Bart Moore-Gilbert, 1952-2015

An expert on postcolonial literature turned acclaimed memoirist has died

January 14, 2016
Obituary: Bart Moore-Gilbert, 1952-2015
Source: Peter Searle

Bart Moore-Gilbert was born in what is now Tanzania on 8 December 1952, the son of a game warden who had previously served in the Indian Police. He once described himself as “belonging to the last generation who spent their childhood in the empire”.

After attending Oundle School in Northamptonshire, he took a BA (1972-75) and then an MA (1975-76) in English at Durham University, followed by a DPhil at Oxford University (1976-79), where his dissertation focused on Rudyard Kipling.

This led Professor Moore-Gilbert to a position as lecturer and then senior lecturer in English at Roehampton Institute of Higher Education (1980-89) before he moved to Goldsmiths, University of London as professor of postcolonial studies and English.

He was to remain there until he took early retirement shortly before his death. His first book, Kipling and “Orientalism” (1986), arose directly out of his DPhil, but he attracted much greater attention with Postcolonial Theory: Contexts, Practices, Politics (1997). After a study of Hanif Kureishi (2001), he published a pioneering analysis, Postcolonial Life-Writing: Culture, Politics and Self-Representation (2009).

From 2009, Professor Moore-Gilbert only worked half-time at Goldsmiths, combining his theoretical interest in “life writing” with a PhD that allowed him to develop the book eventually published as The Setting Sun: A Memoir of Empire and Family Secrets (2014).

This arose out of an email he received in 2007 from an Indian researcher asking about his father’s role in suppressing a tribal revolt while working in the Raj. Long a strong critic of imperialism, he was forced to examine the contradictory but seemingly damning evidence for what his beloved father – who had died when he was 12 – had done as a servant of empire. Although his research forced him to confront the gulf between “the emotional loyalties formed during childhood and the postcolonial political ethics I’ve acquired as an adult”, he described in an interview with Times Higher Education how it had also enabled him to see his father “for the first time, as adult to adult, not child to adult”.

His later years saw Professor Moore-Gilbert turning to fiction and using a Leverhulme Research Fellowship to work on an incomplete monograph titled Palestine and Postcolonialism. He was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2015 and decided to describe his experiences in a blog.

Professor Moore-Gilbert died on 2 December and is survived by his wife Anna Hartnell – lecturer in contemporary literature at Birkbeck, University of London – their daughter Madeleine and their son Luke, born only a week before his death.

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