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

"The Leg" - V. Rees - Close Reading

Having produced one of the few short stories within The Bengal Annual for 1830, V. Rees can be considered a Brown Romantic because he represents the idea of the marginalized community with his position as an Indian author. Most of the works that are recognized during the Romantic period of poems. Rees’s choice to write a short story instead of a poem can be him challenging the tastes of Romantics putting an emphasis on the importance of story-telling in Indian culture. Rees critiques Empire and British colonialism with the symbolism of the characters and metaphors. The “leg” in the story is meant to represent the cost of colonialism in India with it repercussions to Britain with the characters like Charles who possesses the imperialist attitudes of the Englishman and his Calcutta wife Emilia personifying Britain’s allure to India's Beauty and desire to claim it.

When first introduced to Charles, he is a nameless mad Englishman who asks the narrator Thevenet to cut off his leg. The importance of being nameless is to give his identity being named serves to paint this image of a generic Englishmen that can serve to represent the whole of them. After learning the motivations of this character and his mindset, one can notice how Charles actions mirrors that of imperialist attitudes. Charles willingness to goes to any extent to marry his foreign Indian wife Emilia is an allusion’s the British Empire’s long obsessive occupation and colonizing of India with Charles marriage to Emilia and bringing her to London is Britain trying to make a female India British.

The description of mad for Charles is also meant to infer that these attitudes are illogical and irrational which is a theme frequently discussed within Romanticism. This description of mad can be tied with how the Oriental is associated with the unconscious, but instead Rees does the reverse by making the West the one associated with the unconscious mind with the Englishman Charles with his actions being in heat of the moment passions and only realizes his foolishness at the end of the story when he mind is settled and able to clearly comprehend his consequences. The conclusion to Rees’s story is crucial in suggesting the consequences of Empire with Charles’s regret of marrying Emilia costing him his military career and his leg.

The perspective that Rees’s chose to narrate his short story is also interesting with it being told in the third person from the English surgeon Thevenet. With the narrator being an Englishman as well, it can be inferred that the audience Rees was trying to reach were other Englishmen. This is further reinforced by the European setting with Paris and London as they would be better envisioned by individuals who have been there. There is almost no Indian subject matter except with Emilia who barely has a presence in this short story until the near end. The purpose of this aimed audience can be due to the context of his short story and how he is trying to express it, that being that the story critiquing imperialism. His critique was aimed and exposing the consequences of imperialism by the English to the English with a narrator who serves as a relatable and understandable lens by being a rational observer in the narrative to reveal the lunacy of Charles.

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