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Misty Mediations: Spectral Imaginings and the Himalayan Picturesque
by Romita Ray

”In the valley lay a white lake of transparent mist, and rising out of it, the snows, shrouded in unearthly vapour, looked mysterious and ghost-like.“[1] Traveling near the Singalila mountain range in the Darjeeling area in the early 1870s, the explorer, writer, and part-time Darjeeling resident Elizabeth Mazuchelli (1832–1914) encountered a quintessential Himalayan phenomenon that never failed to fascinate European residents and travelers: a thick veil of mist whose myriad formations and densities created unique visual and tactile experiences as it swirled across mountain slopes and valleys. Notoriously unpredictable, this vaporous cover could thicken, obliterate, and melt away without any forewarning. It could also generate, as Mazuchelli swiftly discovered, ”a spectral and unearthly scene,“ destabilizing the boundaries between fantasy and material realities, and between intuitive and empirical knowledge.[2]

In this article, I look at how artists, writers, and botanists visiting Darjeeling and its surroundings since the 1840s coped with the insubstantiality of mountain mist. How did they navigate its ethereal thresholds and elusive translucency? Speculations about Himalayan mist were rooted in earlier Romantic visions of misty mountains, foggy seascapes, and blinding snowstorms, and the picturesque love of surprise. If fluid vaporous forms reminded their beholders of the solitude and fragility of mankind, they also drew attention to the ineffability of visibility and vision.[3] As the important English critic William Hazlitt observed, contemplating ”misty mountain-tops“ could make one”imagine all sorts of adventures“ while emotions were ”rarefied“ and suspended in ”beauty“ and ”charming fears.“[4] But misty mediations were also dense sites of anxieties often taking the shape of spectral visions that cycled back to troubling questions of selfhood, history, and identity. Ghosts and ghostly traces put the past into perspective while dislodging the currency of somatic awareness. To borrow from Fredric Jameson, the spectral ”makes the present waver.“[5]

In his influential 1919 essay about the uncanny, Sigmund Freud anchors the interplay between the strange and the unfamiliar, the heimlich (homely) and the unheimlich (uncanny or, literally, un-homely), in ”the class of the terrifying which leads back to that long known to us, once very familiar.“[6] Taking my lead from scholars who have situated the uncanny in the fear of the colonial self-gone-native, I am interested in how anxieties about the unfamiliar were inscribed by spectral imaginings in the eastern Himalayas where the atmospheric effects of mist were enmeshed with deep-seated concerns about preserving whiteness.[7] Within such a framework, the colonial uncanny can be read as the struggle to reconcile with and retain one’s Britishness with its full spectrum of identifications intact. This was especially challenging because sustaining a strong sense of British identity meant adjusting to a wide array of discourses, customs, cultural aspirations, and social ambitions in a setting rife with slippages within the meta-narratives of whiteness. While much has been written about the performance of whiteness in the urban centers of colonial India, very little has been said about its currency in places off the beaten track like Darjeeling. Still less attention has been paid to the phenomenological experience of the Himalayan picturesque and its reiterations of the spectral amid growing anxieties about poor health (a loss of whiteness) and the cultural isolation of colonial communities.

How did mist crystallize into a paradigm of spectral imaginings that reminded colonial residents and tourists of their limitations in a foreign setting?[8] Located at an altitude of nearly 7,000 feet, Darjeeling epitomized the quaint colonial hill station nestled in the Himalayas to which Britons retreated to recover from disease and debilitation, ominous tropes of decay and death commonly associated by then with the unbearable heat of the plains.[9] With its sprinkling of horticultural societies, churches, boarding schools, malls, clubs, and ”cottages,“ this secluded enclave localized white colonial culture in the midst of Nepalese, Sikkimese, Tibetan, and Bhutanese inhabitants while relentlessly invoking the rural charms of the English countryside.[10] As importantly, it was part of a growing convoy of military outposts along British India’s 2,000 mile-long Himalayan frontier whose newly expanding imperial borders made Russia and China further north keep close watch on Britain’s growing presence in the subcontinent.[11] When the Treaty of Nanjing marked the end of the First Opium War in 1842, Darjeeling’s location became more significant than ever for it offered an alternative route to China.[12] By 1857, the Bengal government had declared the hill station its official summer seat in the wake of the Indian Rebellion. Not only was Darjeeling far removed from the political turbulence, which up until recently had wreaked havoc in the plains, its salubrious climate was a welcome relief from the heat and humidity of Bengal.[13] By the end of the nineteenth century, its thriving tea industry cultivated from a Chinese transplant had emerged as its primary claim to fame.[14]

It was in this multi-layered geography of hybrids and transplants that a British colonial community discovered and codified its own peculiar hauntings, spectral encounters that unleashed anxieties about being estranged from familiar European archetypes. Thus, it was in the desire to validate their identity in this secluded Himalayan enclave that British travelers and residents asserted their disavowal of othering while confronting their displacements from their home cultures. In doing so, they mitigated the threat of becoming ”almost the same but not white,“ to use Homi Bhabha’s phrase, a tension that prompts us to peer into the ”heart of whiteness,“ specifically, into its incongruities, contradictions, ambivalences, and agency in so remote a foreign setting.[15] How did mist unlock new horizons for erasing, constructing, and indeed validating colonial whiteness? It is to this key question that my article turns, first by considering the mutability of vaporous formations and next, by examining their embodiments of the spectral and the uncanny.

Fig. 1, W. L. Walton (1834–1855) after William Tayler, ”Kinchinjunga from Mr. Hodgson’s Bungalow,“ frontispiece from vol. 1 of Himalayan Journals; or, Notes of a Naturalist in Bengal, the Sikkim and Nepal Himalayas, the Khasia Mountains, &c. by Joseph Dalton Hooker (London: John Murray, 1854). Tinted lithograph. Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut, Paul Mellon Collection.

Mutable Visions
Well before Darjeeling was established as a hill station and well before it was celebrated for its tea, a lithograph published in the 1854 travel memoir Himalayan Journals, penned by the eminent naturalist Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817–1911), depicted the famous Kanchenjunga range seen from the bungalow of his friend and colleague, the noted Orientalist Brian Houghton Hodgson (1800–94) (fig. 1).[16] Here, snow-capped Himalayan peaks tower in the distance, yaks graze in the foreground, and woodcutters clear away trees in a picturesque view of sloping meadows cascading into dense woodland, by Bengal Civil Servant William Tayler (1808–92). Where pastures end, forest begins with ribbons of mist curl unfurling along the mountain ridges and hinting at a landscape suspended in what Barbara Maria Stafford calls a ”state of becoming.“[17] In effect, the rising vapor registers the potential to transform a landscape into a dynamic spectacle while simultaneously reminding us that viewing is never a passive experience. Thus, it gestures at the dematerialization of geography and, by extension, at the chimerical visions that will soon take over the visible and implicitly challenge the Cartesian coordinates of clarity and order.

In keeping with the colonial tourist’s preoccupation with the visual appeal of Himalayan mist alongside its practical challenges, Tayler’s view resonates with Hooker’s frequent recollections of navigating mist and fog when he explored the Darjeeling area and Nepal in the late 1840s. Before ”11 A.M. or noon,“ the naturalist observes, ”masses of mist have been rolling over the Dorjiling ridge and gradually filling up the valleys, so that by noon, or 1 P. M., every object is in cloud“ (Hodgson’s bungalow was located on the ridge).[18] Elsewhere, Hooker recalls a ”heavy mist“ clinging to the ”luxuriant foliage, tantalizing in its obscuring all the view.“[19] Like Mazuchelli’s ”unearthly vapour,“ Hooker’s mist produces entrancing optical sensations even while it blocks clear-cut trajectories of vision. From this perspective, Tayler’s image infused with misty mediations hints at the multiple fantasies that vaporous strata might facilitate amid the pastoral delights of his surroundings.

Seen another way, the very capacity of mist to alter physical reality frequently unsettled the viewer by dislodging familiar spatial and corporeal thresholds. Mazuchelli remembers ”feeling“ she had lost her ”own individuality“ and ”almost entered some new world“ after the initial thrill of encountering ”a spectral and unearthly scene“ in which mist and moonlight had mingled to create ethereal effects.[20] Significantly, her observation registers something other than a transient landscape—it pinpoints the phenomenological experience of swirling vapor, the somatic encounters with eerily transformative qualities of light, color, and tactility that disorient a traveler’s sense of place and belonging. Her unease, therefore, stems from new thresholds of viewing and also from feeling the landscape, for the visual impact of mist was as powerful as the palpable moistness of its vapor:

I do not know how long I had been standing there, when a sensation came over me as though some one behind weresoftly enveloping me in a wet sheet. Looking over my shoulder, I found that the rhododendron copse had vanished; the gleam of the camp-fires was visible no longer, and the rock at my feet, with every other object, was shut out by a white ocean of mist.[21]

Such sensitivity to the fluctuating effects of mist was bound to emphasize the corporeality of the body; specifically, its sensory responses entangled with its biological limitations. Moreover, vision itself was rendered tactile, enabling the traveler to experience and imagine the Himalayan geography as a ”living space of encounter and exchange.“[22] But what do we make of encounters like Mazuchelli’s in which sight was steadily obscured? If the whiteness of mist radically diminished visual clarity, it also enhanced the very scope of imaginings by heightening the body’s capacity to register sensations through touch. What could not be seen could be envisioned instead through a potent mixture of tactility and intuition. Thus, the strange illusions created by mist embodied enigmas and hauntings, which in turn mobilized fresh calibrations of sight and touch. What is striking is that they give the impression of a second corporeal presence that Mazuchelli could sense but could not see.

