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Britannic literature refers to the body of written literary work produced by the "Britannic people" -generally defined as the population of the
Britannic realms and of loyalists in Britain- after the Fall of Britain in 1813. Although growing out of the pre-Fall tradition of British literature, Britannic literature has been strongly influenced by the "Britannic experience", exploring themes of loss of home, defeat, migration, alterity, and identity. It is distinct from but a part of English literature, which refers to all English-language literature regardless of nationality. Britannic literature is also not necessarily confined to works written in English, as some works in Indian and Sumatran languages are considered "Britannic" in their themes and composition.
Notable writers of the Britannic literary canon include Jane Austen, Branwell Brontë, Davey Knopwood, George Collins, W. G. Grace, Rupert Visvesvaraya, Beb Williams, Ali Haidar, Ron Kay, and more recently, Mary Donaldson and Armaan Dean Mahomed.
The earliest work generally acknowleged as being a part of the Britannic canon is Jane Austen's 1813 Pride and Prejudice, published two months before the Invasion of Britain. Whilst it thus technically falls outside the definition of Britannic literature, the novel's position as the first part of the Hertfordshire Chronicles has led to its inclusion. Conversely, whilst William Blake's 1807 poem And did those feet in ancient time has been adopted by Britannics as a national poem -it provides the lyrics to the anthem of both Sain Helena and the Britannic Commonwealth- scholars agree that its obscurity before the 1880s indicates that Britannic interpretations significantly post-date its composition; thus placing it outside the Britannic oeuvre.
The first major Britannic work to be published after the Fall of Britain was Austen's 1815 War and Peace. The novel is regarded as the first sequel in a modern sense, and it gave rise to the novel series as a literary genre. Inspired partially by Austen's own experiences during the British Campaign, War and Peace follows the characters of Pride and Prejudice through the horrors of the campaign and subsequent loss. Its sometimes graphic depictions of the horrors of war and its psychological effects on those involved were scandalous at the time, but this did not stop it from gaining a high readership both in Britain and in the free Britannic territories. It was followed in 1819 by the posthumously published and unfinished Emma, which centred around the after-effects of the war and the decision to emigrate; both strongly Britannic themes. The Hertfordshire Chronicles are widely accepted as forming the basis for Britannic literature. Not only does it chronicle the foundation story of the modern Britannics, but it also explores the themes of loss, alterity and emigration which are so quintessentially Britannic. The trilogy's far-reaching impact is often described by a quote attributed to Ali Haidar; "All Britannic novels come off the library shelves in Longbourne."
The development of Britannic literature in the 19th Century was carried out mainly by immigrants to India and Van Diemen's Land, their experiences as immigrants greatly influencing their works. The huge circulation of the Hertfordshire Trilogy had firmly established the novel as the leading literary vehicle by 1820, ensuring that the published works of the "The Immigrants" were predominantly novels. Whilst this period saw the first serialisation of fiction in monthly magazines, the standard practice for publication remained the two or three-volume edition.
The Vandiemonian writers George Collins (1794-1861) and Davey Knopwood (d. 1857) both began publishing works in the 1830s. Collins was the son of David Collins, the first Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen's Land. Having served in the Royal Navy for five years, Collins returned to his native land in 1812 to adjust his deceased father's affairs. After deciding to emigrate permanently, he established a farmstead deep in the Vandiemonian interior. The fascination, awe and terror he felt for his natural surroundings and the native inhabitants are reflected in his writings. Darkly gothic, Collins' first, semi-autobiographical novel, In the Land of the Tiger uses powerful imagery to present the Vandiemonian wilderness and the unknowable customs of its natives in a terrifying light. This fearful representation of the "other" is also explored in Forest of the Night and many poems. Not limiting himself to one subject matter, Collins also wrote novels and short stories set in Hobart which deal more with characters' inner turmoils on leaving their homeland, and their painstaking efforts to re-create that home in an alien place. By far Collins' best-known work however, is his 1832 poem A New Britannia, which provides the lyrics for the Vandiemonian national anthem.
