Sophia Goldborne has wandered onto foreign land and just like anyone who runs into a new setting, curiosity ensures. However, what if the curiosity set by Sophia is done to not only show off her “edgy lifestyle” but also fetishize the foreign land? This fetization is dangerous because it creates standards to uphold and can be harmful rather than beneficial for those that are indigenous to said land.
In this novel when the East Indian Company, British company, took over India it was because of the attraction to the foreign land and it eventually becoming a Utopia to reside in. Additionally, these European intruders are implementing their own customs in a foreign area where such customs don’t exist. This can be seen when she states, “I have beheld so brilliant dazzled, and so captivated, and, like Gulliver in the land of Lilliput, find all the objects around me so diminutive and so mean, that i overlook and disregard them at every point”(269). In Guillver’s Travel, text being referenced, when describing the land of Lilliput, the main character, Gulliver, not only talks about this land but does it in a way to dehumanize them. Some words Gibbes uses are “diminutive” and “so mean” in order to have readers visualize what Gulliver is seeing but is that the only thing she’s doing? I see this as a way of describing Indigenous people and what is to say it’s in good taste? This can be a way Goldbourne perceives these individuals and it may not be the way they percieve themselves. Additionally, these characters may be lying to compensate for their own insecurities. This rhetoric becomes dangerous because both Golborne and Gulliver are dehumanizing the people of the land they’re in and unsurprisingly, feel it’s their “duty” to fix or modify something that isn’t meant to be fixed or modified by foreigners. Also, it’s hard to trust the characters themselves since they will say anything to make themselves look well and if that means dehumazing those around them then that’s what will occur. British insecurities become the prime topic in both Hartly House and Gulliver’s Travel because the constant assurance that Eurocentric lifestyles are ones to uphold demonstrates a culture that is lacking in qualities that can be found in Indigenous people.
In Letter IX of Hartly House, we see Sophia informing her friend, Arabella, of the sights in Calcutta. In her description of The Writer’s Buildings, she highlights how struck she was at their prosperity, using the following quote to compare England to the East:
“Seek to be good, but aim not to be great; A woman’s noblest station is retreat; Her fairest virtues fly from public sight; Domestic worth, — that shuns too strong a light.” – George Lyttleton, 1st Baron Lyttleton
Sophia’s attempt to quote Lyttleton works in two ways; on the level of character and in reference to British norms. While Lyttleton’s quote refers to the enforced gender roles of England, Sophia uses the quote to compare English “sensibility” to the East’s lack of “ostentation.” Unknown to Sophia, she ironically misuses the quote to affirm her “depth” and “intellectual endowment” when it actually exemplifies her as the stereotypical, submissive woman. Thus, British normalization of gender roles are still upheld subconsciously through Sophia, granted she is somewhat naïve due to the fact she is only 16 years of age. Her obsessive quotes portray a vacillation of her nationalistic pride and position in England society; being both amazed by Calcutta and its décor while also subconsciously reinforcing the superiority of England.
Furthermore, the irony of the passage can be attributed to the author, Phebe Gibbes, as perhaps a commentary on the gender norms of England. Having released the book anonymously, it can be inferred that her sociopolitical critique had to be subtle; Sophia is an exemplary character in which to hide such commentary. Sophia wears the mask of stupidity to hide the subtle commentary of Gibbes.
