Claiming India: French Scholars and the Preoccupation with India in the Nineteenth Century


Jyoti Mohan

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    For my mother whose perseverance saw me through…


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    This enormous and time-consuming project has seen more milestones of my life than I would sometimes like to remember. On the other hand, with the hindsight that historians are notorious for, I cannot imagine that this book would have taken the form it has today, without these milestones. For my husband who has painstakingly supported me in my often bewildering mood swings for fifteen years. My children, Nandika and Arjun, taught me that there are other important and fulfilling roles in life. My brother Anand was always my most exacting critic and without his interest in my dissertation (from which this project grew), I can truly say it would never have been completed.

    My friend and co-conspirator since our days of graduate school, Marcy Wilson, has been around for my marriage, the birth of my two children and has constantly reminded me that it was worth finishing even when the kids enticingly beckoned for me to shelve the project indefinitely. Several people provided much intellectual sustenance—Professor Richard Price, Professor Paul Landau, Professor Jeffrey Herf, Professor Mrinalini Sinha, Professor Brett Berliner, and Professor Gyanendra Pandey. The companionship of several participants at the University of Liverpool's project on France-Britain-India shaped this project in important ways. In particular, the feedback of Ian Magedera and Kate Marsh was indispensible.

    My first baby, Swami, taught me about unconditional love and comfort. His warm tail-wagging presence and unstintingly generous face washes put smiles on my face and laughter in my heart when the dark side of graduate school threatened to break me down. To all graduate students out there, doubting themselves, and their ability to push to the finish line, you can do it. Don't ever think you are any less intelligent than when you started out. Seek out those who build your confidence and provide you with intellectual and emotional nourishment. Avoid people who try to break you, and there will be many.

    My biggest debt of gratitude is to my mother. She put her own life on hold to become chief babysitter and housekeeper, leaving me free to do research. More importantly, her emotional support and desire to see me finish kept me from quitting during my most depressing and lonely periods. Thank you amma.

    Introduction: The Last King of France Found…in India?

    If France ever returns to a monarchy, the King of France would arrive in state from the Indian city of Bhopal. Balthazar Napoleon de Bourbon is the closest living link to the French royal family of Bourbons. Born in Bhopal and Indian in every way except for his name and lineage, he represents the complex link between India and France. Descended from cousins of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, the ancestors of this down-to-earth, middle-class Indian, who may lay claim to the fleur de lis, arrived in India in swashbuckling style, in a story involving kidnapping, piracy and shipwrecks in the middle of the sixteenth century. France's story in India thus goes back more than 400 years!

    Beginning with humble trading origins, the French desire to colonize India reached its height in the eighteenth century, when the global Anglo-French rivalry over world domination led to the Seven Years’ War. France's defeat in the war meant the downfall of her hopes for an Indian Empire, and the start of the Company Raj. Determined to hold on to at least the vestige of glory in India, the French retained five small posts or Comptoirs here: Chandernagore, Pondichéry, Karaikal, Mahe and Yanaon. Surrounded by the burgeoning British Indian Empire these Comptoirs languished as sleepy outposts in the French colonial empire for the better part of 150 years, content to watch the world go by, and occasionally aiding the colonial effort in South East Asia.1

    From 1817 to 1947 the Comptoirs continued in a state of tranquility. With the independence of British India2 the movement for independence in French India gained momentum until finally France gave up her colonial claims on India in 1954. French colonial writers describe this period from 1817 to 1954 as one where the French India posts developed educational, economic, political, and judicial structures in peace and harmony with their colonial masters.3

    France's colonial career in India in fact, extended beyond the British Empire in India. While British India acquired its independence in 1947, the French Comptoirs were declared independent of France only in 1954 and in fact, the actual union with India occurred after a brief military siege of Pondichéry in 1963. Ironically ‘French India’, as the Comptoirs and loges were collectively called, outlasted the Raj, and ensured that the French were the longest lasting colonial power in India, from the first French Governor General of Pondichéry, François Martin in 1699 to 1963: a career of 264 years in comparison to the British colonial administration of 190 years.4

    This book examines the process by which images and histories of India5 were created in France. France continued to be a colonial power in India even though it was no longer the dominant colonizing power. As a result of this situation, France was in a unique position in India as a subordinate colonial nation—a subaltern. This book refers to France as a ‘subaltern’ in India with reference to this historical situation where France continued to occupy colonies in India as a secondary, or subaltern power. The approach is taken from Kate Marsh who notes that, ‘French language writing on India cannot be examined and appreciated fully without engaging methodologically with France's politically subordinate status in India, thus proposing, instead of the traditional binary relationship between colonizer and colonized, a triangular model composed of India (the colonized), the “subaltern colonizer” (France), and the dominant colonizer(Britain).’6

