Touring the Dead Lands

Emily Eden, Victorian Famines, and Colonial Picturesque

in Critical Survey
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  • 1 University of Warwick u.mukherjee@warwick.ac.uk
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There is a striking tonal similarity amongst those who reviewed Emily Eden’s account of her journey with her brother George Auckland – the recently appointed Govenor-General of British India – across the northern provinces of the country between 1837 and 1840. On its publication in 1866, the Athenaeum decided that like Lawrence Sterne’s Sentimental Journey, Eden’s book had no information of interest to the Statistical Society. The Fortnightly Review agreed: ‘it is true that very little of what is commonly called “useful knowledge” will be found in these volumes’. Yet, it is precisely Eden’s failure to provide ‘useful knowledge’ that was seen as the strength of her work. Freshness, humour, feminine vivacity, grace, and charm were the typical adjectives employed to describe Eden’s prose. Moreover, the reviewers seem to have decided that Up the Country was best evoked in visual terms. The Athenaeum praised Eden for capturing the ‘picturesque appearance of Indian life’ and representing her ‘picturesque misery and magnificence’; the Fortnightly Review applauded the book as ‘a series of pictures true to life. In her letters we do not read about India; we see it’.

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