Obituary: E. P. Thompson
Saturday 02 October 1993
A few months before his death, an ailing Thompson gave a lecture - his last, and a tour de force it was - on India. It concerned a slim study he published in May this year, Alien Homage, a book as striking, for its insight into British-
Indian relations under the Raj (and even today), as EM Forster's A Passage to India.
The homage in guestion was that of his father, EJ (Edward) Thompson, poet and literary critic, missionary in Bengal, lecturer in Bengali at Oxford University, and friend of distinguished Indians including Nehru, who is still remembered for his histories and novels about imperial India. The subject of his special devotion was Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel prizewinning poet whose biography EJ Thompson wrote during the 1920s. The fascinating and revealing relationship between EJ Thompson and Tagore lasted for nearly three decades from 1913 - when they met, by chance, on the very day the Nobel Prize news reached Tagore - until Tagore's death in 1941.
When EJ Thompson died in 1946, he left a mass of papers and books (deposited in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, last year), many concerning India, which his son did not know what to do with. Forty years later, their time came when I prodded him into rummaging through his attic and speaking on Tagore for the first time.
Thompson always knew that his father's friendship had been a troubled one. In fact, when the biography appeared in 1926 (to acclaim both in India and in England), Tagore published his own furious, scorching review in Bengali under a pseudonym. Whether or not EJ Thompson read this review, and knew who its writer was, his son could never detect for certain in his papers, but Thompson senior was painfully aware of the political and cultural chasm into which his years of labouring at Bengali had disappeared.
EP Thompson, working half a century later in a post-imperial age, was able to see both sides of the argument and tease out its nuances. Sharing his father's feeling of homage to Tagore, but tempering it with love for his father, he brought to life both human beings: rescued them (in his own telling phrase) from 'the enormous condescension of posterity'.
- 1 Jennifer Lawrence scores first UK top 40 single with Hunger Games track 'The Hanging Tree'
- 2 Shia LaBeouf claims he was raped during #IAMSORRY art installation performance
- 4 Scientists predict green energy revolution after incredible new graphene discoveries
Kim Jong-un 'in dire need of allies' within his own government as younger sister appointed to senior role
Black Friday UK: The shops hit by chaos and violence as shopping frenzy sweeps country
Scientists predict green energy revolution after incredible new graphene discoveries
Russell Brand: 'Katy Perry? I don’t know who that is'
Michael Buerk wishes he killed Jimmy Savile when he had the chance - by pushing him overboard a cruise ship
Obama: The only people with the right to object to immigration are Native Americans
Ukip says babies born to immigrants in the UK should be classed as migrants – which would include Nigel Farage’s own children
The young are the new poor: Sharp increase in number of under-25s living in poverty, while over-65s are better off than ever
Ukip mocked after mistaking Westminster Cathedral – for a mosque
David Cameron sets out immigration reforms: We should distrust Ukip and their 'snake-oil of simple solutions'
Tamir Rice: 12-year-old boy playing with fake gun dies after being shot by Ohio police
£30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Exciting career opportunity to join East...
£18000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious start-up company b...
VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Do you love the Engl...