    I do not seek to define what India ‘really’ was (an impossible task!);7 rather, I aim to study the process of creating India in the French imagination. An important argument for this project is that the colonial imagination, which constructed unreal, ‘phantasmatic’8 images of colonies did so in order to further specific national colonial aims. This imagination was embedded in an artificial archive of knowledge, expressed in part, through academic monographs and museum exhibits. As Thomas Richards notes, the notion of ‘empire’ and the unity that the term suggests was conferred by creating an imaginary world—through documentation and paperwork, through literature and exhibitions, through intellectual peregrinations—which served to convince both the métropole and the rest of the world about their territorial overlord-ship over what was really a ‘paper empire’,9 an empire in thought, an epistemological empire. The project really involved a ‘colonization of knowledge’ where one nation could convince itself, the ‘colonized’ nation, and the global onlookers that it ruled over a land by virtue of copious claims to do so—all of which were expressed in print. The nineteenth-century empire was thus an empire of knowledge where colonial nations evoked their empires and their rule over them by pointing to their monopoly of knowledge about that empire. I use this term to denote the intellectual archive which comprised ‘India’ in French aca-demia, particularly the works of French experts on Indian culture, popularly called ‘Indologists’, during the nineteenth century. Beginning with Antoine de Chézy, Eugene Burnouf, Julien Vinson, Sylvain Lévi, Auguste Barth, and Emile Sénart, I move to Gustave le Bon and Paul Topinard who defined India as a racial entity, thus incorporating the French imagination about India into the prevailing anthropological debates of the mid-nineteenth century.

    Finally, there is what Nicholas Bancel and Pascal Blanchard call ‘colonial memory’. From colonial imagination and the creation of an archive came colonial memory. Despite the death of the colonial era, the modern world is still left with many vestiges of the colonial past. Some of these are real—architecture, language, and government. But far more deep-rooted and therefore more influential in the way people imagine one another is colonial memory. For Nicholas Bancel and Pascal Blanchard, ‘colonial memory’ is a construct, created by the players in a nation's colonial history, as much as by the literature, films, music, plastic arts, it is essentially the ‘official memory’ of colonization. According to them, ‘memory, as an intercession between the realities of the present and the recessive logic of the narrative that orders a direction to these, is a process, a permanent reconstruction, and (also) leaves immediate, indelible tracks, (which are) incorporated in the social imagination.’10 This book treats the popular uses to which the academic images of India were put as part of ‘colonial memory’. Whether academic monographs inspired school textbooks, or artistic masterpieces, they can be interpreted as the introduction of the erudite into the popular imagination and memory. In attempting to bridge the gap between the intellectual archive and popular memory, I look at history textbooks of French and francophone school children in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, to assess the impact of intellectual creations of ‘India’ on the ‘colonial memory’ of school children.

    Whether or not these images embodied the ‘true India’ is not as important in this study as the rationale behind the conception of a specific India. The lens through which different European powers like Britain, France, Portugal, Germany, and Denmark viewed India was as varied as the images of India which were created. So, for example, British images of India were those of an unruly country in need of British guidance;11 while Germany created a romantic image of a country which had given birth to language and civilization,12 and, by contrast, Portugal focused on her little island of Catholic converts in a sea of Hindu idolaters.13 The very diversity of such images exposes the fallacy that histories were unbiased accounts. Moreover, different perspectives illuminate different aspects of realities as well. Colonial histories often tell us more about the concerns of the colonizing power than an accurate account of the colony. I examine the different ‘Indias’ produced by French academics and study some of the appropriations of these ‘Indias’. These differences are important in studying not only the trajectory and impact of colonial policy and implementation in France, England, Portugal and Denmark (the remaining colonial powers in India in the nineteenth century), but also provide an insight into present-day conceptions in France of what constitutes India and how different communities in India perceive themselves. The erstwhile French India posts, for example define their ‘Indianness’ in ways that can be traced directly to the specifically French project of constructing a cultural image of India. Religious tension between Hindus and Muslims, as a conspicuous example, is lacking in these areas, although caste distinctions are prominent in the way Pondichériens identify themselves.14

    Contrast this to the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu, which was part of British India and where not only caste, but also communal tensions run high.15 As Narayani Gupta points out, there were also differences in political experience; the Comptoirs came to representative government through developments in France while British India had to mount a campaign for the same rights.16

    The ‘Oriental Renaissance’ and the Place of India

    Focus on India was not unusual in nineteenth-century Europe. The Neo-classical Renaissance of the Long Century was supplemented by an intense interest in the Orient as an exotic entity. Raymond Schwab dedicated a considerable part of his life to documenting this ‘Oriental Renaissance’ in nineteenth-century Europe.17 Following Schwab, William Halbfass,18 Roger Pol-Droit19 and Alex Aronson made similar attempts to document the enormous influence of India and the East in the development of nineteenth-century European philosophy.20 These scholars adopted the term ‘Oriental Renaissance’, after the work of Edgar Quinet21 for this philosophical movement to the East. Camille Jullian, writing about the work of Orientalists Silvestre de Sacy and Abel Rémusat noted that, ‘Their articles in the Journal des Savants, everywhere reprinted, suggested to the learned world that the Orient was at that time absorbing all the scholarly energy of France.’22

    In part, the focus on the Orient came about as a result of colonial ambitions in the East and the desire of European colonizers to ‘know’ their Eastern subjects in order to better exploit and govern them.23 Many scholars who have studied the Comptoirs stress that the economic attractiveness of the India trade continued far beyond the downfall of colonial hopes. Louis Dermigny and Sudipta Das for example, stressed the continued commercial attractiveness of India to French merchants after the French East India Company's monopoly was revoked in 1769 in the aftermath of the Seven Years War.24 Paul Butel who has studied the private archives of individuals to explore the trade between India and French ports like Bordeaux and Marseilles, notes the petition of a merchant, Louis Monneron (whose company was based in Pondichéry till 1787) to the National Assembly and later again to Napoleon stressing the importance of maintaining the trade route via the Suez.25 As Butel points out there was a tendency among both ports and Parisian financial circles of returning to the commercial routes of the Indian Ocean which had created so many fortunes in the eighteenth century.

