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The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh: A Woman in World History Hardcover – Bargain Price, September 4, 2007


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon (September 4, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 037542153X
  • ASIN: B005ZOKNQC
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,742,444 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

There were many ordeals—and adventures—in the tumultuous life of this emblematic 18th-century Englishwoman. At age 20 Marsh was captured by Barbary pirates and narrowly fended off the Moroccan sultan's attempts to induct her into his harem. She married a British merchant, went through both luxurious high living and humiliating bankruptcy, followed him to India, where they remade themselves as colonial grandees, then suffered another bankruptcy. (A further ordeal was snagging a husband for her under-dowried daughter.) Historian Colley (Captives: Britain, Empire and the World, 1600–1850) styles Marsh a female Candide batted about by world-historical forces. Shaped by the breakdown of barriers in this age of proto-globalization (Colley speculates excitedly, but without evidence, that Marsh was of mixed racial background), her life was opened up by the rise of the British Empire and disrupted by attendant upheavals like the Seven Years War and the American Revolution. Still, in Colley's account, she retains her own power: Marsh cannily leveraged family connections to the British naval bureaucracy to facilitate her voyaging, published a piquant memoir of Moroccan captivity and enjoyed a scandalous 18-month tour of India accompanied by a dashing, unmarried British officer. Colley makes of her story both an engaging biography and a deft, insightful social history. Photos. (Aug. 14)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Linda Colley, a history professor at Princeton, first encountered Elizabeth Marsh while researching her previous book, Captives: Britain, Empire, and the World, 1600–1850. Using the scant sources available, Colley fleshes out this long-forgotten woman’s extraordinary life, which was frequently shaped by world events: war, commerce, imperialism, and global shifts of power. Unfortunately, the lack of personal papers means that readers never really get to know Marsh. However, Colley’s intention here is "recasting and re-evaluating biography" to deepen our understanding of the "global past," and she brings Marsh’s world and the forces shaping it vividly to life. Instead of portraying a life played out against world history, Colley turns the genre on its head and presents world history as it played out in a single life.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

74 of 76 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on September 11, 2007
Format: Hardcover
You expect a biography to tell you about someone important, someone who has gained accomplishments in some field of human endeavor, and because of the accomplishments is worth coming to understand as some sort of outstanding example (good or bad) of humanity. Chances are you have never heard of Elizabeth Marsh, an Englishwoman of the eighteenth century, and it isn't that she has an undeserved obscurity. Her life was different in many ways from those of her contemporaries, but she had no special talents or accomplishments, and her life was not exemplary in any way. So it is in some ways odd that historian Linda Colley has made her the subject of a penetrating biography, _The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh: A Woman in World History_ (Pantheon). Colley has pieced together what can be known of Elizabeth Marsh's life from the spotty writings of Marsh and her family, but as an expert on world history of Marsh's times, she has put the life in the context of the start of globalization. It was a confusing age full of changes that no one knew were coming, and Elizabeth Marsh and her family, who had ties to the British navy and to seagoing trade, thus were in the middle of the changes. In this way Colley's book is history from the bottom up, an attempt to understand the lives of a few ordinary people caught up in larger events.

Elizabeth Marsh got her beginning far from England, born in Jamaica in 1735. Her father was a ship's carpenter, and there is a surprising ease of access to shipboard travel throughout Elizabeth Marsh's life. Her traveling life, her real life, began in 1755, when her family sailed to Menorca, and later to Gibraltar. In 1756 she boarded the _Ann_, a merchantman full of a cargo of brandy, commanded by James Crisp, and thus that she began the prime adventure of her life.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Charles A. Reap Jr. on September 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Being a history buff, I was particularly intrigued by (1) the research that Colley put into this, and (2) the actual description of March's happenings. It is an easy read if you don't mind some extraneous detail. I heartily recommend it to others interested in obscure history.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Sue Moran on February 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Professor Colley has done a lot of research on Britain's 18th century world, and this book has come out of that. She presents an extraordinary interweaving of naval history, commerce, the status of women, slavery, and the emergence of the USA, among other subjects. I like the way she is upfront about her speculation about Elizabeth Marsh. As she goes along she makes it clear what is in the record, what she believes would have been typical of the era, and what she is only guessing at. Very admirable. But I found the book dry in places. A little more scholarly than I was in the mood for.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Cameron-Smith on October 19, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Elizabeth Marsh, daughter of a ship's carpenter, was conceived in Jamaica, was born in England in 1735, and died in Calcutta in 1785.

Between these dates, Elizabeth Marsh travelled extensively lived a full (albeit unconventional) life and saw more of the world than most of her contemporaries.

At twenty, as the sole female passenger aboard a merchant ship bound for Lisbon, she was captured by pirates and taken to Morocco. In order to escape, she pretended to be married to her sailing companion, James Crisp.

Ms Colley has written a book that portrays an unconventional life and the backdrop of the times in which Elizabeth Marsh lived.

Highly recommended to those interested in history through the lives of individuals.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By bbopster on March 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover
A great book -- I discovered it from my History Book Club, before the great reviews poured in from the critics. I think the New York Times had it as one of its ten best at the end of the year. For all persons interested in women's history, biography, India, Caribbean. Shows how much certain intrepid souls traveled in days of yore. And a rarity in those days--tales written by a woman. The author has done her research carefully & thoroughly; text is easy to follow, not boring. Loved the fact that she was related to Edmund Burke.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Chimonsho on August 13, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Linda Colley came across Ms. Marsh while researching her earlier "Captives," and found her compelling enough to devote a full work to her. The author utilizes a broad range of sources in reconstructing the life of an obscure person, albeit one who published her own pirate yarn after ransom from Morocco. How obscure? Colley did not unearth any images of her subject, and cannot finally determine Marsh's racial composition. But Marsh personifies the connections and networks within which 18C global travelers made their way, so her story tells us a great deal about her world. The narrative moves briskly for the most part, though details of family business affairs are tedious at times; "Ordeal" well conveys the sense of a rapidly changing, increasingly mobile world (globalization long predates NAFTA and the Internet). It quite effectively engenders 18C world history from the perspective of an unusual but representative woman's life. The tides of history often buffeted Marsh so that she did not control her destiny, but she emerges as a strong-willed woman in an era with little use for them.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By MV on October 25, 2011
Format: Paperback
Colley traces Elizabeth Marsh's travels from her birth in Jamaica in the 18th century to her return to England and her journeys by ship through Asia including a pirate adventure. However, the story is far from an adventure tale. It's a detailed excursion of what Colley is able to research about these travels. The focus is not on increasing tension but in attempting to develop a true to history account of Marsh's life. It is often difficult to develop this account because while Colley is able to unearth a surprising amount of material about (and by) a rather obscure woman, it is still largely incomplete. Colley does attempt to stick with what she has evidence for and when she dives into conjecture she acknowledges that she is doing so. So, you do feel like you are getting a historically accurate portrayal. However what she loses in her adherence to accuracy is anything to compel the reader on. You never get to know the woman Elizabeth Marsh except through very brief examples covered in lots of research language.

The book works as a well-researched picture of British history in its postcolonial posts through the eyes of a middle class, unusual woman (so in that case this is not a picture of postcolonial history but a very specific portrayal). We get details about the extreme poverty and disease in Jamaica and brief looks at the British East Indian influence in India (and the power it held) and glimpses of life on ship in this era.

The book does not work as a compelling portrait of an adventurous woman. I never really cared about Marsh and often forgot about her entirely, paying more attention to the rest of the book than to what was happening to Marsh. There are multiple forays into the history of other people around her that were distracting and not particularly enlightening.
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