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The Fishing Fleet: Husband-Hunting in the Raj (edition 2012)

by Anne De Courcy

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1147105,887 (3.52)11
Member:thecaptivereader
Title:The Fishing Fleet: Husband-Hunting in the Raj
Authors:Anne De Courcy
Info:Weidenfeld & Nicolson (2012), Hardcover, 320 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Rating:***
Tags:Non-fiction, Topic: History, Location: India, Topic: British Raj, Author: English, Read in 2013

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The Fishing Fleet: Husband-Hunting in the Raj by Anne de Courcy

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The number of books I have started and not finished in my life is exactly 1. This is it. ( )
  JenBurge | Mar 20, 2015 |
Parties, punkahs, tiger shoots and romance aplenty in this jolly but flawed book, with its tales of British women who went out to India to bag husbands in the days of the Raj. De Courcy paints a dazzling picture of a forgotten era...and yet, I found myself wanting so much more from this study, which is in dire need of a feminist and postcolonial lens for its subject.

This is the kind of book that last enjoyed broad popularity in Britain thirty years ago, and nobody these days has any business writing about the British Raj in such an uncritical and largely celebratory manner. Plenty of British women went out to India under their own steam, to work, and of those Fishing Fleet girls who married, not all ended up leading bone-idle, pointless lives. The book would have benefitted from profiling some of these women, alongside an otherwise unbroken stream of frivolous girls fresh off the boat, interested only in evening dresses and the number of invitations they received.

And on the inevitable topic of racism, this book leaves a tremendous amount to be desired. The subject of these women's relationships with "the natives" is largely confined to one chapter (and the shortest one in the book, at that), in which the author alternately holds her nose and wrings her hands over the subject. I very much had the impression that she'd have avoided the topic altogether if the editors had allowed it.

In short, there's some great storytelling here, but this is an old-fashioned and inadequate treatment of an otherwise fascinating subject. ( )
  Panopticon2 | Mar 1, 2015 |
Aide memoir: Excellent book. Focuses on the first half of the 20th century, but gives plenty of earlier stories. Highly recommend. ( )
  reader68 | Jul 1, 2014 |
Excellent. From the first days of the Raj to World War II, every year boatloads of women descended on India, looking for husbands. Generally, women being in short supply, they found them. In the meantime, apart from harsh weather, they had a fabulous time going to endless balls and parties and err, shooting tiger. Luckily some kept diaries and corresponded widely. Anne de Courcy has mined this information expertly to illuminate a corner of colonial history probably not that well known - the history of the fishing fleet. And very entertaining it is; you can't help feeling that despite the perils of the voyage, the deprivations of heat and cold, the rigid formality and need for constant chaperoning, the girls enjoyed themselves immensely - certainly more than they would have done in England. Who wouldn't enjoy the attention of being one of only a few single women in the midst of fit young men in the prime of their lives? Even if from a romantic perspective a few stolen kisses were all you could hope for until engagement struck.

Fascinating and often very funny. Recommended ( )
  Opinionated | May 18, 2014 |
This was a fascinating exploration of an aspect of the British empire experience of which I had been unaware. I knew about all those ladies in their stifling finery, living lives of ridiculous luxury amidst unthinkable poverty in a brutal climate, but I had never wondered how they got there, or why they went. I had certainly never heard of them referred to collectively as the Fishing Fleet. The girls fell into two main categories: those who were returning to parents in India after being sent to England for their education; and those born in England who hadn't found a suitable match at home (probably because all the eligible men were off building the Empire) and were shipped out to stay with relatives or family friends in India. They were all looking for marriage because, well, there were no other options. And those sex-deprived Empire-building Englishmen with their stiff upper lips were all too willing to oblige.

The book focuses on the period of the Raj, especially from the 1890s to World War II, because that was the period for which the author was able to get plenty of first-hand accounts, from letters, diaries, and even some personal interviews. The author does a good job of providing the historical context for the Fishing Fleet in the Raj, going back to 1671, when the East India Company paid young women to sail out to India and marry. The book has chapters on the women and the men, the voyage, physical and social conditions in India, courtship and marriage, as well as chapters spotlighting the experiences of individual women. Many aspects of the women's lives in India were explored, and they even had menstrual cycles! (It bugs me that basic inconveniences of human bodily functions are so often ignored in books.) Everything is described through the first-hand accounts, and there are dozens of photographs.

My only complaint about the book was that it dragged a bit through the middle, with account after account of dances, clubs, protocol, lavish entertainments and unimaginably wealthy maharajahs. Towards the end I started to notice some repetitions.

I'd recommend this to anyone interested in British India. It amazes me how they built such an exaggerated version of English society in a place completely different from their home, and managed to keep themselves so separated from the enormous native population, while at the same time relying on native labour for everything. ( )
  SylviaC | Mar 19, 2014 |
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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.… (more)

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