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Expatriate husband-hunting in Victorian India

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Non fiction women's history

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In "The Fishing Fleet" (Harper, $26.99) Anne de Courcy gives a colorful account of British expatriate women in India on the hunt for husbands.

In the late 19th century many talented young British men departed for India, the so-called "crown jewel" of the British Empire, in search of fame and fortune. They soon became successful businessmen, soldiers and bureaucrats.

Their female counterparts did not fare well in England. Lacking suitable potential partners, and realizing such men outnumbered women four to one in India, women began to follow the exodus to India. These women were dubbed "The Fishing Fleet."

Life in India was exciting for the women. Lavish dances, parties, theater, tennis, cinema, tiger hunting expeditions and banquets were offered everywhere. Finally away from the constraints of home, the women entered a whirlwind social life aimed at finding the right mate.

Marriages occurred often. However, once married, the women were taken by their new husbands from this glamorous circle to remote outposts where entertainment and pleasures were few or did not exist at all. They were often alone and had few comforts to make life easier. Many became ill, some died, yet some did bear and raise children under these hard circumstances. With little company, and nothing to do other than raise their children, the women often became bored. They spent endless listless days fighting heat, humidity and insects and longing for friendly faces.

Although this sounds like fiction at its best, this true story is based on unpublished letters, diaries, memoirs and photographs from the women who lived this life. Journalist Courey does a spectacular job of assembling these firsthand accounts into a compelling story left largely untold until now.

This book belongs on the shelves of any library of women's studies and is highly recommended for book clubs.

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