Fan Behavior: Why India Appears so Often in Victorian Literature

Something I found intriguing while reading The Moonstone is how similar it was to other detective works.  Especially Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Speckled Band,” a classic Sherlock Holmes story.  One main similarity I noticed was that both somehow involved India. 

In “The Speckled Band,” the stepfather of the story has a “violence of temper” that is apparently “hereditary,” although his stepdaughter believes it has “been intensified by by his long residence in the tropics,” those tropics being India (Doyle, 2).  He also has “a passion…for Indian animals,” (Doyle 3).  In The Moonstone, the prologue introduces the moonstone itself by stating “one of the wildest of these stories related to a Yellow Diamond–a famous gem in the native annals of India,” which establishes the involvement of India right off the bat (Collins, 11).  

It is interesting that a foreign country is so present in British literature, even for one under British rule.  In addition, both mentions of India have some negative connotation.  In “The Speckled Band,” India has worsened the temper of the stepfather, and the end of the story reveals it is one of his Indian animals (a snake) that has acted as the murder weapon.  In The Moonstone, the stone said to cause bad luck originates from India and is the cause of most of the suffering in the novel.  Victorians clearly have a hostile and racist outlook on foreign countries, especially India, as seen by the portrayals of the country and what comes from it that become detrimental to the supposed stability and prosperity in Britain.  At the same time, Victorians are fascinated by different cultures, and as their technology advances, so does their knowledge of nations outside of Britain, as well as their curiosity.  So for all the racism and negative attention directed towards India in the detective story, Victorian authors and audiences cannot help but be entertained by their central inclusion in the plot.

2 thoughts on “Fan Behavior: Why India Appears so Often in Victorian Literature”

  1. I like how your post points out the interesting relationship between the colonizer and the colonized in general. In this case, while Britain treats their colonized nations as the other with strange influence, mythical religion, and unknown power, it also seems to be enamored by those aspects. This is also what happened when Britain colonized Egypt, leaning to Egyptomania. Since 19th century was also when the industrial revolution happened, the magical belief within Britain might fade away due to the rise of technology and science. Hence, to create a sense of mystery and of the unknown, it seems that both Doyle and Collins used the trope of the Other, in this case are the Indians, to explain the unknown and negative influence, which then established England as both the victim of these strange powers and the superior nation of virtuous Christianity.

  2. This made me think of the Otherness of India as a Gothic theme in Doyle and Collins. The Gothic is sublime and it means that it causes curiosity, but also fear. The British Empire wants to know everything about India, but it is extremely biased to it, regarding it as a menacing force which could negatively impact England’s “superior” civilization. In Doyle’s novella, the American Midwest scenario, although being in a Western country, is also Gothic because it brings beauty (the vast prairies), but also the dangers of the fauna and the Other (the indigenous people).

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