I remember reading Edward Said's seminal work, Orientalism, when at college. He exposed the false assumptions coming from the Western world about the culture of the Middle East and Asia but I don't remember anything quite like these stories. You have 'The Mark of the Beast' by Kipling - a terrifying tale about what happens to Europeans who disrespect Indian deities. The offender gets bitten by the Silver Man, a holy leper with no features, and turns into a werewolf-like creature. In B.M Croker's 'The Dak Bungalow at Dakor', any overnight visitors are haunted to the point of madness by the murdered victim seeking justice. And in the wonderful 'The Phantom Rickshaw', again by Kipling, a Raj Englishman is tormented to death by the ghost of his former lover, Mrs Wessington. There are many many more, some of which started life as ephemeral pamphlets sold on Indian railway stations to amuse the passengers. Look out the window and the gothic stared right back.
|Bombay station 1905: Courtesy of Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries|
What is particularly interesting to me is that the Kipling and Wells stories make it quite clear that it is the European who has crossed the line and brought the punishment on himself, like Victor Frankenstein playing god and being pursued by his own creation. Mrs Wessington is a stalker, in life and after death. The Indian context is rather by the by, a glamorous backdrop to an old tale of sexual betrayal. Fleete falls foul of a country he doesn't understand, having a just punishment meted out to him for his asinine behaviour in the temple. Dr Moreau, a heartless vivisectionist, creates the cruelty that kills him. This are all rather clever commentaries on the empire project, questioning European supremacy. The gothic genre is doing its familiar job of making us look into the shadows of our selves as well as the external setting of scary huts in forests, claustrophobic islands, alleyways and jungles.