Empires of Love

Drawing on a wide range of Dutch, English, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish sources, Empires of Love shows how the encounter with Asia shaped the way early modern Europeans came to define their racial and sexual identities.

Empires of Love
Europe, Asia, and the Making of Early Modern Identity

Carmen Nocentelli

2013 | 272 pages | Cloth $55.00
Literature
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Note on Quotations and Translations

Introduction
Chapter 1. Perverse Implantations
Chapter 2. The Erotic Politics of Os Lusíadas
Chapter 3. Discipline and Love: Linschoten and the Estado da Índia
Chapter 4. Polygamy and the Arts of Reduction
Chapter 5. The Ideology of Interracial Romance
Chapter 6. English Whiteness and the End of Romance

Notes
Bibliography
Index


Excerpt [uncorrected, not for citation]

Introduction

Around the year 1625, the birth of a child revealed a secret liaison between John Leachland, an English East India Company factor at Surat, and an Indian woman named Mānyā. When company officials pressured him into leaving her, Leachland refused, wishing "rather to be suspended the Companys service and Wages then to be constrayned to abandon her Conversacyon." On 20 February 1626, Leachland had his wish, and was suspended. He was not, however, subjected to further discipline: anything more severe than cashiering, it was feared, would simply "have hastened his marrying to her and for consequentlye have forsaken his Country and freinds or, in case of faile therof, to some other desperate undertaking to his aparente Ruine."

Such an outcome East India Company officials were obviously keen on avoiding: at a time when few employees survived their terms of service, Leachland boasted ten years of experience, having arrived in India in 1615 as a purser's mate on the ship Expedition. Three years later, he had joined the Ahmedabad factory as a buyer of silks, an occupation for which he seems to have had skill and training. Between 1621 and 1623 he served at Burnhānpur, Baroda, Ahmedabad, and Cambay, acquitting himself well enough to have his wages increased. Despite his affective foibles, in short, Leachland remained a man "of fayre demeanor, sufficient Abillities, and cleare of Accounts with the Honorable Company in India"—a combination of qualities that made him especially valuable. No wonder his superiors held out the hope that he might be reclaimed and made "sensible of his own Errors."

The hoped-for change of heart did not occur, though, for in 1632 John and Mānyā were still together, eking out a precarious existence on the margins of the East India Company community at Surat. Because of a labor shortage following the famine and pestilence of 1630-33, John had been contracted for some convoy work, but had not been fully reinstated. The English traveler Peter Mundy, who accompanied him on a trip to Agra, summed up his story in the following terms: "Mr John Leachland, an Englishman, sometymes the Companies servant, haveing done prime offices, for the love of an Indian Woman refused to returne to his Countrie . . . and soe lives with her in Suratt, by whome hee had sundrie Children; and by reason of the great mortallitie [of 1630-33] hee was imployed in the forementioned service, haveing now noe referrence to them [the Company], but lives of himselfe. The English sometyme resort to his howse to visitt him and to passe away the tyme."

Leachland died in poverty not long after Mundy penned his story, but the legacy of his affections would haunt East India Company officials for years to come. They especially worried about John's half-English daughter, for both her sake and "the honor of our religion and nacion." She had been baptized as Mary Leachland and was being raised as a Christian, but English authorities in India still worried that she might "perish"—as Surat president William Methwold put it in a 1634 letter—in the care of her mother, since the latter was "undoubtedly a most wicked woman." Repeated overtures were made to obtain custody of the child; when it became apparent that Mānyā was unwilling to part from her daughter, the directors in London went so far as to contemplate a plan for Mary's abduction, instructing factors at Surat "to gett possession of the daughter of the said Leachland, which hee had by an Indian, and to send her for England by the next shipps." In response, mother and daughter disappeared, and nothing is known about the pair until 1643, when Mānyā petitioned President Francis Breton for permission to marry her daughter to an Englishman named William Appleton. Although this was "a new thing never before desired or granted," East India Company officials thought well to condescend to the request. As Breton himself explained in a report to London, it was nothing short of a miracle that Mary Leachland still retained her virtue, "though shee wanted not provocations enough from her mother to tempt her to prostitution."12 Marrying her off had seemed to those concerned the best way to spare the girl from corruption, and keep "her honor and honesty unteinted." By January of the following year, Mary Leachland and William Appleton had been joined in marriage by the English minister at Surat, where the couple was, by all reports, "poorely yet honestly and decently subsist[ing]."

