative, 50, 51, 82n3 ideology, 6–23, 31, 33, 35–38, 47, 48, 51, 53, 60, 64, 65, 67, 68, 70, 73, 91, 120, 127, 130, 139, 140, 177, 189–194, 199, 202, 210, 241–243 innovative, 50 self-improvement, 6, 135, 140, 141, 151, 174–177 Independence Indian independence, 62, 84n9 post-independence, 48, 63 India British domination of (see British Empire, in India) cinema in (see Indian cinema) independence (see Independence) Indian cinema Bollywood, 33, 39–40n8, 48, 49, 64–66, 74, 77, 81, 84n12, 85n15, 212, 213 popular, 33, 47–86 I Walked with a Zombie (film), 36, 92, 105–31, 132n8, 133n13, 139, 241

J Jane Eyre (novel), see Brontë, Charlotte K Kafiristan, Kafirs, 150, 151, 153, 157, 167, 168, 170, 172, 180n14 Kapoor, Sonam, 74, 85n15, 86n15 See also Aisha (film) Kipling, Rudyard, 35, 37, 140, 142, 158–159, 161, 163, 169–172, 177, 178n3, 179n7, 179n8, 180n14, 181n20, 181n21 “Man Who Would Be King, The” (story), 36, 139, 149–157, 160 Kornbluh, Anna, 235, 236 Krugman, Paul, 2, 5, 18–21 L Lefebvre, Henri, 93, 114, 128 Levinas, Emmanuel, 223 Liberalism, 62 M Macroeconomics, 2–3, 21 Madness, 101, 120, 132n8 Manifest destiny, 158 Mansfield Park (novel), see Austen, Jane Man Who Would Be King, The (film), 139, 157–178, 179n12, 179n13, 180n14, 241 See also Huston, John “Man Who Would Be King, The” (story), see Kipling, Rudyard Market, free, 19, 66, 72 Millar, John, 11–12 Mill, John Stuart, 14–15, 61 See also Utilitarianism


Minh-ha, Trinh T., 219, 221–222 Mock documentary, see Film genres Modernities alternative, 194, 202–211 multiple, 37, 189–192, 194, 226 Modernity, 4, 18, 19, 37, 38, 60, 63, 64, 70, 76–78, 80, 85n12, 140, 148, 150, 158, 189–230, 240 Modernization, 2, 5, 34, 37, 50, 53, 77, 91, 148, 153, 189, 194, 195 Monogenist, 13, 14, 16, 18, 70 Morgan, Benjamin, 235, 236 Multiculturalism, 67, 70s Mutual aid, 193, 204–205, 207, 210 N Nehru, Jawaharlal, 62–63, 65, 71, 74, 84n10 Neoliberalism, 66, 237 Non-narrativity, 193, 199, 214, 220 Novels canonical, 25, 239, 240 classic, 7, 24, 238, 241 See also under specific title Nussbaum, Martha, 5, 22 O Orientalists, 37, 62, 139, 144–146, 148, 153, 154, 156, 166 P Piketty, Thomas, 20–22 Plantation, 24, 36, 93, 99, 105–131, 206 Plot forward movement of, 51 as ideology, 51 Pluralism, 67, 73, 80 Point Four Program, 6


Polygenesis, 14, 39n3 Postcolonialism, 25, 30, 34 Presentism, 235–244 Preservation, 50, 103, 195 Profit, 8, 17, 37, 38, 99, 100, 115, 121, 143, 192, 193, 196, 198, 199, 202, 210, 211, 218, 225 Progress, 1–40, 48, 49, 51, 53, 55, 60, 61, 63–65, 67, 70, 73, 75, 77, 80, 81, 131, 139, 140, 144, 145, 148, 149, 156, 159, 190, 192, 193, 202, 213, 217, 225, 238, 240, 241, 243 R Rai, Aishwarya, 67, 83n7, 84–85n12, 85n15, 86n15 Rao, Narasimha, 63, 65, 66, 75 Repton, Humphry, 50, 51, 68, 194, 195, 202, 227n7 Restoration, 145, 182n23, 198, 202 Revisionist criticism, 37, 194, 201 S Said, Edward, 28, 30, 47, 49, 93, 128, 217 Second World War, see World War Two Self-improvement, see Improvement Sen, Amartya, 5, 22 Shopper, 60, 61, 65–81 shopping gaze (see Gaze) Silence, 30, 37, 193, 194, 199, 200, 210–226 Singh, Manmohan, 63, 65, 66, 75 Slavery, 26, 30, 82n3, 93, 111, 113, 123, 127, 132n6, 134n15, 173, 191 Smith, Adam, 206, 207 Smith, Neil, 93, 94, 97 Social change, 4, 5, 7



Social justice, 5, 64 Sontag, Susan, 224 Space absolute, 36, 93, 94, 100, 106, 115, 122 colonial, 35, 99, 100, 105–131, 132n6 confinement in, 91, 92 geographic, 94 management of, 97 organization of (see Spatial organization) partitioned, 94 postcolonial, 93 Spatial organization, 106, 114, 128, 130 Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty, 221, 222 Swaraj, 62 Sympathy, 206–209, 214, 220 T Teleological, non-, 36, 48, 49, 53, 55, 58–60, 64, 67, 71, 74–76, 79–81, 139 Temporality, 35, 36, 49, 53, 60, 91, 150 Tess of the D'Urbervilles, see Hardy, Thomas Theory, literary, 227n5 Tooze, Adam, 20, 22 Tourism, 129, 130, 213, 215, 216, 230n21 tourist, 1, 6, 130, 165, 215–218, 229n19–22 Transnational, 6, 7, 34–36, 85n12 transnationalism, 34 Trishna (film), 37, 189–230, 240–241 Truman, Harry, 6, 17, 18 Tuan, Yi-Fu, 93, 100, 120

U United States, 3 Utilitarianism, 61, 195, 202 See also Mill, John Stuart V V21, 235–239 Veteran, see Vietnam War Victorian era global Victorian, 32, 33 neo-Victorian, 22, 29–33, 39n6 post-Victorian, 6, 22, 32, 240 Victorianism, 12, 16, 23 Vietnam War, 36, 37, 140, 159, 164, 172, 175, 177, 180n16, 182n23, 182n25 V21 manifesto, 235–238 W Wayne, John, 164, 168, 175, 180n17 West Indies, 99, 115, 116, 130, 132n5 British domination of (see British Empire, in West Indies) Winterbottom, Michael, 26, 37, 193, 210, 213, 218–220, 226, 229n15 See also Trishna World War Two, 6, 18, 36, 65, 92, 93, 127, 130, 159, 162, 181n17, 182n23 Z Zombie, 107–114, 123–130, 132n8, 173