Senior Honors Theses
History Department Honors Program

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Thesis or dissertation

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A Senior Thesis Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for Honors in History.
Faculty Advisor: Lisa Mitchell


The White Author’s Burden: Justifications of Empire in the Fiction of British India identifies a transformation in Anglo-Indian literature by exploring various fictional works (including novels, short stories, and poems) written by British authors between 1800 and 1924. Before 1857 (the year of the widespread Indian Rebellions that challenged British rule), Anglo-Indian literature focused exclusively on British life in India. Interactions with Indians were minimal, if present at all. After this date, however, British authors began to portray India and Indians almost entirely in ways that justified their own rule. This shift in the literature suggests that the British felt a new need to justify their empire. This thesis focuses on three literary themes offered by British authors that served to legitimize British rule in India in the second half of the nineteenth century: (1) the state of Indian women; (2) the alleged rivalry between Hindus and Muslims; and (3) the perceived incompetence of educated Indians for political rule. Each of these premises was employed as a tactic to justify the British Empire. This study investigates illustrations of India and Indians in British fiction against the backdrop of historiographical debate. These depictions in Anglo-Indian literature were caused by a deep-rooted fear of losing the empire that was brought on by the very real loss of authority and control in 1857-8 during the widespread Rebellions. This study aids in understanding the ways in which the British desperately tried to validate their necessity in the subcontinent through the implicit and explicit representations of Indian life in the literature of the day. It combines history and literary analysis to determine how these stereotypes were created, and how they were used to legitimize and emphasize the necessity of the British Empire in India.


india, raj, british india, justifications of empire, communalism, babu, zenana, sati, age of consent, widow immolation, kipling, forster, hindu, muslim, bengali, landon, oman

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Date Posted: 23 April 2007

This document has been peer reviewed.