Priyamvada Gopal

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Priyamvada Gopal
Priyamvada Gopal on The Laura Flanders Show 2019.jpg
Gopal in 2019
Born1968 (age 53–54)
TitleProfessor of Postcolonial Studies
Academic background
Alma materUniversity of Delhi
Jawaharlal Nehru University
Cornell University
ThesisMidnight's labors: Gender, nation and narratives of social transformation in transitional India, 1932–1954 (2000)
Doctoral advisorBiodun Jeyifo[1]
Academic work
InstitutionsUniversity of Cambridge
Churchill College

Priyamvada Gopal (born 1968)[2] is an Indian-born academic, writer and public intellectual who is Professor of Postcolonial Studies in the Faculty of English at the University of Cambridge. Her primary teaching and research interests are in colonial and postcolonial studies, South Asian literature, critical race studies, and the politics and cultures of empire and globalisation.[3] She has written three books engaging these subjects: Literary Radicalism in India (2005), The Indian English Novel (2009) and Insurgent Empire (2019). Her third book, Insurgent Empire, was shortlisted for the 2020 Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding.[4][5]

Gopal's remarks about race and empire have gained media attention and disagreement.[6][7][8][9][10] In 2021, she was named one of the world's top 50 thinkers by Prospect magazine.[11] In 2018, The Times wrote that "Depending on your point of view, Priyamvada Gopal is either a warrior for racial justice or a professional victim with a persecution complex.[12]

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

Gopal was born in Delhi, India. The daughter of an Indian diplomat, she spent her childhood in India, Sri Lanka and Bhutan, and attended an international high school in Vienna, where her father served as a diplomat in the mid-1980s.[13][14] She is a Brahmin and identifies as "an upper-caste woman from a liberal-ish Hindu family".[15][16] She is also a vocal opponent of the caste system and has spoken out against caste injustices.[17][18]

Education and career[edit]

Gopal received a BA from the University of Delhi in 1989 and an MA from Jawaharlal Nehru University in 1991. After finishing her studies in India, she moved to the United States, where she taught at different institutions and completed her PhD in colonial and postcolonial literature at Cornell University in 2000.[19][20]

She moved to the University of Cambridge in 2001, where she is Professor of Postcolonial Studies in the Faculty of English and a Teaching Fellow at Churchill College.[21][3] She supervises and teaches in the areas of literary criticism, modern tragedy, 19th-century and modern British literature, and postcolonial and related literatures. Her primary interests are in colonial and postcolonial literatures, with related interests in British and American literatures, the novel, translation, gender and feminism, Marxism and critical theory, and the politics and cultures of empire and globalisation. From 2006 to 2010, she was Dean of Churchill College.[20][3]

Work[edit]

As a literary critic, Gopal explores a range of issues and ideas, with a focus on race, empire, and decolonisation.

Empire[edit]

Gopal has written extensively about the impact of empire on contemporary culture in Britain and examined its broader social and cultural effects in South Asia and other former colonial societies.[22][23][24]

In her book Insurgent Empire, Gopal examines traditions of dissent on the question of empire and shows how rebellions and resistance in the colonies influenced British critics of empire in a process she calls "reverse tutelage".[25] She argues that ideas of freedom, justice, and common humanity had themselves taken shape in the struggle against imperialism.[26]

Gopal has also written about the historical amnesia surrounding empire and called for a more honest account of how Britain came to be what it is today. She argues that developing a demanding relationship to history is essential to understanding the formative and shaping nature of the imperial project on British life.[27][28]

BBC Radio 4: Start the Week[edit]

In 2006, Gopal took part in a debate on BBC Radio 4's Start the Week.[29] In the segment, historian Niall Ferguson argued that the British Empire was, by and large, a benevolent and virtuous enterprise. Gopal challenged Ferguson's account, questioning his assertions about the greatness of empire.[30] The programme became a matter of controversy. That evening, the BBC invited another Indian woman onto their programme, who said that not all young Indians agreed with Gopal. Gopal later accused the BBC of pushing an agenda and playing off "natives" against each other.[31] Gopal said that it was this experience that galvanized her to write and think more publicly about empire.[32]

