The opening pages of The Siege of Krishnapur portray the British colonial regime in India at the height of its self-confidence and success. Although the reader is given several indications of restlessness among the country’s native population, the novel’s English characters are blissfully unaware of anything except the apparent superiority of their own culture and civilization. The brilliance of their social life, the rich diversity of their material possessions, and the ample leisure time provided by legions of servants are all emphasized in an idyllic prelude that depicts an almost paradisaical mode of existence.
Mr. Hopkins, more usually referred to as “the Collector,” is responsible for Krishnapur’s administration, and he becomes the central figure of the narrative when the Sepoy Mutiny of native troops breaks out in the summer of 1857. He organizes a successful defense of Krishnapur’s English quarter that attracts a variety of local refugees, among whom the Fleurys and Dunstaples predominate. George Fleury, a young gentleman as yet undecided about his occupation, is accompanying his widowed sister, Miriam, on her travels. Their letter of introduction to the Dunstaples, with whose daughter, Louise, Fleury soon becomes infatuated, results in their being besieged at Krishnapur, where the mentally unstable Doctor Dunstaple and his brave young officer son Harry are stationed.
This isolated outpost of English authority is threatened by more than the vast numbers of mutinied native soldiers surrounding its makeshift fortifications. There are internal conflicts at work as well; among them, the ostracism of “ruined” Lucy Hughes by Krishnapur’s priggishly respectable ladies, and the different medical philosophies espoused by Doctors Dunstaple and Mc-Nab provide contrasting examples of the effects of severe stress upon social conventions. The snobbish treatment of Lucy holds her responsible for something that is not really her fault, and she...
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