Saving The Rajah’s Daughter: Spectacular Logic In Moncrieff’s “Cataract Of The Ganges”

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European Romantic Review


This essay examines the historical context and reception of the popular 1823 melodrama, Cataract of the Ganges: or, the Rajah’s Daughter, arguing that the melodrama rewrites history as an uncanny simultaneity, and in so doing, blurs the boundaries between imperial fiction, imperial reform and imperial conquest. The first section of the essay argues that the melodrama’s character names and some of its plot elements collapse two centuries of Anglo‐Indian history into the historical present, while nonetheless remaining focused on issues of infanticide and sati (widow-burning). The second section surveys the political and theatrical context in which the melodrama appeared: Parliamentary petitions to put an end to sati and female infanticide in the political realm were counterpointed by an exploitation of “Eastern” extravagance in the illegitimate theatres, and Cataract of the Ganges played up elements of oriental luxury and moral outrage alike. The third section examines spectacle’s resistance to reason by considering the ambiguous effects created by two characters within the play: Jack Robinson, ludicrously devoted to the novel Robinson Crusoe as a kind of imperialist’s bible; and Colonel Mordaunt, more seriously presented and received, who nonetheless quite strikingly fails to offer a coherent account of imperial ideology. The final section of the essay considers in detail the three most popular spectacles within the melodrama: the opening scene, displaying a field of dead Indians; the bridal procession which ended the first act; and the final conflagration scene in which the British and their allies triumph.

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