Churchill, empire and race[edit]

In October 2020, Churchill College set up a working group to critically examine Winston Churchill's views and actions relating to empire and race. The working group held two events: "Churchill, Empire and Race: Opening the Conversation" and "The Racial Consequences of Mr Churchill". Gopal was a member of the Working Group and a speaker in both panel discussions.[33][34][35]

In June 2021, college Master Athene Donald ended the Working Group's role after a dispute between the College Council and the working party. In her statement, Donald stated that Gopal was frustrated over the Council's rejection of the Working Group's proposals for the third event. She said that Gopal consequently wrote that the group might as well dissolve themselves. Donald said that rightly or wrongly, she took that statement at face value and abruptly ended the role of the group.[36][35][34] Gopal rejected the rationale given for the group's dissolution and said that the college had instead disbanded the group. She said that the disbanding was a way for the college to preempt the resignation of several members of the working group over the college pandering to the tabloid press and other groups. In her Twitter feed, Gopal called attention to the role of the Daily Mail, Policy Exchange and the Churchill family in pressuring the college to discontinue the event, accusing university leaders of "taking fright" after the backlash. Gopal tweeted: "Let me repeat: under pressure from groups like Policy Exchange and some members of the Churchill family, Churchill College has dissolved a group created to critically engage with Churchill's complicated legacies. Let that sink in."[34][35][37]

In July 2021, the Working Group released a statement denying that they had disbanded themselves and accused the college of not following due process in ending its role. The group also accused the College Council of undermining academic freedom and bringing the college into disrepute.[38][39]

Decolonisation[edit]

For Gopal, decolonisation is about a process of thinking about our intellectual, personal and political formation in a historical frame.[40] Gopal has stated that decolonisation "commits to recognising the centrality of colonialism in shaping the globe as we experience it today; to assessing its consequences for communities and cultures; to interrogating and dismantling harmful mythologies and falsehoods on which the colonial project relied as well as those that underpin its afterlife today; and to repairing the great gaps in our knowledge and understanding that have emerged consequently."[41] In relation to cultural and intellectual work, she argues that decolonisation poses different kinds of questions in different contexts about our relationship to colonialism.[41]

She argues that decolonisation in the European context involves Europe 'reckoning with its colonial self-constitution and thinking about the legacies and afterlives of colonialism both "within" and "without" its complicated and shifting borders.' She draws on Ngũgĩ and Fanon to argue that Europe's material, cultural and intellectual riches also cannot be separated from its encounters with the Global South.[41]

Gopal contends that decolonisation must begin with an unflinchingly truthful engagement with empire and colonialism, and a sustained study of how Europe's forays into the world made 'Europe'.[41]

She has also been a long-standing advocate for the 'decolonisation' of Cambridge's English curriculum. In June 2017, a group of Cambridge students had called for the university to include more black and ethnic minority writers in its English literature curriculum, an initiative strongly supported by Gopal.[42] She argues that decolonisation in the curriculum context is about having access to information and narratives, which reframe our understanding of the multiple lineages and sources of knowledge.[43]

Race[edit]

Gopal has written and commented extensively on the subject of race and how it operates in contemporary society. She argues that whiteness is primarily a cultural category, not a biological one, and is useful for explaining how western societies work in terms of how society is structured, and how such structures determine power relations between dominant and non-dominant groups.[44][45]

In the context of racial discrimination in the United Kingdom, Gopal has discussed white fragility, suggesting that a "way of deflecting engagement with race is to personalise matters".[46] In October 2019, Gopal criticised the Equality and Human Rights Commission report "Tackling racial harassment: Universities challenged" for its language and not addressing the systemic disadvantages faced by black and minority ethnic students or the ways whiteness dominates power structures and pedagogy.[47][48]

King's College racial profiling dispute[edit]