Surrounded by thickening vapor, Mazuchelli anticipates the worst when she feels her ”limbs getting numb and frozen,“ the ”thumping of [her] own heart“ the only sound in the ”death-like stillness.“[23] By her own admission, a ”deadly faintness [creeps] over“ her when she sees ”a phantom of gigantic dimensions,“ an apparition that must surely be ”one of those phenomena“ rumored ”to be met with in these altitudes“ or on second thought, something as mundane as her ”own shadow, greatly exaggerated.“ [24] If the tricky interplay between mist and nocturnal light tests her resilience to extreme and unexpected climactic conditions, it also stimulates her imagination to cultivate extreme shapes, sizes, and tactile registers. Contrasts become sharper and the sense of the marvelous, more pronounced. If her phantom is ”gigantic“ yet shapeless, a ”dark shadow“ amid the blinding whiteness of mist, it is preceded only by an unseen ”phenomena“ whose presence is discernible primarily because of the wetness of vapor. Thus, the spectral encounter is defined by the invisible in the visible, the slippages in reality caused by sudden and radical sensory shifts.

What is striking is that Mazuchelli is not only engulfed by a multitude of optical and tactile sensations, she is also in danger of becoming dematerialized like her surroundings.[25] With the familiar sights of the ”rhododendron copse,“ the ”camp-fires,“ and the ”rock“ at her feet obliterated by dense white vapor, not only does she lose her bearings, she also stands to meet the same fate—to be blotted out by the mist that continues to enshroud her. Simply put, she seems to be on the brink of metamorphosing into a ghostly figure. In visual terms, this meant that the whiteness of the colonial body was merged with the whiteness of mist, forming a continuum in which corporeality steadily dissolved into the whiteness of vapor. Mist can therefore be understood as a paradigm of alienation, both of vision as well as of somatic mappings.

By the time Mazuchelli penned her Himalayan memoir, ghosts and ghostliness were everywhere in the Victorian imagination. Significantly, they were almost always shown as barely-there vaporous configurations that reminded their readers/viewers of ”something lost or barely visible.“[26] If Charles Dickens’s Ebenezer Scrooge was haunted by ”creatures faded into mist“ after a visit from Jacob Marley’s ghost in the 1843 novella A Christmas Carol, then Frederick Hudson’s spirit photographs from the 1870s, with their wraith-like figures of deceased loved ones hovering over the concrete reality of living sitters, created the impression that apparitions blur the lines between past and present, the dead and the living, the self and the other.[27] Mesmerisms and ectoplasms all relied on the inexplicability of misty forms to embody the alienating margins of the unearthly realm, with scientists and spiritualists, Christians and Materialists clashing over their precise taxonomies and meanings.[28]

Fig. 2, J. H. Brown, cover, Spectropia or Surprising Spectral Illusions. Showing Ghosts Everywhere and of Any Colour, fourth edition (London: Griffith and Farran, 1865). Color lithograph. Yale University, Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library, New Haven, Connecticut.

The desire to make the spectral visible was thus inextricably linked (among other things) with the desire to imbue the visible with spectral associations. In this vein, J. H. Brown’s 1864 volume about ”spectral illusions“ depicts a translucent white figure emerging from a cloud of mist, its skeletal finger pointing ominously at some mysterious happenstance (fig. 2). Here, mistiness becomes interchangeable with the spectral. Floating over the page, its ghostly whiteness seeping through the graphic lettering, Brown’s specter registers the sense of a haunting, an encounter in which a lingering strangeness disrupts the very thresholds of ontological reality. Simply put, a haunting is a state of alterity which, when analyzed in the colonial context, can also be understood to signify the existential crisis of being othered. In this sense, it is an estrangement from the comforting familiarity of being British and, therefore, a confrontation with the discomfiting thought of becoming Indian. Anxieties about an eroded or diluted identity permeated the colonial imagination throughout the nineteenth century, often resulting in what Swati Chattopadhyay describes as the ”repression of the [European] self-as-native.“[29] A ghost can thus be read as an echo of disquieting changes in the colonial landscape, something that Mazuchelli articulated as a ”dark shadow“ or a ”phantom“ in the midst of her own ghostly dissolution. As Avery Gordon posits, the haunting hovers ”between familiarity and strangeness,“ its disorientations stemming from the onslaught of quotidian histories, remembrances, and institutions upon the body and the self.[30] It also stems from rapid changes in the atmosphere.

Spectrality and the Himalayan Picturesque
By the early nineteenth century, aesthetic preoccupations with atmospheric forces like mist, fog, rain, storm clouds, wind, and snow gravitated towards more subjective interpretations of nature, detaching the beholder from the demands of geographical accuracy and pictorial verisimilitude to engage more spontaneously with ”natural phenomena.“[31] Intuition, as the philosopher David Hume asserted in the late 1700s, could reach far beyond precision-driven calibrations of scale, magnitude, and mathematical ”congruence,“ to forge highly personal and indeed sensual associations with nature.[32] Be it Hume or his contemporaries Adam Smith and Thomas Reid, among others, each in his own way stressed the importance of grasping intangibles to construe the material reality of geographical environments. Across the English Channel, Immanuel Kant, Johann Gottfried von Herder, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Friedrich and August Wilhelm Schlegel also focused on the ineffable properties of natural phenomena to fathom the reality of human experience, while the naturalist Alexander von Humboldt drew attention to the importance of synthesizing empirical scrutiny with aesthetic and emotional sensibilities to better understand nature.[33]

Not surprisingly, such holistic approaches to geography also permeated the discourse centered on visual pleasure derived from intimate engagements with landscape. From the late 1700s onwards, a heightened emphasis on the sensual underscored discussions and debates about the sublime and the picturesque, accentuating the very idea of landscape as a phenomenological experience, not just as a physical world to be gazed upon from afar.[34] From the eighteenth-century high-priest of the picturesque William Gilpin who extolled ”nature“ for ”[furnishing] fresh sources both of pleasure and amusement,“ to the botanizing Hooker who rhapsodized about ”the sensations and impressions that rivet [his] attention“ to ”the forms and colours of snowy mountains“ in Darjeeling, different writers emphasized landscape as a dense site of intense emotional reactions. Moreover, landscape was also seen to shape diverse emotional imaginaries.[35] As importantly, writers frequently narrativized and codified the scenic properties of landscape through the visual and literary rhetoric of the picturesque that came to influence travel writing from the Romantic period onward.

In effect, the picturesque created a new dialectic between sensory pleasure and personal revelation. By this I mean it drew attention to specific sites of aesthetic enjoyment while engendering private speculations about colonial self-hood, a radical departure from eighteenth-century history paintings in which land was emphasized as a political trophy to valorize colonial generals as Britain’s conquering heroes.[36] That said, the picturesque appealed not only because it ”transported“ the scenic ”beauties“ of exotic places to Europe, as the artists Thomas and William Daniell observed, but also because it filtered the foreign through stridently British registers of taste.[37] From this perspective, Hooker’s memoir harnesses the picturesque as a system of framing space and time while endorsing British sensibility within the views it framed. In other words, the picturesque ultimately framed what it meant to be British in a foreign environment, its ”views“ and ”glimpses“ capturing ”the sense of arrest in experience, in history, in narrative“ fostered by distinctly British ideologies, visual techniques, and literary rhetoric brought to bear upon a broad spectrum of engagements with the Indian landscape.[38]

Military officers, memsahibs, professional and amateur landscape painters, botanists, photographers, cartographers, zoologists, diarists, missionaries, and tourists all contributed to the making of the Indian picturesque.[39] Such diverse eyes and hands were bound to shape the picturesque in different ways. Even so, despite its divergences, the picturesque constituted a common cultural understanding of how land could be transformed into landscape for its different colonial protagonists. Visually speaking, Tayler’s composition foregrounds the aesthetic as the primary framework within which the changing vectors of mobility and optical experiences are anchored amid contrasting textures and natural phenomena. Significantly, it also emphasizes mist as the main element to render the mountains picturesque, the mutability of its vaporous clouds rupturing the inert spectacle of towering Himalayan edifices to produce a range of aesthetic effects.

