Stiff Upper Lip: Behavioral Code of British Colonists in India

Dignity is intangible category, which in some languages lexically correlates with the concept of feeling that, like any emotion, has an external manifestation. Moreover, dignity itself is sometimes interpreted as a visualization/viewable form of respect/self-respect. The report will focus on a specific set of physical, facial and linguistic practices — in other words, on the behavioral code of British colonists in India in the 19th century, designed to show the dignity of the nation, which in civilizational terms was superior to conquered peoples.

At the turn of 18th — 19th centuries in Europe and especially in England sensitivity of sentimentalism epoch was replaced with moral feelings: priority of mind, free will, public good and responsibility was put on a pedestal, which allowed to limit human appetites. In England, this new emotional model of behavior embodied in the set expression “stiff upper lip.” It was synonymous with restraint, stoicism, perseverance and became a symbol of the English character. Trembling upper lip was recognized as a sign of weakness, tears began to be perceived as a sign of immaturity inherent not only to individuals, but to whole societies. British stoicism developed in parallel with the ideology of British imperialism. Lack of emotions of the British men coming to India, possessed by a sense of pride for belonging to a greater nation, was to help them to visually distance themselves from the local population that did not touch the heights of moral development.

However, the feeling of extreme astonishment was characteristic of newcomers reporting for duty in the colony, and it was caused by facing unfamiliar situation and associated with misalignment between the usual “domestic” world left behind and “exotic” reality. Before the case was joined by “rational” considerations, there was a “bodily” dive into this new reality with non-programmable physiological reactions. These newcomers had a special nickname — Griffins. Transition from Griffins to the community of experienced colonizers was accompanied by bodily adaptation to the exotic, acquisition of facial restraint and at the same time transformation of initially neutral-colored sense of wonder into emotions loaded with estimation, usually negative. Externally restrained “decent” behavior was often concealing arrogance, haughtiness, and aloofness. The latter resulted not only from often unresolved discomfort, but also from dominant ideological mythologeme about European superiority that programmed “conscious” reactions of white people to the colonial reality.