Derek Davies

Very Strict Lady

Hannah Riddell: An Englishwoman in Japan

By

Charles E Tuttell, Kodansha 216pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

During Luftwaffe-enforced periods of evacuation to Wales, I recall warbling at the local Methodist chapel a horrible little song about the heathen. The verse went:

Draw draw yn China a thiroedd Japan
Plant bach melynion sy’n byw,
Dim ond eilunod o’r cylch yn mhob man,
Neb i son am Dduw
(Faraway in China and the land of Japan,
Little yellow children live,
Surrounded by idols everywhere,
No-one to speak of God.)

The chorus adjured Jesus to send missionaries to save the pagans’ souls. I must admit the words did not strike me then as unforgivably patronising, nor was I conscious of helping to fund an army of do-gooders whose impact was arguably as disruptive as the imperial armies and colonial traders who preceded them. Indeed, they sometimes arrived together: one Prussian medical missionary, Reverend Doctor Charles Gutzlaff, was of enormous help to Jardine Matheson’s early efforts to sell opium along the coast of China on voyages he also used for the distribution of Bibles to the ungodly.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'Neville never shed his sense of being the junior, and perhaps least-deserving Chamberlain.' From the archive, Mic… ,
    • 'The erecting and immediate destruction of a series of straw men rather detracts from what is for the most part an… ,
    • RT : A magnificent demolition job on this "acid laced tirade...unpleasantly self-obsessed...self pitying polemic...book… ,
    • 'Seventy years on, the time we have left to gather such first-hand testimony is running out.' John Keay on the sig… ,
    • The author 'seethes with contemptuous indignation at the shiny junk that an unregulated construction industry dumps… ,
    • 'The physical courage he demonstrated as a young man [...] gave way to intellectual power; radical thought, gifted… ,
    • 'While Jane Austen didn’t perhaps achieve the full recognition that she deserved in her lifetime, even then she out… ,