Emily Eden (1797-1869) is an author I might never have ‘discovered’ had it not been for a photo sent to me by a book friend of one of her bookshelves–and it wasn’t for the books on it that she’d sent it (but the knick-knacks). Anyway, since I have to look at all the books in bookshelf pictures, I looked at this one too and a Virago ed to two of Emily Eden’s books caught my eye. I found that these were available in public domain so downloaded and read them, and loved them. Later I discovered that these are the only works of fiction that Eden wrote but they are wonderful reads and well worth a visit.
Image source: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Eden belonged to an aristocratic family, the daughter of William Eden, 1st Baron Auckland, and sister of George Eden, who was Governor-General in India between 1835 and 1842. In 1837, George Eden, 1st Earl of Auckland, undertook a two-and-a-half year tour in the northern provinces of the country with a twelve-thousand-strong entourage, with hundreds of camels, horses, and elephants, accompanied by his sisters. (Incidentally George Eden did not have the most successful stint as Governor General, complications in Afghanistan bringing about his downfall. Return of a King (2012) by William Dalrymple goes into this part of history, and is another book I want to read sometime.)
Image Source: by Susanna Hoe, Derek Roebuck (1999). The Taking of Hong Kong: Charles and Clara Elliot in China Waters. Curzon Press. p. 105. ISBN 0700711457. (Online: Google Books), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9940288
Anyway, back to the point, as a result, Emily spent time in India, where she travelled with her sister Fanny, and her letters describing her time there including descriptions of local colour, ceremonies, as well as political developments. Some of her letters are available in public domain through project gutenberg. Up the Country is one volume of her letters where she describes her time in the country, and this one’s on my TBR, and I am very much looking forward to reading it. Here’s what Goodreads has to say about this:
With an unfailing eye for the eccentric and picturesque, Emily Eden describes in her delightful letters the extraordinary experiences encountered in life on the road in early eighteenth-century India.
But what really made me choose her as the ‘author’ to write about this month were her two works of fiction. The Semi-detached House (1859) and the Semi-attached Couple (1860). The Semi-attached Couple (written in 1829 but published much later) is the story of the Douglases and their titled neighbours the Eskdales. Two of the Eskadale girls have married well, and the third Lady Helen has accepted Lord Teviot but feels the latter is ill-tempered while her fiancé finds her a little too attached to her own family (which is the reason behind his attitude). The marriage goes through but misunderstandings increase, and bring things to breaking point until fate intervenes. Other characters, Helen’s friend, Miss Mary Forrester, and Helen’s brother, Lord Beaufort have their own share of misunderstandings, and as the story progresses we see whether and how these clear up. While the overall tone and writing of the book is humorous and witty, the theme is the more serious of the two books, dealing with breakdown of relationships because of misunderstandings (and lack of communication) and a little because of age (Lady Helen is very young) as well. A New York Times review describes it in these words:
It is a sophisticated psychological drama played out in pleasant country houses, at dinners, on visits, through letters, in witty dialogue and with clever commentary.
–Phyllis Rose, ‘Taking up Where Jane Austen Left Off’ (1982)
Still overall this was a read that I enjoyed a lot and which left me feeling more pleased than sad or upset. The characters are likeable, and Mrs Douglas (who fancies everyone but herself is unhappy and morose) and Lady Portmore (who likes to think every man in the Kingdom admires and blindly follows her), in particular, rather entertaining.
Virago book cover
The Semi-detached House, which also in a way carries on with the themes of misunderstandings and first impressions (First Impressions was the initial title of Pride and Prejudice, wasn’t it?) but in a much more light-hearted tone and setting than the former. In this one, Lady Blanche Chester moves into a semi-detached house by the sea with her sister while her husband, Arthur, Lord Chester is away on diplomatic work. Lady Blanche is dreading her neighbours, the Hopkinsons who she believes would be odious.
“They call themselves Hopkinson,” continued Aunt Sarah coolly.
“I knew it,” said Blanche triumphantly. “I felt certain their name would be either Tomkinson or Hopkinson-I was not sure which-but I thought the chances were in favour of Hop rather than Tom.”
–Emily Eden, The Semi-attached House
On the other side, the Hopkinsons, who have heard rumours that Lord Chester’s mistress is moving into the other side of the house, are horrified. But the misunderstandings are soon set to rights with Blanche discovering that the Hopkinsons may look like she’d expected but are actually old acquaintances of her husband and very nice, genteel people, while the latter discover the truth. Blanche is kind-hearted, but a hypochondriac and given to an exaggerated imagination, which ensures that there are more such confusions and misapprehensions along the way in this fun story which also has its share of romance.
“My dear child! what is the matter?”
“All sorts of things, Aunt Sarah. In the first place, I am very ill-Aileen has sent for Dr. Ayscough. Now, just hear my cough.”
“A failure, I think,” said Aunt Sarah, “an attempt at a cough rather than the thing itself.”
–Emily Eden, The Semi-attached House
Emily Eden is often recommended for fans of Jane Austen, and one can see shades of her characters, for instances Mr Bennett in Mr Douglas (and in his observations, though these aren’t as caustic as the former’s). Her writing and witty observations once again make one think of Austen. That she admired Austen is clear since she mentions this in the Semi-attached Couple, besides also mentioning Pride and Prejudice, through characters in the book.
Besides her writing, Eden also had another talent–painting/drawing–this I only discovered while looking her up to write this post. She captured portraits of various rulers, and also of more ‘common’ people she encountered in India, published as a book Portraits of the Princes and People of India. While last month’s ‘author’, Henry Cecil, fit into my reading theme of Lawyers and Books, I thought I’d write about Eden even if she didn’t fit the theme of Kings and Queens, but she seems to have managed to do even that, through her artistic talents and portraits of the many kings that she made. Here are some samples of her work.
Raja Hindu Rao
Image Source:By Emily Eden (British Library) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Maharaja Shere Singh
By Eden, Emily [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
A Zemindar or Farmer of the Upper Provinces and a Puthan, a famous westler
Image Source: By Emily Eden after: Lowes Cato Dickinson (images.wellcome.ac.uk) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Image Source: By emily eden [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
When I started writing this post, I wasn’t sure if I’ll have very much to say. I chose to write about Eden because I’d enjoyed her books but there were only two that I could write about. But writing this has helped me discover so much more about her–author, traveller, artist, and historical figure, and a very interesting person.
If you haven’t read her books so far, do try them (they’re in public domain, her books have also been published by Virago). I certainly am going to revisit them, and also read her letters from India (though I don’t expect these to be very PC). After learning so much about her I know they will be interesting to read. When I do, I certainly will post my review here.
Eden, Emily: https://www.encyclopedia.com/women/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/eden-emily-1797-1869
Emily Eden on wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emily_Eden
George Eden on wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Eden,_1st_Earl_of_Auckland
‘Emily Eden’s Memoirs from a Strange Land’:http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/59669/7/07_chapter%204.pdf