The Siege of Krishnapur

by J. G. Farrell
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In The Siege of Krishnapur, Fleury is a Romantic (or at least that is what he thinks he is). How did this create troubles or advantages for him during his stay in the Raj?

Fleury's Romantic attitudes in The Siege of Krishnapur initially allow him to appreciate the ancient civilization of India in a way that those around him cannot. However, the siege forces him to fight alongside the British colonists, showing the shallowness of his Romantic identification with Indian culture.

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Fleury in The Siege of Krishnapur is one of a line of thoughtful, idealistic arrivals in India who supplies a particular perspective in British novels about the Empire. Other instances are Fielding in E. M. Forster's A Passage to India and the similarly named Flory in George Orwell's Burmese Days (since Burma was under the same British imperial administration as India).

At first, Fleury's position appears an advantageous one. As a poet and a better educated and more open-minded man than the officials and indigo planters with whom he is surrounded, he is in a unique position to appreciate the glories of Indian civilization. The officials and planters are there because they have to be. Some regard themselves as doing their duty; others are clearly in India to make money. Only Fleury rises above the disease, the stench, and the other privations of life in India to appreciate and learn from the culture.

It is the siege itself which reveals the disadvantages of Fleury's Romantic attitude. The Collector, who emerges from the novel as an unlikely hero, is able to be heroic in the context of the siege precisely because of his brutal Victorian attitudes. When there is no direct conflict between the British and the their subject population, Fleury can remain intellectually and emotionally on the side of the Indians, but when the siege begins, his Romantic attitudes cannot shield him against the reality that he is one of the British colonists, and he has to fight alongside them. Like all the British Romantics who come face-to-face with India, he is ultimately disappointed.

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