English Literature

Conceiving Strangeness in British First World War Writing by Claire Buck (auth.)

By Claire Buck (auth.)

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Grimshaw’s strong feeling of elation, with which his meditation opens, becomes corollary to the very repulsion from which he seeks to distance himself. The handshake, index of English civility and occasion for physical contact, plays an important role in the diary’s attempt to untangle the effects of colonial power on personal relationship and reciprocity. Not surprisingly, Grimshaw includes it, as well, in “The Experiences of Ram Singh” as evidence of the possibility of a special bond between English officer and Indian subaltern.

Credit: @Illustrated London News Ltd/Mary Evans 20 The First World War and the Unhoming of Europe 21 In Grimshaw’s text the putrid and all-encompassing mud of the front line both promises and threatens to dissolve the lines of racial difference. By contrast, Anand turns mud from a sign of Europe’s wartime regression to an index of the pragmatic sensibility of peasant life in rural India. We will begin with Grimshaw’s construction of a hybrid genre of eyewitness combat writing and colonial narrative of encounter and contact.

By contrast, “the mangled boy [Beji] was quite conscious” and is able to hold Sahib Smith in a vice-like grip, uttering the dying words “Sahib, Sahib,” before “subsid[ing] lifeless” (150). Together, Ram Singh and the sahib “gently” lift the “battered remnants” into a niche at the side of the trench, turning Grimshaw’s singular gesture, in which the primary contact was with the dead and mutilated corpse of the young soldier, into a moment of delicate sympathy between dafadar and sahib. The effort at shared experience falls far short, undercut by the melodrama of a mawkish deathbed tableau centered on the English officer.

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