Feminism, vegetarianism, and colonial resistance in eighteenth-century British novels.
Figuring prominently into this proto-vegetarian discourse are British perceptions of India. In eighteenth-century writings on India, the vegetarianism of the Hindus was at first considered a curiosity and later as evidence of racial inferiority. The English had associated their own hearty consumption of beef with military superiority. (3) But now (as we shall see in the writings of Dow, Orme, Falconer, and others) they were associating beef-eating with superiority over not just military rivals but colonial subjects like the East Indians, who were, according to William Smellie's 1791 Philosophy of Natural History, a "meager, sick, and feeble race" due to their vegetarian diet (144).
A vegetable diet, it was thought, contributed to weakness, indolence, and military ineptitude and, consequently, races like the East Indians were destined for subordination. But such politicized colonial discourse soon gave rise to its obverse. Female novelists like Phebe Gibbes in Hartly House, Calcutta (1789) and Eliza Hamilton in Translations of the Letters of a Hindoo Rajah (1796) opposed the denigration of the vegetarian other by contributing to an incipient feminist-vegetarian discourse (a discourse more explicit in the essays of contemporaries like Catharine Macaulay and Mary Hays). Both created a voice of female-centered authority in the literature of romantic orientalism, a voice of authority from which to critique the imperial project. They inevitably noticed an important fact about India that makes it unique among the world's cultures: vegetarianism was a normative feature of the culture.
Critics have been divided over whether these novels support or criticize the imperialist project and over the extent to which they critique structures of class, race, and gender in Great Britain. One thing is certain--both defend the colonial administration of Warren Hastings and the East India Company. Mona Narain finds in Hamilton's novel such strong support for a paternalistic vision of a "benevolent English empire" that any critique of patriarchy is compromised (598). Claire Grogan, on the other hand, asserts that Hamilton's critique of patriarchy is alive and well, as evidenced by her creation of an "alternative female discourse of the East--one that contributes to and contests the field of Orientalism" (29). Gibbes, too, explores a new discursive space in her creation of Sophia Goldbourne, a voice of moral authority on the East who speaks the language of sensibility.
In what follows, I first establish how the imperial discourse surrounding vegetarianism reflects a gendered language of emasculation. Next, I examine Hamilton's and Gibbe's novels as critical responses. Such responses, when read through a feminist viewpoint, can be understood as contributing to the emergence of a modern, politically self-conscious vegetarian discourse. These novels, through their encounter with the vegetarian other, express sensitivity to the parallel oppression of women and animals in a patriarchal culture. In doing so, they make unprecedented impulses toward a vegetarian theory and praxis.
Cultural Contexts: Imperial Discourse Surrounding Vegetarianism
From the time of the founding of the East India Company in 1600 to the middle of the eighteenth century, England's relationship to India was mostly a mercantile one (Teltscher 2, 17). Toward the latter half of the eighteenth century, however, England began to see itself more as a ruling power. Later writings of the period sought to persuade readers that British rule of India was not only possible but advantageous to all. When challenge to Company rule arose, writers began to generate "confidence-boosting images" of British rule, arguing that the British had a civilizing role to play (Teltscher 111). For such writers, the vegetarian diet practiced by many Indians was cited as evidence of an uncivilized and effeminate people.
As early as the seventeenth century, writers had remarked on the strangeness of the Brahminical diet. In John Ovington's Voyage to Suratt in the Year 1689, he expressed a particular fascination with the strict adherence of Hindus to a meatless diet:
They never taste the flesh of anything that has breath'd the common air ... they cannot be tempted ... to so enormous an offense as the tasting of flesh. Vegetable products, and the milk of cattle ... is the lawful nourishment they delight in. (178)
He believed this diet was the reason that Indians were "innocent, obsequious, humble, and patient to a miracle" (Ovington163). He wrote that the "rough" and "hot-tempered" English military men in India were "buoyed up with a strong opinion of their own valour" and a strong opinion of the "pusillanimity" of the Indians (94). The mild Indian temperament, he believed, was the consequence of vegetarian diet. He did observe that one drawback of such a diet was that it rendered the constitution weak and much more susceptible to plagues and diseases than the English constitution (164). He noted that while whole Indian families were swept away by pestilence, the sturdy meat-eating English managed to resist these same diseases (204).
Actually, Ovington was conflicted in his thoughts about the vegetarian diet. On the one hand, he praised the meat-rich diet of his countrymen for making them resistant to disease, while, on the other hand, he charged that this diet made them languid, feeble, and "much less vigorous and athletic in their bodies than the Indians" (204). Similarly, he praised the benefits of the vegetarian diet, such as "quick and nimble thinking and longevity" (187). A clergyman, Ovington acknowledged what he saw as the spiritual efficacy of this diet: "[It] disengages their affection to the world, disentangles their fears of death and passions for ... momentary things; it sets their spirits upon the wing, ready to quit this life in expectation of a better" (187).
