Read Women of the Raj by Margaret MacMillan Online


In the nineteenth century, at the height of colonialism, the British ruled India under a government known as the Raj. British men and women left their homes and traveled to this mysterious, beautiful country–where they attempted to replicate their own society. In this fascinating portrait, Margaret MacMillan examines the hidden lives of the women who supported their husbanIn the nineteenth century, at the height of colonialism, the British ruled India under a government known as the Raj. British men and women left their homes and traveled to this mysterious, beautiful country–where they attempted to replicate their own society. In this fascinating portrait, Margaret MacMillan examines the hidden lives of the women who supported their husbands’ conquests–and in turn supported the Raj, often behind the scenes and out of the history books. Enduring heartbreaking separations from their families, these women had no choice but to adapt to their strange new home, where they were treated with incredible deference by the natives but found little that was familiar. The women of the Raj learned to cope with the harsh Indian climate and ward off endemic diseases; they were forced to make their own entertainment–through games, balls, and theatrics–and quickly learned to abide by the deeply ingrained Anglo-Indian love of hierarchy.Weaving interviews, letters, and memoirs with a stunning selection of illustrations, MacMillan presents a vivid cultural and social history of the daughters, sisters, mothers, and wives of the men at the center of a daring imperialist experiment–and reveals India in all its richness and vitality.“A marvellous book . . . [Women of the Raj] successfully [re-creates] a vanished world that continues to hold a fascination long after the sun has set on the British empire.”–The Globe and Mail“MacMillan has that essential quality of the historian, a narrative gift.”–The Daily Telegraph “MacMillan is a superb writer who can bring history to life.”–The Philadelphia Inquirer“Well researched and thoroughly enjoyable.”–Evening Standard ...

Title : Women of the Raj
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780500278987
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 256 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Women of the Raj Reviews

  • Gail
    2019-05-17 03:14

    It's hard to sympathize with someone who has upwards of 5 servants.Even harder to empathize with a woman who dismissed her Indian servant because he (shudder) held her arm as he saved her from a poisonous snake.MacMillan doesn't try to hide the facts of racism and dubious "moral superiority" that accompanied life in the British empire. She gives quite an even-handed portrait of the British women who lived in India during the Raj, showing the difficulties of trying to understand a very different culture, especially when one doesn't speak the language. Britain is always referred to as "Home", and the author makes very real the loneliness and longing these women had to deal with, especially when the chilren were sent back for schooling and to escape the "ruinous" effects of the climate. She draws on a wide variety of primary sources, making the book very realistic. This is a well-written overview that I'd recommend to anyone interested in the British empire, in the effects of colonialism on the colonizers, or in women's history. The only drawback is a lack of information on women who went against the pervading culture. The author doesn't ignore them, but it would have been interesting to see a bit more information about them.

