“A Very Entertaining Book”: The Ventriloquism of Rudyard Kipling’s The Eyes of Asia

Zoheb Mashiur




This article is a critical comparison between the text of letters written by Indian soldiers on the Western Front of World War I, and the text of Rudyard Kipling’s The Eyes of Asia. The deployment of Indian soldiers by the British Empire to the Western Front produced controversy, anxiety, and excitement among European observers. Indian soldiers were depicted in a range of representations that reflected a discursive tension between loyal, heroic warriors, and racialized primitives. A number of British authors wrote stories from the perspectives of Indian soldiers built to assuage Western anxieties over the presence of non-white colonial soldiers in Europe. The concept of ventriloquism is used to read these works as reproductions of the imperialist “discourse of the master” through the purported voice of the Indian soldier. The Eyes of Asia, a quartet of short stories by Rudyard Kipling, is the chosen case study for this critical analysis. The Eyes of Asia was a commissioned work of British military propaganda using an archive of letters written by Indian soldiers, gathered by British censors, and provided to Kipling. By comparing Kipling’s stories written from the perspectives of fictional Indian soldiers against the letters by real Indians, the article reveals how Kipling manipulated the voices of Indian soldiers to produce a caricature of their testimony that conformed to British expectations of the men of the Indian army.


Rudyard Kipling; The Eyes of Asia; India, World War I; colonial soldiers; subaltern speech; ventriloquism; Andrew Hill; Senko Maynard




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