This essay considers the theme of the contract as a metonym for failed government in Charles Dickens’s and Wilkie Collins’s collaborative Christmas story The Perils of Certain English Prisoners (1857), written to commemorate the Indian “Mutiny.” Building on critical studies by Myron Magnet, Grace Moore, and Lillian Nayder, and reviewing relevant contract theories of government in political philosophy, my analysis traces the proliferating tropes of the contract in this unusual narrative and suggests that as well as presenting a topical satire on circumlocutory colonial bureaucracy, these figures also encode Dickens’s suspicions about the sustainability of liberal forms of colonial rule. While noting further contexts for the contract-theme in The Perils of Certain English Prisoners, my paper goes on to suggest that, in replacing social-contractual and “constitutional” identities with bonds of chivalric loyalty, the text inadvertently anticipates important changes in the idiom of colonial rule in India in the post-“Mutiny” period.
The Perils of Certain English Prisoners: Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and the Limits of Colonial Government
Alex Tickell teaches in the Department of English at The Open University. He is the author of Terrorism, Insurgency and Indian-English Literature, 1830-1947 (2012) and editor of Selections from “Bengaliana” by Shoshee Chunder Dutt (2005). In 2009 he published essays on Rudyard Kipling in Literature and History and the Journal of Postcolonial Writing. He is currently involved in the first stages of a research-network project on colonial literary cultures.
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Alex Tickell; The Perils of Certain English Prisoners: Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and the Limits of Colonial Government. Nineteenth-Century Literature 1 March 2013; 67 (4): 457–489. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ncl.2013.67.4.457
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