  • Elizabeth Moffat
    2019-04-25 22:02

    Three and a half stars from me... I read this book as part of a British Empire challenge that I’m participating in with my GoodReads group Bright Young Things, and I was fascinated to read about how British women lived and coped in India during the turbulent years of the nineteenth century. From the synopsis of this book however, I was expecting something a little different. As stated in the synopsis, the author does draw her research from a series of interviews and letters, and there are some stunning photographs and illustrations in the book from the files of her own grandmother, so that also adds the personal touch and makes the story all the more authentic. However, I was expecting the book to be entirely made up of interviews, letters etc, the evidence from the ladies who were there in their own words and what I got was more of a narrative with the occasional name and date thrown in for good measure. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it just wasn’t what I was led to believe from the synopsis.Back to the book – the author divides it up into a number of sections which I found quite effective. Examples of which include Women in Danger, Courtship and Marriage, Children: Outposts of Empire, Housekeeping, Social Life and Amusements, and Unconventional Women which were among my favourites. What I did find fascinating (though unbelievable by todays standards) was how Britain could swan in, “lay claim” to India during the British Colonialism, and then have them serve their ladies and gentleman like they were beneath them. Sorry, just a slight issue and shame I have with my own country. Anyway, it was often seen as quite a great adventure for some ladies to come and live with their husbands in a foreign climate, (never mind what they often had to endure on the horrendous voyages over), once they arrived, things perhaps were not as exotic as they had pictured? Hotter than hot, with biting insects, the risk of disease, and we must remember the fashions of those times weren’t exactly conducive to a comfortable stay in tropical weather:“In the nineteenth century they had insisted on crinolines and bustles. (As a result some credulous Indians believed that European women had tails.) Laugh out loud quote for me, and I couldn’t resist including it.So now “uncomfortably” ensconced in India, the women now have to get used to the fact that they may not see their husbands that often due to work commitments, and they must get used to dealing with their household of Indian servants. Harder than it seems when you don’t know the language or the customs, and could be in danger of desperately offending someone. Social life could also be either considerably stale, with the same small communities, idle chatter and boredom or the opportunity for a bit of adultery if you were that way inclined, and as the author tells us Ethel Savi recalled “women were ready to make merry in the mountains while their husbands toiled on the plains.” There was even a regiment so renowned for their loose morals they were christened “The Fornicating Fifth.” Shocking!There is a lot of sadness in this book however, namely when it came to bearing children which posed a hazard in itself with the reduced medical expertise available to women in labour. Minnie Blaine’s treatment for “inward piles” at the birth of her second son, ranged from leeches to hot fomentations on her stomach, from enemas of opium to “the Galvanic Battery.” I don’t even want to know! Battling through the traumas of birth, mothers then had the fight to keep their children alive. Many succumbed to common ailments such as colds, colic, dysentery, fever and sunstroke then you have the added danger of malaria and smallpox to contend with. Also, we must remember that diseases of this type and their treatment was little known about until the end of the nineteenth century so many children suffered and died early in their lives. And if they survived this, children were often sent back to England for their schooling at a certain age, so the woman had to decide whether to accompany her child and abandon her husband or vice versa.This was definitely an intriguing and yes at points uncomfortable read for me, but I think it is important that we have books like this to show us our history and the history of other countries so we can hopefully learn from our mistakes. I think we can look on the Women of the Raj and laugh sometimes at their whims and fancies, and perhaps scold for their attitudes but they were undeniably brave to journey to a distant land with no idea what they were letting themselves in for.Please see my full review at

  • Sara W
    2019-05-15 02:02

    I was looking for a book to give me a general idea of what it was like to be a woman in British India, and this book gave me exactly what I wanted. It was interesting and well organized. It's not an amazing or "wow" read, but I'm giving it 5 stars because I can't really think of anything it was lacking. Maybe some people aren't a fan of the memsahibs, but this books tries to portray them as objectively as possible.

  • Alesa
    2019-05-08 23:19

    This was a fascinating history of women in colonial India. I loved learning about the challenges they faced, how their roles evolved over time, and who they were back Home before they arrived (and how miserable they often were after returning). I found the author to be very sympathetic; she understood all of the biases against "memsahibs", but also showed how impossible it often was to be a good wife and mother during the Raj. I met women similar to these in post-colonial Jamaica. Also, a woman's life in a Saudi Arabian oil camp was very similar. Basically, Raj women were a particular subset of expat women (which I have been on many different occasions). So I appreciated the insights from the book. Also, the author provided fascinating discussions about some of the literature about the Raj, such as Forster and Scott's The Raj Quartet, which added a lot of depth to my understanding of those works. Women of the Raj is a great companion to the body of expat literature.