Sophia makes use of her diary entries to boast about her newfound discoveries in India, and to make her appear more complex and enlightened than her juvenile companion Arabella. Although her excessive references to English literature make her seem keen and clearly observant of the texts she has read, she dismisses the new culture she encounters around her, and instead romanticizes India for her own benefit. For instance, she claims the children of Calcutta as “virtuous,” which alludes to not only philosophical ideas, but also mirror Gulliver’s praise that succeeds as a “virtuous” species. She quotes Shakespeare’s Othello, when he remarks on his gratitude for his virtuous wife
“Tis’ not to make me jealous to say my wife is fair
loves company, sings, dances well
&c. &c.;for where virtuous is, she is the most virtuous
Sophia attempts to seem not only intellectual, but also virtuous in her naive, juvenile exterior, much like the innocuous Desdemona seems to Othello on the surface. She even regards how in the company of all these political-driven men she must maintain her virtue, because that shows more praise than her intellectualism. What appears ironic to the reader, however, is the fact that she does not apply this concept of virtue in her character; she cares too much about how the natives think of her and her physical appearance, and she only cares about the little dramas in the natives lives, much like how Desdemona becomes infatuated with Othello’s adventures abroad. She becomes impatient and annoyed to hear if one native had a “little native family” so she could play with the “virtuous” children. Not only is she fixated on the fact that she must resemble a sort of “Desdemona” in this foreign land, her allusion to Othello suggests that she perceives India as a certain Othello, and based on the connotations of the play, she feels herself superior to the natives, and only regards them as a mere spectacle in her orbiting vanity. As long as they praise her as “virtuous” much as Othello does with Desdemona, she feels charmed with their company and feels less like a foreigner, but more so that the natives are the foreigners in her scope of things. She does not perceive India as a foreign land, but instead as a place that she can extend her status as a complex, intellectual young woman, who has a seemingly vast perspective on Indian culture to Arabella. For instance, she recognizes the materialism of the native land, and because of this connection she brands what she knows from English literature as a sort of incentive to feel comfortable and at home with India. With this in mind, Sophia begins to feel comfortable with the natives and more at home, because she applies these literary concepts in order to relate to them and recognize herself and the natives as a people focused on “virtue,” even though arguably Sophia displays naivete at her own reasoning that she considers herself a person as virtuous and empathetic as the natives. English literature functions to empower herself as a young, English colonial woman, because by basing her perception of India through a literary lens she has support her self-journey, and obtains confidence instead of insecurity as the actual foreigner in a place she will consider as a secondary home. She does not allow India to limit her, but instead she dismisses the foreignness of the land in order to take pride in her culture’s accomplishment i.e. Shakespeare to feel challenge her “intellectualism” in order to relate to this unorthodox culture. -Jessica Mijares
Sophia began her letters by stating to Arabella
“… in the successive years of European visitation, the eastern world is, as you have pronounced it the grave of thousands; but it is not also a mine of exhaustless wealth!…. Moreover, I have to inform you, that all the prejudices you have so long cherished against it must be done away; and for the plain reason that they are totally groundless.” p.1
One would anticipate after so large a statement as to be asked to throw away all previous knowledge of a place the following pages would contain perhaps a serious though personal letter account of the realities of the native people politically and socially. Though, largely what we receive as readers are Sophia’s accounts of the enjoyment she is experiencing in living with a people who she describes “live, Arabella (except from the austerities, in some instances, in their religion) the most inoffensively and happily of all created beings..” p.87.
She makes reference to the Indian people after observing a wedding procession with a quote from Alexander Pope stating “They ask no angel’s wings, no seraph’s fire; But think, admitted to their native sky. Their faithful dog shall bear them company” p. 87. This quote comes from Pope’s “An Essay of Man” in which, in the particular section quoted by Sophia, suggest the means by which to achieve happiness is ignorance. The Indian people are said in Pope’s essay to have possessed that particular ignorance of an “untutor’d mind” and “simple nature” which “proud science” has not “taught to stray”. In quoting Pope Sophia is suggesting the native people in India she has met have that hopeful happiness that comes from ignorance Pope suggests exist in the native people of “The New World”.
Rather than paint their manner as negative, as ignorance usually connotes, Pope in way that seems to belittle the native people ascribes ignorance as a virtue to the Indian’s. Sophia shares in that sentiment and even wants to imitate their manner. She states “it would delight my [her] peculiar taste to converse with beings of so superior an order, and to become humble copy of their beautiful simplicity” p. 89-90.
But are the Indian people Sophia refers to really ignorant in the way first Pope and later Sophia make all other non-English people out to be? I don’t think so. It seems cruel to assume ignorance of a people’s understanding of their realities when the only attempt to understand it is made through an exclusively English perspective.
At the point of Pope’s reference in “Hartly House” we no longer think of a grave of thousands or a mine of exhaustless wealth when we think of India. What we can begin to see through Sophia’s consistent literary references, rather, is that Sophia is only capable of rendering an understanding of the Indian world through the lens of the English literary works she consistently references. It is as if Gibbe’s is suggesting through a sixteen year old girl that the Indian world is only able to be understood by the English through these works.
-Araceli Garcia Munoz
“I am not correct in my quotation.. ‘Tis not to make me jealous, to say my wife is fair, loves company, sings, dances well… most virtuous.”
This quote is from Othello by Shakespeare but is misquoted by Sophia. The quote comes from act 3 scene 3 of Othello and it’s Othello’s dialogue with Iago who, is plotting Othello’s demise. Shakespeare has this speech delivered after Othello murders Desdemona and Sophia says this after her description of the wedding of an East India Company man. It is true that Gibbes quotes English Literary works left and right throughout the novel, and I chose to focus on this quote because it comes during a critical moment of the wedding of the East India man and when Sophia meets Bramin, who she falls in love with.
