In the last post I wrote about fictitious conversion accounts and their potential vis-à-vis factual report. But as I mentioned there, many of these fictional accounts were based on ‘real’ lives. At our Delhi workshop I presented autobiographical accounts of the Mangalore-born Brahmin Anandrao who joined Christianity and, under his Christian name Herrman Anandrao Kaundinya, became the first ordained pastor in the ranks of the Protestant Basel Mission in India. His conversion in 1844 stirred up a controversy between his family, the missionaries and the British administration. While preparing this paper, I came across a novel that seems to be based on this story.
Fanny Emily Penny’s novel The Outcaste was first published in London in 1912. Not much about the author is known; she seems to have lived in Madras, moving in British colonial circles. Penny draws on the mentioned case that had involved legal action of the convert’s family against the British. Apart from the name Ananda, there is no direct link between Penny’s novel and the events in Mangalore. Yet, the narrative accentuates with literary means the dilemma that surfaced in the colonial administration’s proceedings: the tension between a proactive, civilising impetus and a strictly neutral attitude of non-interference with ‘native’ matters. In the novel, the characters of a British zealous missionary, Alderbury, and an equally British, but contained schoolmaster, Dr Wenaston, represent these two positions. Both figures react very differently to the deplorable situation the convert Ananda finds himself in after announcing to his family that he had converted to Christianity during his stay in England.
This tension is played out through the female character Eola, the sister of the schoolmaster: her reason sides with the neutral stance of her brother, her heart is drawn to the energetic missionary:
Eola was of her brother’s way of thinking. She too looked at Alderbury’s work with something like detached curiosity. His energy, his whole-hearted desire to see India Christianised, his indefatigable and unceasing sacrifice of self, appealed to the instinctive hero-worship that is implanted in every woman’s breast; but though she could wonder and admire and was insensibly drawn by his personality, she could not understand the fascination that held him to his chosen profession (p. 146).
Curiously, it is Eola’s nature as a woman, that makes her lean more and more towards the zealous missionary:
Eola felt the blood coursing through her veins with an emotion that was startling. […] She felt the infection of his hope and belief; but because she was a woman, there was something behind it that detached her mind from the cause for which he battled, and centred her thoughts upon the man himself. […] He was a born leader of men with a strong personal influence that was not to be denied; and the messenger occupied her mind more than the message he carried” (p. 174).
Finally, Eola literally ‘converts’ to the attitude of the missionary, consenting to become his wife:
“Eola, will you come and make my house a home for me? I want you; I can’t live without you,” he concluded with a strong man’s passion. She looked up at him suddenly serious. “Think how far I fall short of the ideal! I – Oh, really you are the most masterful man I ever met. Mr. Alderbury – !” And then her head dropped and she surrendered. “Are you converted to my way of thinking,” he said at last. “Or, shall I continue my arguments?” “I am quite converted; quite!” she replied, and her eyes shone (p. 377).
The novel is full of orientalist clichés and is certainly not highly literary in quality. But the message in favour of the civilizing mission, represented by the missionary Alderbury, comes across clearly – although ironically twisted by the hint of the flawed nature of women!