Typing Test


Britain remains an exhilarating place for students of empire. One kind of Empire began to crumble in 1947, another kind continues to enjoy a ghostly existence in the culture of the present time. A few months ago, the British branch of the "Rhodes Must Fall" movement was responsible for a noisy, prolonged, and enlightening debate over the legacy of empire. Just over a week ago, the series Indian Summers returned to television, complete with heaving memsahibs, illegitimate offspring, seditious freedom-fighters, and suited-and-booted ICS administrators. What a soapy tamasha! Also rolling on for another few weeks is "Artist and Empire", an exhibition which opened at Tate Britain, in London, last November. Not much of a tamasha there, I'm afraid, it's all very earnest. The last serious outbreak of Empire mania occurred in the 1980s. That was the era of The Far Pavilions (the television version came out in 1984), A Passage to India (film version, 1984), The Jewel in the Crown (television, 1984), and, of course, Gandhi (1982). Critics, among them Salman Rushdie, connected the Raj revival to Thatcherism, the Falklands conflict, and the national mood at the time.Rule, Britannia! Britannia rule the waves. Postcolonial studies was yet to catch fire, and the nation was ripe for a colonial fantasy. The chattering classes justified the revival by talking about critical balance and independence movements: Gandhi was the prime exhibit in this line of reasoning, of course, and the Jewel in the Crown and Passage were also said to have their dark moments, their Hari Kumar and Aziz. But once you paid lip-service to dissent and anti-colonial forces, to figures such as Gandhi and Mandela, you could then proceed to indulge your inner Raj with as much fervour as you wished. Viceroys on the television, the Empress of India on your mantelpiece. One of the interesting features of the current revival is that it leaves a larger space for criticism than in the 1980s, but nonetheless also then accommodates and tames it. The criticism is given an airing, but then appears to make no difference whatsoever to how people think and act. In a poll conducted in Britain in January, 43% of those surveyed said that the British Empire was "a good thing" and 44% said that Britain's history of colonialism was a "part of our history that we should be proud happened". Not so long ago, in July 2014, some 39% of those surveyed in another poll expressed the startling view that they would "like Britain to still have an empire". Thoughtful analysis about empire is unlikely to gain a foothold among those parts of the population that are even now yearning for the glory days of the Raj. I went to see the exhibition entitled "Artist and Empire" at Tate Britain in December, around the time that Oriel College, Oxford, was deliberating over the Rhodes statue. The gallery was busy, but not as popular as it might have been for the time of year. Perhaps if the history of the Empire was taught in British schools, the exhibition would have attracted a larger audience than it has. As it is, the public isn't very interested in learning about the Empire. Some of the works on display are stunning, moving even. The catalogue is perceptive, serious, and sober, and contains some finely observed essays on the art and its contexts. The publicity material acknowledges the complexity of Empire and its legacies. One painting that reminded me of the Rhodes statue was "The Death of General Gordon, Khartoum, 26th January, 1885" from 1893, by George William Joy. It's a familiar sight: Gordon of Khartoum, standing above the world and gazing down at the dark and menacing mob. This is also an image of heroic calm in the face of imminent death. One of the Sudanese fighters is about to cast his spear at Gordon, but the latter holds his ground unflinching, the prototypical symbol of the empire's last stand. This conception of the last stand fuses notions of heroic endurance, Christian martyrdom, and Spartan bra