Also glorifying the diet of the Indian Brahmin for its spiritual empowerment was Thomas Tryon, a seventeenth-century vegetarian advocate and mystic. In his 1683 tract Dialogue between an East-Indian Brackmanny or Heathen-Philosopher and a French Gentlemen concerning the present affairs of Europe, he exalts a fictitious Brahmin whose vegetarianism makes him an emblem of a virtue, humanity, and compassion not found in Europe. The Brahmin tries to persuade the Frenchman to give up the diet that makes his body the "grave of inferior creatures" and choose instead a diet that is in harmony with God's creation, rendering the body "a clean temple for the divine spirit" (Tryon 16-17). At the same time, he avers that Brahmins are so far beyond the political mundanities of the world that they care not who governs them. Foreign occupation would be a welcome relief, freeing the Indians from having to enforce the law and prosecute thieves, among other tasks. As long as they enjoy complete freedom to worship howsoever they please, they do not care who governs (10).
This idea that Indians were "designed for subordination" and that the East was characterized by despotism was most fully expressed in Montesquieu's 1748 Esprit des Lois (Teltscher 113). As Mughal rule acceded to the rule of the East India Company in the second half of the eighteenth century, writers began to emphasize the passive character of the Indian. Alexander Dow's influential three-volume work History of Indostan (1768), particularly volume 3--A Dissertation Concerning the Origin and Nature of Despotism in Indostan, argues that Indians much preferred the "evils of despotism" to the "labour of being free" (vii). Dow cites the mild and humane temperament of the Hindus resulting from a "low diet" of vegetables, as the reason India was the "most easily conquered and governed nation on earth" (xxxv). (4)
Three factors that inclined Hindus to subjugation, according to Robert Orme in his History of the Military Transactions of the British Nation in Indostan From the Year 1745, were the "horror of shedding blood," a "sparing use of animal food," and a hot climate. For Orme, this combination contributed to a "general effeminacy of character, making India the perfect candidate for foreign occupation" (5-6).
By the middle of the eighteenth century, the alleged military ineptitude of the Indians had hardened into stereotype. Thus Orme wasn't registering anything unique when he charged that Indian soldiers were "fearful, ill-disciplined and disloyal" (49). Edward Terry similarly remarked on the cowardice of the Indians (Teltscher 51). Likewise, Edward Ives in his Voyage from England to India in the Year 1754 spoke of South Indians as "tall and well-shaped" and yet "very timorous ... ill calculated for war" (23). Finally, Alexander Dow commented on the military inferiority of Indians, claiming, "It is apparent ... the immense regions of Hindustan might all be reduced by a handful of regular [British] troops" (History, vol. 2, 94).
By the 1780s many of these perceptions had devolved into prejudice. Conventional wisdom opined that vegetable-eating races were normally subordinate. In 1781, travel writer William Falconer sought to justify the superiority of the British by feminizing the vegetable- and grain-based diets of so-called inferior cultures. Falconer consistently argued for the superiority of a meat-based diet by equating it with virility. What food, he asked, could be more suited to capitalistic endeavor or the "common business of life?" (239). He stated that vegetable-eating nations like India were inclined toward political tyranny, whereas meat-eating nations possessed the qualities of resoluteness and agency necessary for a free state (243). Hence, according to Falconer's gendered logic, India, incapable of self-rule as a result of inferior diet, was in need of governance by the meat-eating British who, as a result of their carnivorous diet, were superior in every way--intellectually, physically, spiritually, and militarily.
It was not until the nineteenth century that a full-blown racist perspective on the vegetarian diet emerged. Let us fast forward to the height of empire and consider the writings of the medical doctor George Beard who advocated white superiority by way of endorsing meat as a superior food (271). In 1898, Beard wrote in Sexual Neurasthenia: "The rice-eating Hindoo and Chinese and the potato-eating Irish are kept in subjection by the well-fed English" (278). These well-fed English, according to Beard, defeated the French at Waterloo because it was the first time the French were "brought face to face with a nation of beefeaters, who stood still until they were killed" (278). Predictably, Beard argued that the intellectual and military inferiority of vegetable eaters necessitated their rule by the more intelligent, beef-fed English. For Beard, meat clearly meant colonial muscle, brainpower, and ultimately, white supremacy. (5)
But not everyone approved of this practice of devaluing other cultures on the basis of English eating habits. Women writers across a variety of genres were exploring the links between their own oppression in patriarchy and that of animals. Both Catherine Macaulay and Mary Hays, in their writings, planted the seeds of a feminist-vegetarian discourse by embracing the doctrine of metempsychosis and calling for a greater equality between not just the sexes but all creatures. They identified Britain's dominant meat culture as the culprit in visiting cruelty upon animals and keeping them in subjection. They made remarkable strides in critiquing the sexual politics of meat at a time when there was no precedent for this. Then, too, novelists Phebe Gibbes and Eliza Hamilton criticized meat culture, albeit indirectly, by creating an alternative female discourse on the East that rejected stereotypes of Indians as lazy, submissive vegetarians and promoted positive views of Hindu diet, culture, and religion. Both were fascinated by the discovery and potential of a culture in which vegetarianism and nonviolence toward animals was a norm. In their enthusiasm for vegetarianism, they registered a subtle indictment of the masculinist colonial project.