Davey Knopwood was a Vandiemonian Aborigine adopted as a ten-year-old orphan by the Rev. Robert Knopwood, a prominent clergyman and landowner. Having spent his childhood living a traditional Aboriginal life and his adult years in Britannic society, Knopwood's experience was the inverse of the typical Britannic immigration story. As an adult, Knopwood began writing about his inner crisis of identy. His poetry and stories are imbued with an Aboriginal spirituality whilst also dealing intimately with British society. During his lifetime, only his beautifully descriptive landscape poems were published in journals. He self-published his only novel, Babel -a story of a shipwrecked English boy raised by Aborigines- at a great financial loss. In the mid-twientieth Century, Knopwood's works were rediscovered and have since enjoyed great success. Babel is required reading in many Vandiemonian schools becaue of its delicate and multi-faceted exploration of Aboriginal themes. Whilst not typically Britannic by any means, Knopwood's works deal with the themes of identity and loss in a very similar way to mainstream Britannic writers, despite his completely different starting point.
Branwell Brontë (1817-1866) emerged onto the Britannic literary scene in the early 1840s after emigrating to India in the mid-1820s with his pastor father and three sisters. His novels were written in an innovative style combining naturalism and first-person narrative with gothic imagery. His most famous novels, Lucy Snowe (1841) and By the Rivers of Babylon (1853) both feature newly-arrived immigrants as the protagonists. Brontë's novels explore the -at times severe- culture shock experienced by Britannic immigrants to India, the struggle between two old competing cultures, and the difficulties faced by the embryonic Indo-Britannic society. These themes resonated with the contemporary Anglo-Indian community, and Brontë's novels were wildly popular. Brontë's works are also notable for being the first Britannic novels to feature multi-faceted Indian characters with more emotional depth than the stereotyped and servile Indian characters of earlier works. This, combined with the publication of numerous translations, led to Brontë becoming the first Britannic writer to gain a high readership amongst native Indians.
Late 19th Century
As the number of migrants from Britain stabilised in the 1860s and 70s, Britannic literature began focusing more on themes of new national identities. This was especially pronounced in India, where writers attempted to forge an inclusive "Indian" identity in a multiethnic and multifaith empire. Writers of this period also helped define what the Britannic identity represented over half a century after the Fall. The period was also one of great social and technological change in the Britannic realms, with industrialisation in full swing, changing old ways of life irrevocably.
Born in Calcutta to immigrant English parents, W.G. Grace (1848-1915) was in many typical of this new breed of Britannic writers. After spending some years as an army officer on the frontier, Grace began writing short adventure stories, the first being published around 1870. Prolific in his output, Grace wrote scores of adventure stories which appeared in the so-called "Anna-dreadfuls" read by young boys of all classes and ethnicities. The stories invariably featured a multi-ethnic and multi-faith cast of Indian soldierss battling and foiling the plots of (invariably racist) Russians, Sino-Japanese, or other generic enemies of the Empire. The Home Office, eager to instil a sense of loyalty and pride in Empire in a very heterogenous nation, paid Grace well for these stories. Whilst his propagandistic "boy's-own-adventure" stories are of limited literary value, Grace's novels for adults are of undeniable quality. Often sharing similar settings and characters with his stories, they explore in depth the beliefs, values, and motivations of his generation, and give a sometimes dark insight into the human psyche. Whilst generally positive with regards to the Indian Empire and its values, his novels also expose the injustices still imposed by limited franchise, caste system, and unsympathetic administrators. Important novels include Mount of Darkness, The Pariah, and Outpost of Progress.
Rupert Visvesvaraya (1850-1921) was another important writer of the period. Unlike Grace who -although sympathetic in his treatment of Indian characters- wrote from a white, urban perspective, Visvesvaraya's novels focused almost exclusively on rural full-blooded Indian aharactersnd the massive changes taking place in their society. Most of Visvesvaraya's works are set in the fictional agrarian Agency State of Bhandtapur, and explore tragic characters struggling against their passions and the rapid pace of societal change. His most famous novels include Under the Mango Tree, The Sultan of Bhandtapur, and Teji of the Deshpandes.
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