A scene from life in the Raj
As I read the summary, I realised that the author, a Guinevere Mary Cavanagh, might have the answer as to where to find those Raj ladies of Budleigh Salterton.
“This dissertation,” explained the summary, “opens a window onto the lives and writing of the women of the British Raj. It evaluates the relationship between the white woman and newly colonized India.
By studying their journals it is possible to reconstruct their lives and to assess their role in the Colonial Scheme. The writing of the Mem Sahibs has been relegated to the peripheries of Imperialist culture and subsumed into an homogeneously patriarchal tradition. Immured within the archives of an Imperial adventure, their experiences have been ignored and their voices silenced.”
Keeping up appearances in the Raj
For with a bit more surfing the net I found that the author had been living almost opposite Fairlynch Museum, at 30 Fore Street. Born in 1920, she’d submitted her dissertation at the age of 75.
I read on.
Another domestic scene from life in India during British rule
“This study,” the abstract continues, “discloses a separate feminine experience of colonialism documented in journals and letters. These form a minute but important section of women's history yielding insights into their own perception of their roles. Women reacted to the strangeness and enormity of India in different ways. Some by simply replicating so far as possible the 'manners and customs' of life in the home country, remaining faithful to the prevailing norms of 'separate spheres'. Others found travel a liberating experience offering opportunities for the exercise of philanthropy by teaching or working in the mission field.
Women who by their presence in India under British rule were perforce complicit with colonialism, were not necessarily approving of it. Some endeavoured to ameliorate its harshness and all were obliged to negotiate their position as they constructed their 'other' from within the constraints of class and gender.”
Was Guinevere Mary Cavanagh ‘a lady of the Raj’ recommended to Mrs Ellis by the Indian professor at Bristol University?
What had happened to Ms Cavanagh’s MA dissertation, I wondered? Had it been accepted? Where could one read it? Could it have provided material for Margaret MacMillan’s 2007 best-selling book Women of the Raj? Or Anne de Courcy’s equally popular 2013 book The Fishing Fleet about Husband-Hunting in the Raj.
I was a bit put out to discover that the online link to the dissertation summary no longer works. The helpful Exeter University librarian had not been able to locate it anywhere, and we had to assume that the dissertation itself had been discarded in the pre-digital age.
Finally I found a Budleigh resident who remembered Guinevere Mary Cavanagh as a remarkable lady who had been a nurse during World War Two, or a member of the Dutch Resistance, or both – at any rate she spoke fluent Dutch, he recalled.
Sadly she had passed on, and nobody in Budleigh seems to know about her dissertation.
But I don’t give up easily.
(To be continued)