These in turn cut two ways: on the one hand, they reified the pleasure derived from what Gilpin calls the ”effect of light and shade“ whose dramatic contrasts were considered fundamental to the experience of the picturesque, for mist, according to the picturesque theorist, had the peculiar capacity to bestow ”obscurity over the face of nature.“[40] On the other hand, they deposited the ineffable within the scope of the Himalayan picturesque, for the appeal of chiaroscuro lay not just in its visual manifestations but also in its capacity to shore up landscape as a wondrous, mutable entity whose changing spectacle was continually inflected by subtle shifts in light, shadow, wind, and precipitation. Indeed, it was in the contours of fleeting changes in nature, not just in the bold dramatic shifts in landscape that the picturesque was galvanized as a modality of visual pleasure, and as we shall see, as an apparatus for registering the supernatural.

A few decades after Gilpin published his theories about the picturesque effects of light and shadow, the English physician John Ferriar focused on the same visual interplay, but within the context of spectrality. Writing about hallucinations in 1813, he conjectured that ”accidents of light and shade, and the interposition of partial fogs, or clouds“ were capable of generating powerful optical illusions or ”a waking dream.“ Even the ”rolling of the mist,“ he posits, animates ”spectral images.“[41] If Ferriar’s analysis demonstrates that specific atmospheric conditions stimulate the human imagination to fantasize about the supernatural, then it also opens up a space for discussing the picturesque within the disorientations of spectral encounters. By grounding the effects of landscape in a highly ”individual experience“ as Charles Harrison puts it, and more specifically, in ”memory“ and ”imagination“ as Felix Driver and Luciana Martins have examined, Ferriar in fact circles back to human sensibility as the primary instrument through which the most basic every-day occurrences of light and shade were re-discovered as extra-ordinary phenomena.[42]

The picturesque was more than just an ocular experience or an aesthetic ideology and framework that enabled the scenic appeal of landscape to be translated into a material reality. It was also bound up in a multivalent spectrum of somatic responses and psychic shifts best summed up in Mazuchelli’s words as ”something felt rather than actually seen.“[43] Indeed, the picturesque could resolve or at the very least, begin to cope with the ongoing fascination with the insubstantial, the ephemeral dimensions of corporeal experiences that portraiture for instance, struggled to accommodate. After all, the meticulous representational schema of verisimilitude—so vital to creating a credible likeness on paper or canvas—made it difficult to capture and convey the ineffability of elusive beauty. As Sir Joshua Reynolds explained in his ninth Discourse, ephemerality inevitably eludes the artist because it cannot be expressed satisfactorily as a material embodiment.[44]

In sharp contrast, landscape painting more easily met the challenge of bridging the gap between the invisible and the visible, for its very formulations and execution oscillated between the vectors of sight, feeling, imagining, and re-presenting the seemingly mundane as well as the fleeting details of nature.[45] The picturesque was especially successful in this regard for it crystallized within the interwoven strata of text, image, and the bodily experience of geography. Mapped across different media, it was ideally positioned to articulate the intangibles of natural beauty and of the spectral and the uncanny, for that which could not be expressed in images could often be described in words and vice-versa. To this end, the travel memoir or travelogue, a vital depository for ideas and anecdotes about the picturesque, served as a compelling corollary to visual images, its integration of the subjective within the objective emerging from the traveler’s deeply personal interventions in the external realm of geographical signposts and atmospheric fluctuations.[46] The spectral intrigued precisely because it fell somewhere in between the subjective and the objective; it evolved from private speculations yet it drew upon familiar calibrations of sight and site. As far as the Himalayan picturesque was concerned, it was engendered by the translucency of mist, which from a geographical perspective also signaled an objective reading of climactic factors that regularly affected the environs of Darjeeling.

At a basic level, the shape-shifting transience and translucencies of Himalayan mist and fog recorded by Hooker, Mazuchelli, and Tayler instantly catered to the picturesque love of surprise. Even the distant glimpse of terraced cultivation framed between the trees along the right border in Tayler’s composition is shown on the brink of succumbing to the swirl of cool moisture rising from the valley. Visual surprise is therefore interlaced with tactile surprise as the beholder anticipates alterations in both form and temperature. With the artifice of formal representation (a static surface) so intimately entwined with the changing dynamics of atmospheric conditions and the density of matter, the physical reality of landscape is continually transformed into a trail of sensory disruptions. Thus, the picturesque mediated by the modulations of vapor is not simply embedded in the orbit of aesthetic pleasure; it is also inextricably linked with somatic disorientations.

In a sense, by transforming vaporous formations of mist into embellishments for the landscape—white, ornamental, halo-like bands that encircle the wooded slopes as far as the eye can see, Tayler gives form to something formless thereby mitigating, at least partially, the physical and psychic disruptions caused by visual and tactile changes around him. In doing so, he also hints at the possibility of the landscape ”dissolving“ into a fresh aesthetic spectacle, at losing its coherence in the eyes of the beholder. If formlessness embodies a different ontological realm, one that is irrational and phantasmal, then the imagination, not reason, can be seen to determine its appeal. This also indicates that the picturesque with its love of the strange and the incongruous, the wondrous and the novel could absorb the oddities of the supernatural.

Fluctuations in form and formlessness, vision and visibility were not just accentuated in pictures of mist; they also proliferated in written narratives like Hooker and Mazuchelli’s memoirs. If Mazuchelli records the spectral imaginings of a body overcome by mist, then Hooker wandering about in the same area several decades earlier invokes the ”ghastly pallor that succeeds with twilight,“ referencing the vapor enshrouding the mountains soon after sunset by which time the colors of the sky had changed dramatically to produce ”dissolving-views [that] elude all attempts at description.“[47] By 1897, the American geographer and journalist Frank Carpenter had observed that ”great masses of vapor of all kinds and shapes [chased] each other over the hills below us“ in the Himalayas.[48] The fantastical in mist is accentuated yet again, the ghostliness that in Terry Castle’s words ”subvert the distinction between the real and the phantasmic“ thereby ”plunging“ the spectator into the ”realm of the unconscious.“[49] Mazuchelli’s haze of vapor ”hanging in spectral and shadowy masses about the peaks,“ Hooker’s ”pallor,“ and Carpenter’s strange, misty shapes, all reinforce the notion that whiteness is paradigmatic of the enigmas underscoring the phenomenological experience of the Himalayan picturesque.[50]

Whiteness and Somatic Dislodgings
Keeping all this in mind, Tayler’s liberal use of white rehearses the ongoing fascination with atmospheric elements that resist clarity and disrupt vision. Furthermore, because lithography generates denser textures than watercolor, the translucency of mist is transformed into a stark rendering in a print made by W. L. Walton (fl.1834–55) after Tayler’s drawing. In fact, a closer look at the bottom right corner of the printed image reveals a subtle yet powerful reminder embedded in the physical form of the page itself, that it too might dissolve just where the rendering of mist meets the whiteness of paper. What interests me here is the fragility of sight enfolded within the experience of reading the travel memoir such that the formal composure of a picturesque image—a view frozen in time and space—is shown to be dislodged by the very same variables that underscored the somatic experience of the picturesque in the first place.

These also happen to be the variables that shaped speculations about the spectral. This brings me to how Hooker counters the unpredictability of mist and the dissolution of sight by anchoring vaporous clouds as poetic visions meant to be admired from an elevated vantage point after emerging through clouds of mist and fog, or while looking across mist-covered valleys. Not only does he focus on particular modalities of viewing, he also takes care to maintain control over an unstable orbit of vision:

At sunset they [clouds of mist] again broke, retreating from the northward, and rising from Sinchul and Dorjiling [Darjeeling] last of all, whilst a line of vapour, thrown by perspective into one narrow band, seemed to belt the Singalelah range with a white girdle, darkened to black where it crossed the snowy mountains; and it was difficult to believe that this belt did not really hang upon the ranges from twenty to thirty miles off against which it was projected; or that its true position was comparatively close to the mountain on which we were standing, and was due to condensation around its cool, broad, flat summit. As usual from such elevations, sunset produced many beautiful effects.[51]

Mobile, ever changing, and always unpredictable, mist does not embody any comprehensible signposts of its own; instead, its modulations of vapor produce illusions of non-space and invisibility. At any given moment, it effaces its own visibility. It is precisely in these perplexing contours of erasures and nothingness that we can locate the Victorian fascination with the supernatural. For the spectral is inherently incoherent and, in turn, engenders incoherence and disassociations from the real world.