    But the images of India which were popular with French academics derived only partly from colonial and economic interests. During the nineteenth century, French academics used India to demonstrate a plethora of theories. Earlier scholars of Indology took their cue from Schwab whose impressive documentation of the Western preoccupation and development of Oriental studies is simultaneously a tribute to the pure pursuit of knowledge. His ‘Oriental Renaissance’ was a veritable encyclopaedia of developments in Oriental knowledge and studies in the West but it made no connection with larger intellectual or political currents which impacted the extent and trajectory of Oriental studies. As a corrective to this otherwise impeccable scholarship, this book explores some of the religious, philosophical, and anthropological discourses that French Indologists created for India, just as Kamakshi Murti, who has studied the effects of German Indology in the discourses of racism which developed during the twentieth century.26 Murti argues that German Indologists claimed a spiritual, if not territorial connection with India by virtue of the ‘Aryan’ parallels in the past of the two countries. In the French case, where India could easily have been a French rather than a British colony, the need to ‘claim’ a mastery of India was linked directly to national pride. At the beginning and the end of the nineteenth century, India figured prominently in colonialist rivalry with England. While this rivalry was articulated largely by the colonialist press and by individuals, often the academic discourse on India was appropriated to serve these ends. In a telling statement of French disappointment in losing her Indian Empire, Naudet claimed that although France had lost her temporal claims to India, she was still the intellectual master of India through the work of the Indic scholars of the nineteenth century.27 According to Schwab,

    …it was England's great disgrace to be too self-seeking in India to avoid violent reactions, after fits and starts of adaptation…The conquerors felt obligated to defend their conquest, which meant exalting their own race and religion…reinforcing the English prejudice of Western superiority and minimizing, for the parent state, the phenomenon of the Oriental Renaissance.28

    Despite the fact of French defeat in India, perhaps because of her marginal political position, Schwab highlights the development of ‘a scientific passion which no ulterior political motive could alter.’29

    French studies on India were thus shaped and legitimized by the loss of India. Binita Mehta argues that France's unique relationship with India stemmed from this territorial loss and that France's shortlived hopes of colonizing India and the loss of India created a powerful hold over French dramatists.30 According to her, nineteenth-century French views of India were influenced to some extent by the loss of France's Indian colonies after nearly a century of fighting the British. The French wished to recapture their past glory in India, and they accomplished this through literature.31 In her study of journalistic representations of India in the twentieth century, Kate Marsh also notes that since France never actually colonized India, but had to be content with ruling over five tiny Comptoirs in place of the dreams of an Indian empire, French writing on India must be interpreted in the context not just of romanticism, but of a yearning for ‘what may have been'—the unreal nostalgia for what had been and a romantic projection of what may have been.32

    Mehta focuses on plays and Marsh on the polemic of journalists. This book examines academic views and works on India. Among French academics there was no such overt yearning, or rhetoric of empire. Despite French marginali-zation in India, Paris was indisputably the centre of Indic studies well into the nineteenth century. In fact, the first Chair of Indology at the Collège de France was created in 1815, and the pre-eminent Journal Asiatique in 1822, well after the French dream of Empire in India was laid to rest. Indology continued to survive and flourish in Paris. Part of this fascination with India was due to the revival of Classical studies, but French scholars, having taken up Indological studies from an interest in human history could not escape the public view that having irrevocably lost India to the British the French could at least claim a superior understanding of India. This understanding led to clearly different images of India from the colonizing British works which stressed the backwardness of India and her need for British tutelage, or even the occasional American evangelical work emphasizing the oppression of Indian religion.

    ‘Orientalism’ and India

    Edward Said published an influential book, titled ‘Orientalism’ in which he argued that the colonizing West had constructed an exotic, essentialist ‘Other’ which embodied the civilizing mission, by defining the East as degenerate, effeminate, despotic and superstitious, among other epithets.33 Overnight no scholar examining colonial history could ignore Said. Among the scholars who vigorously agreed with Said was Rana Kabbani,34 who was influenced by his theoretical writings about the construction of the Orient in the colonial imagination as an exotic and diametrically opposite land to the civilized West.

    Many scholars have studied the creation of India in the popular sphere. Binita Mehta, for example, cites the ‘invention’ of India in the West as a constant theme in Western writing on India from ancient times.35 Jackie Assayag,36 Srilata Ravi,37 Christian Petr,38 Jean Biès,39 Catherine Weinberger-Thomas,40 and Richard Andersen41 also focused on the hold which India had upon the popular French imagination. Based on studies of French plays, poems, novels, travelogues and operas these scholars posited the creation of an India which was dominated by clichés of bayadères, oriental tyrants, widows, and brave European adventurers. The plethora of scholarly literature produced in the wake of Said's Orientalism paid due homage to the influence of India in the creation of Western, specifically French Orientalism.42 The exoticism of nineteenth-century literature was echoed in art. As Amina Okada notes, the lithographs, etchings and watercolours in travelogues, and journals like Le Tour du Monde and Le Monde Pittorresque reinforced the notion of ‘India’ as a land of princes, spirituality, demons and barbaric customs (like thuggee and sati), bayadères and beauties, of beautiful landscapes and a vestige of France's colonial dreams.43 Another theoretical framework which proved valuable to this study is the Foucauldian discussion of ‘power-knowledge’ by ruling classes of people to create and disseminate powerful images of their subjects, which eventually, came to be internalized by these very subjects.44 Importantly, Foucault's model allowed for a degree of agency and choice to be exercised by subject populations. An important area where natives had considerable agency was in the relaying of information about their cultures and pasts to their colonial masters. Bernard Cohn argued that co-operation and resistance by Indians in their relations with European colonialists produced a distinct interpretation and understanding of the Indian past.45 Cohn's work was unique in arguing for a relationship between Indians and European colonizers, in contrast to earlier works which had presented Indians as entirely passive in the creation of ‘India’. Even if Indians were in an inferior position, they were the primary informants who contributed to the discourse of Indology.46 While this book focuses on French writings about India, an enormous corpus of literature which necessitated the exclusion of Indians as direct agents in the dialogue of history, it is crucial to remember that Indians often participated in the production and dissemination of these images, and in focusing on French academia I do not mean to negate or minimize the contribution of Indians.

