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

Metrics: Genres and Authors

Our data shows that of the translated texts, a majority of page numbers are delegated to the Persian (of which a majority of the population were Muslim) to English translations. There are a variety of reasons why this could be. Connecting to the fact that about 75 pages of the whole annual are dedicated to a story about the Scottish Highlands, another English territory, the abundance of texts that are not strictly about India may reflect an imperialist show of power. In sum, by translating a variety of texts into English from territories they do and do not own, the British are extending their power—in this case, their power to make the incomprehensible now comprehensible for their citizens. The annual even features a text translated from Hebrew, demonstrating the Empire’s ability to control this language as well. This demonstrates a linguistic control of 3 different peoples and religions: Hebrew, Hindu, and Muslim (Persian). Including more texts than simply those translated from the Hindu paints an image of a British Empire that has mastered the “secret” languages of the Orient.

While the Annual is about 350 pages in length, only 15 of those pages are allotted to female writers. Why could this be? The life of a British woman in this time was dominated by the whims of her husband. For example, according to the Charlotte Smith Story Map, British author Charlotte Smith’s marriage was rife with tragedy and suffered under an oppressive patriarch: “It was a catastrophic, life-altering relationship for Charlotte Smith. The spendthrift and abusive Benjamin destabilized her life, forcing the family to move from house to house for financial reasons” (Dolan, Andrews, & Reisert). Men were the patriarchal ruler of the home, and could move women from place to place and even take their money from them. This was possibly true of British women in Calcutta. As gender roles were still rigid, a married woman could only submit to an annual under their name if their husbands were supportive of their creative abilities. It could be possible, however, that the authors in this annual who are anonymous or unlisted in the contents could be women escaping such a situation.


Despite poems being the most lauded type of writing in the Romantic Era, the Bengal Annual devotes most of its pages to the Short Story. Of these, two are the longest-one story is about the capture of a Hindu man by pirates, while the other is about the superstitions of a Scottish Highlander and his more practical British traveling companion. Both stories make up about 75 pages each. India is the Southernmost British territory in Eurasia at this time, with Scotland being one of the Northernmost. What is fascinating here is that many studies of Romanticism fixate on the Romantic obsession with the East, and the later Victorian fear of it. What we see here, however, is a nestling of the Empire’s North and South in the same annual. Effectively, it conveys a similar message to the graph of the Translated Texts by Religion. While that message is “Look at our prominence as an Empire. We, the British, own the East and West,” the meaning drawn from the amount of page numbers devoted to these short stories is, “Look at our prominence. We also own the North and the South.”

Despite that the Annual was published in India, Indian writers only own 14 pages of it. However, this is unsurprising. The essay penned at the beginning of the Annual, “The Literati of British India” details exactly what the author thought of India--it is a country where the literary scene lifted it’s head “languidly,” where people have so much to do as far as colonizing goes that the act of creation is something many do not have the luxury to do, where literature of this country is compared with the metaphor of wilting flowers and plants that grow in a stunted fashion. India, in the author’s words, wants of many of the necessities needed to create great literature. In other words, or what the author is implying, is that it wants of being Britain. This implies that Britain is a fertile spring for literature naturally--but to the author, India is naturally inferior as a wellspring of creativity. Therefore, it only makes sense that only a few native born Indians, as natives of this empire and citizens of the country they deemed creatively inferior, would be represented in such small numbers. 

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