Spanning two generations, the Leachland story affords a rare glimpse into what Ann Laura Stoler has called "the sexual interface" of Europe's expansion overseas—the often-improvisational system of sexual prescriptions underwriting the practices and discourses of Europe's presence abroad. Admittedly, it is no more than a glimpse. The protagonists never get to speak for themselves, and crucial aspects of their drama remain opaque at best. We never learn, for instance, what made Mānyā "a most wicked woman," or why John's relationship to her was so unpalatable as to warrant his suspension from service. It is true that the early East India Company looked none too kindly on the expenditures and distractions that women could cause: standing orders stipulated that any employee found to have a wife in the East should "uppon knowledge thereof be forthwith dismissed of his place and service and sent home." Yet there is evidence that at least some company employees brought their wives overseas, and that many more established long-term liaisons with local women. Just as Leachland was being cashiered, East India Company factors in Japan were taking wives and mistresses from among the local population without much fuss, stigma, or repercussion. Nor was Japan the only place where this happened. William Hawkins, who led a diplomatic mission to India in 1608, wedded an Armenian Christian from the Mughal court. Gabriel Boughton, the surgeon credited with opening trade with Bengal, wedded "a Mogullana or Morish woman"; and gossip had it that Francis Day, one of the founders of Madras, chose the site because it was near his mistress's home. Against this background, John and Mānyā's relationship stands out only because of the attention—and resistance—that it elicited.

The British official and amateur anthropologist Richard C. Temple, who at the beginning of the twentieth century traced the outline of John and Mānyā's story, chalked up this resistance to the "irregular nature" of the liaison. But the record does not seem to support this hypothesis: as a matter of fact, some of the documents that have come down to us unequivocally identify Mānyā as Leachland's wife, suggesting that at least a few people must have regarded the couple's union as legitimate. If there is one problem the documents hint at with some insistance, it is that East India Company officials saw Mānyā as sexually suspect, if not outright deviant. Not only did they define her as "most wicked," they also indicted her as a prostitute—a term that, as Ruth Karras has argued, denoted just as much a professional occupation as a deviant sexuality. The fact that prostitutes took money for sex, in fact, was often secondary to the fact that they made themselves generally available to men. It was this promiscuity that defined them, marking them off as a category of women whose sexuality was quite literally out of (patriarchal) control.

Mānyā's alleged promiscuity likely informed the efforts made to separate the mother from the daughter, and was certainly a factor in the decision to license Mary's marriage to William Appleton. There is also evidence, however, that issues of sexual propriety were never too far away from issues of racial belonging. The Court of Committees, for one, seems to have kept Mānyā's Indianness firmly in sight: missives from London identify her neither as John's wife nor as Mary's mother, but rather as "an Indian" by whom John Leachland happened to have a daughter. Issues of racial belonging also informed the decisions made by East India Company authorities at Surat—or at least the letters in which they reported on those decisions. It is certainly significant that they regarded John's possible marriage to Mānyā as a renunciation of identity, a "desperate undertaking" that would set him adrift from his country and friends. Even more significant, perhaps, is their belief that Mary's honor could be best safeguarded by being palmed off onto an Englishman, despite the fact that a similar course of action had conspicuously failed to safeguard her mother's reputation. If Francis Breton and his fellow East India Company officers failed to grasp the irony of the situation, it was likely because they saw a fundamental difference between Mānyā and her daughter: the former was an Indian, whereas the latter could claim partial English ancestry. Being married to an Englishman according to the rites and ceremonies of the Anglican Church vivified that heritage, serving simultaneously as a guarantee of sexual probity and a marker of racial identity.