    The application of Said and Foucault to South Asia has led to groundbreaking works like Carol Appadurai Breckendridge and Peter Van der Veer's edited volume, Orientalism and the Postcolonial Predicament: perspectives on South Asia.47 Their work demonstrated that Said's open-ended model of Orientalism could be applied to specific linguistic and literary developments in colonial South Asia. The work of the Subaltern Studies collective which studied the perspective of groups and individuals outside of the hegemonic power structure, was also crucial to re-conceptualizing the power discourse in the description of South Asian colonial history, particularly Ranajit Guha's Dominance without Hegemony: History and Power in Colonial India48 and Gyanendra Pandey's The Construction of Communalism in Colonial North India.49 These works have been immensely helpful in conceptualizing the argument of this book.

    According to Amartya Sen, India has been represented in three ways in Western writings: exoticist, magisterial and curatorial.50 Ronald Inden has similarly categorized Western writings on India as possessing ‘descriptive’ and ‘commentative’ aspects which claim to represent the thought and acts of the Indian to the reader,51 ‘explanatory’ or ‘interpretive’ aspects which intervene between the reader and the Indian to explain the apparently distorted thought of the Oriental to the rational Western reader,52 and ‘hegemonic’ accounts which present the Indian civilization in the authoritative voice of the colonizer.53 Echoing Schwab and Naudet's sentiments about British writings being tainted by the necessity of rule, Sen and Inden present ‘hegemonic’ accounts as possessing the least accuracy of all Indological accounts.

    An excellent narrative and analytical work is Inden's Imagining India, which examines the use of various metaphors about India in Western writing, such as India as a female, Indian thought as a dream, Hinduism as a jungle or a sponge and caste society as a centrifuge.54 He notes that his study is about the agency of individuals, specifically the capacity of people to order the world around them. In respect to imperial formations centred on India, Inden posits the existence of two periods: the Anglo-French period where Orientalist discourse and notions of India in the West were dominated by the Anglo-French schools of thought, and the imperial formation of the US and USSR in the contemporary period. According to Inden, such a framework is made possible by the fact that earlier, Spanish-Portuguese thought formations of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries were dominated by Christian theology, while the Anglo-French (in which he includes the German and American Orientalist schools) centred primarily on the Hegelian-Marxist notion of a natural science or philosophy.55 However, in analysing the entire Western discourse on India prior to the twentieth century in terms of the Hegelian model, Inden simplifies the complex process of identity formation and colonial and political aims which co-opted India as a metaphor or example of the ‘other’. Moreover, in assigning all Europeans the simple position of power over India, Inden also negates the important distinctions which came to represent different descriptions of India—British, French, German, and Portuguese.

    The Foucauldian model is adopted as an approach in this book to argue for the influence of French images of India. Since France was part of the ruling colonial West, the academic study of India in France had far greater impact in the West (on German and American Indology, for example) than any academic studies by Indians themselves.56 Foucault's model also allows for a multiplicity of images. For instance, popular stories like Voltaire's Zadig et la des-tinée (1747), Lettres d'un Turc sur les Fakirs et sur son ami Bababec (1750), Histoire d'un bon brahmin (1761), and Bernadin de Saint-Pierre's La Chaumière indienne (1790) were full of the standard clichés of India as a land of serpent charmers, fakirs, exotic women, a land of danger and sensuality. While these images continued to dominate the theatrical and literary representations of India in nineteenth-century France, the new generation of academics strove to break away from their romantic predecessors and establish themselves as scientists who followed a rigorous academic process of investigation and presentation and did not allow their opinions to cloud their research. The Indologists of the nineteenth century tried to capture the essence of India in a progression of dominant ‘isms’. Thus India as a land of Brahminism gave way to India as the land of Buddhism, which was subsumed by India as the land of the Aryans and then to a hybrid ‘Hindu’ entity.

    Another singular aspect of this work is its scope. While not exhaustive, I have tried to provide at least snapshots of pre-modern images of India in France before focusing on the long nineteenth century. For instance, a fourteenth-century work, the Mirabilia Descripta by a Friar Jordanus is contrasted with the compendium of proselytizing Jesuit missionaries in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century India, the Lettres édifiantes et curieuses57 to demonstrate not only the enduring European interest in India, but also that images of India had historically been the result of particular intellectual and political agendas, whether conversion or conquest. The description of works by missionaries also provides a good foil for the later works by academics, who prided themselves on their ‘rational, non-biased judgment’.

