The Perils of Certain English Prisoners: Dickens' Defensive Fantasy of Imperial Stability
Note: "The Perils of Certain English Prisoners" consists of three chapters. Chapters one and three consist of material written by Dickens, whilst chapter two comprises the work of Wilkie Collins', completed under the auspices of Dickens. As the material under consideration in this essay is taken from the first and third chapters, and considering Dickens' creative control over the second chapter, "Perils" has been discussed as a Dickens text.
Imperial Britain, Dickens and the Culture of Negated Alterity
'Colonial literature,' Abdul JanMohammed writes, 'is an exploration and a representation of a ...view middle of the document...
This analysis of "Perils" will discuss the text as a manifestation of a disharmonious marriage of ragged defensive fantasy on Dickens' behalf, against the background of the reality of the predominating colonial framework: the discussion will aim to highlight the paradoxical Other negating tunnel vision through which the British colonial project felt both the balance and imbalance of its status as "colonial master." The terms "imperial" and "colonial" will be used according to Said's definitions in Culture and Imperialism:therefore ' "imperialism" means the practices, the theory, and the attitudes of a dominating metropolitan centre ruling a distant territory....[whilst] "colonialism" which is almost always a consequence of imperialism, is the implanting of settlements on distant territory' (8).
It is certain that Dickens empathised and had strong links with both Victorian concepts of family, duty and honour both at home and in India: his son Walter had left for military service in India in July 1857, shortly after the Mutiny (Peters 176), whilst Dickens had by that time played the role of the dutiful, self-sacrificing Walter Hartwright several times in Wilkie Collins' play The Frozen Deep(Oddie 14).
The desire for vengeance following the attack on these cultural cornerstones of Victorian life by the mutineers suggests an imperial culture under threat from a rebellious Other it prefers to leave unacknowledged. The Mutineers and the colonisers are, from the British colonial viewpoint, polar opposites. Therefore, as JanMohammed argues, 'if [the European] assumes that the Other is irremediably different, then he would have little incentive to adopt the viewpoint of that alterity: he would again tend to turn to the security of his own cultural perspective' (18).Such is the British colonial stance: the Mutiny provides an extreme example of the disruption of such a viewpoint. The colonised native forces his or her presence onto the coloniser, who is therefore placed under threat in terms of his or her position in the colony as "colonial master," and furthermore has 'his [or her] own cultural perspective' forcibly removed from its position of extreme alterity to be repositioned side to side with a now equally articulate native force. The British colonial presence, adopting a state of mind I shall term passive defensive fantasy, used to maintain the extreme alterity between itself and the "uncivilised" native, can only maintain the alterity it requires for its own sense of security under the new conditions imposed by an uprising, by changing its stance to that of active defensive fantasy: in this, brutal suppression of the native populace restores the feeling of security , superiority and alterity. Outward force repels the native figure, thus enabling the coloniser to once more occupy, if a little warily at first, the position of the passive defensive fantasy.
The simple plot of "Perils" affirms this: Gill Davis and his fellow soldiers arrive...