In June 2018, Gopal alleged racial profiling by college porters at the gate of King's College, Cambridge. Gopal said that she was subjected to racial profiling and aggression by the porters and gatekeepers of King's and said porters frequently hassled non-white staff and students at the gates.[49][50] Gopal announced that she would no longer teach at King's until there was a resolution to the long-standing problem.[7][51] The incident also attracted media attention, both positive and negative. The Times wrote that "Depending on your point of view, Priyamvada Gopal is either a warrior for racial justice or a professional victim with a persecution complex."[12]

As a result of the attention the issue received, Cambridge University students came forward describing similar experiences. Students of English at King's also issued an open letter in support of Gopal, urging the college to offer her a "proper apology": "The many testimonies from black and minority ethnic students that have come in the wake of Dr Gopal's statement make apparent that her treatment is not unique or isolated. We strongly condemn the actions of the college and fully support Dr Gopal in her decision to boycott it."[52] Gopal said that she received hate mail following her announcement.[53]

In October 2018, King's issued a statement accepting that there had been several reports of discrimination and racial profiling.[54] Gopal said that senior members of the college had also conveyed their private apologies and assured her that the problem was being taken seriously. Shortly afterward, Gopal rescinded her decision to withdraw her labour from the college.[13]

"White lives don't matter. As white lives" tweet[edit]

On 23 June 2020, Gopal tweeted "White lives don't matter. As white lives" and "Abolish whiteness", in response to a banner flown over a Premier League football stadium that read "White lives matter Burnley". She received abusive messages, including death threats, following her tweet.[55][56] Gopal told the media that her comments were opposing the concept of whiteness – the presumption of white superiority – and challenging the racial basis for lives mattering, adding that it wasn't whiteness that gave lives their dignity, nor should it be the criteria for lives mattering.[57] Gopal stood by her tweets asserting that her comments were "very clearly speaking to a structure and ideology, not about people".[58]

The following day, the University of Cambridge tweeted a blanket defence of its academics' right to free speech, without explicitly referencing her case. A statement released by the university read: "The University defends the right of its academics to express their own lawful opinions which others might find controversial and deplores in the strongest terms abuse and personal attacks. These attacks are totally unacceptable and must cease".[59]

In November 2020, the Daily Mail paid £25,000 in damages to Gopal after the paper falsely alleged that she was attempting to incite a race war and that she supports and endorses the subjugation and persecution of white people.[60] The allegations, made by Amanda Platell in a column following the "White lives" tweet, were based on an inflammatory quote from a fake Twitter account, which Platell's column falsely attributed to Gopal.[60] The column had also partially quoted Gopal's "White lives" tweet as saying 'White lives don't matter.', but chose to omit the remainder of the quote, which went on to state "As White Lives", distorting its context and meaning.[60] In addition to paying damages, the newspaper also published full apologies in the Daily Mail and agreed to pay Gopal's legal costs.[60]

Criticism of Tony Sewell, chair of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities[edit]

In March 2021, the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, chaired by educational consultant Tony Sewell, released its report on race and ethnic disparities in the UK.[61] Gopal, and other academics, argued the report cherry-picked data and minimised and denied structural and institutional racism, asserting that the report read like a propaganda document rather than a piece of research.[62][63][64][65][66] She also questioned whether Sewell had a doctorate. When she learned he did, Gopal tweeted: "Okay, established. It is, in fact, Dr Sewell. Fair enough. Even Dr Goebbels had a research PhD. (University of Heidelberg, 1921)". The comparison to Goebbels, a prominent Nazi, attracted criticism from commentators writing for The Times and The Daily Telegraph.[9][67][68][69][70] Gopal said that her remark was a reference to Goebbels, not a comparison.[62]

Anti-Semitism dispute[edit]