This quote sets up Sophia’s discomfort with herself and her growing affection for Bramin. Sophia is also put in the position of Desdemona in the sense that she is falling for a man of another race just as Desdemona had chosen Othello regardless of him being of another race. Bramin would thus be Othello which would mean that if Bramin and Sophia were to marry Sophia might meet the same fate as Desdemona. Later on in the novel Sophia makes the comment that Indian men look older than their age while the English look young well into old age. Many would pass this off as a teenager being worried about appearances and not wanting to grow old; but I find it to be symbolic in the sense that if she marries Doyly she gets to return to Britain and live longer while if she marries Bramin there is potential consequences such as an early death.
I believe Sophia overly quotes English literary works because she thinks it helps get her meaning across. She is writing to her friend in Britain and is trying to convey her point in a way that her friend will understand. She uses the references in the same way kids and adults use pop cultural references to explain themselves better. I also noticed that Sophia seems to try to make everything simpler to understand for her friend Arabella so it could also be that these references could be used as compare and contrasts to give Arabella a better image of what Sophia is going through and experiencing. The references are there to bridge the gap between both cultures.
I think the selective quotations help us see that those works of literature were the most popular works of that time. They were so well known that she would be able to casually mention it in a letter to her friend and her friend would understand it. It also goes to show that they were in the Enlightenment period because Gibbes is able to use Othello as a reference for one of the first written interracial marriage.
Sophia knows that not many girls have the opportunity to do the same as she has so she makes sure of it to boast to Arabella. Sophia pretends to be a humble person when describing her experiences, despite clearly wanting to show off. An example of her boasting is: “and now let me ask you your opinion of my attachment to you, when I can thus fore go the highest earthly pleasures, ﬂattery and luxurious accommodation, for your amusement” (14). Sophia is making it seem like she is doing the readers a favor in telling her story as if her experiences were superior to anyone else’s, like Arabella. In saying “accommodation” she makes it seem like she is doing this simply for the readers and not for herself, as if it is a sacrifice she is taking for us. Sophia also acknowledges that we may “suspect [her] of self-gratiﬁcation in [her] descriptions” (14). She is aware that she may sound like she is boasting, yet she still proceeds in telling her story exactly the same way.
She often references other authors, like Dryden because she is trying to seem like she is so educated compared to Arabella. In quoting authors, she also establishes a dominance within the Indians because she is an educated English woman, which is extremely rare. Doing this gives her more confidence because it is like she is giving evidence to prove she is so much better than everyone else, especially Arabella.
“You will naturally suppose, that statuary is a species of garden ornament the Governor and Company are not unmindful of: but to give you a lift of the characters introduced, is a talk I shall not undertake. I had, Indeed, a scheme for immortalizing you and Doyly, could I have only brought you together on this spot ; for, superadded to a Milton, who your figure should have represented the Allegro, his the Penferfo, of that sublime poet.” (Gibbes P.232) Sophia Goldborne obsessively quotes English literary works to provide relatable images she sees in India for the readers and Arabella. When Sophia starts off with you will naturally suppose, she is amusing the literary work of Milton has been read by Arabella. The quotations suggest about English literature was fondly read in English culture. Thus Sophia attempts to relate her experience in India with one of the Englishman’s work. Sophia then explains how the Governor and East India Company do not practice the art of making statues, however it is a way Sophia attempts to immortalize the character’s she describes to Arabella and Doyly. This practice is one that the Roman’s took part in as their pagan culture. Milton’s Areopagitica was loaded with many Greek and Roman references. “We have it not, that can be heard of, from any ancient State, or politie, or Church, nor by any Statute left us by our Ancestors elder or later; nor from the moderne custom of any reformed Citty, or Church abroad; but from the most Antichristian Councel and the most tyrannous Inquisition that ever inquir’d.” (Milton P.1) Milton’s statement is about book licensing and how it was not a practice of any of the ancient societies such as the roman statues. The mention of modern custom of any reformed city immediately relates to Sophia’s colonial takeover of cities in India. This leaves open the interpretation that Sophia was influenced by the tempo of Milton which she used to relate the current British oppression to Milton era. However, how oppressive could have the British colonials if they do not practice statuary, book licenses, and censorship of press in India.
