“Furnace-smoke … wrapt him round”: Industrial Hinduism and Global Empire in The Curse of Kehama and Sir Thomas More
My essay claims that Robert Southey uses Hinduism to fashion a poetics of Romantic-era technology in The Curse of Kehama (1810). In his neglected Sir Thomas More; or, Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society (1829), Southey compares the manufacturing system to Indian theology and ritual, a metaphor that relativizes religion and technology while implying that the Industrial Revolution amounts to a new breed of religious network. Southey next likens the emergent world order made possible by such technologies to the cosmic ambitions of Kehama, his own Indian tyrant-cum-demigod. The Colloquies thus suggests an allegorical reading of The Curse of Kehama, whereby this tale of a king bent on cosmic rule simultaneously explores how technological and imperial networks intertwine. Accordingly, I draw from metaphor theory to read the earlier Kehama as a repository of veiled comparisons and displacements through which Southey glimpses the magnitude of the Industrial Revolution. Just as Indian wealth propels the techno-imperial enterprise described in the Colloquies, Kehama’s paganism supplies the raw discursive material through which Southey fashions a poetics of manufacturing. Read alongside the Colloquies, Kehama aestheticizes the connection between imperial and technological systems, expresses the imaginative significance of twinned manufacturing novelties – the steam engine and coke smelting – and concretizes the opaque moral and poetic properties attaching to industrial power by depicting it in reference to the minutiae of Hindu religion so far as Southey understood it.