In 2022, Gopal tweeted that Cambridge historian David Abulafia's description of historian David Olusoga as "eloquent" in The Daily Telegraph could sound dismissive, particularly when pertaining to writers of colour.[71][72][73] According to Gopal, the word appeared "to be damning with faint praise, to suggest that (Olusoga) is all style and drama, no substance."[74] Abulafia told Varsity that her remarks were "insulting or potentially libellous".[72][75] Her tweets attracted further criticism from Varsity.[76] Gopal said that the news editor of Varsity concocted the story about her supposed charge of 'racism' against Abulafia, claiming she had become a target because she had criticised the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.[77][78] She said that the news editor was among those who lobbied to adopt the definition in full.[77][79] She also said that the student journalist behind the story had "quite powerful familial connections to the liberal media", and that the criticism of her in the student newspaper Varsity was not "quite the little campus story ... that it is supposed to be".[80][81]

The Cambridge University Jewish Society and Abulafia, noting that Abulafia and the student were Jewish, condemned Gopal's remarks as evoking anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, and this was reported by Jewish News,[81][82] the Daily Mail,[83] and The Times.[84] Gopal released a statement saying that Varsity had "published misleading and false claims" about her words that had subjected her to "a concerted racist and misogynist attack across the British right-wing press."[85]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Literary Radicalism in India: Gender, Nation and the Transition to Independence (Routledge, 2005)[86]
  • The Indian English Novel: Nation, History and Narration (Oxford University Press, 2009)[87]
  • Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent (Verso, 2019)[26]

References[edit]

