Under Western Eyes

India from Milton to Macaulay

Under Western Eyes

Book Pages: 280 Illustrations: Published: April 1999

Asian Studies > South Asia, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

Spanning nearly two and a half centuries of English literature about India, Under Western Eyes traces the development of an imperial discourse that governed the English view of India well into the twentieth century. Narrating this history from its Reformation beginnings to its Victorian consolidation, Balachandra Rajan tracks this imperial presence through a wide range of literary and ideological sites. In so doing, he explores from a postcolonial vantage point collusions of gender, commerce, and empire—while revealing the tensions, self-deceptions, and conflicts at work within the English imperial design.
Rajan begins with the Portuguese poet Camões, whose poem celebrating Vasco da Gama’s passage to India becomes, according to its eighteenth-century English translator, the epic of those who would possess India. He closely examines Milton’s treatment of the Orient and Dryden’s Aureng-Zebe, the first English literary work on an Indian subject. Texts by Shelley, Southey, Mill, and Macaulay, among others, come under careful scrutiny, as does Hegel’s significant impact on English imperial discourse. Comparing the initial English representation of its actions in India (as a matter of commerce, not conquest) and its contemporaneous treatment of Ireland, Rajan exposes contradictions that shed new light on the English construction of a subaltern India.
Giving postcolonial thought a historical dimension, Under Western Eyes also places literary history in new perspective through postcolonial readings. It will interest scholars of cultural history, particularly British imperial history, and those engaged with postcolonial, literary, subaltern, South Asian, and cultural studies.


“[A] powerful reading of the thematic rendition of India in important English literary texts from the Renaissance to second-generation Romanticism.” — Srinivas Aravamudan , MLQ

“[An] unusually fine study. . . . [A] book exciting for its treatment of the centuries-long narratives about imperial desire and conquest.” — , Studies in English Literature 1500-1900

“[F]ascinating . . . . What is perhaps most interesting about Under Western Eyes is that it represents a turning away from what Rajan calls postcolonialism’s via negativa to a more inclusive and constructive critical practice.” — Paul Stevens, Letters in Canada 1999

“Any book that ranges so widely in its scope cannot but reveal its author’s profound knowledge of literature. What struck me as I was reading Under Western Eyes was just how much its author has learned from literature. . . . Of course, it takes an exceptional critic to tease out literature’s interpellative, interrogative power. We are greatly indebted to Rajan for doing such critical work.” — Christopher Ivic , Renaissance and Reformation

“Balachandra Rajan's compilation of essays and talks in his areas of specialisation, Milton and the British Romantics, demonstrates his depth of knowledge and erudition. . . . Under Western Eyes is a celebration of a long career in academia and of a rare openness of mind. It is a useful explication of the ‘Orientalist’ bias in the works of Cameons, Milton, Dryden, and Shelley. Rajan counters Said’s term ‘contrapuntal’, asserting that ‘a countervoice heard within the imperial music is in the end a contribution to that music.’. . . Perhaps a voice like Rajan's will restore the credibility of those of us who work on reading the political in literature.” — Feroza Jussawalla, Times Higher Education

“Rajan’s scholarship is exemplary.” — D. H. Stewart , Choice

“Rajan’s text is a rewarding source of nuanced and thought-provoking analyses.” — Michael J. Franklin, English

“The book’s strengths are many, including its author’s deep learning in multiple traditions. . . . Professor Rajan can think like a novelist, an historical critic, and a theorist.” — David Mason , Hudson Review

“This book makes an erudite contribution to postcolonial analyses of colonial discourse. . . . Rajan impressively supplements colonial discourse analysis with the findings of historical area studies, a combination that is both commendable and necessary.” — Nandini Bhattacharya , Modern Philology

"[Rajan’s] characteristic eloquence is ripened here to something approaching philosophical rumination, and chance phrases acquire a life beyond their contexts. . . . As Rajan’s latest book breaks new ground, it demonstrates that its author continues to matter to many different generations of readers." — Pompa Banerjee , Milton Quarterly

"The historical sweep of Rajan’s study is vast . . . . Under Western Eyes will . . . prove to be of interest to both the literary scholar and the historian."

— Walter S. H. Lim , Asian Journal of Social Science

"This study marks an important advance in documenting the understanding or, more correctly, the misunderstanding, of India. It has unprecedented historical depth." — K.B. Gulati, South Asian Review

Under Western Eyes is a learned, sophisticated, often brilliant analysis of the consolidation of English imperialist discourse about India from the earliest stages of the East India Company through the 1830s.” — Patrick Brantlinger, Indiana University

“Neither students of Milton nor readers invested in the future of postcolonial studies can afford to ignore the panoply of theoretical, historical, and critical examplars that crowd Rajan’s wonderfully readable pages.” — Janel Mueller, University of Chicago


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Balachandra Rajan is Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Western Ontario. He has written numerous scholarly books, including The Form of the Unfinished: English Poetics from Spenser to Pound and two novels.

Table of Contents Back to Top

Introduction: Preliminary Navigations

1. The Lusiads and the Asian Reader

2. Banyan Trees and Fig Leaves: Some thoughts on Milton's India

3. Appropriating India: Dryden's Great Mogul

4. James Mill and the Caes of the Hottentot Venus

5. Hegel's India and the Surprise of Sin

6. Feminizing the Feminine: Early Women Writers on India

7. Monstrous Mythologies: Southey and the Curse of Kehama

8. Understanding Asia: Shelley's Prometheus Unbound

9. Macaulay: The Moment and the Minute

Afterword: From Center to Circumference


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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2298-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2279-5
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