304 pages, 16 plates with 34 colour photos and colour illustrations; 30 b/w illustrations
The Prisoner of Kathmandu is the story of Brian Hodgson, Britain's "father of Himalayan studies." Born in 1801, Hodgson joined the Bengal Civil Service as a privileged but sickly young man. Posted to Kathmandu as a junior political officer, he initially felt isolated and trapped as he struggled to keep peace between the fiercely independent mountain kingdom and the British East India Company. Ultimately, his efforts were rewarded with an enduring friendship between Nepal and the United Kingdom.
More than a biography of Hodgson and a study of political relations between countries, The Prisoner of Kathmandu is also an in-depth look at the western Orientalist movement driven by the European Enlightenment. Hodgson, who studied Tibetan and Nepalese Buddhism, soon took interest in Nepal's biodiversity and the region's peoples and geography. He was also a key player in the struggle between those hoping to reshape India along British lines and those working to preserve local culture. Though overlooked in his own lifetime, Hodgson was later recognized as a major figure in Asian studies, a leader whose achievements have contributed to anthropology, ethnology, and natural history.
The extraordinary story of an extraordinary man, The Prisoner of Kathmandu sets the record straight while illuminating the history of Asian studies in the West.
"[Allen] knows his subject and has so much to say that it's easy to overlook how well he says it. An indulgent eye and a fluent pen make for a delightful narrative that never overstates its case."
– Literary Review
"The Prisoner of Kathmandu conveys magnificently Brian Hodgson's goodness of heart, his inexhaustible curiosity and his dedication to the people he lived among for the part of his life that meant everything to him."
"Allen draws on personal knowledge of Nepal as well as an excellent range of Nepali and British sources [...] This book will appeal to those who prefer a [...] straightforward biographical account of an important scholar."
– Times Literary Supplement
"Nearly 150 years after his death, Hodgson finally gets the treatment his extraordinary achievements deserve. The wait has been worth it. Only Charles Allen could have produced such a beautifully judged and exhaustively researched account of the prickly genius who pioneered Himalayan studies."
– John Keay, author of India Discovered and India: A History
"With its demographic and natural diversity, its supercharged culture and its unruly court politics, Nepal captivated the British Resident Brian Houghton Hodgson. Only someone with a real empathy for Nepal could have done justice to this polymath Orientalist and his time in Kathmandu: the delightful raconteur historian Charles Allen, who introduced us to Ashoka, Kipling, and the Sakyamuni Buddha."
– Kanak Mani Dixit, founding editor of Himal Southasian
"Brian Hodgson was an extraordinary man who had an extraordinary life. Charles Allen does us all a favour in bringing Hodgson and his achievements out of the shadows of history, in a vivid and highly readable tale."
– Michael Palin
Foreword: The Prisoner
1. ‘Perpetual peace and friendship’: Makwanpur, 4 March 1816
2. ‘Qualified to discharge the duties of the public service’: Haileybury, Fort William College and Kumaon, 1816-20
3. ‘Spying on the nakedness of the land’: Assistant to the Resident, Kathmandu, 1820-25
4. ‘The strenuous idleness of woodcock shooting’: Postmaster and Assistance to the Resident, Kathmandu, 1824-25
5. ‘My old Bauddha’: Assistant to the Resident, 1825-28
6. ‘Untutored eyes and ears, sedulously employed’: Acting Resident, 1828-31
7. ‘The truth is that there are saving times’: Assistant Resident again, 1831-33
8. ‘Reason over barbarism’: British Resident, 1833-1835
9. “Nepal has real and rational charms for me’: British Resident, 1835-40
10. ‘Events are working wonderfully in my favour’: British Resident, 1980-43
11. ‘T’ was a happy lot while it lasted, so that I could not feel its chains till I attempted to break them’: Pensioner, Europe, Darjeeling and England, 1843-1894
Colour Plate List
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Charles Allen is the author of numerous books on South Asian history. He resides in London.