Novelistic Impulses Toward Vegetarianism
Gibbes's Hartly House, Calcutta was published in 1789, a year when political feelings about India were running high because of the impeachment trials (1786-1794) of then governor-general of Bengal, Warren Hastings. Set in the time of Hastings's final days in Bengal before being recalled to London, the novel explores British-Indian relations from the English point of view through the character of Sophia Goldboume, a young English coquette living in Calcutta who writes a series of letters to her friend Arabella in England. Such a construction of female subjectivity signaled a new voice in the discourse on India. As Betty Joseph has argued in her book Reading the East India Company: 1720-1840, Gibbes "upset the machinery of colonial truth production" (88) by critiquing it from a "female-centered moral authority, tied to the body" (83). Sophia depends not on reason but on feelings to guide her as she sympathizes with the joys and sorrows of others. Joseph explains that it was this discourse of sensibility that provided feminists like Gibbes and Wollstonecraft the language to express "felt oppression, or mistreatment by men" (88). Hence Sophia identifies with other victims of English male oppression, such as an Indian woman who is raped. In the language of sensibility, Sophia details not only how she has fallen in love with the culture of India, which produces "the most tranquil and temperate people on earth" (Gibbes 75), but also how she has fallen in love with a young Brahmin, making this novel one of the first portrayals in English literature of a romance between a white woman and an Indian man, (6) between a meat-eating Christian and a vegetarian Brahmin.
Sophia is spiritualized by her exposure to the Brahmin's philosophy and desires the improvement of her soul, according to Michael Franklin (xxvi). Consequently, she idealizes Brahmin culture--and vegetarianism and animal welfare play a huge role in this idealization. Intellectually, she is fascinated by both the doctrine of metempsychosis (Gibbes 76) and the practice of nonviolence. She gushes to her friend, "They live, Arabella ... the most inoffensively and happily of all created beings--their Pythagorean tenets teaching them, from their earliest infancy, the lesson of kindness and benevolence; nor do they intentionally hurt any living thing" (50). As Franklin argues, Sophia recognizes Hinduism as the "religion of sensibility" and claims it for her own (xxvi).
But is Sophia's kindness to animals a political statement, or is it nothing more than a sentimental effusion? After all, as Moira Ferguson argues in Animal Advocacy and the Englishwomen, 1780-1900, combating cruelty toward animals was becoming part of a middle-class "civilizing process," more sentimental and fashionable than political. (7) Is Sophia simply following the fashion of the day? Is she just a run-of-the-mill, middle-class animal welfarist who wishes to alleviate the suffering of only certain domestic animals, excluding cows, pigs, goats and chickens? Or is she part of a growing movement to spread humane feelings to downtrodden groups and defend animals by seeking to eliminate, through dietary choices, one of the structural causes of their suffering? (8) Vegetarianism is what anthropologist Julia Twigg calls a "relatively rare example in the West of an 'explicit food ideology'" (18) and, as such, it serves as a protest against what one recent writer has dubbed "carnism," the entrenched belief system that is "resistant to scrutiny" and that considers the "eating [of] certain animals ... ethical and appropriate" (Joy 30).
Granted, Sophia is not an avowed vegetarian, but her tenderheartedness toward animals extends beyond sentiment. Invidiously, she compares Christians to Hindus, exclaiming of Hindus: "How unlike the degenerate posterity of Adam ... is this order of beings!" (Gibbes 76). To call her own kinsmen and kinswomen "the degenerate posterity of Adam" is to quote directly from Pope's Essay on Man (Epistle II), a poem that looks back to a golden and "unbloody" age, when "no murder clothed ... and no murder fed" (1.154), and laments that half of modern men are butchers and walking "tombs" (11. 161-62) who ignore the "general groan" of nature as they murder animals (11. 163-64).
Sophia's disillusionment with the aliment of the West is striking given its time. Many writers of the time did not interpret the vegetarianism of the Gentoos as a mark of refinement. Innes Munro, for example, in his 1789 Narrative of the Military Operations on the Coromandel Coast, took exception to an Indian of low social rank who was so audacious as to think himself equal to or higher than his European master who ate cow's meat: "The Gentoos ... tell you that they are obliged through necessity to serve us, yet they consider themselves of a much more dignified and gentlemanly rank in life than any European" (26). Munro was genuinely puzzled by the matter.
Sophia's sympathy for Indian culture intensifies after she falls in love with the young Brahmin. She writes to Arabella that she has been fully "orientalized." In letter 26, she confides that she is so "ashamed of the manners of modern Christianity" (Gibbes 111) that she has converted to the Gentoo faith:
[Gentoos] have no dirty customs like the Europeans. For example, if a snuff-taker is mentioned, you know he, or she, is a European, insomuch that, partial as I am to my native country, I must wish that it would take a lesson from hence, and reprobate propensities I could name that are altogether incompatible with the virtue of cleanliness. (126)
After the Brahmin dies, Sophia reaffirms that she is so altered in her views that she has decided from that point on "to affect the Gentoo air" (151). She goes so far as to try to transform her newly acquired English husband into a Brahmin by instructing him in every tenet of "that human religion" such that he is not to "hurt a butterfly" or "dispatch a troublesome musketto [mosquito] without a correspondent pang" (151). Furthermore, she refuses to participate in a fishing party due to a "painful degree of sensibility" that prohibits her from taking pleasure in the "suffering or death of anything that exists" (151).