* * * * *

How did perceptions of sexual propriety inflect ascriptions of racial difference during the early modern period? And how did ascriptions of racial difference affect the boundaries of proper sexuality? Taking these questions as a point of departure, Empires of Love charts Europe's fascination with the eros of "India"—as the vast coastal stretch from the Gulf of Aden to the South China Sea was then often called—and explores how it shaped the ways Europeans imagined and represented their own sexual and racial identities. It argues that this fascination was not only about policing the contact zone but also, and just as pressingly, about "inventing" European sexuality. Resisting the tendency to view sexual ideologies as if they emerged, fully formed, from within Europe alone, it proposes that the European-Asian encounter deeply inflected the ways in which the West came to define what was acceptable in matters of eros.

In doing so, Empires of Love also participates in a broader effort to read race and sexuality together, as overlapping structures of identity rather than as parallel or analogous analytic spheres. Since the early 1990s, when Judith Butler asked how we might go beyond juxtaposing "race," "sexuality," and "sexual difference" to think about their relation to one another, several excellent studies have taken up this challenge. But while scholars have devoted much attention to post-Enlightenment intersections of race and sexuality, we are only beginning to study how eros and ethnos intersected during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Given my training as a literary scholar, Empires of Love participates in this endeavor by scrutinizing discursive domains that are particularly amenable to the methods of literary criticism—historical chronicles, epic poetry, travel narratives, and secular drama—but it also complements this focus by reference to illustrations, private correspondence, colonial legislation, and military reports.

Because I understand both race and sexuality as cultural constructs that are always context-bound and historically contingent, I employ these terms without quotation marks, with the obvious caveat that neither one of them should be understood to mean what it generally means today—or, to be more precise, that neither one should be expected to match the nineteenth-century epistemologies that still underwrite current understandings of both categories. Race, for instance, was less a category of biological difference than a broad spectrum of practices and discourses concerned with religious affiliation, cultural habitus, geographic origin, and humoral composition. Likewise, sixteenth- and seventeenth-century understandings of sexuality revolved less around notions of sexual orientation than around an interlocking set of marital injunctions and proscriptions against nonreproductive sex. The marital injunctions combined a reproductive mandate with an effort to regulate spousal intimacies; the proscriptions against nonreproductive sex included not only a rigorous interdiction of sodomy—itself an "utterly confused category" that ran the gamut from zoophilia to interfaith copulation—but also prohibitions against coitus interruptus and sexual positions held to inhibit conception.

As unfamiliar as they may appear, such constructions of race and sexuality hardly require us to postulate an absolute discontinuity between past and present. Part of what sustains this project is the belief that the economic, political, and cultural developments associated with early modernity are still very much part of our world, and that this world cannot be adequately apprehended without attending to the recyclings and reinscriptions that brought it into being. As Ania Loomba has noted, race as an identitarian category did not suddenly spring into existence during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; instead, modern racial discourses tapped into conceptual repertoires accrued during the course of previous centuries. The same can be said about modern sexuality, which, as David Halperin has argued, resulted from the "historical overlay and accretion" of various earlier categories. Indeed, much of the epistemological arsenal that later periods would bring to bear on definitions of human identity and diversity was developed precisely during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, at a time when the experience of overseas expansion catalyzed both a significant transformation in the discourse of race and a substantial shift in the ways that erotic desire could be directed and distributed.

In the domain of race, a veritable explosion in the production and circulation of ethnographic writing culminated in the elaboration of classificatory systems that parceled out humanity on the basis of select physical and mental traits. In 1566, Jean Bodin's Methodus ad facilem historiarum cognitionem distinguished among northern, middle, and southern peoples, attributing to the latter small statures, dark skins, and a marked propensity for sexual excess. In 1650, the German geographer Bernhard Varen included body morphology, social customs, and moral makeup among the characteristics central to the study of human geography; and in 1676, the English scientist and political economist William Petty divided humankind into groups based on physiognomic characteristics, natural manners, and mental capacities. In a related vein, the London physician John Bulwer explored morphological and cultural variance through a world survey of body parts such as heads, breasts, and genitals. Taken collectively, these and other works reveal the tortuous process through which religious and environmental mappings of difference were progressively edged out, identity "implanted" in the body, and intimate corporeal practices invested with special significance.

