Tying the Knot: A Conjoined Genealogy of Marital Fictions in Colonial India and Victorian England

Holzer, Kellie D. Tying the Knot: A Conjoined Genealogy of Marital Fictions in Colonial India and Victorian England. 2007. University of Washington, PhD dissertation.

This dissertation analyzes how marriage was constructed in the nineteenth century as a distinctively modern institution through legal and literary discourse in colonial India and Victorian England. As a genealogy of a social institution, this project adopts a cultural studies approach. There have been several significant studies of marriage in law, literature, and history, but this dissertation differs from this body of scholarship in that it resists seeing marriage as an already existing, natural object that is represented in law, literature, or history. Instead, marriage is viewed as an institution undergoing major transformation in various discursive realms, processes that can be exposed and scrutinized in order to denaturalize marriage, to show the institution's limits, failures, elasticities, and possibilities.

I argue that marriage for both Victorian England and colonial India cannot be understood apart from one another or from the imperial processes or local power structures shaping the institution in either site. The institutionalization of marriage in legal and literary discourses is fundamental to the emergence of political modernities, and English and Indian modernities evolved in relation to each other. Thus in the chapters that follow I build a "conjoined genealogy" for marriage in these two intimately involved geo-historical sites. The phrase conjoined genealogy derives from Dipesh Chakrabarty's Provincializing Europe. In my understanding, the attentive construction of a conjoined genealogy provides a way to dismantle the hegemonic status of stories about the emergence of Europe's political modernities. Such dominant historical narratives tend to banish non-European cultures to a primitive past, but conjoined genealogy rectifies this by rigorously arguing for the contemporaneity of non-European archives of life-practices.

I examine novels by Wilkie Collins, H. Rider Haggard, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, and Bankimchandra Chatterjee, all of which more or less fall into the category of the sensation novel, as well as two early Indian vernacular didactic novels: Nazir Ahmad's Mirāt al-Arūs (Urdu) and Pandit Shraddha Ram Phillauri's Bhāgyavatī (Hindi). While traditional studies of literary realism and the novel genre tend to focus eurocentrically on categories like the "individual" and the "middle class," I have found non-realist novels to enable certain other categories and domestic concerns to emerge. What these novels together seem to suggest is a general colonial anxiety about racial and cultural difference that subtends surface-level social anxieties concerning marriage.

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