History The Fishing Fleet by Anne de Courcy

Published on July 21st, 2012


The Fishing Fleet by Anne de Courcy

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Blurb: From the late 19th century, when the Raj was at its height, many of Britain’s best and brightest young men went out to India to work as administrators, soldiers and businessmen. With the advent of steam travel and the opening of the Suez Canal, countless young women, suffering at the lack of eligible men in Britain, followed in their wake. This amorphous band was composed of daughters returning after their English education, girls invited to stay with married sisters or friends, and yet others whose declared or undeclared goal was simply to find a husband. They were known as the Fishing Fleet, and this book is their story, hitherto untold.

The women who flocked to India to bag a husband | Telegraph

Jad Adams, The Guardian

“Highly evocative … The book glitters with quotes from the women themselves, but they are unfortunately unreferenced, so often we have to guess whether the recollections are from letters, diaries, memoirs or personal interviews with elderly ladies. Still, this is a fine picture of a lost world — mercifully lost.”

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Frances Wilson, Sunday Telegraph 

“This is a fascinating account of the rules, roles and relations of the British Raj. Basing her research on the unpublished memoirs and journals of a number of Fishing Fleet wives, Anne de Courcy has recreated both the strangeness and banality of the experience for these cargoes of virgins, from the initial selection of a man to the eventual loneliness of a marriage in which you lived in a home of “dilapidated bareness”, had few friends, sent your children to school in England and waited for your husband to return from a succession of trips.”

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Anne Chisholm, Daily Telegraph 

“[A] spirited, highly entertaining book … her focus on the upper classes must exclude many young women from modest backgrounds with modest aspirations, those seeking work as well as romance and marriage, aiming to be missionaries, teachers, or nurses, some even aiming to serve as well as to enjoy India. Despite such quibbles, though, this book is brilliantly researched, skilfully constructed and full of delights.”

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Juliet Townsend, The Spectator

“What happened to them when they had landed their man is perhaps the most interesting side of this lively and well researched book.”

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Daisy Goodwin, The Sunday Times

“Sprightly … The Fishing Fleet is an entertaining, richly detailed account of a world that vanished overnight in 1947 with independence. As you would expect from the author of Debs at War and 1939: The Last Season, de Courcy revels in the details of durbars, tiger hunts and maharajahs dripping with jewels, but for me the most telling quote in the book is the acid recollection by a planter’s wife: “If there is a hell for me it will be an endless day in a club in Assam; a day of staring through dazzling white dust at men galloping about on polo grounds; of sitting in sterile circles drinking gin with their wives; of bouncing stickily around an unsprung dance floor, clutched to their soggy shirts, of finally being driven home at night by one of them peering woozily over the wheel, tipping old villagers in bullock carts into the ditch.””

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