Empire and the English character

A superb account of imperial rule, this book argues that the empire was built on admiration rather than coercion, says Denis Judd

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Reviewed by: Denis Judd
Author: Kathryn Tidrick
Publisher: Tauris Parke
Price (RRP): £14.95

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This is a remarkably valuable and sometimes brilliant book, despite some drawbacks: for instance, maybe the ‘British’ character, as opposed to the ‘English’ needs more attention. Why not add to the bibliography some of the recent and really excellent one-volume histories of the empire. And how much was the ‘authority’ referred to in the subtitle really an ‘illusion’?

Dr Tidrick provides, however, a compelling analysis of what she sees as the general desire of many imperial administrators (not to speak of imperial adventurers like Selous and Rhodes) to dominate and rule indigenous people without appearing to use force as the main means of asserting British control.

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Instead, she argues, it was force of character, the setting of good examples, and so forth, that really underpinned imperial authority.  Bullying was out, and the winning of the natives’ respect, and even admiration, was in.