That spectral sightings signified a loss of visual clarity and coherence does not surprise. A subject frequently discussed and debated throughout the nineteenth century, it raised troubling questions about the dangers of reverie, spiritualism, superstition, theology, and occultism.[52] As Nicola Bown, Carolyn Burdett, and Pamela Thurschwell have recently analyzed, the ”supernatural was both fearful and terrible and ardently desired.“[53] Above all, it was entangled with concerns about seeing and knowing. ”All the senses are more or less subject to deception,“ J. H. Brown warned in the 1860s, ”but the eye is pre-eminently so; especially in the case of individuals who are in ill-health, because the sensibility of the retina is then generally much exalted, as is also the imagination.“[54] Brown’s observation echoes the Victorian fascination with the workings of the human eye, the distortions it could produce, and the difficulties of interpreting those distortions.[55] If the physical act of seeing baffled the spectator, then it also enlarged the possibilities of looking, enhanced no less by what Alison Chapman calls ”the technologies of the uncanny“ embedded in those late nineteenth-century wonders—electricity, the photograph, telegraph, phonograph, radio, and the telephone.[56]

Fig. 3, Thomas Rowlandson after George Moutard Woodward, Terrour or Fright, 1800. Hand-colored etching. © The Trustees of the British Museum, London.

As exciting as they were, optical illusions were widely regarded as corporeal and conceptual aberrations. For Brown, for instance, the apparition was symptomatic of an ocular malfunction, which when combined with the agency of ”fancy,“ produced bizarre and unearthly sights.[57] Ferriar too asserted that ghosts were caused by a sensitive eye prone to making such ”impressions“ seem ”durable“ and thus, credible.[58] If such anxieties about the reliability of sight were spurred on by suspicions centered on the eye, then their attendant fantasies were amplified by the power of sentience. In the caricature Terrour or Fright drawn by George Moutard Woodward (1760–1809), etched by Thomas Rowlandson (1756–1827), and published in 1800, a bespectacled ghost startles its victim into confronting his potential disembodiment (fig. 3). The message is disquieting—that corporeality together with the ability to rationalize stand in danger of disintegrating into an alienated self and the blurring of reason.

Woodward’s image hovers between the Enlightenment emphasis on the physical and the empirical, and the Romantic preoccupation with the psychic and the ”mind’s eye.“ As Terry Castle asserts, phantasms were no longer lurking outside, they could now be found within.[59] It is precisely the ”uncanny absorption of ghosts and apparitions into the world of thought“ that Woodward’s satire targets, the spectral lenses perched on the apparition’s face a metonymic reminder of the secret world of innermost desires and fears projected in the form of a ghoulish creature.[60] If any characteristic articulates uncanniness, then it must surely be the effaced eyes depicted as hollowed-out pools of whiteness in the ghostly white being. The clarity of sight (represented by the wide-eyed gaze of the frightened human figure) is paradoxically aligned with the terrifying prospect of emptying out vision (the ghost’s erased eyes), the stark visual contrast between sight and non-sight highlighting the fear of expunging reason in the absence of proper insight.

Returning to Hooker, even the rational naturalist struggles to reconcile the elusive with the rational, the invisible with tangible points of reference. By this I mean he approaches mist as yet another idiosyncratic climactic feature that needs to be contextualized within a graspable setting. The gesture is telling for it underscores the desire to bestow some geographical currency upon that which is unbound, formless, and resists ”coherence“ and ”identification.“[61] By anchoring the fluid vaporous formations of mist amid recognizable landmarks like Darjeeling and the Singalila mountains, Hooker in fact bolsters his own spatial and temporal currency against the onslaught of the destabilizing forces of the uncanny. By subverting the spectral, he emerges with his faculties intact, a present, animate, and living index of historical and geographical memory.

Mazuchelli, on the other hand, does not shy away from dwelling on the very thresholds of strangeness and disquietude engendered by the transfigurations of vapor. As a ”faint white mist“ began to ”rise out of the valley below Deodunga [Mount Everest],“ she reminisces, it is transformed into ”a thick cloud, until in a few minutes everything [was] as much a thing of the past as if it had never been,“ including herself, the beholder. Time anchors the body in space and memory. Its swift changes are, therefore, bound to disarm travelers by disrupting their ability to distinguish between past, present, and future, temporalizations that in fact lean on the power of sight to articulate the here and now and the that-has-been. Take away the perspicacity of vision and we are left with a disembodied spectator disassociated from his/her environment and the flow of time.

Fig. 4, Frederick William Alexander de Fabeck, Kinchinjunga Peaks from Jelapahar, Darjeeling District, Bengal, 1863. Pencil, pen and ink, and blue-grey wash, heightened with white. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The very ”idea of vision,“ as Jessica Dubow points out, hinges upon ”a material engagement in and with the object world“ assuming of course that the spectator can see.[62] But what happens if the viewer can see but not look? Mist is easily perceived, but its dense layers of whiteness can just as easily block the permeability of sight, causing the traveler to lose his/her bearings. It is in this seemingly magical ability to be seen while preventing sight that circumscribes mist as both a spectral encounter and a ghostly phenomenon. By situating vaporous clouds as something meant to be admired from afar, however precariously, Hooker emphasizes their formations as eye-catching optical experiences, thereby diffusing their spectral possibilities. Moreover, by contextualizing their whiteness within the dazzling spectacle of a Himalayan sunset, he stabilizes the very trajectories of vision that the translucency of mist so swiftly dislodged.

By the time the medical officer Frederick William Alexander de Fabeck (1830–1912) painted his 1863 watercolor entitled, Kinchinjunga Peaks from Jelapahar, Darjeeling District, Bengal (fig. 4), mist was widely recognized as a quintessential Himalayan feature that the traveler would sooner or later encounter in the hills. So were the spectacular effects of a sunrise or a sunset across a Himalayan sky. Like Hooker, Fabeck reiterates the desire to seek out scenic heights from where he enjoys a panoramic or prospect view, and like Hooker he too takes advantage of his location at Jalapahar (Hodgson’s bungalow was located here as well).[63] More to the point, the picture was painted when Fabeck was stationed at the military cantonment at Jalahapar as an officer of the Bengal army.[64] A vivid testament, therefore, to a military artist’s engagement with the picturesque idiom, the striking view of cascading meadows with the Kanchenjunga in the distance ensures that topographical details are simultaneously appreciated as scenic sights. Moreover, the image subtly draws attention to climactic elements (like mist) as sensory nodes of visual pleasure.[65] In short, the hard edges of empirical scrutiny are enmeshed in the sensual expression of space and time.

What is striking is that Fabeck articulates the whiteness of mist as a delicate haze unfurling across the mountain slopes, the wetness of watercolor conveying the dampness of moisture more effectively than Walton’s lithograph. From the verdant green of the mountain slopes nearby to the rose-tinted mountains culminating in snow-capped peaks along the horizon, each geographical section is enveloped by vapor, compelling the spectator to mediate the mountain sublime through the chiaroscuro effects of translucent mist. Mapped out through the Himalayan picturesque, the Himalayan sublime embodies different states of permanence and indeterminacy; if the mountains are static and stupendous, they are also ephemeral and fluid.[66]

Fig. 5, Samuel Bourne, Darjeeling Mist After Rain, 1865. Albumen Print. Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts. Purchased with Hillyer-Tryon-Mather Fund, with funds given in memory of Nancy Newhall (Nancy Parker, class of 1930) and in honor of Beaumont Newhall, and with funds given in honor of Ruth Wedgwood Kennedy.

In aesthetic terms, the mist gliding across the Himalayas embodies yet another landscape, this one more difficult to pin down as a coherently defined entity even when it intersects with the materiality of geography. It is in these elusive visibilities that the haze of mist is inflected with the spectral, the phantasmal. With the picturesque enmeshed with ghostly imaginings in this manner, ineffability itself becomes part and parcel of its aesthetic scope in this remote corner of the Himalayas. It is precisely the mutability of the spectral entwined with the static splendor of the picturesque that the photographer Samuel Bourne (1834–1912) managed to capture in his 1865 photograph entitled, Darjeeling Mist After Rain (fig. 5).[67] Here, clouds of moisture emerge from behind the trees in the foreground, blotting out the mountains beyond and transforming the monumental expanse of land into a spectral landscape. Unbounded and irrecoverable, its white haze destabilizes the static physicality of geography as well as the disciplined trajectories of sight. In other words, it coaxes vision itself to be malleable and unbounded while simultaneously and paradoxically ensuring that visibility is erased.

If, as W. J. T. Mitchell has demonstrated, landscape is ”a cultural practice,“ then one of its most distinctive elements—mist—is now entangled with the production of a picturesque view, the suggestion of ghostly traces, and the mechanics of photography.[68] By the time Bourne affixed the translucent haze of Darjeeling mist to paper, vapor had emerged as a standard feature in the theater of intangibles or what Barbara Maria Stafford’s calls the ”the specter business.“[69] Whether it be the Berlin physicist Paul Philidor’s wildly successful phantasmagoria staged in London’s Lyceum Theatre in 1801, or Sir David Brewster’s 1856 observation that his invention, the stereoscope, could transport the beholder to spectral realms when the photographer presented a figure ”as ’thin air’ amid the solid realities of the stereoscopic picture,“ the translucency of mist was easily identified with the ”technologies of the uncanny.“[70] Bourne’s photograph too registers the transience of mist as a ghostly performance, its ebb and flow rendered by the long exposure of the camera lens as a soft, fluid spectacle behind the dark, jagged edges of shrubs and trees.

