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At Sea with Eliza Fay’s Original Letters from India
For the past couple of days, as the Dawn Princess makes it’s way to India, I‘ve been sitting idly on the Promenade Deck, staring at the horizon and thinkin ‘ it’s a pretty lazy life, this life at sea’.
But, as a recent read of the book Original Letters from India by Eliza Fay reminds me, sea travel hasn’t always been as easy or as comfortable as it is on the Dawn Princess.
While here on the Dawn Princess, I’m spoiled for choices when it comes to food, entertainment, and activities, the same couldn’t be said about Eliza Fay’s journey.
Her journey, by land and sea, was instead fraught with complications, imprisonment, near ship wrecks, and very little comfort. But as Original Letters from India reflects, the journey was never dull or uninteresting.
The collection of letters was first published in 1817 and provides an unguarded and uncensored glimpse of their perilous adventures by land and sea across Europe and the Middle East to India.
And what letters they were. Long and rambling, more like journal entries than letters, they are often hard to read due to their lack of structure. But it’s this very lack of structure – unguarded and uncensored – that make them so fascinating. Here is a woman, with limited education, who is living an adventure that would have most of us shaking in our shoes.
Little is known about Eliza Fay’s early life, apart from the fact that she was born in South London in 1756 and her father was mostly likely a sailor.
All we really know of her life is what happened after her marriage to Irish lawyer Anthony Fay when she was in her early twenties. In 1779, the newlyweds embarked on a haphazard journey to a new life in Calcutta, a journey that Eliza recorded through a series of letters that she sent to her family in England.
In long, winding, letters, Eliza Fay offers up frank opinions and descriptions of those she meets, both favourable and unfavourable. No one and nothing is spared except maybe Eliza herself who she obviously sees as the stoic heroine who survives one misadventure after another.
But perhaps Simon Winchester, in his introduction in the edition put out by the New York Review Books, describes Eliza’s letters best when he writes that
“No calmer correspondent can be imagined than the magnificent Mrs Fay, for whom the words imperturbable, indomitable, and redoubtable might have been coined”
(Photo from Amazon)Tags: book reviews, cruise ships, featuredarticle