Oh, Miranda, Who’ll Read You In 50 Years Time?

Miranda Carter on ‘colonial’ literature (translation – all those cracking books you read as a child):

Adventure stories set in the British empire are now so unfashionable they don’t even have a name, even though they are a distinct genre.

These stories told big, primal tales from the frontier, or what Arthur Conan Doyle called in The Lost World, “the big blank spaces in the map”. They provided a vast, exotic, canvas, far from increasingly safe and conventional Britain, on which to recast old familiar plots: quests, struggles with evil, tests of strength, exciting encounters with the unfamiliar. Their protagonists were tested and came through. An energetic plot was vital – it is no accident that many of the most famous have spawned multiple film versions.

Some better than others, but all well worth watching. But, according to Miranda, no longer worth reading:

Time has brought changes. Many of these books are now unreadable.

Really? *leafs through ’Robinson Crusoe’*

Seems perfectly readable to me…

It is striking to compare the energetic debates of the last few weeks over how the first world war should be presented – a reflection of our constant fascination with the two world wars – with the near-silence with which we still approach the subject of the empire. Increasingly distant from us, empire is such a knotty, ambiguous subject, in which the British are the bad guys rather than the plucky underdogs, that it has become easier to ignore our imperial legacy than to examine it full in the face.

The hook on which this entire article is built, of course, is that she’s writing a book set in … yes, Colonial India. But hers will be a nice, oh-so-PC and nuanced book. Not like those awful stuffy old white men’s books:

It transpired that in Indian folk memory, Sleeman was – perhaps not surprisingly – a ruthless figure, not at all the benevolent administrator of imperial histories. Though at the time I didn’t realise it, both of these narratives had emerged from postcolonial and subaltern studies. There was the traditional colonial version and, right next to it, the postcolonialist rejoinder, waiting for a plot to bounce them off each other. I learned much – more than I expected – from academic theory, and I hope I have managed to breathe some life into a contested, neglected genre.

Will your book be read in 50 years time? I think the others will.

8 comments for “Oh, Miranda, Who’ll Read You In 50 Years Time?

  1. January 31, 2014 at 1:01 pm

    Thanks Julia. I’ll give that literary epic a miss.

  2. Bunny
    January 31, 2014 at 1:15 pm

    I doubt that it would ever occur to Miranda but in 50 years time someone might read her book and view it as a quaint reminder of times gone by and past attitudes. I read quite a few Victorian and Edwardian books when I was younger and some which were considered classics in their time such as John Halifax Gentleman are now considered somewhat passé. The concept of the book is considered well meaning but the execution misses the point, so Miranda will probably fall into this category.

    I have now just googled Miranda Carter and see that she is a writer and biographer of some note, who attended a fee paying independent school and then went onto Oxford. Her actual experience of life outside of a well-to-do elite is next to nill, so what she is expressing is second hand and will probably come out in the writing. Somehow I doubt if she will be the next Conan-Doyle or even Graves, she could actually have a good career lampooning middle class left wingers or even aristocratic left wingers in the manner of Anthony Powell and be considered a national treasure. Alas not, she has not the wit to acheive this.

    Besides that what mr Bucko said.

  3. Pavlov's Cat
    January 31, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    Thanks for the reminder , I must dig out my copy of “50 Days Amongst the Kaffir” (c.1850 I think) to read to my niece and nephew , I think they are old enough to appreciate it now

  4. Tom
    January 31, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    Much history is not directly about the past. It is about recycling the past to serve current narratives. We must learn to be grateful when someone is so brazen about it. The more subtle distortions of academics are far more dangerous.

    • Den
      February 1, 2014 at 10:55 am

      Well said. Our current crop of left-wing university academics are terrifying in their fifth column role. Many others are without malice but very PC (Cultural Marxist) just to stay employed.

  5. Michael
    February 1, 2014 at 12:09 pm

    Well I will be breaking out my H Rider Haggard collection again, Allan Quartermain and King Solomon’s Mines. Far from being unreadable, they are rattling good tales. Add Conan-Doyle and you have many happy hours escaping into a more interesting world than the current crop write about. Interestingly, Haggard treats the natives with considerably more respect than you may expect for Victorian literature

  6. amfortas
    February 1, 2014 at 12:38 pm

    She learned much from academic theory, eh? Which was that? She gives us a singular but does not go further. Was it the Theory of Everything?

  7. Lynne at Counting Cats
    February 2, 2014 at 3:31 pm

    Miranda who?

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