Her compassion for animals has fully blossomed. Still, though, it is her avowal to be kind to animals and not her avowal to practice the vegetarian diet that she carries forward from her India experience. But a vegetarian (or semi-vegetarian) practice might have been included in her avowal had vegetarianism been a cogent and politically self-conscious discourse in the 1780s. During the 1790s three budding movements--feminism, animal welfare, and vegetarianism--began to intersect with and reinforce one another in a type of solidarity of the oppressed. This is not to argue that feminists were vegetarians or animal welfarists. There was still no clear delineation of such identities, but the continuity among these movements was being explored. (9)
Each movement witnessed the publication of its manifesto and the first forceful articulation of its identity: feminism in Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1791); animal rights in both Thomas Young's Essay on Humanity to Animals (1798) and George Nicholson's tract On the Conduct of Man to Inferior Animals (1797); and vegetarianism in John Oswald's Appeal to Mercy and Justice on Behalf of the Persecuted Animal (1791). Each movement was still finding its discursive space in which to articulate a coherent and politically self-conscious agenda. As early as 1792, Thomas Taylor had scornfully anticipated these alliances between feminism and animal advocacy in his Vindication of the Rights of Brutes. Instead of arguing in favor of egalitarianism and solidarity, however, he lampooned both Thomas Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft for promoting "that sublime doctrine" which postulates "the equality of men to each other" (Taylor 10-11). He pressed this egalitarian idea to what he saw as its ludicrous extreme: If women are men's equals, he scoffed, why then animals too must be men's equals. What is most remarkable about Taylor's Vindication is that he hit upon--albeit mockingly--the parallel oppressions of women and animals in a commodifying, patriarchal culture--a parallel that would be explored by nineteenth-century feminists, suffragists, and vegetarians. (10) It was also a parallel anticipated by two feminist writers of the 1790s--Mary Hays and Catharine Macaulay, contemporaries of Gibbes and Hamilton.
In contrast to Mary Wollstonecraft, Macaulay and Hays questioned the necessity of women's laying claim to a transcendent reason, for doing so entailed distancing themselves from animals and building new hierarchies that inevitably insured the domination of one party over another. Sandra Sherman writes about Hays's criticism (in Victim of Prejudice and elsewhere) of Wollstonecraft's failure to register how "ideologically freighted" the concept of reason was (166). Although Wollstonecraft's concept of reason seemed revolutionary, de-sexed and apolitical, it actually served to reproduce "male-engendered norms" (144). The doctrine of metempsychosis, in contrast, awarded equality to all living entities, animal and human--which might explain why writers like Hays and Macaulay gravitated toward it.
Macaulay, in her introduction to Letters on Education (1790), castigates human beings for their arrogance in supposing that they are superior to animals by virtue of their reasoning power--a reasoning power that Macaulay saw as dubious given that humans could simultaneously accommodate belief in a benevolent god while supporting violent practices against animals (2). She writes, "I own with you that it raises in me a mixed sentiment of contempt and anger, to hear the vain and contradictory creature, man, addressing the deity, as the god of all perfection, yet dealing out a severe and short mortality to the various tribes of his fellow animals" (2). She was especially critical of philosophers who viewed with a "complacent sentiment the myriads of beings brought forth to animated and feeling life, merely to serve for the support of [other] creatures" (3). She rejected the concept of the deity as a "cold inexorable being" who "draws the line of separation ... wide between his creatures" (2). She questioned why the clergy had not "laid more force on the necessity of extending our benevolence to the dumb animals, and that they had not in particular more strongly and repeatedly reprobated every species of cruelty toward them, as opposite the dictates of natural and revealed religion" (6). Not surprisingly, she embraced the "novel doctrine" that animals have souls and, consequently, argued in favor of equality of animals with humans as the only reasonable argument. She writes that the hurting of animals is not reasonable since it insults the highest and most logical conception of God.
By Letter IV, Macaulay makes dietary proposals on the basis of her support for the equality of animals. She is opposed to the idea of bringing up children to be "devourers of animal substances" and recommends cutting back on meat eating as much as possible: "The cruel necessity ... to inflict that fate on other beings which would be terrible to ourselves, is an evil of sufficient weight, were the use of animal diet confined within as moderate limits as the present state of things will admit" (38). An early critic of carnism, she asserts that "the taste of flesh is not natural to the human palate, when not vitiated by carnivorous habits." She writes:
Milk, fruit, eggs, and almost every kind of vegetable aliment, ought to be the principal part of the nourishment of children. I would not feed them with flesh above three times a week, and that well roasted and boiled. The swallowing of blood almost in its natural state fills a delicate mind with horror. It is a diet fit for savages; and must naturally tend to weaken that sympathy which Nature has given to man, as the best guard against the abuse of the extensive power with which she has entrusted him. (Macaulay 38-39)
This statement alone qualifies Macaulay's Letters for inclusion in the canon of proto feminist-vegetarian discourse. As Greg Kucich has argued, she was ahead of her time, particularly in terms of her "sympathizing tenderness" (457). At a time when totalizing and universalizing explanations were in vogue, Macaulay presented a "particularized story of the human subject" (453-54), focusing on the "situation of sufferers" and thereby offering "an alternative feminist history of the human heart in community" (457). (11)
Similarly, Mary Hays focused on animal sufferers; she criticized the concept of reason as cultivating male-engendered norms; and she preferred the Pythagorean (Hindu) doctrine of transmigration as an alternative because God intended liberty "for every living creature" (Hays 105). In An Appeal to the Men of Great Britain in Behalf of the Women (1798), Hays deplores this principle of reason that holds that "men are superior beings, when compared with women; and that, consequently, nature and reason invest them with authority over the weaker sex" (95). This principle, laments Hays, is the one on which laws are founded; it is the basis for all domestic and social politics; and, ultimately, it is "the language of prejudice all over the world" (96). Hays preferred the Pythagorean doctrine of transmigration, calling it "not only rational and philosophical, but Christian and consolatory" (10).
