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She-Merchants, Buccaneers and Gentlewomen: British Women in India

A Paperback edition by Katie Hickman in English (May, 31 2019)

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The first British women to set foot in India did so in the very early seventeenth century, two and a half centuries before the Raj. Women made their way to India for exactly the same reasons men did - to carve out a better life for themselves. In the early days, India was a place where the slates of 'blotted pedigrees' were wiped clean; bankrupts given a chance to make good; a taste for adventure satisfied - for women. They went and worked as milliners, bakers, dress-makers, actresses, portrait painters, maids, shop-keepers, governesses, teachers, boarding house proprietors, midwives, nurses, missionaries, doctors, geologists, plant-collectors, writers, travellers, and - most surprising of all - traders.

The first British women to set foot in India did so in the very early seventeenth century, two and a half centuries before the Raj. Women made their way to India for exactly the same reasons men did - to carve out a better life for themselves. In the early days, India was a place where the slates of 'blotted pedigrees' were wiped clean; bankrupts given a chance to make good; a taste for adventure satisfied - for women. They went and worked as milliners, bakers, dress-makers, actresses, portrait painters, maids, shop-keepers, governesses, teachers, boarding house proprietors, midwives, nurses, missionaries, doctors, geologists, plant-collectors, writers, travellers, and - most surprising of all - traders. As wives, courtesans and she-merchants, these tough adventuring women were every bit as intrepid as their men, the buccaneering sea captains and traders in whose wake they followed; their voyages to India were extraordinarily daring leaps into the unknown. The history of the British in India has cast a long shadow over these women; Memsahibs, once a word of respect, is now more likely to be a byword for snobbery and even racism. And it is true: prejudice of every kind - racial, social, imperial, religious - did cloud many aspects of British involvement in India. But was not invariably the case.
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