Singh, Bhupal. A Survey of Anglo-Indian Fiction. Oxford University Press, 1934.
Another writer who shows the influence of Kipling is Mrs Alice Perrin. She has written many novels of Anglo-Indian life and three volumes of short stories. She does not show the same knowledge of native life as Mrs Steel, but what little she knows of Indian life, she utilizes with considerable skill as a background for novels of Anglo-Indian life. Being the wife of an engineer, she knows the mofussil more than the gay life of a provincial capital or of a hill station. Her first volume of short stories, East of Suez was published in 1901, the year of the publication of Kim. Like Kipling, Mrs Perrin is quite familiar with the life of Englishmen east of Suez and her presentation of it, at least in her first book, is similar to that of Kipling. Her observation is accurate and her understanding clear. But she does not possess Kipling’s gift of literary craftmanship. She lacks the satire, fun, and irony which distinguish Kipling’s tales. East of Suez is more in the style of Kipling than Rough Passages (1926) and Red Records (1928) These latter were published recently, but they describe the days when motor-cars were unknown and English officials moved from place to place in ekkas and bullock-carts. The very title-page of East of Suez is a tribute to Kipling and bears his famous lines
Ship me somewhere East of Suez
Where the best is like the worst,
Where there aren’t no Ten Commandments
An’ a man can raise a thirst
Out of the fourteen stories of this volume, ‘Beynon, of the Irrigation Department’, ‘The Tiger Charm’, and ‘A Perverted Punishment’ are stories of unhappy married life in India. ‘The Fakir of the Forest’, ‘A Planter’s Wife’, and ‘The Spell’, in ‘Rough Passages’, deal with the same subject. Mrs Perrin’s men and women go wrong but with trepidation. They do not flout the Ten Commandments like Kipling’s characters. Her tragedies are enacted in out-of-the-way places in remote camps jungles or on lonely river banks, and do not give rise to scandals. Mrs Perrin’s women are weak but not deliberately wicked. She has no Mrs Hauksbee or Mrs Boynton.
Another respect in which Mrs Perrin resembles Kipling is her interest in the occult and the mysterious. She records its influence on the life of her countrymen in the East. All the three volumes contain stories based on native beliefs in the evil eye, ghosts and superstitions. In ‘The Summoning of Arnold’ she describes with pathos the tragic death of a loving husband in India just at the moment when his wife died on the operating table in England. ‘Caulfield’s Crime’ and ‘The Fakir’s Island’ relate the terrible consequences of insulting Indian sadhus and fakirs. Red Records contains as many as seven stories of the same type. ‘The Momiai Walla Sahib’ has for its theme the strange belief that Englishmen kill well-fed native lads to manufacture ‘momiai’. ‘The Evil Eye’ is a terrible story worked round the superstition that a leper father or mother must be buried alive if the children are to escape the disease. ‘Moore’, ‘The Packet of Letters’ and ‘The Footsteps in the Dust’ are stories based on a belief in spirits. ‘The Brahminy Bull’ in Rough Passages is set in the eerie atmosphere of reincarnation. ‘The Belief of Bhutan Bearer’, ‘Chumah Ajah’ and ‘The Biscobra’ are tragic stories of superstition, vindictiveness and devotion of Indian servants. ‘The Spell’ narrates how Ganga, a servant, serves his master by saving his mistress from falling into temptation. Rough Passages has a few other stories suggestive of Kipling. ‘For India’ describes the disillusionment of a rich English lady tourist who, like Paget MP had come out to investigate the wrongs of the British administration in India but found the much maligned officials devoted to the welfare of the masses. Mrs Perrin’s powers are seen at their best in some of these stories. Between the publication of East of Suez in 1901 and Red Records in 1928, Mrs Perrin wrote a number of novels dealing with various phases of Anglo-Indian life, which show the same sympathy, the same power of observation, and vivid description as her shorter stories.