More important, she saw it as capable of loosening "every hold that might be taken of an original or divine claim of authority over women" (11). Hays, too, recognized the parallel oppressions of women and animals. She notes that both animals and women are taught to perform for man's pleasure and are tortured in the process. Women are forced to conform their characters and conduct to be what men would have them to be, however unnatural (58). Hays invokes here a solidarity of the oppressed and exhorts all female readers to abstain from cruel sports like "hunting poor innocent creatures to death," pleading with them not to mangle poor worms in order to lure fish to their destruction just for the sake of amusement. Such masculine amusements, she says, are "more disgusting in a woman than all the Greek and Latin in the two universities" (184). She recommends only those amusements that lead to health of body and mind and that do not disturb "the peace of any living thing, in the air above, or on the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth" (186).
Hays and Macaulay were not the only female moral authorities critiquing the dominant culture. (12) Gibbes, too, according to Betty Joseph, established a female voice of moral authority for Sophia for the purpose of evaluating the British in Calcutta and in spite of the often parodied figure of the sojourning woman. Sophia does not comply with colonial power when she refuses to fulfill the expectation for women that she marry in the colony (Joseph 82). Moreover, the account she gives of the rape of the Indian woman erases her "entire approval of English society in India" (87). This novel, Joseph argues, goes beyond a female sensibility that represents an "anti-world" view or a "retreat into privacy" because Sophia identifies with other victims who share a "common oppression by English men" (88). (13) In fact, it is through the language of sensibility that Sophia is able to assume a "transcendent position" and "circulate in India without being implicated in British violence or rapacity" (83).
Like Hartly House, Eliza Hamilton's Letters of a Hindoo Rajah (1796) expresses both sympathy for the Indian diet and an aversion to English customs. These fictional letters, however, are not the gushings of an inexperienced and egocentric coquette. What Gibbes achieved through sensibility, Hamilton achieved through scholarship. Translations of the Letters of a Hindoo Raja is presented as a work of "Oriental" scholarship--a translation of Indian letters complete with a fifty-two-page glossary of terms and 112 footnotes. The dedication to Warren Hastings certainly positions the novel among Orientalist writings that exalt the East India Company and defend its reputation. Still, as Jeffrey Cass points out, this novel, like many works in the Romantic Orientalist canon, has been construed from "all sides of the ideological divide" (235). It has been read simultaneously as reactionary and revolutionary, both anti-Jacobean and Wollstonecraftian at the same time. It eludes easy generic classification. Some critics see a conflict between Hamilton's Orientalism and her feminism. As mentioned previously, Mona Narain sees the novel as complicit with the aims of a "masculinist imperial venture" since it supports a paternalistic vision of a benevolent English empire rescuing the Hindu oppressed from their Muslim oppressors (587). She argues that the novel's critique of English gender norms is "co-opted" and "compromised" by this (598).
But critics like Anne Mellor argue that the novel is a radical interrogation of class politics in England (154) and a radical promotion of Mary Wollstonecraft's political views on female education and companionate marriage (156-57). Hamilton was certainly daring and unfeminine. After all, the scholarly letter was not an acceptable genre for women writers in the late eighteenth century. In fact, of the fifty texts published during the eighteenth century that include a "preliminary dissertation," Hamilton's was the only one authored by a woman. According to Susan Egenolf, Hamilton "must have known that the genre had previously only been the domain of well-educated male authors, so there is some audacity in her decision to employ it" (29-30). Gary Kelly has noted that "footnote novels" were a way for women "to practice [through novel--a genre open to them] learned discourses and [to] engage in political issues conventionally closed to them" (113). Essentially, according to Claire Grogan, Hamilton combined the "elements of the typically masculine genres of Oriental satire and Orientalism" with the feminine genre of the novel "to create her own brand of Orientalist satire" (30).
In doing so, she created an "alternative female discourse on the East" that both contributes to the field of Orientalism and contests it (Grogan 29). While Hamilton presented herself as an Orientalist by incorporating some elements of Orientalism (particularly the idea that Indians were unable to govern themselves until the British colonized and democratized them), she did so as a woman writing a novel, which Grogan says complicates her Orientalism. Moreover, she chose to narrate the novel through the first-person voice of a native Hindu, offering positive views of Hindu culture and religion. Mellor presents an inventory of these positive views when she writes that Hamilton
acknowledges the superior imaginative qualities of Arabic poetry, she celebrates the government of ancient India for its religious tolerance and sustained civil peace; she recognizes that the Hindu caste-system has functioned, as has the English class system, as a 'stabilizing' social force; and she contrasts the 'amiable and benevolent' Hindu character with the 'human butchery' of those European nations who have historically slaughtered each other in religious and political wars. Hamilton is at pains to differentiate a peaceful and prosperous Hindu reign in India from that of an Islamic invasion that brought 'desolation' in its wake. (154)
Hamilton's idealization of Hindu culture was certainly influenced by the racial tolerance propagated by the Indologists of the 1780s and 1790s. Her brother Charles was both the founding member of the Asiatick Society of Bengal and an historian and translator of Indian works. Hamilton drew on both his work and that of other society members, even dedicating her novel to Warren Hastings.
