restricted access Kipling and Orientalism, and: The Death of the German Cousin: Variations on a Literary Stereotype, 1890-1920, and: John Galsworthy's Life and Art, and: The Paradox of Gissing (review)
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Reviewed by
B. J. Moore-Gilbert. Kipling and Orientalism. New York: St. Martin's, 1986. 228 pp. $27.50.
Peter Edgerly Firchow. The Death of the German Cousin: Variations on a Literary Stereotype, 1890-1920. Lewisburg: Bucknell UP, 1986. 242 pp. $31.50.
John Gindin. John Galsworthy's Life and Art. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1987. 633 pp. $29.95.
David Grylls. The Paradox of Gissing. London: Allen, 1986. 239 pp. $29.95.

Edward Said believes that every form of orientalism is based on simplistic stereotypes that help justify the West's imperialistic goal of restructuring and dominating oriental cultures. His is a political approach to East-West relations, blind to subtleties and the reductive "occidentalism" with which the East has responded to the West. B. J. Moore-Gilbert demonstrates most convincingly, with an almost overwhelming mountain of evidence, how inadequate Said's generalization is as a description both of Britain's relationship to India and (more particularly) of Kipling's outlook in his Anglo-Indian writings. He distinguishes between "metropolitan" orientalism on the one hand—the attitudes of Westminster officialdom and the general English public—and Anglo-Indian orientalism on the other—the attitudes of those British who implemented Westminster's policies and directly confronted the realities of an alien culture in the heat and dust of daily toil. By 1880, when Kipling worked as a reporter in India, there already existed a considerable body of Anglo-Indian literature that owed little to Western literary stereotypes and in fact challenged metropolitan views and Westminster's impercipience regarding Indian affairs: rather than an arrogant sense of Western superiority, [End Page 714] this literature reveals a pronounced sympathy for the native point of view. Anglo-Indians, it appears, opposed the push for increased commerce and more aggressive evangelization and were inclined to admire Indian culture, sometimes finding it superior to their own, which by mid-century had been undermined by the corrosive effects of industrialization and free thought. And Kipling's Anglo-Indian works were shaped by this Anglo-Indian literary discourse and reflect its thematic concerns. In these works Kipling, who in 1919 approved of British orders to shoot into a crowd of Indian demonstrators, consistently attacked metropolitan indifference to native culture and the policy of aggressive Westernization. But he also dramatized the brutal facts confronting the British colonials—the oppressive heat, the threat of disease and early death, ennui, disorientation, and isolation—for the British, like Kim, were irrevocably sahibs even when they tried to assimilate native customs.

Perhaps Moore-Gilbert concedes still too much to Said's position. Despite his sympathy for Indian ways, Kipling feared native rule and never suggested the dissolution of the British Raj. Moore-Gilbert treats this as a regrettable short-coming, proving that Kipling was a prisoner of his cultural values after all. Nevertheless, India gained from British rule: the colonists were also collaborators, not merely single-minded exploiters. As the television documentary "The Triumph of the West" pointed out, modern India is not the most liberal and democratic nation in Asia accidentally. Gandhi and his successor Nehru were educated to their ideals in England: the former's program was derived as much from Christian as from Hindu values; the latter, the Harrow old boy, spoke in English to the crowds shortly after Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy, had surrendered the stewardship of India to him. The Indian writer Nirad Chundhari risked the condemnation of his fellow citizens for insisting on India's debt to Great Britain. But he dedicated his Autobiography of an Unknown Indian (1951) to the memory of the British Empire, which "Made, Shaped, and Quickened" all "That Was Good and Living Within Us." There he pointed out that the British were far more tolerant than the great Moguls who had preceded them (and who had despised the Hindu) and, consequently, were able to inspire loyalty and devotion among the natives. The British were not defeated because their rule was founded on force or intolerance; they were worn down by hostile geographical realities; and when they lost faith in their institutions at home, they were replaced by the proletariat in the subcontinent. Yet the Anglo...