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The seventh chapter argues that Lutfullah Khan’s critical views on empire went viral after he left Britain in 1844, as he garnered positive reviews in London magazines commenting on the 1857 Indian mutiny. Published in June of that year and edited by his friend and former employer, Captain Edward Backhouse Eastwick, Autobiography of Lutfullah, a Mohamedan Gentleman encodes the two men’s divergent politics: a Company conservative who campaigned against Crown rule in India and a munshi patriot perceived by the Victorian press as opposing a belligerent Company. By integrating picaresque fictions on Indian thugs, the memoir enabled periodical readers to imagine retrospectively the transition from a Mughal Empire under the Company’s inept custodianship to direct rule under Victoria. Her 1858 proclamation that the feelings of the natives of India were to be henceforth respected was felt by Lutfullah’s readers before these feelings congealed into a new ruling ideology. Autobiography shows that the nation state’s attempt to repair its intimate relationship with Asian subjects was mediated by those subjects’ struggle to claim a stake in the national body.
The sixth chapter focuses on Victorian anxieties about the empire’s powerful women, as reflected in Yusuf Khan Kambalposh’s Urdu travelogue, Tarikh-i-Yusufi. Published in 1847, it records the dreamlike vision of the Lucknow Muslim captain who arrived in England on August 1837 and three months later witnessed Queen Victoria’s stately procession for the Lord Mayor’s feast. In Yusuf’s eyes, this spectacle renders Britain a fairyland, an immersive virtual world indeterminately woven with the actual and the artificial. Its wonders emanate from visual recreations like Astley’s Amphitheater, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Diorama, the Colosseum, Vauxhall Gardens, Madam Tussauds Wax Museum, and the British Museum – what he calls “magic houses” that connect disparate geographies, creeds, and languages virtually. Through his repartee with female fairies in these tourist sites, he imagines an ephemeral empire of strangers. Refashioning his masculinity in this empire, he behaves like the autonomous subject of a new female monarch who is yet to become an icon of imperial self-confidence.
The second chapter considers the use of chivalric romance tropes in Life and Adventures of Joseph Emin, an Armenian. Written in English by himself (1792). In Emin’s letters to his Bluestocking patronesses Elizabeth Montagu, Elizabeth Carter, and Catherine Talbot, he plays a humble knight errant or “Persian Slave” as a strategy to master British politeness. In doing so, he befriends patrons such as George Lyttleton, Edmund Burke, and William Augustus Duke of Cumberland, the youngest son of King George II and commander of a German army Emin had joined in 1757. His epistolary interaction with the Bluestockings who coproduced his romantic fantasies allows him to identify Persian-Islamic notions of chivalry with British liberty. His memoir records ironic episodes in which he affiliates with brotherly Muslim warriors during his Islamophobic quest to liberate his people in the Caucasus from Ottoman and Persian despots. Such affinities render him a patriotic English gentleman while his lady friends expand their civic roles by adopting cosmopolitan identities, an exchange that compensates for a British manhood scarred by military failures during the Seven Years’ War.
The fifth chapter examines how Ireland’s status as the bridgehead between Georgian Britain and Mughal India is also reflected in London performance venues dominated by women. I frame this transnational connection from the jaded viewpoint of Bengal ex-captain Thomas Williamson, who lambasts Abu Taleb Khan as an effeminate poser for bragging about his romantic intimacy with English noblewomen. Indeed, the Indo-Persian’s travelogue, Persian poems on London, the Diwan-i-Talib, and his essay “Vindication of the Liberties of the Asiatic Women” (printed in 1801 in European periodicals) was forged in two overlapping spaces of female sociability: the salon of the Duchess of Devonshire Georgiana Spencer, a politically outspoken socialite, and the London playhouses where star actresses ravished the Indian spectator with their professional artistry. Both spaces recall the skilled courtesans he would have known in Lucknow, mainly their perceived ability to debauch men. His subtle critique of elite British theatergoers who indulge in such impropriety aligns the feminized imperial capital with Persianate court rituals, panicking racist chauvinists like Williamson.
Chapter Three argues that the Mughal emissary I’tesamuddin adopts contradictory personas in London parks, theaters, and ballrooms. His Persian travelogue, Shigarf-nāma i Wilāyat [The Wonder-book of the Province/England], narrates his 1767–1769 diplomatic mission to deliver Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II’s letter requesting military assistance from King George III, circumventing the Company’s authority. Because this mission failed after Robert Clive withheld the letter, the Mirza instead writes about London’s theatrical and touristic attractions, including Shakespeare’s King Lear, John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, and a pantomime farce. Enthralled by these shows, he morphs into a black-masked Harlequin in sexual pursuit of white fairy-like Englishwomen – the repertoire by which he judges off-stage Britons as deluded by worldly gain, figured as a Protestant work ethic that values efficient labor and capital accumulation. By the end of his narrative, his identity shifts from an admirer of an Islamized Anglican state to an ascetic Muslim who prefers elite Mughal society and its veiled light brown women.
The first chapter examines the British East India Company’s transformation into Bengal’s territorial sovereign in 1764 as an embodied history. The British men who worked for this trading monopoly adopted Persian titles that recall the polite historical protocols of Perso-Turkic-Mongol empires since the fifteenth century. These titles personified a corporate English body as an individual nobleman who was the imperial family’s only and most powerful patriarch – the ultimate mimic men. A shared ethical and linguistic orientation inspired Asian travelers and their British hosts to imagine an ethnic kinship, as mediated by the Indo-Persian political treatises that Company lexicographers had translated into conduct books for genteel Englishmen aspiring to a career in India. This trans-imperial masculinity was what empowered Asian travelers to climb social rank and challenge the Company’s claim to Mughal sovereignty as they befriended metropolitans in public showplaces – theaters, salons, and drawing rooms. The chapter proposes that orientalism and occidentalism are inadequate paradigms for understanding these travelers’ multimedia engagements in Britain.
The fourth chapter argues that Dean Mahomet’s English memoir, The Travels (1793), and Abu Taleb Khan’s Persian travelogue, Masir-i Talibi-fi-Bilad-i-Afranji [“Travels of Talib in the Lands of the Franks”], are bookend ruminations on Ireland before and after the 1798 revolt. Their ambivalent feelings about war are implicated in the dense web of social relations that link India to Ireland. I first examine Mahomet’s account of the 1781 British capture of the Rajah of Benares Chayt Singh, as mediated by newspaper reports about Irish MP Edmund Burke’s condemnation of unmanly colonial abuses in India during the Hastings impeachment trial (1788–1796). Then I discuss Abu Taleb’s reaction to the 1799 British defeat of the sultan of Mysore Tipu Sultan, as celebrated in the Dublin circus production of Philip Astley’s The Siege and Storming of Seringapatam. These writers’ patriotic responses to the theatrics of power imply a kinship with Irish hosts who, in their minds, belong to an Indo-Celtic Eurasia.