Thus, the encroaching vapor in Bourne’s composition not only gestures at the spectral possibilities of Darjeeling’s geography, it also embeds the phantasmal in the artifice of a photograph. If photography captures that which is about to transmute into another form, the photograph can be seen to embody a sort of disappearance or invisibility, a ghostliness in other words. As Roland Barthes contends, the photograph is a function of both ”reality“ and ”the past;“ its subject has actually ”been there“ for it to be imaged yet is ”immediately separated“ from its representation and the camera itself.[71] In this sense, the photograph is continually haunted by its subjects and its referents. In its encodings of ”what has been,“ it not only demonstrates its capacity to contain and convey shifting temporalities, the photograph also brings into focus ”the vision of the double,“ the semblance of the ”thing“ that has been photographed.[72]

From its very inception in the 1830s, the chemically fixed photograph was inextricably linked to the uncanny. As Tom Gunning’s observes, the daguerreotype was seen to document the ”visual nature“ of physical reality while ostensibly ”dematerializing“ it and ”[transforming] it into a ghostly double.“[73] By the late 1800s, doubles had emerged as a hallmark of spirit photographs. Because of the advancements in double exposure, photographers were able to create optical illusions of ghostly visitations by superimposing images of human sitters with varying depths. While spiritualists and photographers hastened to produce visibility from the invisible in this manner, scientists were also preoccupied with that which was hidden from sight in the most basic natural elements like light, heat, and sound. For instance, the astrophysicist George Airy observed, ”light is the undulation of a medium called ether which pervades all transparent bodies.“[74] A fascination with the evanescence of vapor, a dematerialized materiality, now cut across different realms of visual intervention. Bourne’s photograph therefore affirms the camera’s capacity to capture that which the eye cannot perceive in its entirety—the kinetic, shape-shifting phenomena of mist. The whiteness of vapor, in other words, is a ”ghostly double“ of the veil of mist emanating mysteriously from the earth, its dense haze opaque yet malleable.

Bourne’s picture oscillates between a reading of climactic elements (a topographical approach) and a picturesque reflection on the optical possibilities of the colonial landscape (an aesthetic approach). What interests me here is how the image is fundamentally embedded in the desire to control the invisible by exposing the spectral properties of whiteness. As Gillian Beer has pointed out, the complex improvements in optical instruments in the nineteenth century generated new ways of framing visibility while simultaneously underscoring the insecurity of vision.[75] With the expanding arena of colonial geographies, technological advances in optics also directly or indirectly emphasized the materiality and dissolution of whiteness. In this sense, Bourne’s image accentuates the sense of the uncanny within the spectral landscape. By enhancing the interplay between vapor and geography, whiteness and darkness, it evokes different registers of sight and touch alongside each other, only to remind the viewer that the photograph mediates between the phenomenological experiences of the body and the unpredictable phenomena of nature.

Hooker’s ”white girdle“ and Mazuchelli’s ”wet sheet“ parallel Fabeck’s white haze and Bourne’s white vapor, with all four misty formations drawing attention to one common peculiarity—mist embodies a whiteness that clings to the landscape and to the body, altering not only vision and tactility but also hinting at the changing registers of heat and cold perceived by human flesh. For it was with the onslaught of cool vapor that temperatures plummeted, leaving travelers with vivid impressions of profound shifts in their physical environment. From a practical perspective, such somatic changes signified what Hooker called ”the luxury of a cool climate“ associated with the hills.[76] It also touched upon, as Mazuchelli discovered, the more hidden realm of spectral fantasies. Whiteness underscored a recalibration of space and time, the very axes of memory and history. More to the point, it embodied an estrangement from material reality, a gap within which familiar coordinates were blurred and temporal disruptions were bound up in atmospheric and psychic shifts. To this end, it can be aligned with the phenomenon of haunting during which the most elemental vectors of belonging that affirm identity, the very sense of being and belonging, are destabilized in radical ways.[77]

Fig. 6, Edward Lear, Kinchinjunga from Darjeeling, 1879. Oil on canvas. Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut. Gift of Donald C. Gallup, Yale 1934, 1939.

Fig. 7, Edward Lear, detail, Kinchinjunga from Darjeeling, 1879. Oil on canvas. Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut. Gift of Donald C. Gallup, Yale 1934, 1939.

Restoring Color, Reifying Whiteness
If Hooker circumvents the obliterating effects of mist and its disorientations by seeking out scenic heights, Mazuchelli returns to color to keep ghostly whiteness at bay. ”Colour is truly music to the eye,“ she rhapsodizes, suggesting that it was because of different hues and tonalities that vision was animated and a sense of space and time, restored.[78] Vital to the power of sight, color, therefore, offsets the complex displacements and spectral imaginings activated by whiteness. It is precisely the balance between the optical harmonies of color and the ghostliness of vaporous white that Edward Lear (1812–88) accentuates in his magnificent view of the Kanchenjunga painted for his patron, the Viceroy Lord Northbrook (1879; fig. 6). Barely discernible but clearly present within a thick cover of Himalayan evergreens, ferns, and creepers, a delicate layer of mist hovers over a deep gorge with the Kanchenjunga range looming ahead.

Here, the snow-capped peaks of the Kanchenjunga, ”so far off—so very God like & stupendous“ in Lear’s words, together with the verdant luxuriance of Darjeeling, constitute two very different sensory nodes that pull in opposite directions.[79] The icy blue of snow and the green spillage of ferns are just some of the vivid details of the extraordinary range of natural beauty rendered with the precision of a botanical painter’s eye and hand. But it is in Lear’s sensitive handling of mist that his genius becomes evident. A visual surprise hidden in a leafy gorge, the shimmering veil of vapor is discernible only when one carefully scrutinizes the canvas (fig. 7). Thus, the spectator is invited to navigate the thresholds of sight and ontological awareness with modulations of color subtly reassuring one of his/her corporeal whiteness.

“Kinchinjunga PM is apt to become a wonderful hash of Turneresque colour & mist & space.“[80] If Lear anchors a dazzling Himalayan sunset in what Gerald Finley describes as ”the changing and disappearing“ effects of color in Turner’s famous vortex compositions, he was not alone.[81] Hooker too recalled ”the fleeting hues over the ice“ in Turner’s Whalers and ”the ruddy fire in his 'Wind, Steam, and Rain’“ to describe the ”marvellous effects“ of the ”changing tints“ of the ”misty ocean“ in which he found himself near the Chunjerma Pass in eastern Nepal en route to Darjeeling.[82] Similarly, Mazuchelli was so moved by the ”ethereal“ beauty of Mount Everest near Darjeeling that she surmised that ”only Turner, that greatest of all modern painters,“ was capable of capturing its essence:

”Turner’s was a mind in which Nature called up strong emotions, and he painted what he felt; and the more I live among its sublime sanctuaries, the more convinced I become that there is a something real in it, to which the whole being of some person responds, but which is nevertheless wholly unreal to others.“ [83]

Such a glorification of Turner implies that the wondrous effects of Himalayan sunlight are inseparable from the thickness of cultural sedimentation, so much so that the beholders of spectacular atmospheric changes in the Darjeeling area feel compelled to invoke the emotive painterliness of nineteenth-century Britain’s most exalted landscape artist to convey the depth and power of their own sentiments. Turner’s vortex of swirling color and light, in other words, provides the visual axis against which travelers like Hooker, Mazuchelli, and Lear calibrate the scenic beauty surrounding them, a beauty that is so overwhelming, so ”indescribable,“ it leaves Mazuchelli feeling ”humbled“ and ”broken.“[84] What matters here is not so much that emotions of inadequacy or helplessness are felt during a complex set of aesthetic encounters in a remote destination (the ”nearest point of earth to heaven“ in Mazuchelli’s words), but that such emotions were yoked to the ”elemental energy“ of natural ”forces“ splashed across canvases in Turneresque style instead of to rational readings of structure and space.[85] Paradoxically, it is the formless, the shapeless, and the place-less—all quintessential spectral paradigms—reinstated as a ”Turneresque“ ”haze,“ that are now re-presented as a cogent vision of Himalayan beauty.

Fig. 8, Moorli Dhur & Son, Darjeeling. The Snow From Above St. Paul’s With Cloud, n.d. Photographic print on postcard. Author’s collection.