In the "Preliminary Dissertation," Hamilton foregrounds the issue of diet in accounting for the temperament or "constitutional apathy" of this "mild and gentle race--their patience ... under the severest suffering" and their indifference in the face of death (62). But it is in the letters that follow that Hamilton explores the politics of the vegetarian diet. One letter writer, Zaarmilla, is a Hindu raja traveling in England. He is enthusiastic about Christianity, liberty, and casteless societies. He writes to Maandaara, his less enthusiastic friend back in India who attempts to dissuade him from staying in England, by forwarding unflattering portraits of English culture written by a third correspondent, Sheermaal--a skeptical and prejudiced Brahmin just returned home from England.
Zaarmilla can never manage to contain his horror of the "barbarous" eating habits of the English. He recounts one London feast in which he was compelled to excuse himself while the learned guests ate much and left nothing but "the mangled remains of the bipeds and quadrupeds" (232). But Zaarmilla is mild in his criticisms compared to Sheermaal who portrays the meat-eating English nation as cruel and godless and argues that slavery and cruelty to animals are required in a nation bent on procuring "a luxurious repast to the pampered appetites of these voluptuaries" (112). He chastises Zaarmilla for finding it necessary to "sojourn among infidels and impious eaters of blood, in order to acquire knowledge" (101). No other race, he asserts, can exceed the English in their cruelty "to all the other animated inhabitants of the earth" (101). Sheermaal refers to an event he witnessed that filled his soul with "indignation and disgust": the slaughter of a spotted calf--"for whom a thousand holy Fakeers would have risked their lives"--devoured with "savage satisfaction" by the English and not "one pang of remorse" (104). He views the English as being almost incapable of religious devotion until he witnesses their focus during the "poojah of the idols," actually a game of cards (96-97).
Unlike Sheermaal, Zaarmilla is eager to be impressed by British culture. He condemns, however, the hypocrisy of animal lovers and humanitarians who kill or torture animals for sport (6-7; 11-13); the "rapine of county squires who break down fences and spoil fifteen farms in pursuit of a single fox" (217); and the sadistic cruelty of the scientists who kill three hundred sparrows to satisfy their intellectual curiosity (260). Jeffrey Cass argues that this mass murder of sparrows is simply brutal, without meaning, without political, social, or cultural reason (247). According to Cass, the novel overall has "no political point of view and offers only dark satire in which Hamilton inhabits the 'satirical mask' playing the role of a 'bemused cynic'" (250). In the absence of a feminist-vegetarian context, such an interpretation is plausible. But within such a context, the murder of the sparrows is neither "stunning" nor "whimsical," as Cass claims. It is rather the predictable outcome of cultural attitudes and practices that support violence against animals. Zaarmilla says it best when he worries that his mind has been "sufficiently contaminated by the practice of Christians" who "take pleasure in beholding misery inflicted upon any part of the animated creation" (Hamilton 266).
Notwithstanding his horror at the maltreatment of animals, Zaarmilla struggles to retain broadmindedness about the English culture. He says there are a few redeeming Englishmen, after all, although they don't fit in well with the rest of society. Mr. Damly, for example, is a character who despises cruelty to animals. He is virtually an English Brahmin who prefers to spend his time studying nature, botany, poetry, and painting, and he is capable of enjoying a rural scene "without any aide from the misery of inoffensive animals" (293). It is not surprising that he is misunderstood by the neighboring squires who consider him to be a "strange, whimsical sort of creature" (302).
Despite the rare example of a Mr. Damly, in the end, Zaarmilla is forced to admit that it is the cruel feasts of the English that he simply cannot abide: "I nevertheless cannot be ... reconciled to that custom of devouring the flesh of so many ... unoffending animals, whose lives are daily sacrificed, in order to procure a short-lived, and inelegant enjoyment to [English palates]" (170). Finally, he decides that he cannot condone the injustice toward animals and awards superiority to India on the point of diet.
Returning to the question of Hamilton's support for the masculinist imperial project, clearly Hamilton was a staunch defender of Hastings and a promoter of the projects of both the Orientalists and the East India Company. As Tara Ghosal Wallace argues, the novel exculpates the East India Company from any blame of guilt in conquest, particularly the massacre of Afghans during the 1773 Rohilla war (134). Mona Narain adds that it was Hamilton's desire to redeem Hastings and the East India Company that makes her "subsume her ambivalence toward the masculinist imperial venture" (595). In her "Preliminary Dissertation," Hamilton does glorify the work of the Indologists for restoring the "annals of Hindostan" against the attacks of their Muslim conquerors, and Zaarmilla, too, extols the work of the Orientalists (67-70, 152). Zaarmilla ironically endorses the idea of British rulers in India having rescued the natives from Muslim rule when he exalts the British as follows:
Benevolent people of England! It is their desire, that all should be partakers of the same blessings of liberty, which they themselves enjoy. It was doubtless with this glorious view that they sent forth colonies to enlighten and instruct the vast regions of America. To disseminate the love of virtue and freedom, they cultivated the trans-Atlantic isles: and to rescue our nation from the hands of the Oppressor, did this brave and generous people visit the shores of Hindostan. (84)
Clearly, Hamilton's exalting of Hindu vegetarianism did not preclude her support for a national, imperialist agenda. Her criticism of British society, however--its class system, its appetite for fashion, its "luxurious repasts" of meat, its involvement in the slave trade, and, above all, its unrealized vision of women's equality--has been noted by critics, and this criticism does intersect with budding discourses like animal rights and vegetarianism.