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  2. ^ Gopal, Priyamvada 1968-, WorldCat, retrieved 25 June 2020
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  4. ^ Taylor, Miles (11 July 2019). "Insurgent Empire by Priyamvada Gopal review – a superb study of anticolonial resistance". The Guardian.
  5. ^ The British Academy. "2020 Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize". The British Academy.
  6. ^ Norris, Sian (20 April 2021). "'Most British Institutions Pander to the Mail's Blackmailing & Racism'". Byline Times.
  7. ^ a b Oppenheim, Maya (20 June 2018). "Cambridge academic says she will not work for university after accusing porters of racist abuse". The Independent.
  8. ^ Rawlinson, Kevin (25 June 2020). "'Abolish whiteness' academic calls for Cambridge support". The Guardian.
  9. ^ a b Race review chief Tony Sewell compared to Joseph Goebbels in social media abuse The Times 2-Apr-2021
  10. ^ Woolcock, Nicola (11 February 2021). "Cambridge college named after Winston Churchill debates his 'backward' views on race". The Times News.
  11. ^ Prospect Team (13 July 2021). "The world's top 50 thinkers 2021". Prospect.
  12. ^ a b Kinchen, Rosie. "Twitter row doctor Priyamvada Gopal bites back at King's College, Cambridge". The Times. Retrieved 16 April 2021.
  13. ^ a b Manral, Kiran (7 November 2019). "Xenophobia Is Not Exclusively A Western Practice: Dr Priyamvada Gopal". SheThePeople.
  14. ^ Ross, Elliot (5 February 2020). "First rule of fight club: power concedes nothing without a struggle". The Correspondent.
  15. ^ Banerjee, Chandrima (13 July 2020). "'Many Indian trolls wrote me hate mails defending white supremacists'". The Times Of India.
  16. ^ Gopal, Priyamvada (18 February 2018). "Response to Mary Beard". Medium. Retrieved 12 April 2021.
  17. ^ Pivhal, Navin (16 November 2019). "Decoding how rebellious colonies changed: British attitudes to empire". The Hans India.
  18. ^ Guéron-Gabrielle, Juliette (8 September 2020). "Professor Gopal: "The humanities gave me scope for youthful rebellion"". Varsity.
  19. ^ Gopal, Priyamvada (2000). Midnight's labors: Gender, nation and narratives of social transformation in transitional India, 1932-1954 (PhD). Cornell University.
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  21. ^ "Reports - Cambridge University Reporter 6586". www.admin.cam.ac.uk. Retrieved 11 January 2021.
  22. ^ Gopal, Priyamvada (28 June 2006). "The story peddled by imperial apologists is a poisonous fairytale". The Guardian.
  23. ^ Gopal, Priyamvada (2 April 2007). "It is contradictory to condemn slavery and yet celebrate the empire". The Guardian.
  24. ^ Gopal, Priyamvada (6 July 2019). "Britain's story of empire is based on myth. We need to know the truth". The Guardian.
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  26. ^ a b Gopal, Priyamvada (14 June 2019). Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent. Verso. p. 624. ISBN 9781784784126.
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  28. ^ Gopal, Priyamvada (18 January 2016). "Redressing anti-imperial amnesia". SAGE Journals.
  29. ^ BBC Radio 4, Start the Week (12 June 2006). "Start the Week: The Legacy of Empire". BBC Radio 4.
  30. ^ Andrew Marr (12 June 2006). "The Legacy of Empire". BBC Radio 4: Start the Week (Podcast). BBC. Archived from the original on 14 June 2006.
  31. ^ Gopal, Priyamvada (13 June 2006). "Open Letter to Andrew Marr, Presenter, Start the Week on Radio 4, the BBC". Lenin's Tomb.
  32. ^ Gopal, Priyamvada (14 June 2019). Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent - Excerpt. Verso. p. 624. ISBN 9781784784126.
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  35. ^ a b c Haigh, Elizabeth; Howell, Amy (17 June 2021). "Churchill College disbands working group on Churchill, Race and Empire". Varsity. Retrieved 19 June 2021.
  36. ^ Donald, Athene (17 June 2021). "A Statement from the Master". www.chu.cam.ac.uk.
  37. ^ Woolcock, Nicola (18 June 2021). "Cambridge college head 'suppressed disapproval of Churchill'". The Times. Retrieved 19 June 2021.
  38. ^ Walsh, Clare (2 July 2021). "Members of Churchill Race and Empire Working Group condemn college for disbanding the group". Varsity.
  39. ^ Majority Members, Churchill College Working Group (30 June 2021). "Statement of the Working Group on Churchill, Race and Empire". Medium.
  40. ^ Tristan Boyle (2019). "Modern Myth: Insurgent Empire and the Lost Voices in Colonialism with Dr. Priyamvada Gopal". The Archaeology Podcast Network (Podcast). published by Tristan Boyle.
  41. ^ a b c d Gopal, Priyamvada (28 May 2021). "On Decolonisation and the University". Textual Practice.
  42. ^ Kennedy, Maev (26 October 2017). "Cambridge academics seek to 'decolonise' English syllabus". The Guardian.
  43. ^ Gopal, Priyamvada (28 October 2017). "Yes, we must decolonise: our teaching has to go beyond elite white men". The Guardian.
  44. ^ Myriam Francois (2019). "The Whiteness of History with Priyamvada Gopal". We Need to Talk about Whiteness (Podcast). published by Myriam Francois.
  45. ^ Gopal, Priyamvada (4 July 2020). "We can't talk about racism without understanding whiteness". The Guardian.
  46. ^ "If we can't call racism by its name, diversity will remain a meaningless buzzword". The Guardian. 8 October 2019.