The desire to invoke Turner has important implications not just for the appreciation of natural beauty, but also for reifying colonial identity in a remote Himalayan spot. As John Plotz contends, it is ”precisely at the moment“ when colonial sensibility asserts a longing for a unified vision of Englishness, when the ”settler“ envisions him/herself as unmistakably British, that the Briton becomes colonial.[86] Hooker, Tayler, Fabeck, Lear, and Mazuchelli had all lived and traveled in the Darjeeling area for varying periods of time, and it is in their identifications of Turner—the most celebrated British landscape painter of their time—within the Himalayan landscape, that they assert their colonial self-hood.

This brings me to the dilemma centered on the physical reality of an alien geography whose scenery bore nostalgic flashes of a landscape left behind at home while remaining very much rooted in a colonial space. Here the pull of memory is entangled with the thrill of discovering the present, but the two are never easily reconciled. The hill station was often compared with the Scottish Highlands while its foliage was described as ”English“ or as ”English looking.“[87] Thus, Lear’s observation about the ”Turneresque“ ”hash“ echoes the uncertainties of being British yet colonial, of being white in a context within which whiteness was as much a cultural performance as it was a racial marker in an alien setting. That said, the Himalayas were never fully accepted as foreign terrain; rather, they were reorganized as projections of the desire to remain stridently British. Even the colonial architecture steadily dotting its slopes throughout the nineteenth century ranged from imitations of the quaint English cottage sporting names like ”The Dell“ and ”Cedar Cottage“ to replicas of the grand stone edifices of British public schools (fig. 8), testifying to the need to graft physical and cultural signposts of the homeland onto the Indian landscape.[88]

Mazuchelli’s impassioned observation that Turner could detect the magical possibilities of the ”unreal,“ the spectral, whereas others saw only the mundane and the quotidian, is therefore interlaced with much deeper concerns about the fragile harmony of being both British and colonial at once. To identify with Turner’s vision meant exerting the sovereignty of British sensibility and imagination in the Himalayan landscape. It also meant comprehending the ”real“ in what appears to be ”unreal,“ thus bracketing the spectral as being intimately linked within the ”real.“ Such entanglements were bound to heighten one’s awareness of corporeality, for encounters with the uncanny inevitably accentuated the spectator’s sense of the animate.

In 1824, the physician Samuel Hibbert postulated that ghosts were ”pale“ and ”misty“ because the ”spectral idea“ of color fell short of the density and ”vividness of immediate sensations.“[89] For colonial residents, that ”vividness“ or the immediacy of one’s bodily experience was firmly rooted in an acute awareness of whiteness or more to the point, in an impending fear of its loss. As such, the uncanny embodies the dissolution of the colonial European body into the Indian other, a very real concern voiced by Hooker (among many others) when he marveled that just ”a few weeks“ of ”mountain air“ could do wonders for the ”India-born children of European parents: they are taken there sickly, pallid or yellow, soft and flabby, to become transformed into models of rude health and activity.“[90] By retreating to Darjeeling to avail of its temperate climes, the jaundiced effects induced by the sweltering heat and humidity of the plains could be effectively banished.

Hooker’s speculation, however, goes far beyond a superficial reading of complexion. It calls for restoring whiteness and, by extension, a robust British constitution and character. Such opinions chimed in with ongoing concerns that the ”native“ climate was steadily transforming colonial Britons into weakened versions of native Britons, concerns that would in fact explode in the wake of the Indian Mutiny or Rebellion of 1857 when the battle-lines defined by race would be drawn deeper than ever. As the physical and cultural margins between ”native“ and colonial British communities grew more unstable, color and complexion became inseparable from assertions of race, resulting in a discourse that drove home the fear of discoloration, of ”going native“ in other words.[91] At a physiological level, such concerns played out through the interconnected paradigms of heat and decay.[92] The alarming rate at which the European body succumbed to fearsome tropical diseases like cholera, malaria, typhoid fever, and dysentery now associated with ”native“ landscapes and ”native“ bodies instilled an acute awareness that whiteness was at grave risk in an alien geography and climate.[93]

What is striking is that whiteness emerged to signify the uncanny while remaining vividly interlaced with the familiar, bringing us full-circle to Freud’s observation that it is often through engaging with the uncanny (among other things) that the agency of human intervention in the quotidian flow of life is reified and indeed stabilized. Along these lines, Carpenter’s reflections that the ”queer-shaped clouds [of mist], which at times look almost like men who have sat down for a rest,“ or resemble ”beasts“ that in ”single file race through the air,“ demonstrate at once a fascination with the shape-shifting forms of mist and with the recurring spectral possibilities of vapor in the everyday experience of the Darjeeling landscape.[94] The ghostliness of white mist would be complicated further in the opening decades of the twentieth century when a ”ghost dance“ was hosted at the Gymkhana Club for which ”all the guests appeared in white, fantastic costumes.“ [95] As the colonial body dressed in a white outfit twirled across the dance floor, the attempt to create phantasmagoric effects only amplified its sensate whiteness. In a setting like Darjeeling where mist frequently generated an array of spectral imaginings, the performance of the material white body at a ”ghost dance“ was bound to evoke the intangibility and, by extension, the ghostly whiteness of vapor. More to the point, mistiness was harnessed to emphatically declare the Britishness of colonial culture, secluded as it was at the Gymkhana Club, one of colonial Darjeeling’s most fashionable signposts established in 1909.

To conclude, the chiaroscuro effects mobilized by rising mist produced a range of speculations about the spectral and the uncanny within the broader framework of the Himalayan picturesque. As fluid layers of vapor clouded the mountain slopes, divisions between the ”real“ and the fantastic became tenuous at best, demonstrating that whiteness was a corporeal anxiety, a cultural imagining, and a social performance. The translucency of Himalayan mist, therefore, opened up unique ways of contemplating as well as participating in the colonial landscape and the modalities of colonial selfhood in so remote a corner of the world as Darjeeling. Thus, the picturesqueness fostered by Himalayan mist can be read as a paradigm of cultural alienation, which simultaneously inspired colonial travelers to reconcile with their shared (albeit diverse) identity as strangers in a strange land.

This article is dedicated to Jyoti Prosad Ray and Prashant Kapoor whose abiding love of the Himalayas has given me much food for thought. In addition, I thank the anonymous reviewer for his/her comments. I am also grateful to Emilie Hardman at the Houghton Library, Harvard University, and Kate Kearns at the Smith College Museum of Art, for their help. Moreover, I thank Tim Barringer for his invitation to participate in his class on the visual cultures of British India, which prompted me to revisit Edward Lear’s magnificent view of the Kanchenjunga at the Yale Center for British Art. Thus came about the idea to write this article.

[1] A Lady Pioneer [Elizabeth Sarah Mazuchelli] The Indian Alps and How We Crossed Them: Being a Narrative of Two Years’ Residence in the Eastern Himalaya and Two Months’ Tour into the Interior (London: Longman’s, Green, and Company, 1876), 279.

[2] Ibid.

[3] On this subject, see for instance, Linda Siegel, ”Synaesthesia and the Paintings of Caspar David Friedrich,“ Art Journal 33, no. 3 (Spring 1974): 199; Ronald Rees, ”Constable, Turner, and Views of Nature in the Nineteenth Century,“ Geographical Review 72, no. 3 (July 1982): 255–57; and Uttara Natarajan, ed., The Romantic Poets: A Guide to Criticism (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2007), 125.

[4] The extract is taken from Hazlitt’s essay entitled, ”Why Distant Objects Please“ (1821–22). William Hazlitt, Table Talk (London: Everyman’s Library, 1959), 255.

[5] Fredric Jameson, ”Marx’s Purloined Letter,“ New Left Review 209 (January/February 1995): 85.

[6] Sigmund Freud, ”The Uncanny,“ in Collected Papers, trans. Joan Riviere (London: Hogarth and Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1925), 4:369–70.

[7] For an excellent study of the uncanny in colonial India, see Swati Chattopadyay, Representing Calcutta: Modernity, Nationalism, and the Colonial Uncanny (London: Routledge, 2006).

[8] Felix Driver and Luciana Martins, ”Views and Visions of the Tropical World,“ in Tropical Visions in an Age of Empire, ed. Felix Driver and Luciana Martins (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2005), 5.

[9] Dane Kennedy, The Magic Mountains: Hill Stations and the British Raj (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 22–23; and Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, Himalayan Journals; or, Notes of a Naturalist in Bengal, the Sikkim and Nepal Himalayas, the Khasia Mountains, &c. (London: John Murray, 1854), 1:115–17. The term ”hill station“ can be traced to the sanitaria built in the ”hills“ (or mountains) where wounded British soldiers were ”stationed“ to recuperate from their ailments. Hill stations were established in the Himalayas, the Nilgiri mountains, and the Western Ghats.

