Dissenters and Mavericks ambitiously reinstates individual authors at the centre of its inquiry into the complex relationship between literature and history. Offering fresh and provocative interpretations of both well-known and unfamiliar texts, the book joins what is still a tentative movement to open postcolonial studies to the competing values traditionally associated with literary criticism, where the exceptional matters as much as the typical, and analysis seeks to identify the distinctive qualities of thought and language in particular writers. Without proposing an honour roll of heroic dissenters, Margery Sabin discloses the presence of more skeptical questioning and more variety of thought and expression in the record of writing in English about India than the prevailing categories of postcolonial analysis register. After an introduction that explores the tension in methods and values between so-called "discourse analysis" and literary criticism, Sabin proceeds to eight chapters about writers who achieve a measure of freedom from the orthodoxies and stereotypes of their diverse, historical moments.
Sabin chooses materials from a variety of genres, including letters, political oratory, memoirs, novels, journalism, and travel writing. Many English voices circulate in the first half of the book: Horace Walpole and Edmund Burke in the eighteenth century, Wilkie Collins in the nineteenth, along with lesser-known colonial historians and administrators. Part two features the Indian writers Nirad Chaudhuri, V. S. Naipaul, and Pankaj Mishra, along with lesser-known journalists, novelists, and other Indian intellectuals. Dissenters and Mavericks reinvigorates the interdisciplinary study of literature, history, and politics through an approach to reading that allows the voices heard in writing a chance to talk back, to exert pressure on the presuppositions and preferences of a wide range of readers.