For young Englishwomen stepping off the steamer, the sights and sounds of humid colonial India were like nothing they’d ever experienced. For many, this was the ultimate destination to find a perfect civil servant husband. For still more, however, India offered a chance to fling off the shackles of Victorian social mores.
The word ‘memsahib’ conjures up visions of silly aristocrats, well-staffed bungalows and languorous days at the club. Yet these women had sought out the uncertainties of life in Britain’s largest, busiest colony. Memsahibs introduces readers to the likes of Flora Annie Steel, Fanny Parks and Emily Eden, accompanying their husbands on expeditions, travelling solo across dangerous terrain, engaging in political questions, and recording their experiences. Yet the Raj was not all adventure. There was disease, and great risk to young women travelling alone; for colonial wives in far-flung outposts, there was little access to ‘society’. Cut off from modernity and the Western world, many women suffered terrible trauma and depression.
From the hill-stations to the capital, this is a sweeping, vividly written anthology of colonial women’s lives across British India. Their honesty and bravery, in their actions and their writings, shine fresh light on this historical world.