Edward John Thompson

Other names: 

E. J. Thompson

Date of birth: 
09 Apr 1886
City of birth: 
Country of birth: 
Date of death: 
28 Apr 1946
Location of death: 
Bledlow, Buckinghamshire

Bankura Wesleyan College, Bengal; Boars Hill, Oxford.


Edward John Thompson was a historian, novelist and translator. He was an ordained Wesleyan (although he later resigned his ordination) and in 1910 he went to Bankura Wesleyan College in Bengal to teach English literature. In Bengal he became acquainted with Rabindranath Tagore, and was present in Santiniketan when Tagore heard that he had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. The relationship between the poet and Thompson was often marked by tension and misunderstanding.

In 1923, Thompson settled in Oxford and taught Bengali to ICS probationers. He translated works from Bengali to English, and was involved with the India Society. In 1922 he wrote the introduction to a collection of short stories by Sita and Santa Chatterjee, entitled Tales of Bengal. He became a Leverhulme Research Fellow (1934–6), and Honorary Fellow and Research Fellow in Indian history at Oriel College (1936–40). He maintained contact and correspondence with many Indians, and also formed friendships with Indian students at Oxford and other Indian visitors to the UK. The Rhodes Trust funded several visits to India by Thompson in the 1930s and it was he who suggested that the Trust provide grants and prizes for Indian writers (although these plans did not come to fruition).

Thompson was a friend to Indian politicians, including those who visited the UK for the Round Table Conferences in the 1930s. Thompson had been involved in the suggestion of inviting Jawaharlal Nehru as Rhodes Visiting Lecturer to Oxford in 1940, but Viceroy Linlithgrow advised against this visit. Thompson had close contact with other Congress leaders such as M. K. Gandhi. He died in April 1946 before he could see independence realized for the subcontinent. 

Published works: 

Rabindranath Tagore: His Life and Work (Calcutta: Association Press, 1921)

The Other Side of the Medal (London: Hogarth Press, 1925)

Rabindranath Tagore: Poet and Dramatist (London: Humphrey Milford, 1926)

A History of India (London: Ernest Benn, 1927)

An Indian Day (London: Alfred A. Knopf, 1927)

Suttee (London: Allen & Unwin, 1928)

Atonement (London: Heinemann, 1929)

The Reconstruction of India (London: Faber & Faber, 1930)

A Farewell to India (London: Ernest Benn, 1931)

A Letter from India (London: Faber & Faber, 1932)

The Rise and Fulfilment of British Rule in India (London: Macmillan, 1934)

Burmese Silver (London: Faber & Faber, 1937)

The Life of Charles, Lord Metcalfe (London: Faber & Faber, 1937)

The Making of the Indian Princes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1943)

Secondary works: 

Lago, Mary, India's Prisoner: A Biography of Edward John Thompson, 1886-1946 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2001)

Lago, Mary, ‘Thompson, Edward John (1886–1946)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (Oxford University Press, 2004) [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/36487]

Parry, Benita, Delusions and Discoveries: India in the British Imagination 1880-1930 (London: Verso, 1998)

Symonds, Richard, Oxford and Empire: The Last Lost Cause? (New York: St Martin's Press, 1986)

Thompson, E. P., Alien Homage: Edward Thompson and Rabindranath Tagore (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993)

Archive source: 

Correspondence and papers, Bodleian Library, Oxford

Correspondence with Lord Lothian regarding 'Indian Lectureship', Rhodes House Archives, Oxford

Papers, Historical Manuscripts Commission, National Register of Archives

Elmhirst Collection, Dartington

William Rothenstein Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard

Correspondence with Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Nehru (Gandhi), Nehru Memorial Library and Museum, Delhi