Sophia is definitely a young teenager, who clearly doesn’t care to give attention towards the political aspects that are happening on the “sidelines” of her stay in India. We get a sense of “me, me, me”, dare I say monumental ego? In Letter IX, there is still a pretty formal introduction as to what is happening, but it is one of the first times she gets a little more into the politics surrounding her. It shows a great deal of hierarchy, the servants don’t speak in broken English, and she likes that she doesn’t have to fuss with a servant who is English illiterate. As Sophia begins to discuss “The Writer’s Building”, and interacts with George Lyttelton’s poem Advice to a Lady and writes “Her fairest virtues fly from public sight, Domestic worth, that shuns too strong a light.”(58), I seen it as she understands something political is going on but rather like the lines say, her role in society is to just be a wife. It isn’t okay for a woman to enter into the political spectrum, her duty is to look pretty. Which is why we can see Sophia illustrating herself as a beautiful young woman. Men are meant to be in power, and women are only meant to be in the shadow of men.
George Lyttleton was a member of Parliament from 1735 t0 1756. In this poem he acknowledges the struggles women have to go through, he acknowledges men are not the best creatures, but in such “women still need to be servants to their husbands”.
Sophia Goldborne finally had a chance at an exciting life when she was able to travel to Calcutta. Girls didn’t have many opportunities in the 18th century to have anything but an ordinary life even though they were given minimal education advances. It is quite evident that in her letters she has a condescending tone towards her supposed friend Arabella and is snarky when relaying her experience. Throughout all her letters there is a myriad of literature allusions and they get a bit tiresome, as she will through them in frequently. But if we look at the formal education young women were allowed to receive in the 18th century, English literature was high on the list as opposed to other subjects like politics. In many of her letters she doesn’t utter anything political or if she does it is just a surface remark, although she is in the midst of political tension in Calcutta at the time, which is odd. Perhaps that is why she fills her letters with literature references because that is all she knows. It can account for a plethora of things, like how many 16-year-old girls probably just aren’t interested in political agendas.
Did these English literary references even add anything to the letters? In discussion class on March 8th we close read an excerpt from Letter II in which Sophia belittles herself to Arabella’s level in order to describe the house. She remarks, “I will begin with the circumstances of my first arrival, and so contrive to temper, though I cannot, like Mr. Apollo, lay aside my rays, that your optics shall be enabled to contemplate, however brilliant, the dazzling objects I gradually open on your view” (7). She mentions Apollo, and formally adds a Mr. in front of his name as if she is on a first name basis with him, just to compare herself that she isn’t as humble as Apollo, even though most Greek gods were chaotic and solved problems emotionally rather than logically. We can’t assume the kind of education Arabella has received but if she is Sophia’s friend we can hope they have the same education, which means Sophia knows Arabella understands her references but must find other ways in order to show that she is superior to Arabella for specific reasons. It shows that although Sophia may be well educated in literature but she might just have nothing else going for her and no other education for her to flounce about. This is why Sophia uses so many references; perhaps she has a limited repertoire of skills to show how high class she is.
— Alison Vining
Sophia Goldborne references English literary works because England is a symbol of power and high status, and in a way Goldborne feels the same about herself. When she references English literary works she doesn’t just do this to showcase the status of England, but more so of herself. Although, India is a British colony, by referring back to works by Dryden, Milton, Pope and other English authors. Sophia Goldborne is able to separate the two different societies, and she is also able to distinguish herself from her friend Arabella.
“For me the mine a thousand treasures brings;
For me health gushes from a thousand springs;
Seas roll to Wait me, suns to light me rise;
My footstool earth, my canopy the skies” (Gibbes 48).
This quote from Alexander Pope is significant because it lays out how Goldborne sees herself. Goldborne sees herself as the English in India, and how India belongs to them and it’s theirs for the taking. Goldborne is England (power and wealth) and India is everybody else. Goldborne is very egocentric, and this quotes really proves that. Notice how the quote contains ‘me’ which in this case would be Goldborne. Goldborne will have thousands of riches, the seas and sun will bow down to her, and the Earth and skies belong to her, and the world centers around her. “Suns to light me rise” can also refer to the idea that England and English literature has to be superior to all other cultures and nations because that their destiny. To be superior is Goldborne’s destiny.
Goldborne may have chosen English literature because English literature has the ability to give one’s self a sense of superiority, and in a way that showcases how Goldborne wants to be looked as. As someone who is superior and has a high status.