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Women of the Raj: The Mothers, Wives, and Daughters of the British Empire in India Paperback – October 9, 2007

4.5 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

MacMillan's 1988 volume traces the role of British women in India, whose primary purpose seems to have been to replicate Victorian society in the Raj. The book reveals how these women adjusted to the many hardships of living in an alien and often hostile environment.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Margaret MacMillan is the Warden of St Antony s College and a professor of International History at the University of Oxford.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 402 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; 9.9.2007 edition (October 9, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812976398
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812976397
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #271,614 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Bruce Loveitt on July 6, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Maybe it was because it was the summer and I was looking for a "light read," but I really enjoyed this book. If you're looking for a scholarly book on this subject you may want to look elsewhere, because this is primarily a social/cultural history. The book is divided into lots of small chapters, each covering a particular theme, such as: taking the ship from Britain to India, housekeeping, courtship and marriage, bringing up children, social activities, etc. The author has filled the book with funny tidbits. For example, in the chapter on taking the ship over to India we learn that, due to the lack of laundry facilities, British women were advised to bring their oldest underwear with them. That way, when the clothing was dirty they could just chuck it overboard! In the chapter on courtship and marriage we find out that India was a "seller's market." Men outnumbered women by three-to-one. Women enjoyed all of the attention and loved to flirt. Other women loved to gossip about the women that loved to flirt- hence, nasty nicknames abounded, such as "Treacle Tart" and "Betty-Bed-And-Breakfast." In the section covering coping with the weather we find out that women who arrived in 80 degree weather, thinking it was the summer, were in for a nasty shock when the "real" summer hit and temperatures soared to 110-120 farenheit. Ladies and Gentlemen were still expected to don formal attire for supper (after all, we are talking about the British!). How to beat the heat? They put a huge block of ice under the dinner table- a form of primitive air conditioning. Mrs. MacMillan does have her serious moments: she talks about race relations, snobbery, and prejudice. We also learn about the caste system. The Brits were quite put out that, as foreigners, they were lumped together with the Untouchables. Quite a shock, that! The book also has a lot of interesting photographs taken in the late 1800's and early 1900's. All in all, highly recommended.
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Format: Paperback
I tripped over this book while looking for something completely different, but I'm glad I did. Mrs. MacMillan does a wonderful job of describing the history of British women living in India during the colonial period, without being dry, boring, or stuffy. I love history-related books, but so many are boring, and read like textbooks, no matter how interesting the subject matter, that a book like this reminds me of why I love history. In fact, I read "Women of the Raj" in one sitting.
Although written about women, Mrs. MacMillan avoids burdening her work with modern feminist blather, and explains the hows and whys of women's behavior during the Raj in relation to the society of the time. She covers the challenges women faced in coming to an unknown place and cultures (even after a century of ruling India, the general populace of Britian didn't necessarily know much about actually living there), raising children, relationships with the native populations, and much more.
Even though my knowledge of the British Raj was limited to what I've learned in world history overview classes and from reading Kipling, I never lost track of how the discussions fit into wider history and culture, thanks to the good job the author did at fitting her discussions into these contexts. My only complaint, and a small one at that, is that a map or two of India, showing major cities and stations, would have been helpful.
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Format: Paperback
As an Indian, I've always known about the Indians' view of the Raj, so it's very interesting to read about the Britishers' views and their lives in India. "Women Of The Raj" is very informative and provides every detail about their lives. As the book focuses on women, the reader encounters all their social and domestic problems and finds him/herself wondering over and over again how anyone could live like that! Even when the Raj was at its peak, these women faced a great many difficulties. This is the first book I've ever read about the Raj and it has inspired me to read many more. Highly recommended.
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Margaret MacMillan has penned a book that is as entertaining as it is informative. Focusing on the lives of British women who either accompanied their husbands to India or voyaged to the subcontinent for other purposes--perhaps to find a husband or to become a domestic or do charitable work, the author paints a vivid picture of women's lives from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries of the British ventures in India, which began with the East India Company and culminated in the Raj.

Having been brought up on a diet of Kipling, the Godden sisters, and later, M.M. Kaye, I once had a rather romantic notion of what it must be like to be a memsahib--such thoughts usually came to me as a teenager, cleaning up my messy room, imagining how lovely it would be to have "all those servants." After reading Ms. MacMillan's fascinating account, based upon actual women's letters and memoirs, I can relegate my teenage dreams properly to the realm of misguided fantasy.

Women had to cope with unimaginable annoyances. They suffered the tragic loss of children, either to sudden illness or to forced separation by the necessity of sending them Home at an early age for education. The voyage out and the journey to the final destination could be both uncomfortable and dangerous. And the amount of baggage, clothes and other paraphernalia that one had to drag around, especially in the 19th century, was truly astounding (eleven camel-loads were recommended by "The Complete Indian Housekeeper and Cook"); and all those petticoats and corsets, not to mention the stodgy multi-course meals in all that heat, must have been enervating. As for servants, there were so many rules of caste and custom that the woman of the house had to undergo a juggling act to keep up with them and not make dreadful gaffes.
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