Dan Sandman

36: The Siege of Krishnapur by J.G Farrell

In Adventure, Books, Fiction on 04/09/2015 at 12:00 pm

The Siege of Krishnapur by J.G. FarrellIt is 1857 in colonial Hindustan and mutiny is in air. Rather foolishly, a decision has been made to use a meat-based product to oil the guns used by the British controlled Sepoy troops. Being Hindu and therefore vegetarian, the Sepoy interpret the decision as a great mark of ignorance and disrespect. This unforgivable blunder, a thoughtless order, is the final straw to break the camel’s back, leading not only to strike action but to full-scale military rebellion. Meanwhile, the Brits continue to live the life of luxury, chatting about the Great Exhibition at the newly built Crystal Palace and discussing the benefits of living within a ‘superior civilization’.

As the rebels siege the residency gates, the British are caught up in an often humorous and thoroughly enjoyable adventure. Funny characters include the constantly evangelizing padre, who can’t stop preaching about God’s vengeance for the ‘sins’ of man, even in the middle of a terrible and gruesome battle; the rather dippy Fleury, whose appreciation of Keats seems somewhat irrelevant when stood behind a twelve inch cannon; and the pointless Louise, worried about her spots and making cake because she is only a woman. Almost to counter the uncanny Victorian behavior of the above characters, the Collector is on hand with his liberal-minded and rationally humanist outlook. Yet still, even the Collector’s viewpoint is rooted in the ideals and values of assumed superiority present within the British Empire: a perspective which presumes the authority of the Christian church and takes white-male superiority as a granted right.

At this point, it might be interesting to think about how the Victorians presented themselves in literature. After all, this book was published in 1973, at a time when the academic world was busy questioning the arguably racist and sexist undercurrents present within colonial literature. Yes, Rudyard Kipling knew how to tell a great story, but why do his stories not portray strong woman struggling to find their place in the world? And why does Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte include an insane creole woman whose been locked up in an attic by her seemingly rational husband? These are the sorts of things that historical fiction can be rather good at poking fun at, and, in his funny yet serious way, J.G Farrell did a spectacular job with this adventure book, the first part of his Empire Trilogy.

Can’t wait to read the next two books.

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