  • Carolyn Johnson
    2019-04-24 01:59

    The British have had a long-standing relationship with India, from earliest days of exploration. The East India Company was established in 1599, and it had a monopoly on trade between England and the lands east of the Cape of Good Hope, granted by Queen Elizabeth I.Over the years, Britain also began to be involved in the politics of India, as the many small principalities and kingdoms were not connected into one nation, as they are today. During the nineteenth century, this involvement was very complex, with thousands of British citizens living in their own almost isolated society within the diversity of Indian cultures. This period of time, which occurred during the height of British Colonialism in the nineteenth century, and for a few years into the twentieth century, was called the period of the Raj.The British officials sent to govern and trade in India were all men, and they brought with them their families, wives, daughters, and mothers, to live as women mostly did in those days, to be the background support system. The women were not there with any power to govern their lives, but to make the households, keep up social ties between the white colonists, and raise the children. How they did live is the subject of this wonderful book. Details of their daily life abound, with sources cited, and a very interesting bibliography at the end of the book. The writing is clear, the book is well organized into sections, and I enjoyed reading, at last, how these women really got by in a land so radically different from their homeland.I feel inspired by this book to interrupt my planned reading, to reread some books I find on the bibliography that I enjoyed long ago. I think I will start with books by Rumer Godden.

  • Susan Lorenz
    2019-05-15 19:18

    Read this as a companion piece to the PBS series "Indian Summers". A social history of the lives of women over the several hundred years of the Raj. Not a history of British rule by any means but does contain a harrowing chapter on the Mutiny of 1857. Hit the spot for this Anglophile by giving insight into the lives of ordinary wives and mothers coping with a foreign home and lifestyle while upholding British values.

  • Deb
    2019-04-22 19:19

    Fans of the Godden sisters will enjoy this. They are referenced a few times. Kipling too. The author paints a portrait of women doing their best under difficult circumstances and, probably because her own family were part of the raj, does not condemn them harshly for being products of their own time.

  • Heather Nixon
    2019-04-28 20:12

    Thames and Hudson kindly sent me a few stunningly beautiful books last month that I adored and I was sent a few more (thank you!) which the first being Women of the Raj. It's a non-fiction book with a gorgeous cover and a topic that I know nothing about!It starts with the horrendous journey to India for both men and women in the 1800s and early 1900s which is something I would not want to experience! It also looks at the travellers first impressions of India and it's people as well as how they perceive this foreign exotic country, cultural clashes and how the Europeans try to carry on with their own version of society in a country that is very different to their own. Throughout the book the author not only describes the experiences, history and culture concisely and in a way that isn't dry, dusty or dreary but it's also accurate as the author draws on individual accounts from that time. I personally didn't know too much about the raj, the individual experiences of europeans in India or the caste system in India so it was definitely informative! I wasn't taught anything throughout my schooling about India or the British empire so this book in it's accurate, informative and surprisingly easy way definitely helped fill in the blanks in my knowledge. I'd definitely recommend it as a unique, interesting and very niche non-fiction read. It's great to see a book focusing on women's experiences as so much of history is focused on men!

  • Pankaj
    2019-05-24 00:18

    Fascinating account of life in India and the perseverance of women trying to settle, and make the most of life, in a strange land! Margaret is brilliant as an author and the great historian that she is.

  • Tammy
    2019-05-03 19:02

    A fascinating introduction to the history of the British Raj. Highly recommended.

