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Anxieties of Empire and the Fiction of Intrigue

Anxieties of Empire and the Fiction of Intrigue

Yumna Siddiqi
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Anxieties of Empire and the Fiction of Intrigue
    Book Description:

    Focusing on late nineteenth- and twentieth-century stories of detection, policing, and espionage by British and South Asian writers, Yumna Siddiqi presents an original and compelling exploration of the cultural anxieties created by imperialism. She suggests that while colonial writers use narratives of intrigue to endorse imperial rule, postcolonial writers turn the generic conventions and topography of the fiction of intrigue on its head, launching a critique of imperial power that makes the repressive and emancipatory impulses of postcolonial modernity visible.

    Siddiqi devotes the first part of her book to the colonial fiction of Arthur Conan Doyle and John Buchan, in which the British regime's preoccupation with maintaining power found its voice. The rationalization of difference, pronouncedly expressed through the genre's strategies of representation and narrative resolution, helped to reinforce domination and, in some cases, allay fears concerning the loss of colonial power.

    In the second part, Siddiqi argues that late twentieth-century South Asian writers also underscore the state's insecurities, but unlike British imperial writers, they take a critical view of the state's authoritarian tendencies. Such writers as Amitav Ghosh, Michael Ondaatje, Arundhati Roy, and Salman Rushdie use the conventions of detective and spy fiction in creative ways to explore the coercive actions of the postcolonial state and the power dynamics of a postcolonial New Empire.

    Drawing on the work of leading theorists of imperialism such as Edward Said, Frantz Fanon, and the Subaltern Studies historians, Siddiqi reveals how British writers express the anxious workings of a will to maintain imperial power in their writing. She also illuminates the ways South Asian writers portray the paradoxes of postcolonial modernity and trace the ruses and uses of reason in a world where the modern marks a horizon not only of hope but also of economic, military, and ecological disaster.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51086-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Yumna Siddiqi
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    In this book, I explore the ways in which Empire is troubled by anxieties about its own security. I investigate how these anxieties are expressed in the fiction of intrigue—fiction that foregrounds a threat to the social and political order—and particularly in detective and spy fiction. Fiction of intrigue gives voice to concerns about imperial mastery in especially pronounced ways. It responds to and in some cases partly allays these concerns through strategies of representation and narrative resolution that are characteristic of this genre. Empire serves as an umbrella term for the different forms of Western hegemony over...

  5. ONE Colonial Anxieties and the Fiction of Intrigue
    (pp. 17-33)

    British imperial fiction and detective fiction are, on the face of it, distinct genres of writing. Imperial fiction is usually set in Empire, and demonstrates the superiority of colonial culture and the triumph of British hegemony vis-à-vis a native Other. Detective fiction is generally set within England, and takes as its subject matter the allaying of a threat to law and order by a perspicacious policeman or sleuth. These genres overlap in late nineteenth-century fiction in interesting ways. In several mystery stories of this period, characters from the colonies enter England and bring with them violence and subterfuge. Rather than...

  6. TWO Imperial Intrigue in an English Country House
    (pp. 34-62)

    An imperial scene haunts what is commonly regarded as the first British detective novel, William Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone.¹ In this tale of intrigue, characters from India seek a priceless diamond that has been stolen from Tipu Sultan’s palace by a rapacious English soldier, John Herncastle, and they threaten the peace of his descendants in their country estate in England. In Collins’s novel, the quest for the Moonstone is the subject of “social detection”: Collins links the circulation of imperial plunder with acts of corruption and violence within the metropole. What is presented as a family scandal has its antecedents...

  7. THREE Sherlock Holmes and “the Cesspool of Empire”: The Return of the Repressed
    (pp. 63-85)

    In Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective stories, a striking number of characters who return to England after a sojourn in the colonies have an outlandish aspect. One, a contorted and bilious ex-soldier, owns a pet Indian mongoose. Another has lost a leg to a crocodile in the Ganges and has a poison-toting Andaman Islander in tow. A third keeps a fiendish hound and passes his South American wife off as his sister. A fourth returns from South Africa with a “blanched” face and a furtive manner. Many of these returned colonials are portrayed as menacing, and their presence in England precipitates...

