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Travelling into history: The travel writing and narrative history of William Dalrymple

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Dorgelo, R (2011) Travelling into history: The travel writing and narrative history of William Dalrymple. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

William Dalrymple is a popular, bestselling author, initially known for his travel writing and subsequently for his popular narrative histories. He is also a prolific journalist and reviewer. His major publications include: In Xanadu: A Quest (1990), City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi (1993), From the Holy Mountain: A Journey in the Shadow of Byzantium (1997), The Age of Kali: Indian Travels & Encounters (1998), White Mughals: Love & Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century India (2002), The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi, 1857 (2006), and Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India (2009). In each of these works, Dalrymple focuses on his interactions with India and the Middle East. This thesis examines Dalrymple’s travel writing and histories from a postcolonial perspective in order to map the relationship between travel and history writing, especially in colonial and postcolonial contexts. Travel writing is a textual representation of cultural interactions, even (or especially) if what eventuates is more a reflection of the “home” country than the traveller’s destination. In a similar way, the strategies by which we negotiate, choose and fashion historical narratives construct our place in the present. Dalrymple’s texts repeatedly consider the British Raj and its legacies. The thesis analyses the ways in which Indians, Britons, and the relationships between them are represented. It argues that the British Empire is represented through a sentimental and nostalgic lens, resulting in an overwhelmingly positive portrayal. This thesis is also interested in the ways in which Dalrymple’s texts construct their authority. This narrative authority is achieved principally through an emphasis on the first-person, autobiographical experiences of the narrator, blended in varying degrees with an invocation of the importance of history (which is expressed through the narrator’s relationship with primary source material). Dalrymple then uses the cultural capital that this authority provides to argue for the value of his version of travel and history writing over other (particularly theoretical, postcolonial) approaches. In addition to his myriad print publications, Dalrymple has also written and performed in radio and television documentaries, and recently complemented his public speaking appearances (to promote Nine Lives) with a travelling stage show featuring Indian song, dance and religious practices. Dalrymple’s influence extends beyond that of simple author, to that of an expert, celebrity figure who operates across media platforms to reach his audiences. This thesis undertakes a close reading of each of Dalrymple’s monographs, as well as the ways in which they are positioned in the public sphere, both by their author and by reviewers and critics. This reading enables an analysis of the arguments made about the past and present relationship between India and Britain within and outside the texts.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: travel, history, literary studies, postcolonialism
Additional Information: Copyright 2001 the Author
Date Deposited: 02 Sep 2011 04:47
Last Modified: 18 Dec 2013 05:08
URI: http://eprints.utas.edu.au/id/eprint/11717
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