The intensified scrutiny brought to bear on the private parts and private lives of non-European peoples coincided with a reorganization of erotic life within Europe itself. In both Protestant and Catholic countries, there was a progressive move "away from viewing procreation as the chief justification for marriage and the only justification for sexual intercourse" toward an understanding of marital sex as both an expression of spousal affection and an instrument of domestic harmony. Valerie Traub has dubbed the marital regime that emerged from this shift "domestic heterosexuality," intended as a historical formation that lodged desire at the heart of the family experience. Harnessing the power of eros to the institution of matrimony (and enshrining the former as the latter's raison d'être), domestic heterosexuality encouraged men and women alike to invest more of their emotional energies in their respective spouses, and to express their investment through sex: "Domestic heterosexuality, I suggest, is a form of conjugal relation that demands the melding of love and erotic desire. It does not merely privilege emotional connections, a sense of privacy, and the separation of the domestic from the public sphere; it also intensifies the erotic relation between spouses. Under the regime of domestic heterosexuality, erotic desire for a domestic partner, in addition to desire for a reproductive, status-appropriate male, became a requirement for (not just a happy byproduct of) the bonds between husband and wife."

The ascent of domestic heterosexuality worked a momentous change in the way that eroticism could be imagined and represented, both within marriage and outside of it. Against the grain of a tradition regarding passionate sexual love between husband and wife as indecent if not outright illicit (a point to which I will return in Chapter 5), the eroticization of spousal relations eased the polarization between socially productive and socially disruptive sex. The end result was not only a renewed pressure on relations that most obviously threatened the stable transmission of property and lineage (e.g., adultery, fornication, and rape), but also a mounting preoccupation with practices and arrangements viewed as antithetical to the values of domestic heterosexuality (e.g., same-sex eroticism, plural marriage, and concubinage).

Empires of Love contends that these seemingly disparate developments were not just historically coincidental events. Rather, the progressive crystallization of race as a category of human difference and the emergence of domestic heterosexuality as an organizing structure of sociosubjective experience formed part of a single shift rooted in the dynamics of Europe's expansion overseas. Although their coarticulation never remained constant, race and sexuality came into existence in and through relation to each other, as structures of exclusion and domination that were mutually interconnected. If this interconnection has thus far remained largely obscure, it is only because students of early modern race have rarely problematized the erotic dimensions of racial discourses, whereas students of early modern sexuality have traditionally privileged the experience of the European metropole over that of its imperial periphery. Yet it is precisely in the imperial periphery—in those spaces that historians have long identified as Europe's "laboratories of modernity"—that schemata of race and sexuality most clearly intersected. It is in these spaces that some sociosexual practices and arrangements ceased to function as mere confirmations of a shared human weakness and took on an identitarian valence, becoming markers of an alterity increasingly conceived as ontological. It is from the perspective that these spaces can afford, therefore, that intersections of race and sexuality are most fruitfully investigated.

As Kobena Mercer and Isaac Julien noted years ago, "historically, the European construction of sexuality coincides with the epoch of imperialism, and the two interconnect." In the last few decades, we have come a long way toward understanding this interconnection. Empirical studies on French Indochina, the Dutch East Indies, Spanish Mexico, British India, and other colonial locales have abundantly shown that the regulation of sexual relations was central to the production and maintenance of racially stratified societies. The erotic practices and domestic arrangements that obtained in colonial contexts were largely produced by the hierarchies of imperial rule, but were in turn productive of relationships that could dramatically reshape the social structure of European settlements abroad. For this reason, "who bedded and wedded with whom" was something that colonial authorities never left to chance.

Europe's expansion overseas thus had the effect of turning sexuality into an area of special interest and anxiety, but this effect was not limited to the colonies alone; one of the most provocative aspects of recent scholarship on the sexual politics of empire has been to connect peripheries and metropoles together, thus challenging the Eurocentric purview (the "tunnel vision," as it has been famously called) of Michel Foucault's History of Sexuality. Ann Laura Stoler, Anne McClintock, and Philip Howell—to name just a few—have persuasively argued that the development of sexual discourses within Europe cannot be properly charted without reference to the racialized contexts created by overseas expansion. Indeed, European attempts to regulate sexual relations seem to have routinely exceeded any ossified distinction between metropolis and empire, suggesting instead a complex interplay between the two.