    In terms of academics, this book rather ambitiously stretches from the Enlightenment to the early twentieth century. From the works of the French philosophes, particularly Voltaire and Montesquieu and their impressions of India, to the writings of Indologists in the early twentieth century, the longue durée lens allows me to follow certain particular characteristics of French descriptions of India, such as their anti-Islamic stance and the notion that regardless of the state of contemporary India the Indians had once possessed a great civilization, while simultaneously looking at the subtle shifts within these characteristics, and specific stimuli to create such images of India. Another undertaking of this work is to compare the kinds of writing that described India across different academic fields like Indology, Sociology, Anthropology, Linguistics and Philology, and History and analyse whether the writings corresponded to field-specific models or whether they revealed consistent themes based on arguably external influences, such as France's colonial policy.

    Admittedly, the material researched for this work was scholarly and primarily meant for an intellectual, even academic readership. Beyond a typical historian's fascination with obscure works, why should anyone care what kinds of images the French produced about India? Did it even matter? Here, I make my biggest gamble. I want to convince you about the importance of all these images. They did matter. They set the path for ordinary thousands, millions of Europeans, who knew nothing about India except what they were told in newspapers, entertainment and schools. Particularly, in schools. Most Europeans, and in fact children of the Francophone world, encountered India first, as a distant country in their school textbooks. This is where they first learned of its existence and its history. This is where they formed their first opinion of India. Beyond France, histories of India in French school textbooks were taught all over the French colonial world, as well as in French-speaking countries like Belgium. The impact of these works reached far beyond the geographical confines of France. And these textbooks were hybrid accounts of all the various images of India that had been created in abstruse works on Indology, Sociology and the like. My argument is that, regardless of who you are, and where you are from, you will recognize the images I describe in this book as defining ‘India’ in some way for you. An ‘India’ which was created in France.


    1 The comptoirs served as ports of call on the way to and from South East Asia. During the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries Pondichéry also supplied labour, administrators, and traders to the area. Emmanuel Divien, The Development of Tamil Society in Pondicherry, 17061898. PhD Thesis, University of Madras, 1975.

    2 I use the term ‘India’ for the late nineteenth century and beyond since the British had now defined the geographical limits of ‘India’.

    3 For example, Louis Rousselet, L'Inde des rajahs: Voyage dans l'Inde centrale et dans les présidences de Bombay et du Bengale (Paris: Hachette, 1875) and Pierre Loti, L'Inde (sans les Anglais) (Paris: Calman-Levy, 1903).

    4 From Clive's military success in 1757 to the independence of India in 1947.

    5 It is important to distinguish between the geographical entity of India and the people. I refer to India as the people who inhabit the South Asian region, comprising roughly the modern nations of India and Pakistan.

    6 Kate Marsh, Fictions of 1947: Representations of Indian Decolonization in French-language Texts (New York: Peter Lang, 2007): 13.

    7 As Sunil Khilnani points out in The Idea of India, the need to define India in finite terms was a product of the colonial denigration of the land and people. This led to multiple definitions of India, each bounded by specific geographical, ideological, philosophical, and cultural agendas, each necessarily lacking in a holistic view of India. Sunil Khilnani, The Idea of India (Delhi: Penguin, 1997).

    8 I take this term from Panivong Norindr, Phantasmatic Indo-China: French Colonial Ideology in Architecture, Film and Literature (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1996). Norindr uses various moments in French literary representations and colonial representations of ‘l'Indochine’ to argue that these constituted an unreal, imagined romance, far removed from reality, and that the very notion of ‘Indochine’ itself was a ‘phantasmic’ creation in French colonial imagination.

    9 Thomas Richards, The Imperial Archive: Knowledge and the Fantasy of Empire (New York and London: Verso, 1993): 4.

    10 ‘La mémoire, comme intercession entre les réalités du présent et la logique recessive du récit qui ordonne un sens à celles-ci, est un proces-sus, une reconstruction permanente, et elle laisse aussi des traces, immé-diates, indélibles, incorporées dans l'imaginaire social.’ Nicholas Bancel and Pascal Blanchard, ‘Mémoire coloniale: resistances à l'émergence d'un débat’, Culture post-coloniale 19612006. Edited by Pascal Blanchard and Nicholas Bancel (Paris: Éditions Autrement, 2005): 24.

    11 See for example, James Mill's monumental History of British India (London: Baldwin, Craddock and Joy, 1817).

    12 See Friedrich Max Müller, India: What Can it Teach Us? A Course of Lectures Delivered before the University of Cambridge (Cambridge: Longmans Green, 1883), Lecture I.

    13 See The Goa Inquisition, Being a Quarter-centenary Commemoration Study of the Inquisition in India, edited by A. K. Priolkar (Bombay: Bombay University, 1961).

    14 Jacques Weber, ‘Acculturation et assimilation dans les Établissements français de l'Inde. La caste et les valeurs de l'Occident’, Comptes rendus trimestriels des séances de l'Académie des Sciences d'Outre-Mer, tome XXXVIII2–1978: 187–215 and 219–24. This is not to say that the French India posts have never seen any communal conflict. However, the records of the Chaudrie, or local Tribunal courts would indicate that skirmishes between castes were more the rule. Religious conflicts, when they did occur, were often due to outside influence, and as such, the French administrators were not particularly concerned with the possibility of religious tensions between Hindus and Muslims. Narayani Gupta also notes that caste distinctions were emphasized in the Comptoirs while religion was the basis of distinction in British India. Narayani Gupta, ‘The Citizens of French India: The Issue of Cultural Identity in Pondicherry in the XIX century’, Les relations historiques et culturelles entre la France et l'Inde XVIIXX siècles. 2 volumes (Sainte-Clotilde: Le Chaudron, 1987): 164–65.

