Story from the Raj
Neena Bhandari

An Australian academic, self-confessed Indophile, Ralph Crane, is resurrecting the writings of a forgotten Anglo-Indian novelist Maud Diver. Diver (1867-1945), author of more than two dozen books, was a regular on the bestseller booklist in Britain during her lifetime. But like many women novelists of the Raj, her star faded while those of her male contemporariesónotably Rudyard Kiplingónever waned. Diver mostly wrote romantic adventure fiction set in the North West Frontier but also gave British readers an insight into inter-racial marriages, challenging the stereotypes and attitudes towards Indian women that were prevalent in the late 19th century.

While sifting through his daily deluge of e-mails in late April this year, Crane came across an eye-catching one from Michael Pulman, a retired professor of history at the University of Denver in the US who at age 74 realised he would never write the book on Diver that he had planned some 30 years ago and now wanted to hand over the incredible resource on the novelist.

Craneís substantial body of work on Anglo-Indian fiction, including a scholarly edition of Diverís Lilamani: A Study in Possibilities, led Pulman to approach him. Crane is Head of School of English, Journalism and European Languages at the University of Tasmania. "When I realised that Professor Pulman was in possession of all her papersó and she kept everything to do with her writingknew I had to seize this once in a lifetime opportunity and go and collect it," says Crane, adding "A lot of the material had come from Diverís daughter-in-law Joyce." Apart from a complete collection of Diverís published books, there were two huge boxes of papers, which included a number of letters from Queen Mary; a remarkable collection of book reviews clipped from papers around the world; and personal items such as Diverís marriage certificate and a 12-page horoscope. "I was transfixed. The archive includes a series of fascinating letters from Sarojini Naidu who gave Diver feedback on early drafts of Lilamani.

Naidu was particularly impressed by Diverís portrayal of Indian characters. Incidentally, Diver named her heroine after Naiduís daughter who was seven years old at the time," says Crane, who is planning to use the material to write a monograph on Diver. Among the papers is a document showing that a review copy of Diverís book, The Dream Prevails, was sent to a total of nine Australian papers. Reviews were published in the Australasian (Melbourne) in August 1938 and in the Adelaide Observer September 1, 1938. "I am particularly interested in writing more about Maud Diverís treatment of mixed marriage, the subject of Lilamani and a further three novels, Far to Seek, The Singer Passes, and The Dream Prevails which make up a quartet on the subject of inter-racial marriage," says Crane, who also hopes to publish an omnibus edition of the Captain Desmond quartet, making use of Diverís revisions, painstakingly recorded in the margins of her own copies of the books. Crane is currently editing a series of Anglo-Indian novels for Oxford University Press as part of what he calls the ĎRaj Recovery Projectí. He has also published an essay on Hugh Atkinsonís The Pink and the Brown (1957), which explores a mixed-race relationship against the backdrop of the nationalist agitation to liberate Goa from Portuguese rule in 1955 and the efforts of the European community to locate itself in the newly independent India. Other lost Australian works set in India that he hopes to write about in the future include David Martinís The Stones of Bombay (1950). ó IANS






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