|Abstract: ||This paper discusses two contemporary British historical fictions, Bernardine Evaristo’s The Emperor’s Babe (2002) and Salman Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence (2008), as shedding light on and offering critiques to both Britain and the world’s current multicultural state of development.
Evaristo’s verse novel is inspired by the history of black presence inhabiting the British Isles during the Roman era of third century A.D. The text features Zuleika, daughter of Sudanese immigrants in Roman London, and her telling of her life with her friends, her older white Roman businessman husband, and her brief but passionate affair with Libyan-born Roman Emperor Septimius Severus. The African-born Roman Emperor desires Zuleika for her darker representations, a past part of him which he has gradually lost over the years. Although the two are not from the same ethnic background, they find comfort in their similar inauthentic Romanness. The Emperor’s Babe deconstructs the white Britain myth by rewriting black populations back into the history of the British Isles, ascribing racism as a later colonial enterprise of the British Empire and the chief contaminator of contemporary multiculturalism. Evaristo’s text revisits Roman London through the perspective of its black ruler and resident to uncover the historical example of a multiracial and multicultural British Isles not dominated by separations and hierarchies of difference.
Rushdie novel, on the other hand, fantastically returns to the sixteenth century to portray the world famous Mughal Emperor, Akbar the Great, who is celebrated for his successful sovereignty achieved through diplomatic military policies as well as religious and cultural tolerance. The text follows Akbar as he ventures through various love fantasy pursuits, which include his imagined queen Jodha, Queen Elizabeth I of England, and his cosmopolitan traveler ancestor Qara Köz, also known as the “Enchantress of Florence.” Rushdie’s novel presents Akbar as progressively modern-thinking and open to border-crossing enlightenments, reigning his heterogeneously diverse subjects through pre-modern and modern as well as East-West collaborative insights. Through Rushdie’s historical rewriting, Akbar’s great kingdom serves as an eastern counterpart to the vivacity of western Renaissance.
By reviving these historical Emperors who live and love across cultural borders through literary re-imaginings, Evaristo’s and Rushdie’s texts project new understandings of and directions for the development of multiculturalism.