Teaching Romantic India

This article argues that India occupies a central position in Romantic literature, and that this centrality requires teachers of this period to engage with India as both a site of cultural production and an object of imaginative fascination. It offers teachers of Romantic literature a pedagogical framework and three specific case studies to illustrate approaches to Romantic India across a range of courses. In the first case study, I suggest how a narrowly focused seminar could pair texts produced by British and South Asian writers—representatives of the “Anglo-Indian” and “Indo-Anglian” discourse communities, respectively—to help students grasp how the writing and experience of British and Indian subjects of the early Indian empire was at once intermingled and strictly segregated. The second case study considers how a period survey might incorporate a brief unit on Romantic India that nonetheless treats India as an integral part of the literature of the period. I suggest pairing some of Robert Burns’s short lyrics with poems by Henry Derozio, who engages analogous themes of nationalism and poetic vision in the Indian context. Reading Burns and Derozio together, I suggest, can help students see how literary dialects of English could serve as powerful but problematic tools of identity-formation and social mobility in both the colonial and domestic contexts. In the final case study, I examine the possibilities of teaching a longer work, Sydney Owenson’s The Missionary. I show how Owenson’s novel offers rich opportunities to engage students with key elements of Britain’s colonial history in India while simultaneously illustrating many of the formal tensions that characterized the novel in this period.