Phebe Gibbs in, Hartley House, Calcutta, introduces the world to a privileged European sixteen year old Sofia, and her narrow perspective of life, through the letters she writes to her friend Anabella. Throughout the description of India, and all its surroundings, is an over exaggerated sense of nostalgia. The nostalgia, being she in the center of it all; and the center being her. In each letter, she writes of the people she meets, and proceeds to analyze them, as well as rate them at different levels of importance. Her grading system is all dependent of her own knowledge and level of education. Thus, whenever she responds to the acquaintance of someone new, she refers quite often to English literary works and authors to solidify her judgment of them.
Upon one of her location stays, she refers to a woman named Mrs. Rider who is giving her a tour of the Mrs. Hartley’s room and closet, and mentions:
“The drapery is well executed, the attitude happily chosen, the likeness masterly, the commentary of the Genius of Shakespeare, which lies on a table in the background…
I feel myself proud when my mind tells me this lady is my countrywoman”(Gibbs, 148).
Two things can be seen here: one, she places herself on a level of all-knowing and implies that what she is well versed on- such as that of authors like Shakespeare- entitle her to a sense of authority; and two, she places Mrs. Hartley in a higher echelon, only for having shown an affection for Shakespeare work, and in that attaches herself to Mrs. Hartley’s elite “worth.”
Sophia, while truly convinced that she is exploring a new world, only continues to revisit the same conventions she is used to and glorifies -her own self, and that of anything glitzy and glamorous. It indeed alludes to the notion that even on a level of academia, her lack of really appreciating other scholars and not holding them up to that same regard as she does to European authors, shows how much European authors were viewed as exclusively supreme; or, rather, the bar to reach.
-Maricela (Marcy) Martinez