Building on these insights, Empires of Love asks how we may begin thinking about early modern race and early modern sexuality in ways that take this interplay into account. The epoch of the Crusades—arguably a foundational moment in the history of Europe's overseas expansion as well as an important step in the emergence of race as a category of identity—saw the emergence of ethnoreligious stereotypes that linked Islam to a variety of sexual crimes including male-male sodomy and bestiality. In the Gesta Dei per Francos, Guibert of Nogent lamented that Muslims had sexual relations with both women and men; and in the Historia Orientalis, Jacques de Vitry accused them of disporting themselves with animals as well. The colonization of parts of Africa, America, and Asia during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries at once reinforced and transformed these stereotypes, making them applicable on a global scale. It is not only that the reformation of mores perceived as alien or aberrant was a crucial part of Europe's self-appointed mission to refashion the world in its own image. It is also that the establishment of racially mixed colonial societies quickly turned matters of eros into matters of ethnos: sexual practices and erotic proclivities became badges of identity that could evince the truth of one's racial belonging.

Europe's expansion into Asia provides an especially rich terrain for such inquiry. The ancients' knowledge of this part of the world had been relatively vague, yet the vast Asian stretch that many early moderns simply called "India" was not exactly a new world: Greek and Roman writers had handed down a discursive tradition that generally identified the East as a site of wealth, wisdom, and marvels. Travel accounts of the early modern period—from Antonio Pigafetta's Relazione del primo viaggio attorno al mondo (ca. 1526) to François Pyrard de Laval's Voyage (1619), and Thomas Herbert's A Relation of Some Yeares Travaile (1634)—built in part on this tradition but moved in an ethnographic direction. Habits and behaviors became more central, and a new attentiveness to sex began to emerge. Many of the devices that would eventually converge in the construction of "Oriental sexuality" (with its omnipresent tropes of frustration and concupiscence) were elaborated in these texts. More important, these texts erotically cathected a variety of Asian cultural practices, turning them into markers of sexual and racial identity. European representations of sati or widow burning are a good case in point: sixteenth- and seventeenth-century writers derived from antiquity the idea that widow burning was invented to protect men from the murderous inclinations of their wives. But whereas classical writers such as Diodorus Siculus had rooted this murderous penchant in the practice of letting youngsters arrange their own marriages—so that mistakes of judgment were common—early modern writers such as Jan Huygen van Linschoten rooted it in the aberrant libido of Asian women.

The often lurid details that Linschoten and other early modern writers left behind colored Europe's understanding of India as a place of sexual license, promiscuity, and deviance. But while it was often understood as a place of debauchery and perversion, India was also the place where colonial authorities (be they Portuguese, Spanish, English, or Dutch) actively promoted the formation of interracial households. In contrast with the Americas, where female immigration from Europe went relatively unimpeded, the flow of European women to Asia was highly restricted throughout much of the early modern period. At the same time, a series of incentives were provided to European males who took native brides. Begun in earnest under Afonso de Albuquerque's governorship of Portuguese India , the política dos casamentos (intermarriage policy) was to become a central feature of the European-Asian encounter. Later in the century, Iberian colonists implemented the same policy in the Philippines; and Spanish plans for the colonization of China waxed lyrical on the benefits of marrying Chinese women to Spanish men of all ranks. Consciously following on these precedents after the capture of Jakarta in 1619, Dutch colonial authorities began promoting lawful unions between low-ranking Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC, the Dutch equivalent of the English East India Company) employees and Asian women. In English enclaves as well, intermarriage was far from rare, with formal and informal unions steadily increasing in number throughout the seventeenth century. In 1687, the East India Company decreed such unions "a matter of such consequence to posterity that we shall be content to encourage it with some expense, and are thinking for the future to appoint a Pagoda [4 rupees] to be paid to the mother of any child that shall hereafter be born of any such future marriage upon the day the child is Christened."

