"This novel social fabric" : genre, liberalism, and political idealism in fiction of the British Empire, 1913-1936
This dissertation brings together British and Anglophone Indian novels published between 1913 and 1936 that address the conditions of economic globalization in contexts of late British imperialism. I use genre as an entry point to examine how fiction writers situated in the metropolitan administrative center of the British Empire reckoned with the liberalism informing interwar political idealism, represented most saliently by the 1919 institution of the League of Nations and its operations during the subsequent two decades. The primary novels in this study—Leonard Woolf’s The Village in the Jungle (1913), Winifred Holtby’s Mandoa, Mandoa! (1933), and Mulk Raj Anand’s Coolie (1936)— engage tragic naturalism, satire, and the bildungsroman, respectively. Along with the novels I address in a supplementary capacity—E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India (1924), Evelyn Waugh’s Black Mischief (1932), and George Orwell’s Burmese Days (1934)—the fiction under review vividly, and at times graphically, evokes the social, political, and economic injustices attending ostensibly “liberal” British economic and humanitarian interventions in areas of Asia and Africa. In studies of the novel, there is a well-established alignment between the rise of the novel, the cultivation of empathy, and the establishment of liberal international institutions. The novels in my study represent the dynamic encounter of influential non- European nationalist voices and self-determination struggles with metropolitan legal, political, economic, and cultural institutions—from the League of Nations and the Anti- Slavery and Aborigines’ Protection Society to the international progressive writers’ movement and the political economy of British imperialism. In order to understand how the novelists critically examine the functions of liberalism as the prevailing Western legal-political discourse during the early twentieth century, I consider how they manipulate literary genres with historic relationships to the institution of liberalism. Given that the novel traditionally offers an ethical education by modeling processes of identification with difference, I argue that the genre engagements under discussion deemphasize the traditionally liberal value of empathy (premised on the belief that the other is a version of the self) and assert the value of humility (born of the realization that there are always unintended consequences of engaging with difference).