    15 This aspect of Anglo-French colonial difference in India has been tentatively approached by Niels Brimnes, Constructing the Colonial Encounter. Right and Left Hand Castes in Early Colonial South India (Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press, 1999), and Emmanuel Divien, The Development of Tamil Society in Pondicherry, 17061898 (PhD Thesis, University of Madras, 1975).

    16 Narayani Gupta, ‘The Citizens of French India: The Issue of Cultural Identity in Pondicherry in the XIX century’.

    17 Raymond Schwab, The Oriental Renaissance (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984).

    18 Wilhelm Halbfass, India and Europe (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1988).

    19 Roger Pol-Droit, L'Oubli de l'Inde (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1989).

    20 Alex Aronson, Europe Looks at India (Bombay: Hind Kitabs, 1946).

    21 Schwab, The Oriental Renaissance: 11.

    22 Camille Jullian, Extraits des historiens français du XIX siècle (Paris: Hatchette, 1906). Cited in Schwab, The Oriental Renaissance: 99.

    23 See for example, Lewis Pyenson, Civilizing Mission: Exact Sciences and French Overseas Expansion, 18301940 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1993) and Michael A. Osbourne, Nature, the Exotic, and the Science of French Colonialism (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994).

    24 Louis Dermigny, La Chine et l'Occident. Le Commerce à Canton au XXVIII siècle (Paris, 1964). Quoted in Paul Butel, ‘French Traders and India at the End of the Eighteenth Century’, in Merchants, Companies and Trade. Europe and Asia in the early Modern Era, edited by Sushil Chaudhury and Michel Morineau (Cambridge England: CUP, 1999): 298. Sudipta Das, Myths and Realities of French Imperialism in India (New York: Peter Lang, 1992).

    25 Ibid.

    26 Kamakshi P. Murti, India: The Seductive and Seduced ‘Other’ of German Orientalism (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001).

    27 M. Naudet, ‘Notice historique sur MM. Burnouf, Père et fils’, in Mémoires de l'Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres 20 (Paris, 1854): 310.

    28 Schwab, The Oriental Renaissance: 43.

    29 Ibid.: 45.

    30 Binita Mehta, Widows, Pariahs and Bayadères. India as Spectacle (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, and London: Associated University Presses, 2002): 14.

    31 Ibid.: 156.

    32 Marsh, Fictions of1947: 19.

    33 Edward W. Said, Orientalism (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978).

    34 Rana Kabbani, Europe's Myths of the Orient (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1986).

    35 Binita Mehta, Widows, Pariahs and Bayadères: 27.

    36 Jackie Assayag, L'Inde fabuleuse: le charme discret de l'exotisme français: XVIIXXe siècles (Paris: Kimé, 1999).

    37 Srilata Ravi, L'Inde romancée: l'Inde dans le genre romanesque français depuis 1947 (New York: P. Lang, 1997).

    38 Christian Petr, L'Inde des romans (Paris: Ed Kailash, 1995).

    39 Jean Biès, Littérature française et pensée hindoue des origines à 1950 (Paris: C. Klincksieck, 1974).

    40 L'Inde et l'imaginaire. Edited by Catherine Weinberger-Thomas. (Paris: Purusartha, 1988).

    41 Richard Anderson, India in Romantic and Parnassian French Poetry (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1950).

    42 For example Lisa Lowe, Critical Terrains. French and British Orientalisms (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991), Dorothy Figuiera, Translating the Orient: The Reception of Sakuntala in Nineteenth-century Europe (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991), and Jenny Sharpe, Allegories of Empire. The Figure of Woman in the Colonial Text (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993).

    43 Amina Okada and Enrico Isacco, L'Inde au XIXe siècle: voyage aux sources de l'imaginaire. (Marseille: AGEP, 1991).

    44 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (New York: Vintage, 1995). In this edition, the term ‘power-knowledge’ is replaced by ‘governmentality’.

    45 Bernard Cohn, Colonialism and its Forms of Knowledge (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996).

    46 Bernard Cohn, ‘The Command of Language and the Language of Command’, in ibid.

    47 Orientalism and the Postcolonial Predicament: Perspectives on South Asia. Edited by Carol Appadurai Breckendridge and Peter Van der Veer (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993).

    48 Ranajit Guha, Dominance without Hegemony: History and Power in Colonial India (Harvard, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1998).

    49 Gyanendra Pandey, The Construction of Communalism in Colonial North India (Delhi: OUP, 2006).

    50 Amartya Sen, ‘Indian Traditions and the Western Imagination’, Daedalus, Vol. 126, No. 2, Human Diversity (Spring, 1997): 1–26.

    51 Ronald Inden, Imagining India (Oxford: UK; Cambridge, Mass., USA: Basil Blackwell, 1990): 38. He provides the example of Louis Renou.

    52 Ibid.: 42. Inden criticizes this as being too reductionist in explaining the Indian within one single rubric or logic.

    53 Ibid.: 43.

    54 Ibid.: 1.

    55 Ibid.: 32.

    56 For example, the prominence of Indian reformer and intellectual Raja Ram Mohun Roy among European intellectuals was due to his mastery over English and his popularity with European Indologists.

    57 Lettres Édifiantes et Curieuses, Ecrites de Missions Etrangères, par quelques Missionaires de la Compagnie de Jésus (Paris: Nicolas Le Clerc, 1702 to 1776), 34 volumes.

