Anita Arnand’s book Sophia : Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary is more than just a biography of Princess Sophia Duleep Singh but also an interesting insight into British Imperialism in India. Her father was the Maharajah of the Sikhs who was removed from his power and riches by the British and exiled to London where the Foreign Office supported him financially but begrudged every penny he received, especially if he didn’t behave exactly as they wanted (which he didn’t). It was into this atmosphere that Sophia and her siblings were born. She was a goddaughter of Queen Victoria but not welcome in the highest society – a relic of a previous age who didn’t quite fit in anywhere.
The book shows us how Sophia’s father and family did or did not fit in and adapt and what the British establishment did to keep them from fbeing any sort of a threat in India or in the UK. Each of them acted differently and some of what they did wasn’t always wise but they were in a very difficult situation having lost their wealth, power, home and religion.
Sophia’s life forms the main part of the book. She was obviously a woman who hated injustice and unfairness – possibly because of her personal experiences ? In a long life she was a suffragette, sought better conditions for Indian soldiers in England, hosted evacuees in her home and worked for Indian independence. You get the impression from the narrative that she was a strong willed woman and often imperious but she fought hard for what she believed in and wasn’t afraid to give her money or even risk going to jail.
The author doesn’t make judgements about what happened to the Duleep Singh family and how they were treated by the British and the lack of commentary and analysis actually means that the reader is continually faced with these things and has to make up their own mind about what they feel. It’s a story I had not heard before and the book is well told and fascinating to read (I listened to the audiobook which was narrated very well by Tania Rodrigues). I had previously enjoyed The Patient Assassin by the same author which I mention in this blog.