  8. FOUR The Fiction of Counterinsurgency
    (pp. 86-121)

    In fiction of intrigue, native cabals and conspiracies against imperial rule rumble upon the horizon. Scholars have pointed to the cultural and political importance given in Britain to the Indian Mutiny of 1857, the New Zealand Wars of the 1860s, the Jamaican rebellion of 1865, the Mahdi uprising of the 1880s, the Fenian uprisings of the same period, the Anglo-Boer War, and other challenges to British imperial rule. The late nineteenth century also saw the rise of competition between imperial powers. It is hardly remarkable, then, that insurgencies and imperial rivalries should be depicted in fiction of intrigue.

    One can...

  9. FIVE Intermezzo: Postcolonial Modernity and the Fiction of Intrigue
    (pp. 122-139)

    From the vantage point of the present, the world that formed the backdrop to the fiction I have discussed so far seems in some ways unrecognizable, yet in other ways strangely familiar. In the early twentieth century, the imperial territories—colonies, dominions, and protectorates—of France, Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain included much of Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Australia, Canada, the Middle East, and the Caribbean. By 1980, European rule in these areas had virtually ended. This rapid and extensive decolonization can be understood in terms of the rise of nationalism, changes in international relationships, and a...

  10. SIX Police and Postcolonial Rationality in Amitav Ghosh’s The Circle of Reason
    (pp. 140-166)

    To be a postcolonial subject is to be an unbidden guest at the table of modernity. Its fruits are spread delectably before one: technological prowess, economic development, political freedom. Yet, as one reaches for these, one feels a hint of queasiness, for they evoke the postcolonial double bind: a desire to embrace the modern, but the knowledge that the dialectic of modernity has entailed the subjection of the colonized. What elements of the postcolonial contract entail the continuance of this subjection by other means? Is the postcolonial version of modernity inevitably marked as belated and inauthentic? Doubts about the salubriousness...

  11. SEVEN “Deep in Blood”: Roy, Rushdie, and the Representation of State Violence in India
    (pp. 167-191)

    In the field of postcolonial studies, most recent analysis of the nation-state has focused on the way people imagine the nation. Following Benedict Anderson’s work on the cultural processes that have produced the nation as an imagined political community, a number of critics have explored the question of what kind of national imaginary—a nation’s sense of self—novels produce, and how national identities are fashioned in and through literature.¹ Others have characterized the nation-state as a political unit that is of declining importance, and have focused rather on “transnational flows,” “global ethnoscapes,” “diaspora,” and the like. The consequence of...

  12. EIGHT “The Unhistorical Dead”: Violence, History, and Narrative in Michael Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost
    (pp. 192-216)

    In this chapter, I examine Michael Ondaatje’s use of a narrative of intrigue to represent political violence in Anil’s Ghost. Ondaatje writes of a war-torn Sri Lanka where individuals have been stripped down to an existence of bare life, as victims of a genocide that has become a condition rather than an event. The writer fashions out of the political quagmire of Sri Lanka a novel that reads in many ways like a detective story. He focuses on the effects of political violence on individual bodies. In a landscape replete with brutalized bodies—we read of decapitated heads on stakes,...

  13. CONCLUSION “Power Smashes Into Private Lives”: Cultural Politics in the New Empire
    (pp. 217-230)

    In this book, I have explored how fiction of intrigue reveals and critiques the rationalities of power in an imperial world. In the first part, I traced the workings of a will to maintain imperial power by analyzing British detective and spy fiction by Arthur Conan Doyle and John Buchan from the turn of the twentieth century. This fiction displays the imperial regime’s anxieties about control while simultaneously affirming imperial order; resolution comes when the criminal is unmasked and captured. I have mapped the ways in which colonial fiction of intrigue expresses anxieties about how natives are to be governed,...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 231-268)
  15. Index
    (pp. 269-290)