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Review: The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh, by Linda Colley


Pages: 361
Original date of publication: 2007
My edition: 2008 (Anchor Books)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: LibraryThing Secret Santa, December 2010

Elizabeth Marsh was truly an interesting and remarkable woman. Conceived in Jamaica and born in 1735, Marsh literally traveled from the time she was in the womb. She visited Morocco, the Mediterranean, Florida, and India. The books covers not only Elizabeth’s story, but her family’s and, by extension, world history. Because her father and grandfather were shipbuilders, Marsh’s life was linked to the English Royal Navy and the world of the British Empire. It was a time when there was a growing awareness of and connections between various cultures of the world, and Marsh’s story in some part personalizes that experience.

In some ways, her life and adventures were similar to those of Eliza Fay, who wrote her “Letters” from India roughly a generation later. Both were lower-middle class (if you could use that term for 18th century social classes); both married and followed their husbands to India; both had unusual adventures in captivity and out of it. Marsh also kept a record of her travels, mainly from her Moroccan and Indian journeys. There is an unusually large record of Marsh’s life and the lives of her ancestors, which the authors drew from in order to write this book. Unlike Eliza Fay, however, you don’t really get a feel for what Marsh might have been like; certainly she was intrepid and adventurous, but you don’t get much of a concrete sense of her personality beyond that. I would have loved to have read actual passages in their whole from the diary.

Still, the book does a great job of tying Marsh’s story in with the larger events of the period. The book is punctuated throughout with black and white and color portraits and pictures.


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