Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


Dr Roanne Kantor (Orwell Visiting Fellow)

Dr Roanne Kantor was an Orwell Visiting Fellow in 2022-23.

Roanne L. Kantor, PhD is Assistant Professor of English at Stanford University. Her book, South Asian Writers, Latin American Literature, and the Rise of Global English was published in 2022 in the Studies in World Literature Series at Cambridge University Press. It was awarded the ACLA Helen Tartar First Book Subvention Prize in 2021 and short-listed for the Edward Cameron Dimock, Jr. Prize in the Indian Humanities. Her translations have been honoured by the Susan Sontag prize for Translation and performed at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego.

IAS Project
The project I hope to undertake examines how the threat of defamatory libel shaped early twentieth century fictions critical of the British empire. In Hindi, defamation is discussed through the Persianate term “badnami,” (“bad name”).  In order to avoid being accused of producing such badnami, I suggest, a range of modernist authors reverted to a classic strategy of Indian legal evasion: “benami” (“namelessness”), the practice of making a transaction under the name of a proxy to protect the anonymity of the buyer. I use the concept of benami to explain why Katha became Kyauktada in George Orwell’s Burmese Days, Patna turned into Chandrapur in E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India, while Hambantota transmuted into Beddegama in Leonard Woolf’s The Village in the Jungle. As publishers, literary champions and co-workers at the BBC, these men also helped shape the writing of later Indian authors, who also tended to write about lightly disguised “benami” places - Kanthapura, Bulashah, Malgudi, etc. Though places cannot themselves be libelled, to set a story in a real place is to suggest that the characters are also based on real people - and thus might be perceived, within the liberal ambit of British libel law, to defame them. Orwell, for example, was told explicitly to make changes of this type to the setting of Burmese Days to avoid libel jeopardy. Forster became an advocate for libel reform after being sued in the 1930s, at the same time he was working with Mulk Raj Anand, Ahmed Ali, etc. These gestures, long associated with a modernist penchant for ambiguity and indeterminacy (Forster’s infamous “muddle” and the undecidability of what happened in the Malabar Caves), or with the deracinated nature of English in a colonial context, might actually have a shared, concrete origin point in the law.