Sympathy in a Hot Climate: British and Indian Subjects at the Turn of the Century

Part of the Palgrave Studies in the Enlightenment, Romanticism and Cultures of Print book series (PERCP)


Jones’s fellow European writers in Bengal at the end of the eighteenth century were engaged in nothing less than the construction of a new notion of sensibility, one adapted for the rigours and cultural complexities of colonial conditions. This new culture stemmed in large part from the outcome of an earlier intellectual debate about the effects of a debilitating climate, but bore ramifications for the exercise of imaginative sympathy in the colonial contact zone that E.M. Forster intuited in his introduction to Eliza Fay’s Original Letters from India (1779–1815) (1925 edition). Forster felt that the ‘deportment’ of Britons in India in the late eighteenth century was characterised by a tangible hardening of attitudes towards the country and its inhabitants. He noted that ‘the English are no longer traders, soldiers, adventurers, who may take up what attitude suits them towards the aborigines; they are acquiring racial consciousness and the sense of Imperial responsibility’.1 Forster holds Fay’s letters to be both representative and unrepresentative of this behavioural development. Consciously alluding to Jane Austen’s novel of a similar title, Forster continues that Fay is ‘in her sense, as in her sentiment, the child of her century … her floods of tears and fainting fits are always postponed until a convenient moment: they never intrude while she is looking after her luggage or outwitting her foes’ (p. 14). In other words, she is prone to extravagant displays of emotion insofar as she is a product of the age of sensibility, but her colonial environment and the rigours of travel somehow steeled her personality. Indeed, as will be seen, Fay’s self-reliance and independence of spirit have made her a figure of admiration amongst many feminist critics.2


British Literature National Character European Woman East India Company Colonial Setting 
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