8 December 1794|
City of Westminster, London
Fanny Parkes (née Frances Susannah Archer) (1794–1875) was a Welsh travel writer. She is known for keeping extensive journals about colonial India where she lived for twenty-four years. In 1970, her memoirs, Begums Thugs and White Mughals, became available for the first time since their original publication in 1850.
Early life and family
She was born in Conwy, Walkes, the daughter of Anne and Major Edward Caulfield Archer, 16th Lancers, ADC to Lord Combermere and author of Tours in Upper India, and in Parts of the Himalaya Mountains: With Accounts of the Courts of the Native Princes. Other sources refer to her father as William Archer. She married Charles Crawford Parkes, a writer for the East India Companies.
Parkes began living in Calcutta in 1822 before moving to Allahabad ten years later due to her husband's posting. Parkes wrote two volumes about her time travelling through India on horesback and befriending people around her while learning Persian, Hindustani and Urdu. Her detailed memoirs written in a lively style reveal her independence of mind. Parkes allows a pre-colonial perspective of northern India and its peoples and customs, recording changes in Britain's governing of India, the economic impact of such policies, and domestic problems in Indian society, from 1822–45. The people encountered by Parkes included wealthy socialites as well as famine stricken residents of Kanauj seen during a trip over mountains from Landour to Simla. Parkes' narrative reflects her admiration and respect for the richness of Indian culture. The memoir includes a glossary of terms and a collection of translated Indian proverbs.
Some of Parkes' writings covered topics which were controversial at the time. One of the most extreme examples was the murder of a woman in sati by those who felt that male heirs were more entitled to her possessions. Parkes condemned the event and went on to criticize the laws governing married women in England. Parkes also protested about a plan to sell the Taj Mahal which she compared to Westminster Abbey. Clashing with a lack of respect for Indian culture commonly found in Europe, Parkes described natural beauty in Delhi and Benares as well as fascinating dress and cuisine. In one of Parkes' last entries, she described feeling disenchanted with Europe after leaving India.
The memoirs were published as Wanderings of a Pilgrim in search of the Pictureseque During four and twenty years in the East with revelations of Life in the Zenana (Pelham Richardson, 1850); William Dalrymple has rediscovered and edited this travelogue on India as Begums, Thugs & Englishmen, The Journals of Fanny Parkes (Penguin Publishers). Iris Portal referred to Parkes as a "kindred spirit" because of Parkes' curious writing style and the fact that her book expresses an open-minded approach to Indian customs.
- Wanderings of a Pilgrim in search of the Pictureseque, During four and twenty years in the East, with revelations of Life in the Zenana. Published in 1850 by Pelham Richardson, England.
- Begums, Thugs & Englishmen, the journals of Fanny Parkes, Eland 2002
- Goldsworthy, Joanna (2014). "Fanny Parkes Cast Study". East India Company At Home. Retrieved 2016-07-19.
- Margaret MacMillan (2015). History's People. House of Anansi. ISBN 978-1-4870-0005-9.
- Dalrymple, William (2007-06-09). "Lady of the Raj". The Guardian. Retrieved 2016-07-19.
- "Transcript of the article in THE PIONEER Newspaper, May 17, 1936". Fanny Parkes Appreciation Society. 2009-03-07.