  47. ^ Gopal, Priyamvada; Rollock, Nicola (24 October 2019). "'Monolithically white places': academics on racism in universities". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 4 November 2019.
  48. ^ "Tackling racial harassment: universities challenged | Equality and Human Rights Commission". www.equalityhumanrights.com. Retrieved 4 November 2019.
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  51. ^ Troup Buchanan, Rose (20 June 2018). "This Top Academic Is Refusing To Supervise Students At A Cambridge College, Citing Repeated Racial Profiling". BuzzFeed News.
  52. ^ "King's College English Undergraduate Students Statement of Solidarity with Dr. Priyamvada Gopal". docs.google.com.
  53. ^ Mirsky, Hannah (21 October 2018). "Meet Priyamvada Gopal - the academic fighting racism at Cambridge University". Cambridge News.
  54. ^ Proctor, Michael (16 October 2018). "Statement about entry through main Gates of King's College". www.kings.cam.ac.uk.
  55. ^ Turner, Ben (25 June 2020). "Death threats sent to Cambridge University professor after 'white lives don't matter' tweet". Cambridgeshire Live.
  56. ^ Gopal, Priyamvada (16 July 2020). "The Dossier of White-Hot Hatred". Medium.
  57. ^ Rawlinson, Kevin (25 June 2020). "'Abolish whiteness' academic calls for Cambridge support". The Guardian.
  58. ^ Huskisson, Sophie (25 June 2020). "Priyamvada Gopal promoted to Professorship, as online abuse continues". Varsity.
  59. ^ Gamp, Joe (25 June 2020). "Cambridge University defends professor who tweeted 'abolish whiteness'". Yahoo! News.
  60. ^ a b c d Waterson, Jim (13 November 2013). "Daily Mail pays £25,000 to professor it falsely accused of inciting race war". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 November 2020.
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  63. ^ Walker, Peter (2 April 2021). "No 10's race report used 'cherry-picked' data, say public health experts". The Guardian.
  64. ^ Quinn, Ben (3 April 2021). "Historian David Olusoga joins academic criticism of No 10's race report". The Guardian.
  65. ^ Courea, Eleni (31 March 2021). "Backlash over Sewell report slavery claim". The Times.
  66. ^ Swerling, Gabriella (1 April 2021). "Experts thanked in controversial race report say they weren't consulted about contents". The Telegraph.
  67. ^ Syed, Matthew. "Pit my truth against your truth and it's a terrifying race to the bottom". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 5 April 2021.
  68. ^ Phillips, Trevor. "Silence of white establishment betrays Sewell". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 5 April 2021.
  69. ^ There is no excuse for the hypocritical Left's appalling campaign of abuse Calvin Robinson, Daily Telegraph 2-Apr-2021
  70. ^ Aaronovitch, David. "Philip Roth was right about our online witch-hunts". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 11 April 2021.
  71. ^ Shahvisi, Arianne (17 January 2022). "Beautiful Handwriting". London Review of Books.
  72. ^ a b Jacob Freedland and Fergal Jeffreys, 'Caius historian slams "insulting" Gopal racism claim', Varsity (10 January 2022).
  73. ^ Abulafia, David (6 January 2022). "Nothing is sacred to the woke statue topplers". The Daily Telegraph.
  74. ^ @PriyamvadaGopal (8 January 2022). "David Olusoga all style and drama" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  75. ^ Gair, Kieran (12 January 2022). "Cambridge professors in row over use of 'eloquent' as racist term". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 14 January 2022.
  76. ^ Samuel Rubinstein, 'Abulafia is right – Gopal’s tweets are a disgrace', Varsity (12 January 2022).
  77. ^ a b Harpin, Lee (14 January 2022). "Cambridge professor accused of 'conspiratorial attacks on Jewish students'". Jewish News. Retrieved 14 January 2022.
  78. ^ Gopal, Priyamvada; Titley, Gavan (18 December 2020). "The free speech row at Cambridge will restrict, not expand, expression". The Guardian.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  79. ^ Kaplan, Josh (14 January 2022). "Cambridge professor accused of tweeting 'conspiratorial attacks' on Jewish student journalists". The Jewish Chronicle.
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  82. ^ Harpin, Lee (17 January 2022). "Cambridge prof accused of 'Jewish conspiracy trope' by leading historian". Jewish News. Retrieved 17 January 2022.
  83. ^ Max Aitchison, 'https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10406935/Cambridge-don-accuses-rival-academic-anti-Semitism-new-university-racism-row.html Cambridge don accuses rival academic of anti-Semitism in new university racism row]', The Daily Mail (16 January 2022).
  84. ^ Ellery, Ben (15 January 2022). "Antisemite claim deepens Cambridge academics row". The Times. Retrieved 18 January 2022.
  85. ^ Moss, Bethan (14 January 2022). "Jewish Society condemns Gopal's 'conspiracy theories and online intimidation'". Varsity.
  86. ^ Gopal, Priyamvada (9 March 2005). Literary Radicalism in India: Gender, Nation and the Transition to Independence. Routledge. p. 192. ISBN 9780415655453.
  87. ^ Gopal, Priyamvada (29 January 2009). The Indian English Novel: Nation, History and Narration. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 232. ISBN 9780199544370.

External links[edit]