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The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh: A Woman in World Historyby Linda Colley
Synopses & Reviews
This is a book about a world in a life. Conceived in Jamaica and possibly mixed-race, Elizabeth Marsh (1735-1785) traveled farther and was more intimately affected by developments across the globe than the vast majority of men. She was the first woman to publish in English on Morocco, and the first to carry out extensive explorations in eastern and southern India. A creature of multiple frontiers, she spent time in London, Menorca, Rio de Janeiro, and the Cape of Africa. She speculated in Florida land, was caught up in the French and Indian War, linked to voyages to the Pacific, and enmeshed as victim or owner in three different systems of slavery.
She was also crucially part of far larger histories. Marsh's experiences would have been impossible without her links to the Royal Navy, the East India Company, imperial warfare, and widening international trade. To this extent, her career illumines shifting patterns of Western power and overseas aggression. Yet the unprecedented expansion of connections across continents occurring during her lifetime also ensured that her ideas and personal relationships were shaped repeatedly by events and people beyond Europe: by runaway African slaves; Indian weavers and astronomers; Sephardi Jewish traders; and the great Moroccan sultan, Sidi Muhammad, who schemed to entrap her.
Many biographies remain constrained by a national framework, while global histories are often impersonal. By contrast, in this dazzling and original book, Linda Colley moves repeatedly and questioningly between vast geopolitical transformations and the intricate detail of individual lives. This is a global biography for our globalizing times.
"'There were many ordeals — and adventures — in the tumultuous life of this emblematic 18th-century Englishwoman. At age 20 Marsh was captured by Barbary pirates and narrowly fended off the Moroccan sultan's attempts to induct her into his harem. She married a British merchant, went through both luxurious high living and humiliating bankruptcy, followed him to India, where they remade themselves as colonial grandees, then suffered another bankruptcy. (A further 'ordeal' was snagging a husband for her under-dowried daughter.) Historian Colley (Captives: Britain, Empire and the World, 1600 — 1850) styles Marsh a 'female Candide' batted about by world-historical forces. Shaped by the breakdown of barriers in this age of 'proto-globalization' (Colley speculates excitedly, but without evidence, that Marsh was of mixed racial background), her life was opened up by the rise of the British Empire and disrupted by attendant upheavals like the Seven Years War and the American Revolution. Still, in Colley's account, she retains her own power: Marsh cannily leveraged family connections to the British naval bureaucracy to facilitate her voyaging, published a piquant memoir of Moroccan captivity and enjoyed a scandalous 18-month tour of India accompanied by a dashing, unmarried British officer. Colley makes of her story both an engaging biography and a deft, insightful social history. Photos.' Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"This is a remarkable book, both for its contents and because it is a new species of biography....Linda Colley has written a full-blown economic romance with an extraordinary range...bringing all the resources of her skills as a historian and researcher to her story. It is a major achievement and an enthralling narrative." Claire Tomalin, The Guardian
"Colley has had to piece together fragments of information from all kinds of sources; the result is a minor miracle of biographical reconstruction....Slave revolts in Jamaica, Moroccan politics, cod-fishing in the Shetlands, Manx smuggling, the responsibilities of naval wives, the organization of the salt industry in Bengal: all this, and more, is exposed to view." Noel Malcolm, The Sunday Telegraph
"A refreshing and often startling narrative that opens fresh perspectives on a revolutionary era. The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh shifted my understanding of the eighteenth-century world." Linda K. Kerber, author of No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship
"[A] nuanced and sensitive portrait of a woman whose life was 'poised on a cusp between phases in world history' and whose experiences and observations constitute a unique window into matters familial and political, local and global." Chicago Tribune
"Like the best historians of any era, Colley had new questions to ask. Her answers have brought us a world in a book." New York Times
"Colley's grounding in her subject makes her writing authoritative and her analysis savvy." Library Journal
"Make room on the shelves in the womens history collection for this robust portrait of a forward-thinking woman well ahead of her time." Booklist
In this remarkable reconstruction of an eighteenth-century woman's extraordinary and turbulent life, historian Linda Colley not only tells the story of Elizabeth Marsh, one of the most distinctive travelers of her time, but also opens a window onto a radically transforming world.Marsh was conceived in Jamaica, lived in London, Gibraltar, and Menorca, visited the Cape of Africa and Rio de Janeiro, explored eastern and southern India, and was held captive at the court of the sultan of Morocco. She was involved in land speculation in Florida and in international smuggling, and was caught up in three different slave systems. She was also a part of far larger histories. Marsh's lifetime saw new connections being forged across nations, continents, and oceans by war, empire, trade, navies, slavery, and print, and these developments shaped and distorted her own progress and the lives of those close to her. Colley brilliantly weaves together the personal and the epic in this compelling story of a woman in world history.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Linda Colley has taught at Cambridge, Yale, and the London School of Economics and is currently Shelby M. C. Davis Professor of History at Princeton University. Her book, Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707-1837, was a New York Times Notable Book and won the Wolfson Prize. Professor Colley writes for British and American periodicals and newspapers, including The Guardian, The Times, The New York Times, The Times Literary Supplement, and The London Review of Books.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
About the Author
Linda Colley is Shelby M.C. Davis 1958 Professor of History at Princeton University. Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707-1837 won the Wolfson Prize and, like Captives: Britain, Empire, and the World, 1600-1850, was a New York Times Notable Book. Colley writes regularly on history and politics for The New York Review of Books, The Nation and The Guardian. She has also lectured for Amnesty International, the U.S. State Department, the European Union, the British Council, and 10 Downing Street.
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