It is through the method of multiple narrative viewpoints that Hamilton critiques patriarchy and offers a more "liberating vision of the social roles of women," particularly with regard to education and marriage (Mellor 155). Zaarmilla holds an idealistic view of the liberty of British women until he sees firsthand the inferior quality of the female system of education that instructs women to be materialistic and frivolous. According to Mellor, Hamilton's use of multiple perspectives and an epistolary format does not cause contradictions between her feminism and her so-called imperialism, for through this narrative technique, she allows readers to "occupy and ironically to distance themselves from widely disparate viewpoints" (164). Through it, she also "skillfully unveils her personal vision of utopia," which Mellor describes as "a socialistic democracy based on the pre-Pauline teachings of Jesus Christ, in which women have equality with men, in which souls have neither sex nor color, in which all souls are welcome, and benevolence, mercy and tolerance are extended to every human being" (164). And extended, I might add, to every animal.
As British writers and thinkers first began wrestling with the gendered notion of the vegetarian other, apologists for colonial policies fixed upon the vegetable diet of the Indians as just one among many justifications for Britain's colonial system. But writers like Gibbes, Hamilton, Macaulay, and Hays saw things differently, detecting a solidarity of the oppressed between women and animals, celebrating the vegetarian diet practiced by the "Gentoos." These early feminist-vegetarians happened upon the possibility that the circle of humanity be extended to include lower animals. This was at a time when John Oswald, a British member of the Jacobin Club, was penning the manifesto of modern vegetarianism in the belief that the French Revolution would hold out hope for animals as well as other downtrodden groups. Like Macaulay, Hays, and others, Oswald celebrated the diet practiced by the "Gentoos" and likewise detected in it a solidarity of the oppressed. In The Cry of Nature, he braided together social revolution, animal rights, and vegetarianism, rejoicing that the "barbarous governments of Europe [were] giving way to a better system of things" and welcoming the day "when the growing sentiment of peace and good will toward men ... [would] also embrace, in a wide circle of benevolence, the lower orders of life" (iv). Oswald's was an egalitarian vegetarianism, marking the dawning of a new realization that dietary choices do indeed cut across political commitments.
Oswald's vegetarianism also had "anti-imperialist implications," which can be traced to his time in India (Stuart 297). In 1782, he landed at Bombay as a British army officer to fight against Hyder Ali of Mysore, but while there, he witnessed the rapes and massacres committed by the British against the Indians, and, in protest, he resigned his army post to live among the Hindu population where he took up the practice of vegetarianism (295). In the words of one contemporary, Oswald "lived a considerable time with some Brahmins, who turned his head. From that period he never tasted flesh meat, from what he called a principle of humanity" (qtd. in Erdman 7). According to Tristram Stuart in The Bloodless Revolution, Oswald "perceived that the Indians were exploited by the same imperial machine as ... the British working masses" (295). His "sympathy with the political cause of the Indians merged into acceptance of their sympathy for all members of oppressed species" (295). In Britain, Oswald was part of a "growing and threatening political voice" that combined vegetarianism with "aggressive revolution-peddling" (296-97). In his manifesto, he transformed vegetarianism into "political opposition to the tyrannical British establishment" (306) and a "mandate for democratic revolution" (298). In the end, Oswald lost his life fighting against royalist insurgents to secure what he saw as the "enfranchisement of all sentient life" (306).
In the world imagined variously by Hamilton, Gibbs, Oswald, Hays, and Macaulay, oppression would be conspicuous by its absence. No sentient being would be subject to appropriation, erasure, and consumption. There would be neither meat nor colonial muscle--only fruits, grains, and vegetables--and a widening circle of benevolence in which women, animals, and colonial subjects were embraced.
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(1) For general overviews of the role of the eighteenth century in the comprehensive history of vegetarianism, sec Spencer and Williams. Sec also the following, which deal with various aspects of vegetarianism: Walters and Portmess, Fox, Thomas 288-303, and Barkas.
(2) Also, in 1850, the American Vegetarian Convention convened in New York and initiated publication of its monthly journal The American Vegetarian and Health Journal. Magazines like the Vegetarian Messenger soon followed.
(3) The virile "Roast beef of Old England" was an emblem of military prowess during the eighteenth century. The British navy was glutted on meat, with each sailor consuming a remarkable 208 pounds of it per year. As early as 1726, England had already achieved eminence as the "beef-eating capital of the world," slaughtering some 100,000 cattle for the London Market alone. See Rifkin 54.
