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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781590173367
Publisher: New York Review Books
Publication date: 02/02/2010
Series: NYRB Classics Series
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 866,570
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Eliza Fay (1756–1816) is thought to have been born in Blackheath, South London. Very little is known for certain about her background, even her maiden name is a mystery. Her father may have been a sailor, and it is possible that she trained as a dressmaker in France. Her recorded life begins with her marriage to the Irish lawyer Anthony Fay when she was in her early twenties. Not long after, the pair embarked on their voyage to India. The haphazard nature of the journey has led to speculation that Anthony was sent to Calcutta to prepare for the eventual impeachment of Sir Elijah Impey, chief justice of Bengal. The couple separated only a few years after settling in Calcutta, and Mrs. Fay returned to England. Striking out on her own, she made several more trips to India in conjunction with a variety of ruinous business schemes, including one that brought her to New York. She died at the age of sixty, penniless, in Calcutta.

E.M. Forster (1879–1970) was a critic and novelist. Among his books are A Room with a View, A Passage to India, Howards End, and Aspects of the Novel. He discovered Eliza Fay’s Letters while living in India in 1921–22 and published two articles about her journey before compiling the notes that were originally published in the 1925 edition of the book.

Simon Winchester is the author of, among other titles, The Professor and the Madman, Krakatoa, The Map That Changed the World, and The Man Who Loved China. He has written two books relating to India, where he was based as a foreign correspondent from 1976–1979, Stones of Empire (with Jan Morris) and, most recently Calcutta. His newest book is Atlantic: A Biography of the Ocean. He lives in New York and the Berkshires.

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