It becomes difficult to appreciate a text when you learn how problematic its writer is. Case in point: Harry Potter. I was today-years-old when I learned via a tweet that Charles Dickens, the man behind classic novels like Hard Times and Great Expectations, actually wanted to wipe Indians from the face of Earth.
This Twitter thread shared by @nameshiv got me questioning many things.
Right from our school days, we’ve been learning about the ‘great’ writers like William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and Leo Tolstoy without much emphasis on how they were as people. To some extent, it is good as it prevents our biases influence our perception of novels. But you can be a kick-ass employee and still be a jerk. Great texts do not mean great people. And these contexts SHOULD be considered before ‘eulogising’ someone in History.
After the 1857 rebellion in India, Dickens wrote to his confidante Émile de la Rüe about how he would have passed the order to “exterminate the race” via a “merciful swiftness of execution” if he were a Commander in Chief. In addition to calling for mass genocide, he also spared a few words detailing his gory sentiments for Indians. “You know faces, when they are not brown; you know common experiences when they are not under turbans; Look at the dogs – low, treacherous, murderous, tigerous villains,” he had added.
So his folks colonised our country, but Indians are low and treacherous for rebelling against the tyrannical regime. Wow.
And as for Rudyard Kipling, the man legit wrote The White Man’s Burden to exalt imperialism as something moral and sacred. He was too much of a pro-colonialist for someone born in British India. But Kipling’s racism is widely known as opposed to Dicken’s genocidal tendencies. Why do you think that is? Is it just cos Kipling had Indian roots or also because Dickens was White?
Even many Twitter users were shocked to learn about this. Have a look.
PS – Dickens was also an awful husband. He wanted to lock his wife in a ‘lunatic asylum.’