From Little London to Little Bengal
Religion, Print, and Modernity in Early British India, 1793–1835
How literary and religious traffic between Bengal and Britain in the late 18th and early 19th centuries impelled a complex and contested cosmopolitan imperial culture.
From Little London to Little Bengal traces the traffic in culture between Britain and India during the Romantic period. To some, Calcutta appeared to be a "Little London," while in London itself an Indianized community of returned expatriates was emerging as "Little Bengal." Circling between the two, this study reads British and Indian literary, religious, and historical sources alongside newspapers, panoramas, religious festivals, idols, and museum exhibitions. Together and apart, Britons and Bengalis waged a transcultural agon under the dynamic conditions of early nineteenth-century imperialism, struggling to claim cosmopolitan perspectives and, in the process, to define modernity.
Daniel E. White shows how an ambivalent Protestant contact with Hindu devotion shaped understandings of the imperial mission for Britons and Indians during the period. Investigating global metaphors of circulation and mobility, communication and exchange, commerce and conquest, he follows the movements of people, ideas, books, art, and artifacts initiated by writers, publishers, educators, missionaries, travelers, and reformers. Along the way, he places luminaries like Romantic poet Robert Southey and Hindu reformer Rammohun Roy in dialogue with a fascinating array of lesser-known figures, from the Baptist missionaries of Serampore and the radical English journalist James Silk Buckingham to the mixed-race prodigy Henry Louis Vivian Derozio.
In concert and in conflict, these cultural emissaries and activists articulated national and cosmopolitan perspectives that were more than reactions on the part of marginal groups to the metropolitan center of power and culture. The British Empire in India involved recursive transactions between the global East and West, channeling cultural, political, and religious formations that were simultaneously distinct and shared, local, national, and transnational.
About the Author
Daniel E. White is an associate professor of British Romanticism in the Department of English at the University of Toronto, where he has directed the graduate collaborative program in Book History and Print Culture. He is author of Early Romanticism and Religious Dissent.
"From Little London to Little Bengal is a paradigm of granular subtlety and one which is moreover very elegantly written."
"An exemplary work of cultural geography, evoking not only a fine sense of specific spaces—neighborhoods, buildings—in both Calcutta and London, but also of the relationships between those spaces."
"A valuable and articulate contribution to the field of new imperial history."
"[F]ascinating and intricately argued... White's sophisticated and engaging work profits from a wealth of recent scholarship and theory."
"A major contribution to studies of Romantic imperialism, White's book blazes a new trail, spectacularly depicting the transoceanic circuits and thick citational practices through which Indians and Britons—whether in 'Little London' in Bengal or 'Little Bengal' in London—negotiated their ways of being and knowing in an imperial matrix."
"Embracing literature, book history, material culture, the history of colonialism and imperialism, and religious studies, White’s illuminating account of the circulation of persons and things, and ideas and practices between Britain and Bengal in the early nineteenth century offers a powerful revision of our understanding of global modernity. Theoretically nuanced, carefully researched, and beautifully argued, From Little London to Little Bengal is an important book."
"White’s fascinating book traces an arc between the West and the East in early nineteenth-century empire, contributing invaluably to our understanding of how the cultural formulation of the modern was defined in the public arena in simultaneous ways. That modernity everywhere is a story not of linear transition but of circular exchange is beautifully shown here through the spaces of secular and sacred visual culture, politics, poetry, urban heterogeneity and local cosmopolitanisms, complicating conventional notions of both centre and periphery."
"Always thoughtful and precise, White proves an invigorating and rigorous guide through complexities which he has himself excavated and problematized. It is a richly rewarding book in its attention to significant detail, its subtle and imaginative use of theory, and its masterful negotiation of the archive. To write a book at once deeply scholarly and thoroughly readable is no easy task, but this is what White has superbly achieved."
Other Titles in LITERARY CRITICISM / Semiotics & Theory
Other Titles in Literary theory