Fanny Parkes and Changing British Attitudes to India in the Mid Nineteenth Century

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Following the success of Edward Said's groundbreaking work Orientalism (1979), an entire school of criticism has attempted to apply Said's ideas to the whole range of colonial writings and art. Some of these applications have proved more suitable than others, and there sometimes seems to be an assumption at work in academia - especially in the US - that all writings of the colonial period exhibit exactly the same sets of prejudices. It is as if there is at work a monolithic, modern, academic Occidentalism which seems to match the monolithic stereotypes perceived in the original Orientalism uncannily. Fanny Parkes, author of Wanderings of a Pilgrim in Search of the Picturesque (1850), has not escaped this academic pigeon-holing, and has recently been the subject of two academic articles which would have her implicit in the project of gathering 'Colonial knowledge' and 'imbricated with the project of Orientalism' - in other words an unwitting outrider of colonialism, attempting to 'appropriate' Indian learning and demonstrate the superiority of Western ways by 'imagining' India as decayed and degenerate, fit only to be colonised and 'civilised'. Anyone who reads Fanny Parkes's writing with an open mind cannot but see this as a wilful misreading of the whole thrust of her text, an attempt to fit her book into a mould which it simply does not fit.

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