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The Memsahibs The Women of Victorian India by Pat Barr

The Memsahibs The Women of Victorian India


The Memsahibs The Women of Victorian India by Pat Barr

Thousands of British women lived in India during Victorian times. They first went out as wives, mothers, sisters; others followed as teachers, doctors, missionaries. What they did and how they responded to their strange environment were seldom thought worthy of record, and writers have handed down to us a fictional image of the typical 'memsahib' as a frivolous, snobbish and selfish creature flitting from bridge to tennis parties 'in the hills'. For the most part, these cliches bear little resemblance to the truth; many women loyally and stoically accepted their share of the responsibility with endurance, courage and resilience.This story is developed around a number of women who wrote in an entertaining and intelligent fashion about their Indian experiences, starting with the arrival on the scene of one of the wittiest and cleverest of them all - Emily Eden, sister of Lord Auckland who was Governor-General from 1836 to 1842. It ends with Maud Diver, who maintained that the random assertion made by Kipling about the 'lower tone of social morality' in India was unjust and untrue. The dramatis personae of the book include Vicereines, wives of Civil Servants and missionaries struggling to break down the subservience of women throughout the vast sub-continent. Through women's eyes we witness the principal historic events at the time - the Afghan conflicts, the Mutiny - as well as the daily routines in very different cantonments and some of the British personalities who made their mark on nineteenth-century India - Honoria Lawrence, Flora Steel, Lady Sale. In this vivid account, Pat Barr evokes the sights and smells of Victorian India, its teeming masses, its problems so impossible, it seemed, for Englishwomen to solve.

About the Author

Pat Barr established a reputation for herself as a popular historian with a particular interest in the lives of people in unfamiliar surroundings. Her books include The Coming of the Barbarians and The Deer Cry Pavilion about the comings of the Europeans to Japan in the nineteenth century, both reissued by Faber Finds. Her biography of the traveller Isabella Bird, A Curious Life for a Lady is also published by Faber Finds. She has lived in many parts of the world, including the United States, Japan and Bolivia.

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Book Info

Publication date

19th May 2011


Pat Barr

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Faber & Faber


218 pages


Social & cultural history

Asian history
Modern history to 20th century: c 1700 to c 1900



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