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He overcomes every obstacle to marry her, even converting to Islam. Then he dies when she is still only 19, leaving her to be taken up and then dumped by another British officer. If Jane Austen had gone to India, these are the letters home she might have written.

Emily Eden was the sister of George Auckland, probably the worst governor general of the lot. She was as gay, witty and caustic as he was stiff and prickly. How did a few thousand British troops hold down a subcontinent of million people? In his superb short history of the Indian army, Philip Mason, himself a longstanding officer in the elite Indian civil service, evokes the threads of loyalty that bound the British and the sepoys together until the threads snapped in , and even after that brutal rupture were sewn up again, so that the British influence lingers on in the far larger army that independent India deploys today.

Captain Atkinson describes with a delicious wry touch the ramshackle routine in the backwoods of British India in the s: the innocent young subaltern, the disillusioned old major with his Indian family, the mangy pack of hounds they hunt with and the even mangier cattle in the bazaar, the cigar-chomping padre, and the servants fussing around their sweating masters.

Empire and literature – International Socialism

For the British, there was no more traumatic event in the entire 19th century than the Great Mutiny. The European officers were cut down by their own men whose loyalty they had trusted, and their women and children were butchered in what looks like a variety of ethnic cleansing. The perpetrators were made to lick up the blood of their victims before being slaughtered in their turn. The legendary white hunter Jim Corbett became famous first for killing the man-eating leopards and tigers who were preying on villagers in the hills of northern India. Later he became equally famous for his efforts to conserve their habitat and the national tiger reserve is today called Jim Corbett Park.

This enthralling account of big-game hunting can safely be enjoyed by the most sensitive reader because it is about taking life only in order to preserve it. When I came back to it years later, I found it luscious and funny. But when Forster toys with his characters, he toys so gently that they never cease to breathe. Staying On describes the intolerable Tusker, the retired Indian army officer who has made a financial horlicks by staying on in a small hill town after independence, and his long-suffering wife Lucy, who see their old world shrinking as the new India rises around them, literally so in the shape of the ghastly Shiraz hotel.

Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson were perfect in the TV version , but the book is a joy and makes an elegiac farewell to the Raj. Kim by Rudyard Kipling If you ask any Indian writer which English book about India has meant most to them, the chances are they will say Kim.

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White Mughals by William Dalrymple Before the memsahibs came, lonely British officers consoled themselves with their Indian bibis. A Matter of Honour by Philip Mason How did a few thousand British troops hold down a subcontinent of million people? The word for our moment was imperialism. It suggests that no good thing is untainted—that no good thing is really, finally, good.

But as a first move, it was brilliant. Among the various names for injustice, were there any that legitimately linked with so much of the history in play at that moment?

The recent emergence of black militancy at home seemed to resonate with anti-colonial struggles abroad. The United States was still at war in Vietnam. Behind the excuse of containing communism, it was enthusiastically supporting military dictatorships, armed insurgencies, and death squads around the world. In short, the United States was directly and indirectly responsible, through its policies and through its consumerist life style, for incalculable human suffering, especially this was important outside its borders.

Meanwhile, in the American universities, where the Western cultural heritage was preserved, transmitted, and interpreted, there had been little if any systematic re-interpretation of that heritage from the perspective of a world that was suddenly much larger and less obviously centered in Europe and the European settler colonies. Under inspection, how could the Western cultural heritage look anything but, well, imperialist? Cowardly academics could be expected to stop short of this conclusion; by undermining the customary rationale for preserving and transmitting the Western cultural heritage, they could risk getting put out of a job.

Raskin, however, sounds happy not to have an academic job. He presents himself as an escapee from the prison-like classroom who is now participating enthusiastically in what he calls, after D. All of these writers are shown in one way or another to have supported the project of imperialism. Somehow he manages to make his case without giving up his respect for the Western cultural heritage.

He blasts critics like F. Leavis and Lionel Trilling for building modern literature into a great tradition that ignores imperialism and encourages political passivity. Even Raymond Williams, who is clearly a more positive inspiration here, is criticized for being too Eurocentric.


A Passage to India: Imperialism

But by attacking the critics, Raskin pulls off a neat trick: he spares the works themselves, or at least deflects political anger away from them. Thus he can use those same works, or equally canonical ones, to set up a counter-tradition. The plot began—or flagging interest was revived—when a character returned from abroad, and the action terminated when the characters left for the colonies. For the Victorians existence meant existence in England. Forster, George Orwell, and Joyce Cary—did a pretty unsatisfactory job of it.

And yet he finds a good deal to celebrate in what they managed to say. Since the culture wars of the s, academic critics have taken a certain amount of flak in the press over their supposed lack of reverence for the great works of the past. They are supposed to spend their time brutally interrogating the classics in the name of recently erected standards of which past authors could have had no inkling: gender, race, class, and other politically correct preoccupations.

The Waning Days of British Imperialism in “A Passage to India” and “Burmese Days”

Like so much of what the press says, this turns out not to be true. His book is dedicated to Ho Chi Minh. The epigraph is from Fidel Castro. What he wants from literature is solidarity with the Revolution. Gazing back on a decade or so into the twenty-first century, this seems a lot to stipulate. If the standard is Revolution, then very little literature would seem to measure up.

Forster also fails this test. Despite the ongoing travails of so much of what used to be called the Third World, Third Worldism now is not what it was. Raskin can be intellectually magnanimous in part because, much as he might have liked his authors to gaze prophetically beyond their moments, he is willing to give them credit for merely getting deep into their moments. Temporarily suspending the standard of revolution, he applies another criterion that is a bit easier to meet. Like Forster, Raskin has a great eye for passing instants and tableaux that suddenly sum up a life or a social situation.


It does not seem at all improbable. In those days other critics were not talking about servants with razors. Like Raymond Williams in Culture and Society , Raskin arranges his authors by date of birth and pays loving attention to their biographies. For example, Raskin has scrutinized the drafts that various works went through, watching as the politics are pulled in different directions. He makes us see his authors as people in historical context.

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But he also admits that in historical context they rarely look very attractive. Their political opinions, for example, tend to be severely limited, at least by the standards of the s Left. In order to be generous to them, Raskin sometimes has to take them out of context again, to separate the art from the artist.

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In this he follows the excellent advice of D.