  • Lorenzio Phillibuster Fireworks
    2019-05-06 03:22

    It is now long enough after the Raj to see the women with some objectivity. They went out to a difficult, alien, country, usually when they were young and unformed. They found a cosy, reassuring British world on one side and India on the other. Is it any wonder that thet fled to the security of the former? What is impresive is how some women, once they got past their initial terror, did put out feelers, by learning Indian languages and trying to meet IndiansIt should be remembered too, that the women of the Raj worked with what they had: a collection of inherited wisdom about India; the convictions and prejudices of their own culture towards others that it considered to be less developed; and rigidly defined roles as women, as wives, and as mothers. They were also subject to the temptations of being part of an elite - and one that was felt to be of a superior race.If a balance sheet is to be drawn up for the women of the Raj, let it be remembered to their credit that thet so often loved their servants and were loved in return. (That they found it more difficult to establish contact with the Indians of their own status is another matter.) Let it be remembered that they lived in a difficult country with bravery and competence. Even today India can be menacing; think of it before antibiotics and modern communications. They travelled miles on their own, endured hardships and dangers as a matter of course. And they tried to be ladies in all circumstances, like the woman who amused herself when her husband was on tour by shooting tigers and then returning to camp and sitting down to do exquisite needlepoint; or the woman who, when things became tense before Independence, refused to alter her daily routine - but slipped a revolver into her handbag just in case. Today they tend to be remembered as dim, comic figures or as vicious harridans who poisoned relations between the Indians and the British. Neither memory does them justice. They were living women, with worries, happinesses, and sorrows like anyone else. Their world has gone now with its insular little community and its glory reflected from the Raj. They probably would not have worried much how posterity regards them. They had a duty to do and they did it to the best of their abilities. Most of all, they simply got on with living." This is the conclusion of Women of the Raj and perfectly sums up Margaret MacMillan's views of the women of her book. She writes of them with a great deal of affection and admiration - and rightly so considering some of their experiences. However, she fails to be objective and this book often reads more like a personal memoir rather than a non fiction book describing a period of history. To be be fair to Margaret MacMillan, this book was written in 1988 and the principles of historiography have come a long way since then. Used as an overview, this book would satisfy a general curiosity or serve as a starting point for further readings and research. It does not include many primary sources, though the six page bibliography clearly indicate she did plenty of research and had many primary sources to choose from. It also does not provide any Indian perspectives on the women of the Raj which would have been interesting considering some families did form very close bonds with the Indian servants.

  • Jyoti Minocha
    2019-05-17 01:11

    I really enjoyed this book. It was a perspective I've never read about in history books.I grew up in India after it was independent---the legacy of the Raj was the English language, roads called Haley a. Curzon, afternoon tea and toast at the Gymkhana, and a pervasive anglophilia, somewhat tempered by a growing sense of national identity. So breaking down the historical roots of the British memsahibs' condescension towards Indians, and the corollary Indian weakness for all things British, (including Jane Austen, Enid Blyton and Barbara Cartland novels), was very enlightening.It was certainly very enlightening to read about the fact that before they were rulers, they were supplicants, begging the Rajas for permission to trade. And at that point in history, Indian culture was not considered inferior, since it was a source of potential profit.I thought it was a well researched novel, with a lot of delightful, historical tidbits.I did feel that she glossed over the excesses of the Raj and bent over backwards to explain the Memsahibs' racial prejudices. It clearly represented a Western Liberal perspective---trying, oh so hard, to flip the looking glass around for the other point of view, without being politically incorrect. But, despite the author's best efforts, the tilt of the historical mirror was towards the Memsahibs' viewpoints and experiences. Indians were a backdrop, just as they were in the real lives of the Memsahibs.It didn't detract from the reading experience though.

  • Pramod Pant
    2019-05-01 20:05

    Dr. Margaret MacMillan is a PhD from Oxford, a professor at Toronto and had ancestors who were part of the Raj. She chose her subject well. And the reader (yours sincerely, as the overused phrase goes) found not much to commend the effort or the book. What went wrong? I think, the period she was talking about did not belong to women of British India. They were part of the domestic chores (or management if you please, considering the number of servants they had) and social interactions. But only men seem to have influenced history during those times. That perception, I thought, Dr. MacMillan would change with incontrovertible arguments. She did not succeed. Why ? Is it some core argument she is missing ? And why did she not mention some of the women, as they were then acting their part in the emancipation of women, some all brimstone and fire? I, frankly, do not know?The narrative style does involve repetition and the book could have been a bit more crisp. I intend to go through it again and, hopefully, modify my ratings and my review in her favour, as I like her obvious honesty and her effort at fairness.Please do read the book ignoring the negatives I have written above. After all, it is a love story involving a woman and an empire, and it is told fluidly.And love's labour's not to be lost. Are we right Bard ?

