Empire and Romance: John Masters's Nightrunners of Bengal

Publication year
Interactions: Ege Journal of British and American Studies

This essay [...] seeks to determine the importance and some crucial functions of romance in imperial fiction by analyzing John Masters' debut work Nightrunners of Bengal (1951) as a competent and representative example for that type. Moreover, since Masters' work was originally published in 1951, four years after India was granted its independence in 1947, it also seeks to construe the author's nearly 100-year-later, post-imperial concern with the Uprising. (2)


Nightrunners is set at the eve of the Uprising in 1857 and its protagonist is Captain Rodney Savage, an English officer in the Bengal Native Infantry working for the East Indian Company. Rodney is a professional soldier who has respect for the sepoys he commands and the Indians in general. He believes in English superiority, but nevertheless criticizes the ignorant attitudes of the Company and some of his own countrymen toward the Indians. Experiencing problems in his marriage, he comes closer and even has a sexual relation with Sumitra, an Indian Rani who offers him a post in her army. The Rani later appears to be in a plot against the English, which begins with the rebellion of the sepoys. Rodney's wife is killed during the Uprising, from which he and his infant son, though wounded, manage to escape with the help of some Indians. While fleeing from the rebels and the Rani, they are cared for by Caroline Langford, with whom he later falls in love. Together they undergo many dangerous adventures before they are able to reach and inform a distant British army about the Uprising just in time. The British forces are able to suppress the revolt, the Rani dies, and Rodney and Caroline are united at the end of the work. (5)


Nightrunners as a much later example of imperial romance is a composite of many romance types and other genres. Masters deliberately uses all the properties of these literatures so as to project his political view and, at the same time, to arrive at a personal psychological resolution. (12)