Eliza Fay’s origins are obscure; she was not beautiful, rich, or outlandishly accomplished. Yet the letters she wrote from her 1779 voyage across the globe captivated E. M. Forster, who arranged for their British publication in 1925. The letters have been delighting readers ever since with their truth-is-stranger-than-fiction twists and turns, their earthy humor, and their depiction of an indomitable woman.
When the intrepid Mrs. Fay departed from Dover more than two hundred years ago, she embarked on a grueling twelve-month journey through much of Europe, up the Nile, over the deserts of Egypt, and finally across the ocean to India. Along the way her party encountered wars, territorial disputes, brigands, and even imprisonment.
Fay was a contemporary of Jane Austen, but her adventures are worthy of a novel by Daniel Defoe. These letters—unfiltered, forthright, and often hilarious—bring the perils and excitements of an earlier age to life.
The Letters put Raiders of the Lost Ark in the category of timid and passive inactivity.
In [the letters] we discover India through a woman blessed with unusual vitality and great humanity, a lively eye and a sharp ear… . In her exuberant presence we quickly come to see why Forster rated her ‘a work of art.’
—Francis Robinson, History Today
Born in a country where caste was life, she had no caste to speak of, and she had no husband worth mentioning in an age when a woman could scarcely survive without one. Yet she survived… . Her sharp unsentimental middle-class eyes saw through the vanities of this world.
—Katherine Anne Porter, The New Republic
Were she only frank and naïve, it would be something, but she is much more: a soul courageous and gallant, an eye and ear always on the watch… . Though [her letters] have value historically, their main interest is human: they show us a highly remarkable character, triumphant over the difficulties of life and narrative style.
—E. M. Forster