Imaging the Subcontinent: Colonial Realism and the Ethnographic Writing of British India

Imaging the Subcontinent: Colonial Realism and the Ethnographic Writing of British India
Anubhav Pradhan


This thesis studies representative Victorian adventure writing on the Indian subcontinent in order to read the generation of ethnographic verisimilitude as a factor of the colonial inflection of realism in this canon. The authors it has selected—W.H.G. Kingston, G.M. Fenn, and Thomas Reid—had never visited India, but they convincingly evoked its people, cities, landscape, and plant and animal life in their novels on key events and tropes in Victorian Anglo-Indian contact—such as the Mutiny of 1857–58 and the ethno-biological conquest of India. The truth-claims of these fictional texts are premised on similar strategies of narrative verisimilitude which made believable the experiential accounts of the British who had lived and worked in India, i.e. the aestheticization of Indian places and peoples, stereotyping of Indians as stock character types, and commodification of Indian products and artefacts. In thus linking the presentation of narrative certitude to the conditions of colonial cultural contact which bound Britain and India in the nineteenth century, this thesis aims to contribute to our understanding of the ways in which ethnography in terms of its narrativity fused with novelistic realism to make India familiar and relatable for metropolitan audiences. Arguing that metropolitan Britons witnessed and knew about India much more in their daily lives and homes than through books, treatises, and reports written by experienced India-hands, it also intends to broaden the critical debate on familiarisation in the nineteenth century with specific reference to the materiality of Anglo-Indian contact.


Anubhav Pradhan

Defended in


PhD defended at

Jamia Millia Islamia




South Asia