30 September, 2020

How The Ruling Caste Played

Casting aside anti-colonial truisms, Gilmour peeps into personal, official documents to present complex British motives and a strong devotion to duty

How The Ruling Caste Played

David Gilmour disclaims any int­ention of exploring empire as a political institution or of ass­essing its benevolence or opp­­r­ession. This is a social history, brimming with human interest and anecdote; but its magisterial scope and depth make it a valuable contribution to the debate about imperialism.

Gilmour’s previous book on the Raj was a definitive portrait of the Indian Civil Ser­vice, dubbed “heaven-born” for their brilliance and incorruptibility.  Individual ICS officers figure in this book too; but the author resists the temptation to generalise about their motives. Rejecting the ideological stereotyping by anti-Orientalists like Edward Said, Gilmour works outwards from his research into personal letters and diaries, memoirs and official reports, which he rightly regards as the foundations of historical insight.

His panoramic cast of characters ranges across grand viceroys and randy subalte­rns, conscientious judges and district off­icers, memsahibs and prostitutes, racist planters and pig-sticking...



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