  • Maura
    2019-04-27 02:17

    India fascinates me. Reading M. M. Kaye's novel "Shadow of the Moon" many years ago pulled me in and since then I have read quite a variety of fiction and non-fiction with India as a setting. Such is my obsession that I read the bibliographies of non-fiction books to find other books to read.....which may be how I came to find this one.This book was a very readable account of women's experiences in India from the beginning of the British presence there up to the end in 1947. Chapters cover a particular topic, such as social life, love and marriage, children, and travel. MacMillan offers a lot of information but presents it in little bites made personal by telling brief stories of individual women. So much of it seemed familiar to me because of all the novels and memoirs I've read; the "Raj" lifestyle must have been a pretty common experience all across that sprawling land.Reading about what these women went through gives me such respect for their toughness and ability to cope with difficult situations. Of course there were snobs and racists, given the times, but these women adapted (and some thrived) in circumstances that would wilt many of us.

  • Melanie
    2019-05-12 21:14

    An interesting, valuable book on a topic that I suspect has often been overlooked. Since I'm not overly familiar with the history of the British Raj, this book spurred my interest in the topic and I certainly will be picking up other books covering the same history.I enjoy and appreciate writing from unconventional points of view, as they serve to balance and enrich understanding. That is not to say that a 'woman's history' is unconventional, but given that most historical books are still written from the male point of view, it seems to me that women's points of view and experiences are often overlooked.Sometimes I found the book a tad dry, and I kept thinking: Why no maps?! This book dearly needs a few maps! Yes I know I can find maps on the internet, but I still think that a book like this would be greatly enhanced by including a few.

  • Sally
    2019-05-02 21:19

    While there was a great deal of good information in this book about what life was like for English women under the Raj, the book didn’t live up to its title--which I thought meant a more individualized treatment of the women who experienced Indian life during this historical period. And, although names were given of many of those whose memoirs and diaries provided the book’s basic material, the several entries by any single woman were so short and so widely spaced that one had little chance to get a feel for the author. It was perplexing that quotations within a single paragraph might be dated as much as one hundred years apart, for it seems unlikely that conditions in India could have been that static. Well researched, with a fascinating bibliography, but not a compelling read.

  • Kieran Walsh
    2019-05-13 22:06

    ......a follow up from some books I read recently (Diplomatic Baggage and East of the Sun). An interesting history of life in the British Raj. I think it might suit a reader with a basic fascination for all things Indian, but I believe the school of historiography has evolved somewhat since 1988. Contemporary readers might be more interested in reading diaries, journals, letters, etc (directly) rather than views of the writer, which do seem somewhat 'dumbed down'. There's also been some more recent interest in the plight of the Anglo-Indian (their contribution to the arts as well as the social/psychological impact of being 'left behind', coupled with the tragedy of modern day poverty). All in all an interesting read on a topic that doesn't get a lot of coverage anymore!

  • Ainsley
    2019-05-05 01:10

    I thoroughly enjoyed Women of the Raj. Each chapter examines a particular aspect of British women's lives in India, from how they arrived to how they organized their homes, raised their children and conducted their social lives. This approach means that a single chapter will include discussion of women living in the 1850s as well as the 1920s, and my only quibble is that MacMillan does not always identify the time period in which a particular experience occurred. MacMillan accompanies her well-written text with some fantastic illustrations and photographs. I recommend this book to anyone interested in British history, women's history or Indian history.

  • Ginny
    2019-05-24 03:16

    I found this book rather tedious. I feel as if I've been reading it for several months, rather than for just two weeks. I would have preferred a more chronological approach instead of so much jumping around between centuries. I am very interested in the subject matter. especially now while "Indian Summers" is showing on Masterpiece Theatre, but this seemed like lots of anecdotes strung together haphazardly without ever being transformed into a captivating narrative. I appreciate the extensive bibliography and notes the author has provided and will use them for further reading.

