The Bengal Annual: A Digital Exploration of Non-Canonical British Romantic Literature

Chander's Brown Romantics

Romanticism is generally associated with the Europeans, specifically with the British Romantics. Poets such as Wordsworth, Coleridge, Blake, Keats, Shelley, and Byron are synonymous with the word Romanticism. Yet, existing within the history of Romanticism are a marginalized and unacknowledged community who are excluded from the Romantic canon. In Manu Samriti Chander’s Brown Romantics: Poetry and Nationalism in the Global Nineteenth Century, he addresses those who can help expand beyond the Big Six British Romantics, dubbing these individuals as the Brown Romantics.

According to Chander, during the nineteenth century, British Romanticism had spread alongside imperialism with the poet taking root as legislators throughout the British Empire and their colonies. As a result, their writing often mirrored the imperial project due to pressures to develop a national literature. In reaction to this spread of Romanticism with imperialism, these Brown Romantics rose to challenge the dominance of the British poets by mobilizing Brown Romanticism against British Romanticism. However, the balance of power between these two communities served to exclude only the Brown Romantic, as the English Romantic held a sovereign position of cultural authority in this literary debate allowing them to dictate the discourse of taste across the British colonies and become synonymous with it. In contrast, the Brown Romantic was held in a conflicting position where he was to become a slave of the established taste or risk their authorship by defining it. Despite this lower seat, Brown Romantics still managed to challenge these laws of taste and the sovereignty of the English Romantic by not as an opposing movement towards Romanticism but rather as a force that tried to change it from within. By no means were Brown Romantics figures of resistance to this form of imperialism for they turned to poetry in hopes of the ideal that Romanticism promised which was the global participation in this literary conference. Brown Romantics strove for the desire to contest with their contemporaries, not oppose them, in a transnational dialogue to agree among global tastes.

The authors within The Bengal Annual (1830) can thus fall under the group of Chander's Brown Romantic who wrote in reaction to British Romanticism and the Empire. But rather than representing the whole of Chander's Brown Romantics, these authors in The Bengal Annual can be placed in a subcategory of Brown Romanticism focusing on the literature that was coming out of India rather than generalizing it with the literature from the other British colonies. Thus, the context these authors can serve is a revealing mirror of the cultural attitudes and values of their contemporaries with its history and discourse being that of its inclusive exclusion of those who challenged its laws - with these Brown Romantics being the unsung heroes of this revolution against the literary empire within Romanticism.

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