  • Conclusion: Was India Really ‘French’?

    In this book, I have examined the French intellectual elite's efforts in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to understand India, and the relationship of this endeavour to the creation of colonial knowledge. From the early formulation of India as a great Brahminical civilization, then as the home of Buddhism to the home of the Aryans and finally the creation of a complex Hindu identity full of contradictions, simultaneously advanced and oppressive, the study of India in France during the nineteenth century proceeded side by side with French colonial expansion. Sometimes coincidentally, but more often not, India was used as an example to support the prevailing colonial ideologies of race, assimilation and association. She was also an intrinsic part of the continuing national rivalry with England, at once an example of British self-centeredness and of the superior French colonizing mission.

    In the preceding chapters, I have examined the construction of an academic image of ‘India’ which was distinctly French and marked by its reliance on the spiritual and religious aspects of India, its antiquity, and Aryan heritage. The work was inspired, in part, by the need for such an intellectual focus. While scholars have long paid attention to the literary and artistic impact which India has made upon France,1 and more recently examined how the French popular press represented India,2 the roots of this familiarity with India, which lay with the Parisian school of Indology during the nineteenth century, have not been examined. In this book, I begin the task of recovering the image of India that French universities and research institutions created.

    According to S. P. Sen, French historical writing on European activities in India really started in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.3 After the success of their second colonial venture in the latter part of the nineteenth century, the French were enthused with writing about their colonies. However, I think Sen is mistaken in his analysis. Undoubtedly, a great burst of writing about colonies took place with the colonial expansion of Napoleon III and Jules Ferry, but a steady stream of writing from the eighteenth century characterized French images of India. What distinguished nineteenth-century writing was its compartmen-talization into institutional forms;writing on colonies came to be demarcated into literary, historical, and Indological (linguistic, philosophic, religious and cultural studies on India) genres.

    The missionaries’ accounts offered a perspective on Indian religion which was corrupted by its association with Islam. Described as a religion which imbued its followers with a warlike, greedy quality, their narrative believed that Islam eventually destroyed ancient civilizations such as India.

    The French observers also saw India as a great example of the results of different races intermarrying and causing a degeneration of ‘superior’ racial qualities. Mid-nineteenth century French anthropologists, particularly Lang, 2007); and Nicki Frith, ‘Competing Colonial Discourses in India: Representing the 1857 Kanpur Massacres in French- and English-Language Texts and Images’, Unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Liverpool, 2008. those who were anti-Semitic, used the ‘unfortunate racial history’ which India presented. This history was one in which a presumably superior Aryan race, intermarried with inferior races and thereby lost its superior qualities and indeed, lost its superior civilization. Thus, in their view, India had become a sad example of a fallen race, indeed a mongrel race unable to reclaim its once-glorious Aryan heritage due to the dilution in superior ‘blood’. While these writings focused entirely on India as an ‘other’ exotic entity, far from the comfortable civilizing presence of France, the warning that French civilization could just as easily be corrupted by allowing lesser races to imprint themselves on French culture was a powerful argument in certain French circles.

    Another important way in which India helped to develop notions of ‘Frenchness’ among apologists for colonial expansion was in her situation as a British colony during the nineteenth century. As colonies became an accepted part of ‘national wealth’ French nationalism within the colonial lobby also became a fierce rhetorical and cultural expression of everything that was not British.4As Brunschwig points out, France aimed at building a colonial Empire in order to boost national pride rather than a quest for financial enrichment.5 Colonial policies like assimilation were geared to showcase the superior culture and colonial achievements of France and this aim was underscored by the proponents of Empire in France. Unlike England, where Empire was pursued by merchants, industrialists and financiers, the French colonial enterprise was taken up by geographers, journalists and intellectuals who saw Empire as a means to restore national pride after humiliating defeats to England and Germany during the course of the nineteenth century.

    The colonial progress of France in the nineteenth century was very much reflected in the writings on India. The romanticism and military vainglory of the eighteenth century was present in most works of the period on India, which praised France for her efforts to understand and associate with such an ancient civilization. The Revolution was a huge break when France was too busy with her internal conflicts and the crushing colonial losses to England to pay much attention to her empire. Colonial dreams, which were resurrected with Napoleon, soon died a quiet death. The Restoration government under Louis Philippe was as timid as the King himself. Having concluded several peace treaties with England which stripped France of her most lucrative colonial possessions, France was in no position to challenge England. Colonization proceeded sedately and unremarkably. The proclamation of the Second Republic in 1848 and the rise of Louis Napoleon once again fired France's colonial dreams. New expansion into Africa with the conquest of Algeria and Senegal, and East Asia into Indo-China put France back on the list of colonial contenders. The period saw the introduction of colonial policies of assimilation, followed in the 1870s with the Third Republic and the stewardship of Jules Ferry in the 1890s, with the policy of association, which proclaimed France's greatness and uniqueness as a colonial power and also her real desire to civilize her colonies.6