The point here is not to homogenize Iberian, Dutch, and English tactics of race mixing, ignore the specific circumstances to which they responded, or lump together the results they produced. Instead, it is to recognize that the arguments mobilized in support of these tactics were often very similar if not identical. Regardless of nationality, European authorities seem to have agreed that Asian-born women offered more and demanded less than European-born ones. What is more, they were reputed to be more fertile and to produce healthier children—an especially desirable trait at a time when European outposts overseas were constantly threatened by desertion and disease. Observing that cross-racial unions had already provided the settlement with "many hopefull Children brought up in the Protestant Religion," in 1680 the English East India Company council at Madras suggested that low-ranking employees be encouraged to marry "the weomen of the Country, who are not so expensive [as English ones], and not less modest then our ordinary or common people are." For their part, VOC authorities in Indonesia noted that European-Asian couples in the tropics produced strong and plentiful offspring, whereas European ones proved barren or gave birth to sickly children. "It is known by experience," summarized the Leiden professor Marcus Zuerius van Boxhorn in 1649, "that the children born in India of Dutch father and mother are not vital and die in a short time."

That virtually the same arguments should be made by different imperial establishments at different times and in different geographic locales underscores both the extent to which mimetic rivalries shaped the process of Europe's expansion into Asia—how each imperial power measured its performance against those of its European competitors—and the extent to which shared ideologies of gender inflected emerging understandings of racial difference. At a time when men and women belonged less to incommensurable sexes than to a single hierarchical continuum, a man's identity was thought to be more determinative than a woman's; if intermarriage policies could be envisioned as viable tactics of colonization, it was because native women could be imagined as more malleable, and therefore more assimilable, than their male counterparts.

This is not to suggest that intermarriage policies elicited no anxieties or concerns; to the contrary, racial mixing was from the beginning a highly contested terrain, at once an instrument of imperial rule and a vehicle of anti-imperial subversion. For as long as sexual probity could convincingly function as a category of belonging, however, concerns of racial purity were kept at bay by the regulatory power of monogamous, marital, reproductive heterosexuality. Hence the fervor with which European religious authorities in Asia sought to stamp out polygamy and concubinage, the insistence with which the Dutch Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie strong-armed its men into marriage, and the zeal with which the East India Company sought to ensure the "Christian and Sober Comportment" of English personnel abroad. In the hybrid environments of contact zone societies, sexual practices and erotic desires clarified affinities and defined racial belonging.

Representations of the cross-racial couple had a particular impact on the way that early modern Europeans came to ascribe race and conceptualize proper sexuality, especially as more and more plots of interracial desire relayed these representations from the imperial outposts in which they were originally produced. Some of these were cautionary tales, depicting the sexual interface of the encounter as a site of mortal danger. Many others were tales of interracial romance—derived in part from Byzantine and medieval antecedents but adapted to the needs and requirements of the times—celebrating the assimilation of Asian women into the fabric of European society. Moving back and forth between colonial periphery and imperial metropole, these narratives functioned as a sort of social conduct literature that helped shape values, attitudes, and policies in a variety of locales. In brief, plots of interracial desire served as "portable machines" of subject formation whose effects reverberated well beyond their contexts of origin.

Because they are dispersed across several genres and national literatures, these works have never been considered together or discussed in the aggregate. Yet many of them—including Luís Vaz de Camões's Os Lusíadas (1572), Jan Huygen van Linschoten's Itinerario (1596), Bartolomé Leonardo de Argensola's Conquista de las Islas Malucas (1609), and Richard Head's The English Rogue (1665)—formed a transnational corpus, as they circulated well beyond the boundaries of their countries of origin in a series of translations, borrowings, and adaptations. Whether hailing desire as a venue of assimilation or decrying it as a conduit of degeneration, plots of race mixing marked the boundaries of racial identity while also marking the boundaries of what Europeans took to be licit eroticism. In the process, some practices and desires were marginalized, whereas others were turned into underpinnings of social privilege. In this sense, plots of race mixing discriminated not so much between Asians and Europeans as among the different constituencies that constituted each group. The paths they traced marked loci of difference and identity that could be used to distinguish not only between "assimilable" and "unassimilable" Asians but also between "true" and "degenerate" Europeans.