[10] The most comprehensive study to date of hill stations in the Himalayas can be found in Kennedy, Magic Mountains. See also Judith T. Kenney, ”Climate, Race, and Imperial Authority: The Symbolic Landscape of the British Hill Station in India,“ Annals of the Association of American Geographers 85, no. 4 (December 1995): 694–714. For more about Darjeeling in particular, see Aditi Chatterji, Contested Landscapes: The Story of Darjeeling (Calcutta: Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, 2007); Karubaki Datta, ”Introduction,“ in Urbanisation in the Eastern Himalayas: Emergence and Issues, ed. Karubaki Datta (New Delhi: Serials Publications, 2006), xxiii-xxiv; and Swatasiddha Sarkar, ”Formation of a British Hinterland: Darjeeling in Colonial Days,“ in Datta, Urbanisation in the Eastern Himalayas, 231–45.

[11] W. S. Caine, Picturesque India: A Handbook for European Travellers (London: George Routledge & Sons, 1890), 350–55; Graeme D. Westlake, An Introduction to the Hill Stations of India (New Delhi: HarperCollins, 1993), 41; Kennedy, Magic Mountains, 19–38; and Maurice Isserman and Stewart Weaver, Fallen Giants: A History of Himalayan Mountaineering from the Age of Empire to the Age of Extremes (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 13–14. For more about Darjeeling’s strategic location, see Dawa Norbu, China’s Tibet Policy (Richmond, UK: Curzon Press, 2001), 149, 172–73. Protecting their commercial interests in China was paramount for Company officials and later, for leaders of the Victorian Raj. Situated on the other side of the Himalayas, Tibet loomed large in the trade negotiations between China, Russia, and Britain. Aside from Norbu’s excellent study, see also Warren W. Smith, China’s Tibet? Autonomy or Assimilation (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2008), 9–13; and Clare Harris, ”Seeing Lhasa: British Photographic and Filmic Engagement with Tibet, 1936-1947“ in Seeing Lhasa: British Depictions of the Tibetan Capital, ed. Clare Harris, Tsering Shakya, and Elizabeth Edwards (Chicago: Serindia Publications, 2003), 1–22.

[12] David Arnold, The Tropics and the Travelling Gaze: India, Landscape, and Science 1800-1856 (Delhi: Permanent Black, 2005), 212. For more about the Treaty of Nanjing, see for instance David R. Meyer, Hong Kong as a Global Metropolis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 50.

[13] Westlake, Hill Stations, 41–43; Kennedy, Magic Mountains, 4; Arnold, Travelling Gaze, 212; and Elizabeth M. Collingham, Imperial Bodies: The Physical Experience of the Raj, c. 1800-1947 (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2001), 86–87.

[14] R. D. O’ Brien, Darjeeling: the Sanitarium of Bengal, and its Surroundings (Calcutta: W. Newman, 1883), 55–56; Westlake, Hill Stations, 136; and S. S. Negi, A Handbook of the Himalaya (New Delhi: Indus Publishing, 1990), 309. By the late nineteenth century, 174 tea plantations flourished in the Darjeeling area. Tea estates were also established in other areas of India and Ceylon. On the subject of how tea plantations in Darjeeling produced unique picturesque spaces and discourses, see the second chapter of my book, Under the Banyan Tree: Relocating the Picturesque in British India (London: Yale University Press, forthcoming 2013).

[15] Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1994), 89. Italics in original.

[16] Tayler later recalled sketching this view in his own memoirs. William Tayler, Thirty-Eight Years in India: From Juganath to the Himalaya Mountains (London: W. H. Allen & Company, 1882), 2:104.

[17] Barbara Maria Stafford, ”From ’Brilliant Ideas’ to ’Fitful Thoughts’: Conjecturing the Unseen in Late Eighteenth-Century Art,“ Zeitschrift fur Kunstgeshichte 48, no. 3 (1985): 329.

[18] Hooker, Himalayan Journals, 2:403.

[19] Ibid., 1:274.

[20] Mazuchelli, Indian Alps, 279.

[21] Ibid., 279. Emphasis is mine.

[22] Driver and Martins, ”Views and Visions,“ 11. Emphasis is mine.

[23] Mazuchelli, Indian Alps, 280.

[24] Ibid., 280–81.

[25] Ibid., 279.

[26] Avery F. Gordon, Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2008), 8.

[27] Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas (London: Chapman and Hall, 1845), 38. For more about Frederick Hudson and spirit photography, see Sarah A. Wilburn, Possessed Victorians: Extra Spheres in Nineteenth-Century Mystical Writings (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), 58–64; John Harvey, Photography and Spirit (London: Reaktion Books, 2007), 124–41.

[28] On this subject, see for instance, Nicola Bown, Carolyn Burdett, and Pamela Thurschwell, ”Introduction,“ in The Victorian Supernatural, ed. Nicola Bown, Carolyn Burdett, and Pamela Thurschwell (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 6–8.

[29] Chattopadyay, Representing Calcutta, 33.

[30] Gordon, Ghostly Matters, 55.

[31] Charlotte Klonk, Science and the Perception of Nature: British Landscape Art in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1996), 99.

[32] Edward Slowik, ”Hume and the Perception of Spatial Magnitude,“ Canadian Journal of Philosophy 34, no. 3 (September 2004): 369–71.

[33] Nigel Leask, Curiosity and the Aesthetics of Travel Writing 1770-1840: ”From an Antique Land“ (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 248–49; and Driver and Martins, ”Views and Visions,“ 11.

[34] Klonk, Science and the Perception of Nature, 26–31.

[35] William Gilpin, Three Essays: On Picturesque Beauty; on Picturesque Travel; and on Sketching Landscape, To Which is Added a Poem, on Landscape Painting (London: Printed for R. Blamire, in the Strand, 1792) 58; and Hooker, Himalayan Journals, 1:123.

[36] I explore this idea in my essay entitled, ”Baron of Bengal: Robert Clive and the Birth of An Imperial Image,“ in Transculturation in British Art, 1770-1930, ed. Julie F. Codell (London: Ashgate, 2012), 21–38.

[37] Thomas Daniell and William Daniell, A Picturesque Voyage to India, by the Way of China (London: Printed for Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, Paternoster-Row 1810), ii.

[38] Leask, Travel Writing, 169.

[39] Mildred Archer and Ronald Lightbown, India Observed: India as Viewed by British Artists 1760-1860 (London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1982), 8–12. Memsahibs were women of European—mainly Anglo—descent.

[40] Gilpin, Three Essays, 20. Italics in original. For Gilpin’s reflections on mist, see William Gilpin, Observations Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty, Made in the Year 1772, On Several Parts of England; Particularly the Mountains and Lakes of Cumberland, and Westmoreland (London: Printed for R. Blamire, Strand), 1:12.

[41] John Ferriar, An Essay Towards a Theory of Apparitions (London: Printed for Cadell and Davies by J. and J. Haddock, Warrington, 1812), 19–20.

[42] Charles Harrison, ”The Effects of Landscape,“ in Landscape and Power, ed. W. J. T. Mitchell, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 215; and Driver and Martins, ”Views and Visions,“ 3–5.

[43] Mazuchelli, Indian Alps, 368.

[44] See the ninth discourse in Joshua Reynolds, Discourses on Art, ed. by Robert R. Wark (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), 171; and Stafford, ”Conjecturing the Unseen,“ 330.

[45] It was the very quality of the mundane captured brilliantly by painters from the ”Flemish and Dutch schools“ that caused Reynolds to dismiss landscape painting as inferior. See the fourth discourse in Reynolds, Discourses, 70.

[46] For an insightful analysis of the fragile balance between personal narrative and objective description in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century travelogues, see Leask, Travel Writing, 5–11.

[47] Hooker, Himalayan Journals, 1:123.

[48] Frank G. Carpenter, Carpenter’s Geographical Reader: Asia (New York: American Book Company, 1897), 251.

[49] Terry Castle, The Female Thermometer: Eighteenth-Century Culture and the Invention of the Uncanny (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 5.

[50] Mazuchelli, Indian Alps, 228–29.

[51] Hooker, Himalayan Journals, 1:309. Italics are mine. Hooker’s reflections bring to mind Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer Over the Sea of Mist (1818) whose vaporous clouds, according to Babara Novak, embody an ”abyss of separation“ between man and nature, a splintering that underscores the fragility of selfhood while affirming the overwhelming powers of nature to engulf the human body and spirit. See Barbara Novak, Nature and Culture: American Landscape and Painting 1825-1875 (London: Thames and Hudson, 1980), 185.

[52] Bown, Burdett, and Thurschwell, ”Introduction,“ 4–10; and Richard Noakes, ”Spiritualism, Science and the Supernatural in mid-Victorian Britain,“ in Bown, Burdett, and Thurschwell, Victorian Supernatural, 23–43.

[53] Bown, Burdett, and Thurschwell, ”Introduction,“ 1.

[54] J. H. Brown, Spectropia; or, Surprising Spectral Illusions Showing Ghosts Everywhere, and of any Colour, 2nd ed.(London: Griffith and Farran, 1864), 7.

