Vyvyen Brendon

Sheep and Dust

Strangerland: A Family at War

By

Picador 396pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

‘Imprisoned in an alien environment, poor, friendless, disoriented and alone.’ Thus Helena Drysdale portrays the plight of her forebear Isabella Gascoyne (née Campbell). She is describing the most traumatic period of Isabella’s life, not as a soldier’s grass widow on a remote Indian army cantonment, or as a settler’s wife on an isolated New Zealand farm, but as a little girl of five left at a boarding-school in her home country.

The Gascoyne family saga thus ranges across three of the five continents encompassed by the British Empire in the mid nineteenth century. It was because Isabella was born in India that she was consigned to an English boarding-school at such a tender age. Only through banishment, thought pukka Raj contemporaries, could one avoid the fearsome perils of rearing a child in a heathen land. Orphaned, like a Frances Hodgson Burnett heroine, when she was only ten, Isabella grew up in the London household of a family friend and then went to India in her turn. Her plan was to keep house for her brother Archy, who had joined the Indian army. Instead she was swept off her feet by his best friend, Lieutenant Charles Gascoyne, and began married life in 1835 on the Cawnpore military station. She had at last ‘found a home’.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Something of an 'eccentric billionaire’s hobby': reviews 'The Space Barons: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and… ,
    • "At the age of fifteen, drunk on stolen Chardonnay or stoned on pot at a swimming party, the thoughts that come imm… ,
    • For the latest Bookends, here's Alan Taylor musing on his stint as an assistant librarian. ,
    • A ‘pretentious ass and impotent arriviste’ who surrounded himself with ‘degenerates, hooligans, childish layabouts,… ,
    • . reviews 'Aristotle’s Way: How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Life' by ,
    • "As Beevor shows, it was one of the most daring, dangerous and fiercely fought operations of the whole war. It was… ,
    • "The characters are very rich and very male, with astronomical ambitions. The potted biographies in this book sugge… ,