(4) To appreciate how internally conflicted the proto-vegetarianism of the eighteenth century was, consider that the famous physician and vegetarian crusader George Cheyne made use of this same popular idea that vegetable diets make people lazy in order to advocate vegetable-based diets. Cheyne sought to counter the popular and contrary idea that vegetables were not easily assimilated in the body and required strenuous work and exercise to digest. Pointing to the Scots, the Irish, and the Indians as evidence that lazy people have no problem digesting vegetables, he wrote:
Another ... objection against a vegetable diet, I have heard ... is that vegetables require great labour, strong exercises, and much action, to digest and turn them into proper nutriment.... Do not all the Eastern ... people live entirely almost on them? The Asiaticks, Moors, and Indians, whose climates incapacitate them for much labour, and whose indolence is so justly a reproach to them? Are there lazier and less laborious Men than the Highlanders and Native Irish? (Cheyne 302)
(5) Writings such as Beard's would be instrumental in paving the way for the publicists of a meat company in the 1940s to proclaim: "We know meat-eating races have been and arc leaders in the progress made by mankind in its upward struggle through the ages" (Hinman and Harris 1).
(6) This interracial romance has been construed as evidence of both the novel's complicity with and critique of empire. Most discussions interrogate race, gender, and nationality, but none mention the text's vegetarianism. See Nussbaum 182, in which she interrogates race, arguing that Sophia's idealization of the Brahmin is a mask for her attitude of superiority to Indians since her relationship to the Brahmin resembles "England's pretense to an equal and harmonious union with India rather than dominance over it." See also Narain 181, in which she argues that like India itself, the Brahmin is not a subject in his own right but an exotic prop--the mere site of Sophia's rebellion against "strictures of her free space" as she anticipates her later "imprisonment" in a domestic role in England. In contrast to Nussbaum, see Franklin xxiv, in which he argues that Sophia's flirtation with the Brahmin and her openness to and fascination with Hindu culture is "predicated upon the pluralism and enlightened tolerance of ... [the] brief Jonesian period of sympathetic and syncretic admiration for India." See also Teltscher 135-138, in which she discusses the potentially subversive and dangerous situation that exists between an Englishwoman and an Indian man, noting how critics have read Sophia's willingness to entertain interracial sexual desire as either subversive or indicative of racial harmony and humanistic tolerance.
(7) In the 1780s the moral necessity of compassion for animals was becoming normalized. Sec Sarah Trimmer's 1786 Fabulous Histories Designed for the Instruction of Children Respecting their Treatment of Animals. A few years previously, Anna Letitia Barbauld in her Lessons for Children had instructed parents regarding alternatives to the traditional games of English schoolboys--games that often involved the cruel torture of animals. No longer were the standard pastimes of crushing spiders and stealing eggs from birds' nests acceptable. Compassion was becoming fashionable for the children of the 1780s. Ferguson argues that women writers like Sarah Trimmer, Elizabeth Heyrick, Susanna Watts, Anna Sewell, and Frances Power Cobb were "insisting that issues of domesticity, gender, empire, and national identity were connected with the protection of animals" (6).
(8) See Oswald ii. In the advertisement to his 1791 vegetarian manifesto, he expressed his belief that the French Revolution would hold out hope to animals as well as other downtrodden groups.
(9) Just as feminism and animal rights provide the theory, vegetarianism provides the practice. See Adams, Sexual Politics 179.
(10) For an in-depth discussion of the later and more fully articulated link between feminism, vegetarianism, and other political concerns, see Adams, "Feminism, the Great War, and Modern Vegetarianism" 245, in which she discusses the link between vegetarianism and anti-war feminists in the years preceding World War I. See also Schuche 126, in which she discusses the practice of vegetarianism as "an important aspect in Victorian and Edwardian feminism," a practice that could be observed "in the militant as well as the non-militant wing of the women's suffrage movement." In the Victorian feminist magazine Shafts, vegetarianism, along with anti-vivisection (and bicycle riding), was promoted as an alternative lifestyle for the New Woman (124-27).
(11) Kucich refers to Macaulay's History of England (1763-1783), but the insights arc relevant to Letters on Education as well.
(12) While recommendations for at least a semi-vegetarian diet were beginning to appear in women's writing on education during the 1790s, other women writers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had been not only interested in questions of animal rights but attracted to vegetarianism. Mary Astell, according to her biographer, "abstained from meat frequently--certainly more often than her fellow Londoners." See Perry 286. Aphra Bchn wrote a praise poem at the beginning of Thomas Tryon's book on vegetarianism, acknowledging that Tryon's books caused her to experiment with vegetarianism. See Tryon, Way to Health A4. And Margaret Cavendish railed against meat eating as the worst form of murder and tyranny in her poem "The Hunting of the Hare." Sarah Scott's Millennium Hall features a sanctuary where animals were not eaten.
(13) In contrast to Joseph, see Reynolds 168 and 175-76, in which she argues that Sophia is both attracted to and repelled by "networks of colonial wealth and power" (168), and that Gibbes--in choosing to leave the rape case of the Indian woman unresolved, and in choosing to juxtapose Sophia with this "victim of colonial brutality"--demonstrates the inadequacy of Sophia's language of sensibility for "redressing colonial violence" (175-76).
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|Author:||Regan, Marguerite M.|
|Publication:||Studies in the Novel|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2014|
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