Ribbons Among the Rajahs: A History of British Women in India Before the Raj

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Long before the world grew smaller, young Englishwomen traveled to India in search of adventure, a husband, even relief from boredom. After almost five months on board a ship with far fewer creature comforts than today’s cruise liners, some added apprehension to their excitement. Exotic sicknesses and premature death, loneliness, hasty marriages, and untold dangers were at hand. With a treasure trove of letters and journals woven into the narrative, Patrick Wheeler paints a picture of each ship’s arrival with Indian porters swarming around, mingling with Englishmen lining the dock to scope out new prospective brides. Readers step back two hundred years, to the time before the British rule, known as the Raj, changed the tone of British presence and gave them unprecedented social and economic status.

With scant attention to politics, Ribbons among the Rajahs explores the minutiae of everyday lives, the singularly un-British diet and familiar tasks in an unfamiliar setting. Fearsome insects invading the houses were a paltry concern next to an awareness of “the machinery of death” always running, and how, when returning from an evening drive in Calcutta, one passed an English burial ground, “a sad remnant of one of India’s dreaded diseases.”

Despite the difficulties coping with an alien culture and climate, the tone of the book is overwhelmingly upbeat. The women remained optimistic, writing home about adventures and excitement non-existent back home. Wheeler’s account, the result of outstanding research and joyful writing, offers empathy as well as sympathy, laughter, and pleasures far more memorable than the misery.

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Star Count 5/5
Format Hard
Page Count 256 pages
Publisher Pen and Sword
Publish Date 2017-Aug-08
ISBN 9781473893276
Bookshop.org Buy this Book
Issue December 2017
Category History


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