Confessions of a Thug

Edited by Matthew Kaiser
©2012, 668 pages

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Confessions of a Thug

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    "Reader, if you can embody these descriptions, you have Ameer Ali before you; and while you gaze on the picture in your imagination and look on the mild and expressive face you may have fancied, you, as I was, would be the last person to think that he was a professed murderer, and one who in the course of his life has committed upwards of seven hundred murders."

    Set in a British prison in Sagar, India in 1832, and inspired by actual events, Confessions of a Thug (1839) is the picaresque tale of north Indian Thug Ameer Ali, who strangled over seven hundred people in his lifetime. Kidnapped as a child by a criminal gang devoted to the Hindu goddess Kali, Ameer Ali recounts how he rose to prominence as a Thug leader, how he fell from power, and how he took vengeance on his enemies. Hero and villain, victim and victimizer, Ameer Ali is a unique figure in Victorian literature: a charming mass murderer. The most famous Anglo-Indian novel of the nineteenth century, Confessions of a Thug is a canonical example of British Orientalism, as well as an unsettling invitation to early Victorian readers to identify with an unrepentant predator.

    Philip Meadows Taylor was born in Liverpool in 1808. Sent to India at fifteen to make his fortune, he became a lieutenant in the Nizam of Hyderabad’s Army. Fluent in several Eastern languages, Taylor was named Assistant Superintendent of Police for the southwestern districts in the Nizam’s Dominions, becoming responsible, at age eighteen, for the safety of over a million people. His investigations of Thuggee (thagi), a mysterious murder cult that claimed thousands of lives annually, inspired Confessions of a Thug, which drew attention to the inadequacy of native law enforcement in India. The novel was an immediate success. After serving two decades as an imperial administrator, Taylor moved to Dublin, where he devoted his remaining years to writing novels about British India, including Tara: A Mahratta Tale (1863), Ralph Darnell (1865), and Seeta (1872). He died in 1876.

    Matthew Kaiser is an associate professor and chair of English at the University of California, Merced. He is the author of The World in Play: Portraits of a Victorian Concept (Stanford University Press, 2012), the translator of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs (Cognella, 2017) and the editor of seven books, including Alan Dale’s A Marriage Below Zero (Cognella, 2011) and the forthcoming A Cultural History of Comedy in the Age of Empire (Bloomsbury, 2019).
    Other Cognella titles by Matthew Kaiser:

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