Captivesby Linda Colley
Britain’s pursuit of empire seems an inexorable march across continents toward its ultimate—if temporary-—global hegemony. But, as Linda Colley shows in this masterfully written book, Britain’s overseas enterprises were always constrained by its own limitations in size, population, and armed forces, and by divisions among its… See more details below
Britain’s pursuit of empire seems an inexorable march across continents toward its ultimate—if temporary-—global hegemony. But, as Linda Colley shows in this masterfully written book, Britain’s overseas enterprises were always constrained by its own limitations in size, population, and armed forces, and by divisions among its subjects-—constraints and deficiencies that could make the dream of empire an ordeal even for its makers. Drawing on a wealth of captivity narratives by men and women of different social and ethnic backgrounds from the early seventeenth century to the Victorian era, Colley chronicles the complicated dynamic between invader and invaded.
Here are the stories of Sarah Shade, who was married to a succession of British military officers, attacked by tigers, and imprisoned by Indian ruler Tipu Sultan; Joseph Pitts, a white slave in Algiers from 1678 to 1693 and author of the first authentic—and very complimentary—English account of the pilgrimage to Mecca; and Florentia Sale, a captive in the Kabul insurrection of 1841 who used her time in confinement as an opportunity to interview military men for her memoir. There were also those who crossed the cultural divide and switched identities, like the Irishman George Thomas, a mercenary fighter for Indian rulers and failed dictator, and those who crossed but made it back, like John Rutherfurd, the onetime Chippewa warrior and Scot.
Colley uses these extraordinary tales to trace the changing boundaries of Britan’s pursuit of empire and its shifting attitudes toward Islam, slavery, race, and American revolutionaries.
Hailed by The Financial Times as a“White Teeth version of imperial history,” Captives is at once an
original chronicle and a prescient meditation on the meaning of empire.
Author Biography: Linda Colley has taught at Cambridge and Yale and is currently Leverhulme Research Professor at the London School of Economics. In 2003, she will become Shelby M. C. Davis Professor of History at Princeton University. Her most recent book, Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707-1837, won the Wolfson Prize.
English literature offers two great, conflicting parables of that process, writes Colley (History/Princeton Univ.; Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707-1837). The first is Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, whose shipwrecked protagonist "uses force and guile to defeat incomers who are hostile, while firmly organizing those who defer to his authority"; the second is Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, whose eponymous hero finds himself captured by unimpressed locals who "sell him like a commodity, turn him into a spectacle, and sexually abuse him." Both parables are useful to keep in mind, Colley writes, in following the fortunes of the British warriors who carved out an overseas empire hundreds of times larger than their homeland and dominated a quarter of the world’s people. Many of them fell captive to the nations they set out to overwhelm, and much of England’s knowledge of those nations came from their accounts of being ransomed or escaping, through books and broadsides such as Joseph Pitts’s True and Faithful Account of the Religion and Manners of the Mohammetans (1704). Colley combs through that library to chart Britons’ evolving view of their would-be subjects, and offers some interesting notes along the way; for instance, while discussing representative texts of the "Indian captivity narrative," perhaps the earliest literary genre of European America, she volunteers that Britons’ relations with peoples throughout the world were "complex, mutually uncomprehending, but by no means automatically hostile," a far more useful take than the usual good-versus-bad ofpostcolonial studies. Indeed, Colley writes, the most successful of the empire’s soldiers had the wisdom to acquire knowledge of the other, court "indigenous tolerance," and even consent, and otherwise behave in un-Crusoe-like ways as they went about their business--behavior that counted as much as any weapon in coloring so much of the world map scarlet once upon a time.
A nuanced complement to the growing library of revisionist histories of empire.
- Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- 1 AMER ED
- Product dimensions:
- 9.84(w) x 8.56(h) x 1.41(d)
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