During the second half of the seventeenth century, however, the situation began to change. Eros and ethnos, it seems, were parting ways: race no longer served as a measure of sexual orthodoxy, and sexual behavior was growing increasingly tenuous as a tool for negotiating the boundaries of racial identity. This uncoupling of race and sexuality was perhaps most apparent in the English context. In 1672, John Dryden's Amboyna rejected interracial conubium (legal marriage) as a utopian pipe dream; meanwhile, East India Company officials in Asia were pleading with London for the importation of English brides. The tone of these pleas, the concerns they expressed, and above all the novel earnestness with which the Company received both suggest a hardening of racial constructs: Indian women no longer constituted viable marriage partners, regardless of whether their sexual morality was questionable or not, and regardless of whether their prospective English husbands were lowly underlings or not.

* * * * *

Empires of Love comprises six chapters arranged in rough chronological order, so as to follow the development of Western dominance in Asia while capturing the discursive convergences brought about by inter-European competition. In the belief that my inquiry could be best pursued from a comparative perspective, I have stretched as far as my linguistic training has allowed, drawing on Dutch, English, French, Italian, Latin, Portuguese, and Spanish materials. If I often refer to these materials collectively as "European," I do not mean by this to imply that they should be taken as representative of all of Europe or that the specificity of their contexts of production and reception should be dismissed or overlooked. Although one of the things that interests me about this project is precisely the way that many of these materials circulated beyond the domains in which they were first produced—and forged, in the process, links and commonalities across linguistic and national boundaries—I have sought to be mindful of the national specificities that inflected the shape of each.

Chapter 1, "Perverse Implantations," sets the stage for the rest of the book by tracing the emergence of an ethnological discourse that tied human morphology to sexual proclivities, and these, in turn, to racial identity. Male genital implements thought to enhance coital pleasure or prevent sodomy—the palang of Borneo and Indonesia, the "sagra" of the Philippines, the "buncales" or "yardballs" of Burma and Siam—formed a crucial part of this discourse, literally implanting certain male anatomies with a difference that was at once sexual and racial. By contrast, Asian females were left relatively "unmarked" at the anatomical level: hymenotomy and infibulation, although mentioned starting at least with Pigafetta's Relazione, elicited scant attention and virtually no discussion. The resulting asymmetry bolstered gender-specific notions of racial assimilability, underwriting intermarriage as a strategy of colonization and setting the stage for most early modern representations of the European-Asian encounter.

Chapter 2, "The Erotic Politics of Os Lusíadas," focuses on Camões's epic celebration of Vasco da Gama's "discovery" of India, situating the poem's climactic segment at the Isle of Love within the historical context of the Portuguese política dos casamentos. On their return voyage, da Gama and his crew stumble across an enchanted island peopled with enamored nymphs. The orgiastic revel that ensues has long been a source of critical embarrassment, if for no other reason than it is precisely the kind of situation epic heroes are supposed to eschew. Nevertheless, the encounter between sailors and nymphs is critical to the poem's ideological economy: if the power play that opens the episode naturalizes violence as a fundamental component of eroticism, the nuptials that follow seek to channel desire away from perversion. Using an array of sixteenth-century sources (including Afonso de Albuquerque's letters and João de Barros's famous Décadas da Ásia), this chapter shows how Os Lusíadas enshrines conubium as both a tool of colonial interpellation and an instrument for "reordering" wayward desires.

Chapter 3, "Discipline and Love: Linschoten and the Estado da Índia," furthers the argument set forth in Chapter 2 by way of Jan Huygen van Linschoten's Itinerario. Written in Dutch but quickly translated into a variety of languages, this influential travelogue deflated Camões's optimistic vision by underscoring the often lethal effects (for immigrant settlers) of interracial conubium. For Linschoten, the política dos casamentos is a battleground, and European males are losing: when they are not murdered by adulterous wives, or consumed by their partners' insatiable lust, they are "Orientalized" beyond recognition, thereby disappearing as Europeans. Nonetheless, the Itinerario hardly advocates an absolute division between Europeans and Asians; rather, it argues for an education of desire that might redirect women's unruly eroticism toward the preservation of the colonial state. Reviewing (and eventually rejecting) disciplinary techniques ranging from surveillance and seclusion to Chinese foot binding and Indian widow burning, Linschoten's text alights on marital love as an ideal instrument for molding pliant colonial subjectivities.

