Skip to main content

Review: Original Letters from India, by Eliza Fay


Pages: 285
Original date of publication: 1817
My edition: 2010 (NYRB Classics)
Why I decided to read: it’s an NYRB Classic
How I acquired my copy: Joseph Fox Bookshop, Philadelphia, January 2012


Eliza Fay was 23 when she accompanied her husband Anthony Fay, a lawyer, to India in 1779. Not much is known about her early life, but her editor, EM Forster, surmises that her father might have been a sailor. On her first journey out to India, she traveled through France and Egypt, and she and her husband were imprisoned when they arrived in Calcutta.

Due to Anthony Fay’s mismanagement of money and infidelity, Eliza Fay split from her husband a few years later, and set herself up briefly as a milliner. Over the next 30 years she was to travel to India a few more times, and each time she traveled, she kept a journal of her journey. It was a time when the British turned from mere merchants and traders in India to a major imperial power. Eliza Fay wasn’t of the wealthiest class, but she nonetheless was an active participant in middle-class social life.

Most of the contents of this diary were from her first journey. Eliza Fay was an astute observer of her surroundings and undaunted by new experiences. She proves herself to be courageous and resourceful where her weak-willed husband is not. For example, during their captivity, the couple hid their valuables in an old glove and hid them under the eaves of the house. When a rainstorm came and washed the glove away, her spineless husband whined about it… while Eliza used a bit of common sense and footwork in order to find the glove lying in the grass nearby.

Judging from her “letters to friends back at home,” Eliza Fay wasn’t particularly educated, but she had the capacity to learn, particularly foreign languages. Her observations are astute, and while she wasn’t a particularly skilled writer, her style is all her own: immensely entertaining and energetic. Eliza Fay was a precursor to other colonial-era English female travelers to India—Emily Eden primarily among them. It’s fortunate that EM Forster accidentally stumbled across this book while researching A Passage to India.

Comments

Aarti said…
Oh, this sounds really interesting! I've never even heard of it before. I like that it's from the perspective of someone that isn't super-educated. I feel like that isn't the case with most British diaries from India during the Raj.

Popular posts from this blog

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Forever Amber takes place in the 1660s, immediately follwing Charles II's ("the Merry Monarch") return of the Stuarts to the English throne. The book features Amber St. Claire, a young woman who starts out as a sixteen-year-old country girl, naieve to the workings of the world. She immediately meets Bruce Carlton, a dashing young Cavalier, with whom she has a passionate love affair in choppy intervals throughout the book. They have two children together, but Bruce won't marry her for the reason he tells his friend Lord Almsbury: that Amber just isn't the kind of woman one marries.

Upon following Bruce to London, he goes to Virginia, leaving her to fend for herself. What follows is a series of affairs and four marriages, with Bruce coming back from America now and then. Amber's marriages are imprudent: her first husband is a gambler, her second is an old dotard, her third locks her up in the house for days and won't let her out; and the last is a fop who a…

Review: This Rough Magic, by Mary Stewart

Pages: 254Original date of publication: 1964My edition: 1964 (William Morrow)Why I decided to read: it was 90 degrees outside at the time and I decided it was time to read another book by a favorite authorHow I acquired my copy: from Susanna Kearsley, December 2009Sometimes, whether or not I decide to read a book depends on the weather. Mary Stewart’s books are best read on either very hot or very cold days; and since it was 90 degrees out one weekend a couple of weeks ago, I decided that this one would be perfect. And it was.This Rough Magic takes its title from The Tempest, a play from which this novel takes off. Lucy Waring is a struggling actress who comes to visit her sister on Corfu. One of her neighbors is a renowned actor who’s taken a bit of a sabbatical and his son, a musician with whom Lucy comes to blows at first. This Rough Magic is vintage Mary Stewart, with a murder or two, a mystery, romance, suspense, and lots of magic thrown in. Lucy is your typical Mary Stewart hero…

Review: Joy in the Morning, by Betty Smith

Pages: 294
Original date of publication: 1963
My edition: 2010 (Harper Perennial)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Barnes and Noble, Phoenix, January 2011


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of my all-time favorite books and I’ve read it, oh, half a dozen times, so I was interested to see how Joy in the Morning would compare.

Set in the late 1920s, Joy in the Morning begins when Annie, aged 18, comes to a small Midwestern college town where her fiancée, Carl, is in law school. The novel opens with their marriage in the county courthouse, and follows the couple through their first year or so of marriage. It’s a struggle, because Carl and Annie are basically children themselves, for all the ways in which Carl tries to appear more adult-like.

Annie is endearing; she’s ignorant but a voracious reader, reading everything from Babbitt to War and Peace. Betty Smith’s novels are pretty autobiographical; Joy in the Morning is (unofficially) a kind of sequel to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn—cert…