    The French colonial lobby pushed their spiritual and religious image of India in an attempt to challenge British dominance in India by pointing to the superior achievements of India in philosophy and intellect. German Indological work, deeply influenced by France7 presented India through a lens of Romanticism and spirituality, furthering this image. In addition, one has to remember that nineteenth-century Europe was still a land where French was spoken and understood more than English. Therefore, the consumption and imagination of India on French terms was far stronger than the British representations of India even though Britain was well on her way to establishing her empire in India. In stark contrast to the image of British India suffering under constant famines, and back-breaking poverty, the French comptoirs were consistently represented as peaceful, content towns, sleepy little outposts of la plus grande France.8 Indians were extended French citizenship and taught the glorious language and culture of France, all proof of France's superior mission civilisa-trice. Simultaneously colonial leaders lost no opportunity to criticize British rule. As Albert Sarrault declared as late as 1931, ‘India is not governed, she is exploited.’9 In contrast, inhabitants of the French comptoirs seemed content with French rule, possibly because of their belief in the French character which was inclined to emphasize the attributes of equality and legality and to a greater extent than in British India, those of fraternity and liberty as well.10 Not only were the French treating their Indian citizens like equals11 but in their eagerness to preserve their civilization, French scholars were the leaders in Indology. The relationship between France and India was therefore not a simple imposition; if French was imported into the Comptoirs, Sanskrit was exported, underlining the French desire to preserve the civilization of India. The notion that this civilization was as artificial and imposed, a construct of those in power, as the selfsame British, was not important to address. This aspect of French intellectualism, more than any other single achievement, served to challenge British claims of ‘rehabilitating’ India.

    Despite British territorial dominance in India, the conception of India as a land of spiritual and intellectual greatness was still strongly French and it continues to endure in Europe even today. This fact alone necessitates the study of how and why the French chose to involve themselves so closely with the study of India. This book begins that fascinating journey into the politics of academic portrayals and their accuracy.

    1 For example, Lisa Lowe, Critical Terrains. French and British Orientalisms (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991) and Binita Mehta, Widows, Pariahs and Bayadères. India as Spectacle (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press and London: Associated University Presses, 2002).

    2 For example, Kate Marsh, Fictions of1947: Representations of Indian Decolonization in French-language texts (New York: Peter

    3 S. P. Sen, ‘French historical writing on European activities in India’, in Historians of India, Pakistan and Ceylon, edited by C. H. Philips (London, 1961).

    4 See Linda Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation, 17071837 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1992). Colley describes the definition of British national identity in opposition to ‘the other’ which was France. Similarly, French national identity too was shaped by Anglo-French rivalry and hence French identity came to be defined in terms of things ‘not British’.

    5 Henri Brunschwig, French Colonialism 18711914: Myths and Realities (London: Pall Mall Press, 1966). Revised edn.

    6 See Thomas Power, Jules Ferry and the Renaissance of French Imperialism (New York: Octagon Books, 1966).

    7 Although Germany and France were bitter rivals during the nineteenth century in Europe, France was the first country to actively embrace Indology as an academic discipline with established Chairs in Sanskrit and Indic studies. German Indologists were among the first foreign students of these French Indologists in the early nineteenth century and took back the ideological framework of Romantic thought in viewing India with them. Thereafter they continued to work with a strong Romantic current, which is reflected even today.

    8 Pierre Loti, for instance, described Pondichéry as ‘this tiny corner of old France, lost on the edge of the Bay of Bengal’. Pierre Loti, L'Inde (sansles Anglais) (Paris: Calman-Levy, 1903): 227.

    9 Cited in Jacques Weber, ‘Cent ans de colonies’, in L'Aventure des Français en Inde. XVII-XX siècles. Edited by Rose Vincent (Kailash Editions: 1995): 203.

    10 Joseph Minattur, Justice in Pondicherry (New Delhi: The Indian Law Institute, 1973): 1–2.

    11 The granting of citizenship and the so-called advancement of the Comptoirs under the French was also questionable. However, these issues have only recently begun coming to light in the work of scholars such as Narayani Gupta, ‘The Citizens of French India: the issue of cultural identity in Pondicherry in the XIX century’, in Les relations historiques et culturelles entre la France et l'Inde XVIIXX siècles. 2 volumes (Sainte-Clotilde, 1987), Jacques Weber, ‘Chanemougam, the King of French India’, EPW, 9 February 1991; Jacques Weber, Pondichéry les comptoirs de l'Inde après Dupleix (Paris: Denoël, 1996); L. S. Vishwanath, ‘Social Stratification in Colonial India’, in K. S. Mathew (ed.) French in India and Indian nationalism 17001963. 2 vols (Delhi, 1999), Vol. 1.


    Table A1: List of articles about india, Magazin encyclopédique ou Journal des sciences, des lettres et des arts, 1795–96. paris, imprimérie du magazin encyclopédique

    Table A2: List of Articles about India, 1803-5, Journal Des Debats et Des Decrets

    Table A3: Articles on india by topic, Journal des savants, 1817–99

    Table A4 Articles on India by Topic, Journal Asiatique, 1822–1902

    Table A5 Articles on India by Topic, Revue Des Deux Mondes, 1829–1900

    Table A6 Comparison of article content among articles on india, Journal asiatique, 1822–1902

    Table A7 Comparison of article content among articles on india in the Bulletins de la société d'anthropologie de paris, 1822–1902

    Table A8 Comparison of article content among articles on india in the Journal asiatique, revue d'ethnographie, revue d'anthropologie and Bulletins de la société d'anthropologie de paris, 1860–1900


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    About the Author

    Jyoti Mohan has taught numerous courses on South Asian, South Asian American, Asian American, and World History at the University of Maryland College Park, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and Morgan State University. Most recently, she was a Lecturer at Morgan State University for 11 years.She currently serves on the Board of Editors for , after having served several years as Reviews Editor and List Editor. She is also a List Editor for an Academci Listserv on French–India academics.Mohan has published articles in , , and , as well as in edited anthologies of academic essays like

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