Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
First Committee Member
Second Committee Member
Third Committee Member
Fourth Committee Member
Number of Pages
My doctoral dissertation topic explores the relationship between British colonial rule and ideas of medical treatment during the period of the Raj (1858-1947) when India was subject to colonial rule. In brief, I study the colonial interface between Victorian medicine and the Indian population, where the native body might easily become subject to misdiagnosis, by contrasting well-known British fiction to less well-known novels from the subcontinent. I call my comparative approach disruptive because it replaces British novels such as Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1816), Rudyard Kipling’s Kim (1901), and Flora Annie Steel’s On the Face of the Waters (1897), which produce narratives with the colonial disease in the foreground, with the native Indian literature as the prime focus of attention. In these imperial novels, diseases appear as a trope that posits the native bodies as inferior bodies. I have identified an important social document, “The Epidemic Act of 1897,” first enacted to prevent the spread of bubonic plague by making it unlawful to impede healthcare workers in the course of their duties. As part of what I call the colonial dossier, the Epidemic Act in effect legalized the surveillance of Indian nationals. Arguably, it also legitimized discrimination against them. To explain my approach, I’ve created a model diagram that places novels by native writers at the center. I’ve taken two Indian novels as primary sources and plan a close reading of them with a particular focus on the treatment of disease. The two are Rajani by Bankim Chattopadhyay (1878) and Chaturanga by Rabindranath Tagore (1916). Chattopadhyay (1838-1894) uses the incurable childhood blindness of his eponymous heroine to make his anti-colonial case. Chattopadhyay categorically shows the suffering of a disabled native individual under the British, who offer no medical treatment to natives like her. The novel ends with all her problems getting resolved including her blindness: almost miraculously, with the help of a Sannyasi, a Hindu ascetic sage who cures her blindness, she regains her eyesight. Her seemingly incurable disability together with its cure challenge what Homi Bhabha calls the “fixity” or colonial racial bias against the intellectual competence of the native population. For Chattopadhyay, the choice is strategic. Although trained in Western education, he selects an Eastern cure as an act of resistance, and so reclaims his indigenous cultural traditions, retrieves past histories, and reaffirms his own position in a renewed Bengali intelligentsia. Tagore (1861- 1941) uses the plague to show the deficiencies of colonial medicine and the colonizer’s callous attitude towards the natives. Most important is Tagore’s exposé in quartet Chaturanga of the failure of colonist medical policy in dealing with the plague. Here Rabindranath Tagore sets the story of a young British-educated, Indian intellectual named Sachis during the years when bubonic plague ravaged India. The turning point of the novel comes when the hero rejects modern Western ideas of Hinduism, and the mishandling of the plague plays a key role in his reconversion. Each novelist represents different versions of newly forming ideas of nationhood, or Swadeshi as it was called. Each also underscores the marginalized or subaltern position of the native while addressing British administrative failure in an authentic native voice.
Decolonization; Globalisation; Long 19th C literature; Postcolonial literature; Transnational literature; Undisciplining Victorian Studies
Comparative Literature | English Language and Literature
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Chattopadhyay, Sujata, "Illness Under the Microscope: Disease in Colonial Discourse, a Disruptive Study" (2023). UNLV Theses, Dissertations, Professional Papers, and Capstones. 4653.
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