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White Mughals

White Mughals

5.0 2
by William Dalrymple

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In the late 18th century, James Kirkpatrick fell in love with and married a beautiful Hyderabadi noblewoman, despite much opposition. Many of his contemporaries believed him to be a double agent, working for the Nizam against his British employers.


In the late 18th century, James Kirkpatrick fell in love with and married a beautiful Hyderabadi noblewoman, despite much opposition. Many of his contemporaries believed him to be a double agent, working for the Nizam against his British employers.

Editorial Reviews

The New Yorker
At the end of the eighteenth century, James Achilles Kirkpatrick, the promising young British Resident at the Shia court of Hyderabad, fell in love with Khair un-Nissa, an adolescent noblewoman and a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. The story of their romance and semi-secret marriage endured in local legend and family lore but was otherwise forgotten. After five years' work with a trove of documents in several languages, Dalrymple has emerged not only with a gripping tale of politics and power but also with evidence of the surprising extent of cultural exchange in pre-Victorian India, before the arrogance of empire set in. His book, ambitious in scope and rich in detail, demonstrates that a century before Kipling's "never the twain" -- and two centuries before neocons and radical Islamists trumpeted the clash of civilizations -- the story of the Westerner in Muslim India was one not of conquest but of appreciation, adaptation, and seduction.
The Los Angeles Times
William Dalrymple's new book, White Mughals, is devoted to a particularly colorful example of just how intimate the encounter between British and Indian could get, and how barbed the consequences could be: the story of James Achilles Kirkpatrick and a young and beautiful woman of Persian descent, Khair un-Nissa, who, amidst intrigue and conspiracy, became his bride. — Sunil Khilnani
Publishers Weekly
Dalrymple, author of the bestselling In Xanadu, now anchors himself in India around the turn of the 19th century to focus on James Kirkpatrick, an officer for the East India Company and the British Resident, representing the British government, in the Indian city-state of Hyderabad. Kirkpatrick, who converted to Islam and, after a celebrated and notorious romance, married Khair un-Nissa, the teenage great-niece of the region's prime minister, exemplifies the "White Mughals," British colonialists who "went native." One of the book's strengths is its stunningly detailed depiction of day-to-day life-gardens, food, sexual mores, modes of travel and architecture-and portraits of British governors-general, Indian politicians, their wives and families, and adventurers. It is also an astute study of the political complications Kirkpatrick faced because of his conversion and cross-cultural marriage, and the difficulties his divided loyalties caused him in his role as agent of the increasingly imperialistic British. But most suspenseful is the fate of Kirkpatrick's willful and charismatic wife, just 19 when he died in 1805, and the fate of their children. The twists and turns in the life of their daughter-sent to England when she was five, never to return to India or see her mother again-are fascinating. Dalrymple makes note of the present schism, which some believe unbridgeable, between Western and Eastern civilizations and Kirkpatrick's tale as a counterexample that the two can meet. Illus., maps. (On sale Mar. 31) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
From 1798 to 1805, Maj. James Achilles Kirkpatrick served as the East India Company's ambassador to the Hyderabadi Court in central India. Here, amid much intrigue, obfuscation, and passion, Kirkpatrick stirred controversy by launching an affair with Khair un-Nissa, a 14-year-old Indian Muslim princess affianced to another man. To win her, Kirkpatrick took on the speech, clothing, and social practices of a Muslim, including conversion to the Islamic faith. They eventually married, but five years later Kirkpatrick died of a fever in Calcutta. A touching epilog traces the transformation of his two children's identify from Indian to English. Thus, a story that might have been presented as simply sordid or prurient becomes a tender tale of deeply felt love. On another level, Dalrymple (In Xanadu) uses Kirkpatrick's marriage as a symbol of many other relationships in India at a time when the mingling of people, cultures, and ideas was possible. Dalrymple's beautiful prose allows the text to be of interest to any reader, and his long, meaningful footnotes will give great satisfaction to the scholar. This work can be easily recommended for all libraries.-John F. Riddick, Central Michigan Univ. Lib., Mt. Pleasant Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Masterfully demonstrating that truth can trump fiction, English travel writer Dalrymple (From the Holy Mountain, 1998, etc.) relates a wrenching tale of love’s labors lost on the Indian subcontinent. In the last years of the 18th century, Major James Achilles Kirkpatrick, British Resident at the Court of Hyderabad, fell in love with and eventually married Khair un-Nissa Begum, a bright and beautiful teenager, the great-niece of the local diwan (prime minister). The couple’s son and daughter went to live in England with their paternal grandfather and never saw their mother again. The daughter, Kitty, later became the object of Thomas Carlyle’s amorous attentions (unconsummated) and served as the model for a character in Sartor Resartus. Dalrymple discovered the threads of this story during a brief sojourn in Hyderabad and quickly realized they could form a most attractive tapestry. His research is extensive, meticulous, even astonishing as he chases his characters across continents, unearthing a surprising number of critical documents that provide fuel for the light he casts over these long-obscured events. The British authorities were so alarmed about their Resident’s behavior that they held several investigations; the author located official reports and quotes liberally from them. But Kirkpatrick was such an asset to the British cause in the region--he negotiated tricky treaties, spoke the local languages, finessed and eventually expelled the French--that he kept his position despite the scandal and the determined efforts to dislodge him made by India’s Governor General, the intractable Richard Wellesley (brother of Arthur, Duke of Wellington). Illness eventually killed Kirkpatrick atage 41, and his widow took up with his assistant, who--unlike his deceased superior--yielded to enormous pressures and gave her up. Dalrymple argues that the Brits "went native" a lot more than has been commonly thought and that West can meet East if love is the lingua franca. Rigorously researched, intelligent, compassionate. A tour de force. (2 maps, 50 illustrations, not seen)

Product Details

Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.75(d)

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