Ahmed, "An Unlimited Intercourse": Historical Contradictions and Imperial Romance in the Early Nineteenth Century
With parliament's 1813 decision simultaneously to end the East India Company's monopoly by opening the colonies to British free merchants and to permit British evangelicals to establish missions there, the nature of the empire in India began to change: the British public now had an opportunity to play an economic and spiritual role in the empire. Now, the economic and moral aspects of the empire, superintended by the British nation, separated from the political aspect, which remained in the hands of the EIC. The former staked the claims of "modernity" and the civilizing mission; the latter rationalized its openly despotic politics by insisting that it was concerned to preserve native "traditions." Sydney Owenson's early-nineteenth-century historical novel The Missionary: an Indian Tale was the first novel to represent the problem of colonial India in terms of a conflict between modernity and tradition, rather than between the principles of the nation-state and the politics of empire. In order to produce this new vision of the colonial encounter, The Missionary needed to produce a new narrative form that effaced a fact eighteenth-century writers rarely could: in the colonies, Indian "traditions" were a mask constructed by the colonial regime to conceal its violations of the fundamental principles of civil society.