The Last Englishmen
Love, War, and the End of Empire
W.H. Auden and Stephen Spender were the cutting-edge English poets of their generation, influential inter-war figures on the cusp of culture and politics, of imperialism and anti-imperialism. By a curious quirk of history, both their older brothers were mountain explorers - John Bicknell Auden was a pioneering geologist of the Himalayas, while Michael Spender was the first to draw a detailed map of the north face of the Everest. While their younger brothers achieved literary fame, John Auden and Michael Spender vied to be included in the expedition that would deliver an Englishman to the summit of Everest, a quest that became a metaphor for Britain to maintain power over India. To this rivalry was added another: both men fell in love with the same vivacious woman, the painter Nancy Sharp. Her choice would determine where each man's wartime fate and loyalties would lie, with England and its unraveling empire, or elsewhere.
Set in Calcutta, London, in the glacier-locked wilds of the Karakoram, and on Mount Everest itself, The Last Englishmen is also the story of a generation. The cast of characters in Deborah Baker's exhilarating drama includes Indian and English writers and artists, explorers and Communist spies, imperial 'Die Hards' and Indian nationalists, political chancers and police informers. Key among them is a highborn Bengali poet named Sudhindranath Datta, a melancholy soul torn like others of his generation between a hatred of the British empire and a deep love of European literature, and whose way of life would be upended by the arrival of the Second World War on his Calcutta doorstep.Dense with romance and intrigue, and of startling relevance to the cross-cultural debates and great power games of our own day, The Last Englishmen is an engrossing and masterful story that traces the end of empire and the stirring of a new world order.
Deborah Baker is the author of Making a Farm: The Life of Robert Bly, In Extremis: The Life of Laura Riding, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1994, A Blue Hand: The Beats in India and The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism, which was a finalist for the National Book Award in the nonfiction category in 2011. She lives in the USA and India.