  • Margaret
    2019-04-24 22:59

    A light read that includes a lot of history and insight into the British domination of India The Raj period. It also simply explains the factors of the fall of the Raj. But that is just backup to the stories and diaries of the British women living there. The day to day lists of packing to go on a camel trek to the mountains were fascinating, as well as advice about managing households and servants. The impact of the British caste society compared to the Indian castes in day to day living fascinating.

  • Corey
    2019-04-27 23:06

    I went into this book knowing very little about the British experience in India and was thus completely fascinated by MacMillan's findings. It seems to me that the British women in any imperial area are often overlooked in favor of studying the work of their husbands, brothers and other male relatives. This fact made MacMillan's book all the more interesting and unusual. I quite enjoyed it and found it extremely readable for a history book and extremely informative for a non-academic work.

  • Jobiska (Cindy)
    2019-05-07 01:13

    This was interesting...I was a little nonplussed to learn it was a repackaging of a book from the 1980s with a new introduction, but hey, that's what I get for not checking more deeply before I bought it. The research was obviously exhaustive, but the structure of different topics related to the womens' experience meant a skimming over several women's experience rather than delving deeply into any one woman's time in India. There are some women I want to learn more about now.

  • Amy
    2019-05-22 21:21

    Excellent introduction to British India and the life women carved for themselves within it. I thought it was very well written and organized. The quick pace kept it interesting and little anecdotes made me chuckle. I enjoyed the pictures included and would recommend as a jumping off point to more information on this topic.

  • Annmbray
    2019-04-24 00:17

    For me, this book really brought together the tidbits of information that I have picked up in other books I have read concerning the Raj! Nothing truly surprised me, but the British women were fleshed out a bit more broadly. I have a much greater appreciation of what they endured and came to love as they fulfilled their duty to the Empire.

  • Lauren Albert
    2019-04-30 23:53

    The People Magazine of the Raj? I thought the book wonderfully anecdotal. It gave me a great sense of the time and place and of the women who lived through it. Historian MacMillan's was partly a family of the Raj--her maternal grandparents lived there, her grandfather serving in the Indian Medical Service.

  • Val
    2019-05-07 22:04

    The book attempts to give a picture of the lives of the various women who lived in British controlled India, in the years of the East India Company and the British Raj. There are a lot of interesting snippets of information, but it jumps around between times, places and individuals a lot, so I found it didn't draw a coherent picture for me, although I did enjoy reading it.

  • Christine
    2019-05-03 00:20

    I am really enjoying this book. Looked up the author, and it turns out I read...and loved...and bought...another of her books, "Paris, 1919, Six Months That Changed the World" about the treaty of Versailles. I even took notes from this book for homeschooling purposes. "Women of the Raj", which I picked up at a used book store, is also really interesting!!!

  • Highjump
    2019-05-13 01:23

    Margaret MacMillan is an amazing historian who has written widely on topics related to Britain. But she is no Malcolm Gladwell - each of her books are different, well-researched and interesting. Reading this book I laughed (Wife of British official picks flowers with shotgun!), I cried (Women sending their children back to England at 6 for school), and I learned a ton.

  • Autumn
    2019-05-16 21:18

    This is a very informative but easy and fascinating read about how women dealt with life during the Raj period in India. She gets very detailed at times which is great for me but could be boring to the casual reader. This book will make you want to read more about some of the women she has written about.

  • Meera
    2019-05-20 20:19

    A very vivid and detailed account of the Women of British Empire in India. Not many books have surfaced that actually speak about people who really didn't care about colonisation as long as they were feeling at home in the colonies. This book is a must read for anyone who wants to get a sneak peak of the lives of the wives of British colonial administrators in India.