UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The company man: colonial agents and the idea of the virtuous empire, 1786-1901 Kent, Eddy


The Company Man argues that corporate ways of organising communities permeated British imperial culture. My point of departure is the obsession shared between Anglo-Indian writers and imperial policymakers with the threat of unmanageable agency, the employee who will not follow orders. By taking up Giambattista Vico's claim that human subjects and human institutions condition each other reciprocally, I argue that Anglo-Indian literature is properly understood as one of a series of disciplinary apparatuses which were developed in response to that persistent logistical problem: how best to convince plenipotentiary agents to work in the interest of a mercantile employer, the East India Company. The Company Man reconsiders the way we think and write about Victorian imperial culture by taking this institutional approach. For one thing, the dominant position of the Company highlights the limitation of our continuing dependence on the nation as a critical hermeneutic. Additionally, I show how the prevalence of ideas like duty, service, and sacrifice in colonial literature is more than simply the natural output of a nation looking to sacralise everyday practice in the wake of their famous "Victorian loss of faith." Rather, I place these ideas among a structure of feeling, which I call aristocratic virtue, that was developed by imperial policymakers looking to militate against the threat of rogue agents. The subject material under consideration includes novels, short stories, poems, essays, memoirs, personal correspondence, and parliamentary speeches. These texts span a century but are clustered around four nodal points, which illustrate moments of innovation in the technologies of regulation and control. My opening chapter examines how the idea of an overseas empire first acquired virtue in the minds of the British public. The second explores how the Company grafted this virtue onto its corporate structure in its training colleges and competition exams. The third shows how Anglo-Indian literature continued to disseminate the rhetoric of self-sacrifice and noble suffering long after the Company ceded control to the Crown. The final chapter shows how this corporate culture reflects in that most canonical of imperial novels, Rudyard Kipling's Kim (1901).

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