Reconsidering Paul Scott's The Raj Quartet: History, Genre, and Criticism

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Onstott, Wilson Wright
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Middle Tennessee State University
This study examines conceptions of history, race, and colonial culture in Paul Scott's <italic>The Raj Quartet</italic> (1966-75), and via comparative textual analysis, advances a critical reconsideration of Scott's unique contribution to the coevolution of British and postcolonial literature in the second half of the twentieth century. Following recent critical arguments that have criticized the blatant anti-colonial agenda currently discernible in various branches of postcolonial studies, this work challenges the commonly held critical notion that the <italic>Quartet</italic> exhibits nostalgia for empire and contests Scott's proscriptive designation as either a neo-colonialist or an imperial apologist.
Since its publication, critics have drawn parallels between the <italic>Quartet</italic> and the work of earlier writers of Anglo-Indian fiction, such as Rudyard Kipling and E. M. Forster. Unfavorable comparisons between the <italic>Quartet</italic> and earlier imperialist narratives intensified in the mid 1980s, after an adapted mini-series of the text aired on British television between 1984 and 1985. Notable postcolonial writer and critic Salman Rushdie published a scathing critique of both the film and the text, in which he characterizes the story as derivative and Scott's vision of imperial history as myopic and crypto-racist. To a substantial degree, Rushdie's influential essay has crystallized the current critical opinion of Scott's work within postcolonial and British literary studies.
This study dually addresses limited critical judgments of Scott and expands the scope of existing critical approaches to the text. Chapter I examines how the <italic>Quartet</italic> problematizes many of the traditional thematic motifs of earlier colonial fictions and demonstrates how the text destabilizes the imperial mythos that informed the writings of Kipling and Forster. Chapter II analyzes Scott's novel in light of recent studies that utilize Mikhail Bakhtin's concept of the literary chronotope and delineates how Scott's approach to the historical novel differentiates the <italic>Quartet</italic> from other mid-century sequence novels that also deal with the British Empire's demise within the colonial sphere. Chapter III focuses on the transitional aspects of Scott's writing in terms of the corresponding development of postcolonial sensibility and early postmodern stylistics displayed in the <italic>Quartet</italic>; this chapter also examines how the text's revisionist attitude toward traditional methods of historiography anticipates the concerns of later twentieth-century British writers. Chapter IV provides an expanded postcolonial consideration of the <italic>Quartet</italic>, which involves a critical comparison between the text and the film, a response to Rushdie's critique, and a comparison between the <italic>Quartet</italic> and Rushdie's novel, <italic>Midnight's Children</italic> (1981), which explores their similar approaches to historical representation.
British Literature, India, Paul Scott, Postcolonialism, Raj Quartet, Twentieth Century