[55] Kate Flint, The Victorians and the Visual Imagination (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 5.

[56] Alison Chapman, ”Mary Elizabeth Coleridge, Literary Influence and Technologies of the Uncanny,“ in Victorian Gothic: Literary and Cultural Manifestations in the Nineteenth Century, ed. Ruth Robbins and Julian Wolfreys (New York: Palgrave, 2000), 109.

[57] Brown, Spectropia, 7.

[58] Ferriar, Apparitions, 15–16.

[59] Castle, Female Thermometer, 174.

[60] Ibid., 171.

[61] Julian Wolfreys, Victorian Hauntings: Spectrality, Gothic, the Uncanny and Literature (New York: Palgrave, 2002), x-xi.

[62] Jessica Dubow, ” ’From a View on the World to a Point of View In It’: Rethinking Sight, Space and the Colonial Subject,“ Interventions, 2, no. 1 (2000): 101.

[63] Hooker made several barometric observations in ”Mr. Hodgson’s House“ at ”Jillapahar“ (Jalapahar). Hooker, Himalayan Journals, 2:579, 640–43, 688.

[64] Barracks were initially built at Jalahapar as early as 1848 to house British soldiers. Within just two decades, the cantonment had expanded considerably. L. S. S. O’Malley, Darjeeling: District Gazetteer (1907; repr., New Delhi: Gyan Publishing House, 1995), 192–93.

[65] Landscape painting and watercolor drawing had been formalized as part and parcel of the British military curricula since the early 1800s. Eminent watercolorists, such as William Sawrey, Gilpin, and William Frederick Wells, served as faculty at British military academies and colleges at Woolwich, High Wycombe, Sandhurst, Chatham, Great Marlow, and the East India Company’s own college at Addiscombe. While Gilpin, who in 1804 was elected the first president of the Society of Painters in Watercolours, taught at Great Marlow, and Sandhurst, his successor William Frederick Wells (appointed president of the same watercolor society in 1806) taught at Addiscombe. See Mildred Archer, British Drawings in the India Office Library (London: Her Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1969), 1:5–9; and Matthew Edney, Mapping an Empire: The Geographical Construction of British India, 1765-1843 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 63–76.

[66] As John Gage notes in his discussion of Turner’s images of mountains in Scotland, Wales, and Switzerland, ”the Sublime often appeared to contemporaries as a category of the Picturesque in the sense of its being capable of representation in a picture,“ its pictorialization fulfilled by emphasizing the ”characteristic qualities of any subject,“ a hallmark of the picturesque idiom. Similarly, Fabeck’s focus on ”form“ and indeed its potential formations, engenders what Gage calls ”thoroughly Picturesque ways of thinking.“ See John Gage, ”Turner and the Picturesque-1,“ Burlington Magazine 107, no. 742 (January 1965): 18–21.

[67] Samuel Bourne traveled extensively in the Himalayas in 1863, 1864, and 1866, setting up a studio in Simla in March 1863 and pushing as far north as the Manirung Pass in 1866. His vast corpus of photographs of the Himalayas pulled into focus remote locations like the Wanga Valley and Darjeeling. Bourne won several prizes from the Bengal Photographic Society in 1863, 1864, and 1869, for some of these pictures. See Gary Sampson, ”The Success of Samuel Bourne in India,“ History of Photography 16, no. 4 (Winter 1992): 336–47; and Arthur Ollman, ”Samuel Bourne: The Himalayan Images 1863-69,“ Creative Camera 226 (October 1983): 1122–29.

[68] W. J. T. Mitchell, ”Introduction,“ in Mitchell, Landscape and Power, 1.

[69] Barbara Maria Stafford, ”Revealing Technologies/Magical Domains,“ in Devices of Wonder: From the World in a Box to Images on a Screen, ed. Barbara Maria Stafford and Frances Terpak (Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2001), 85.

[70] Ibid.; Tom Gunning, ”Uncanny Reflections, Modern Illusions: Sighting and the Modern Optical Uncanny,“ in Uncanny Modernity: Cultural Theories, Modern Anxieties, ed. Jo Collins and John Jervis (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 75–76; David Brewster, The Stereoscope, Its History, Theory and Construction (London: Murray, 1856), 205; and Harvey, Photography and Spirit, 117–24.

[71] Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981), 76–77.

[72] Ibid., 12, 85.

[73] Tom Gunning, ”Phantom Images and Modern Manifestations: Spirit Photography, Magic Theater, Trick Films, and Photography’s Uncanny,“ in Fugitive Images: From Photography to Video, ed. Patrice Petro (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1995), 43; Fred Gettings, Ghosts in Photographs: The Extraordinary Story of Spirit Photography (New York: Harmony, 1978); and Karl Schoonover, ”Ectoplasms, Evanescence, and Photography,“ Art Journal 62, no. 3 (Autumn 2003): 30–43.

[74] George Airy, On the Undulatory Theory of Optics: Designed for the Use of Students in the University (London and Cambridge: Macmillan, 1866), 19, quoted in Gillian Beer, ”'Authentic Tidings of Invisible Things’: Vision and the Invisible in the Later Nineteenth Century,“ Vision in Context: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Sight, ed. Teresa Brennan and Martin Jay (New York: Routledge, 1996), 85.

[75] Beer, ”Vision and the Invisible,“ in Brennan and Jay, Vision in Context, 88.

[76] Hooker, Himalayan Journals, 2:117.

[77] Wolfreys, Victorian Hauntings, 1.

[78] Mazuchelli, Indian Alps, 229.

[79] Edward Lear, journal entry for Sunday, January 18, 1874, Journals in India, 1:18, fMS Eng 797.4, Houghton Library, Harvard University.

[80] Edward Lear, journal entry for Monday, January 19, 1874, Journals in India, 1:19, fMS Eng 797.4, Houghton Library, Harvard University.

[81] Gerald Finley, ”The Deluge Pictures: Reflections on Goethe, J. M. W. Turner and Early-Nineteenth Century Science,“ Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 60, no. 4 (1997): 539.

[82] Hooker, Himalayan Journals, 2:266.

[83] Mazuchelli, Indian Alps, 368. Italics in original.

[84] Hooker, Himalayan Journals, 2:266; and Mazuchelli, Indian Alps, 368.

[85] Ronald Rees, ”Constable, Turner, and Views of Nature in the Nineteenth Century,“ Geographical Review 72, no. 3 (July 1982): 263.

[86] John Plotz, ”The First Strawberries in India: Cultural Portability in Victorian Britain,“ Victorian Studies 49, no. 4 (Summer 2007): 663.

[87] Hooker, Himalayan Journals, 1:109, 112.

[88] For more about the architecture of Darjeeling, see, for instance, Jan Morris and Simon Winchester, Stones of Empire: The Buildings of the Raj (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), 198–200; Sarkar, ”British Hinterland,“ 234; Kennedy, Magic Mountains, 3–4, 102–6. Saint Paul’s School in Darjeeling (fig. 8), is situated in what used to be Brian Houghton Hodgson’s estate (fig. 1). Founded in Calcutta (Kolkata) in 1823, the school was relocated in Darjeeling in 1864.

[89] Shane McCorristine, Spectres of the Self: Thinking about Ghosts and Ghost-Seeing in England, (1750-1920) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 45; and Samuel Hibbert, Sketches of the Philosophy of Apparitions; or, an Attempt to Trace Such Illusions to Their Physical Causes (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd; London: G. & W. B. Whittaker, 1824), 155–57. Hibbert expanded upon Ferriar’s earlier observations that apparitions were figments of the imagination.

[90] Hooker, Himalayan Journals, 1:120.

[91] Although the scholarly trend has been to assign the deterministic linkages between color and race in British India to the middle of the nineteenth century (and beyond), a consciousness about skin color came about much earlier in the eighteenth-century when Britain was beginning to emerge as the pre-eminent colonial power in Europe. See for instance, Roxanne Wheeler, ”The Complexion of Desire: Racial Ideology and Mid-Eighteenth-Century British Novels,“ Eighteenth-Century Studies 32, no. 3 (1999): 309–32; Sharmila Sen, ”The Saracen’s Head,“ Victorian Literature and Culture 36 (2008): 418, 422–25; and Durba Ghosh, ”Who Counts as ’Native?’: Gender, Race, and Subjectivity in Colonial India,“ Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 6, no. 3 (Winter 2005),

[92] Kennedy, Magic Mountains, 19.

[93] David Arnold, ”Cholera and Colonialism in British India,“ Past and Present, 113 (November 1986): 118–51; and Kennedy, Magic Mountains, 25–28.

[94] Carpenter, Geographical Reader, 251.

[95] E. C. Dozey, A Concise History of the Darjeeling District since 1835, with a Complete Itinerary of Tours in Sikkim and the District (Calcutta: N. Mukherjee, 1922), 117.