Letters from India

Julia Maitland’s letters, reported one earlier in this blog, are part of a larger tradition of women publishing their correspondence from the time they spent in India. We have two more such editions at home:

  • Emily Eden, Up the Country: Letters from India, originally published in 1866 [reissued with an introduction by Virago Press in 1983].
  • Eliza Fay, Original Letters from India, ed. by E.M. Forster, first published in 1817 in India and later edited Forster for The Hogarth Press in 1925 [reissued in 1986 by Chatto and Windus]

Emily Eden (1797-1869) is described in the preliminaries to the book as “a prominent political hostess”, who accompanied her brother George Eden to India when he became Governor-General there. Apart from the published letters recording her stay in India (1835-1842), she published two novels in 1859 and 1860. The entry in wikipedia mentions Jane Austen as being her favourite author.

Eliza Fay (1755/56-1816) went to India (Madras and Calcutta) in 1779 with her husband who was a lawyer. The blurb of the modern edition of the book  refers to her “hilarious gusto, unusual sympathy and telling eye” as characterising her writing.  Eliza is described as “a seamstress, teacher and luckless merchant”. She died in Calcutta, and the letters were published in India a year after her death. I have been unable to find a picture of her.

I haven’t checked the text, but expect that we have to be careful is attributing all that we find in the language in these books to the writers themselves. There may have been any amount of editing of the text. Normally I believe that reliable scholarly editions can be taken to appear only after 1935 (Tieken-Boon van Ostade 2005), but for all that, the letters may contain similar interesting material as those by Julia Maitland.

If you are going to read the letters for their linguistic interest, please report your findings to us here.


Tieken-Boon van Ostade, Ingrid (2005). “Eighteenth-century English letters: In search of the vernacular”. Linguistica e Filologia 21. 113-146.

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