An illustrated talk and digital exhibit by Katherine D. Harris, Professor, Department of English and Comparative Literature, San José State University
In an effort to spread the authority of England, London publishers often fostered the distribution of illustrated literary annuals and other serial forms to all of Britain’s colonial holdings, including India where Macauley claimed that British reading materials were culturally and socially superior over the colonial (and colonized) subjects. Editor and poet, David Lester Richardson, banked on this popularity by publishing the first literary annual in India, The Bengal Annual for 1830, which included 49 literary texts and 7 woodcut engravings. Far from the gilt-edged and lavishly bound London annuals, Richardson pronounced that “an Editor has to exercise his taste and skill in the arrangement of the various materials” (Preface iv) and opens the volume with a 6-stanza poem immediately followed by “The Literati of British India: A Sketch” by an anonymous author who declares that “we have in India few such personages as men of letters” (4) and that the demand for English literature as a hindrance to the growth of “an indigenous literature” (5). Even with all of this nationalist rhetoric, Richardson closes the 352-page volume with Harachandra Ghose’s translation of “Anacreon, An Ode” from Greek into Bengali. Does The Bengal Annual, despite Richardson's protests, break free of British colonialism's stranglehold on material forms of the serial? Or is The Bengal Annual simply another representation of Western capitalism co-opting cultural and artistic excellence for its own glorification? And, at that, promulgating the excellence of a literary form that had been disdainfully accused in 1829 of being merely women's books?