If Chapter 3 considers the reformation of Indian women, Chapter 4, "Polygamy and the Arts of Reduction," deals with the erotic profligacy of both native and European males in Asia. I pay particular attention to representations of Asian polygyny contained in Bartolomé Leonardo de Argensola's Conquista de las Islas Malucas and François Pyrard de Laval's Voyage, but contextualize these representations by reference to European debates on the relative advantages of monogamy and nonmonogamy as well as colonial efforts against polygamy and concubinage. In the early decades of the seventeenth century, I maintain, the zenana, the hougong, and the keputren—that is, the Indian, Chinese, and Indonesian equivalents of the Middle Eastern harem—found themselves unwittingly recruited in the construction of a new ideology of marriage. What made Asian polygyny so salient was neither its scandalousness nor the alleged penchant of immigrant settlers for indulging in it, but rather the fact that the practice could be regarded as perfectly licit under both natural and divine laws. In this manner, the polygynous Eastern household became part of an increasingly secular debate on the virtues and advantages of monogamy, securing for the latter a crucial role in the construction of Western identity.

Chapter 5, "The Ideology of Interracial Romance," uses John Fletcher's The Island Princess to explore the early modern vogue for narratives of cross-racial desire. Recent scholarship has brought the play's engagement with the dynamics of European expansion fully into focus. Reworking Iberian sources, the play adapted the medieval topos of the "enamored Moslem princess" to seventeenth-century exigencies, turning the title character's conversion to Christianity into a vantage point from which England could imagine its success in the Spice Islands of Southeast Asia.62 What has escaped attention, I argue, is the way that The Island Princess aligns God with eros, making religious conversion virtually undistinguishable from an erotic refashioning. By proposing a vision of overseas expansion that is simultaneously a specific vision of conubium—one that can provide fulfilment not just in spite of but because of the inherent inequality between partners—Fletcher's play underscores the ideological overlap between merchant imperialism and domestic heterosexuality.

Chapter 6, "English Whiteness and the End of Romance," focuses on Richard Head's The English Rogue—a picaresque work that enjoyed great success both within and without England—as well as John Dryden's Amboyna (1673), a tragedy penned on the eve of the third Anglo-Dutch War. Set in "India" and produced not long after the acquisition of Bombay in 1661, these seemingly disparate works suggest that, by the last quarter of the seventeenth century, eros and ethnos had begun to go separate ways, putting under increasing pressure the coarticulation of race and sexuality proposed by Camões, Linschoten, and Fletcher. In The English Rogue, the title character achieves material comfort and social respectability by marrying an affluent "Indian-Black," yet construes this act as an erotic renunciation—or better yet, a transaction in which erotic desire is tendered in exchange for economic security. For its part, Amboyna embraces the topoi of interracial romance only to disallow them at the end of the play; in a scathing critique of empire as venereal contamination, Dryden's tragedy sacrifices the fantasy of cross-racial requitedness on the altar of sexual (and racial) purity.

Where earlier writers had yoked erotic deviance and racial otherness, John Dryden and Richard Head unyoked them. In their works, sexual propriety no longer serves as a criterion of racial belonging, and racial belonging no longer functions as a yardstick of sexual propriety. If the shift paved the way for the emergence of sexual "races" characterized not by geographic origin but by sexual habits and erotic proclivities, it also made for a more rigid understanding of human difference. Deprived of the power of eros, European imperialism lost all confidence in its power to seduce, transform, and assimilate without losing itself in the process. Yet with that loss came something that did not quite exist before: a sense of identity defined both against the epidermal darkness of natives and the moral blackness of European rivals.