Dickens' Defensive Fantasy of Imperial Stability

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The Perils of Certain English Prisoners: Dickens' Defensive Fantasy of Imperial Stability

Note: "The Perils of Certain English Prisoners" consists of three chapters. Chapters one and three consist of material written by Dickens, whilst chapter two comprises the work of Wilkie Collins', completed under the auspices of Dickens. As the material under consideration in this essay is taken from the first and third chapters, and considering Dickens' creative control over the second chapter, "Perils" has been discussed as a Dickens text.

Imperial Britain, Dickens and the Culture of Negated Alterity

'Colonial literature,' Abdul JanMohammed writes, 'is an exploration and a representation of a world at the boundaries of "civilisation," a world that has not (yet) been domesticated by European signification or codified in detail by its ideology. That world is therefore perceived as uncontrollable, chaotic, unattainable and ultimately evil' (18). In the wake of the Indian Mutiny of 1857, Dickens' fictional response to that event, "The Perils of Certain English Prisoners," reflected both a culture of desired vengeance against the mutineers, and Dickens' sympathy with that viewpoint. This stance entailed a rejection of the then Governor of India Lord Canning's call for an initial period of discipline, followed by 'discrimination' to be shown toward the mutineers in the form of clemency (Oddie 3), and of Disraeli who 'spoke with considerable sympathy of the Mutiny as a justifiable Indian protest against British harshness' (Hutchins 80). Joining the vitriolic criticism of this viewpoint expressed by The Timesand the majority of the public, Dickens dismissed the governing forces in India for procrastinating and failing to protect British subjects in India (Oddie 4). The Mutiny was a direct threat to Victorian values transposed to India, embodied in the aforementioned British subjects: consider the 'almost universal demand for bloody revenge on the mutineers'(Oddie 3), for their reported brutality toward British women and children, which 'was the most direct outrage imaginable against the whole Victorian concept of women as pure and violable, the source of the sanctity of hearth and home' (Oddie 6).

This analysis of "Perils" will discuss the text as a manifestation of a disharmonious marriage of ragged defensive fantasy on Dickens' behalf, against the background of the reality of the predominating colonial framework: the discussion will aim to highlight the paradoxical Other negating tunnel vision through which the British colonial project felt both the balance and imbalance of its status as "colonial master." The terms "imperial" and "colonial" will be used according to Said's definitions in Culture and Imperialism:therefore ' "imperialism" means the practices, the theory, and the attitudes of a dominating metropolitan centre ruling a distant territory.

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