Mrs Alice Perrin, whose literary career covers about a quarter of a century, is a prolific writer of Anglo-Indian fiction. The common theme of her stories and novels is the tragedy of Anglo-Indian marriages in the mofussil. In The Woman in the Bazaar (1915) we have the tragic story of the pretty, unsophisticated daughter of a country vicar who comes to India as the wife of Captain Coventry. She almost falls a prey to the temptations to which married women are exposed in India, and the jealous nature of her husband forces her to become a woman of the bazaar. It is a pathetic tale, well managed, but borders upon the sensational. In Separation (1917) her theme is the same. Guy Bassett, a keen Public Works engineer (probably a tribute to her husband), devoted to his work and to India, marries a girl who detests India. He is a good husband, and for the sake of his wife accepts the post of an engineering clerk in London and agrees to live with his terrible mother-in-law. He is a good fellow and evidently Mrs Perrin’s favourite, for she conveniently kills Clara Bassett to enable Guy to marry Ruth Janvier. But in spite of Mrs. Perrin, Clara is the most striking of her characters. It is she who makes the book. She is pretty and affectionate but selfish. Without telling her husband she appeals to her mother to rescue her from India and calmly anticipates her mother’s death. She loves her husband in her own tenacious selfish way, and the prospect of separation makes her genuinely miserable. She is wonderful because she is so unreasonable and selfish. Mrs Perrin understands Clara much better than Guy Bassett or even Mrs Partridge. The latter is a most amazing housewife—her devotion to work and duty rises to the level of the monstrous. Mrs Perrin’s next work, Star of India (1919) is unequal in construction. In the first part the tragedy of the beautiful Stella Carrington, a spirited girl of seventeen, tired of her genteel village existence, wins our sympathy. Her marriage to the elderly Colonel Crayfield evokes horror. Her love for the new Assistant Commissioner is the natural outcome of her situation. But the rest of the book after the discovery of their love by the infuriated Colonel is flat. The visit of the radical interfering young woman bent on political reform is a time-worn feature of Anglo-Indian fiction but is ill harmonized with the main story. The best achievement of the book is Stella Carrington. The unhappiness of ill-assorted marriages behind a lightly touched Indian background forms the subject of her next novel: Government House (1925). Sir Temple Rochford, the Lieutenant Governor of the Central Provinces who behaves more like a romantic hero than a highly placed official and Mr Cardale, Magistrate of Bijapur both fall in love with Miss Annabel Heath who goes out to India—the best place in the world for young people and poor people—as a governess with Mrs Cardale, a sickly superstitious and silly woman. Her marriage is a failure and she is conveniently removed by death. Mr Cardale declares his love for Miss Heath, but she prefers to go over to Government House as governess to Lady Rochford’s children. There she wins the confidence of Lady Rochford and the love of Sir Temple. She is told by Lady Rochford that she was a bigamist and that her first husband was still living. Miss Heath decides to leave for England. Sir Temple Rochford suddenly dies of cholera, leaving the coast clear for Mr Cardale to win Annabel Heath.
Mrs Perrin writes with simplicity and sincerity, but the story is not quite convincing. The theme is common-place and there is not much of description or characterization. With the exception of Lady Rochford no character, not even the amiable governess, has anything striking. The story leaves the impression that in India a pretty English girl with a little common sense has every chance of a profitable marriage, if not to a Lieutenant-Governor, at least to a district magistrate.
Perrin [née Robinson], Alice (1867–1934), novelist, was born in Mussoorie, Bengal, India, on 15 July 1867, the elder daughter of John Innes Robinson (1834–1891), who rose to the rank of major-general in the Bengal cavalry, and his wife, Bertha, née Biedermann (1832–1918), who was the widow of Colonel Exham Swyny. Her great-grandfather, Sir George Abercrombie Robinson, first baronet (1758–1832), served in the Bengal army, became a director (1808–29) of the East India Company, and sat as MP for Honiton, Devon (1812–18).
Alice Robinson was educated in England, but returned to India where she married at Dehra, Bengal, on 26 May 1886, Charles Perrin (1854–1931), an engineer of the Indian Public Works Department, son of James Dudden Perrin, general medical practitioner, of Temple Cloud, Somerset. They had one child, a son born in India in 1888. Charles Perrin was employed on irrigation works, and then as a sanitary engineer in the North-West Provinces and Oudh, and as his work involved tours of inspection the couple travelled extensively. They returned to Britain on his retirement from the Indian service in 1899 to take up the position of water examiner (1899–1921) to the Metropolitan Water Board. They lived in London at Hereford Square, Kensington, and later Cadogan Court, Chelsea.
Like many Anglo-Indian women, Alice Perrin was drawn to authorship by the boredom and isolation of life in India. Her career as a popular and commercially successful writer began with the two-volume novel Into Temptation (1894), followed by the two-volume Late in Life (1896). She continued publishing novels every two to three years until her last novel, Other Sheep, was published in 1932. In total, she published seventeen novels, all of which focus on the British colonial experience in India and the lasting effects of such experiences on those Anglo-Indians who returned home. In The Stronger Claim (1903), The Waters of Destruction (1905), A Free Solitude (1907), and The Charm (1910), she examined the consequences of marriage between Indians and the British, while also featuring mixed-race members of the Eurasian community as protagonists. Although Perrin could be sympathetic towards Indian and biracial characters, often to a greater degree than many of her Anglo-Indian contemporaries, she ultimately remained critical of mixed marriages. Her novels frequently explore the plight of British women in India, including The Spell of the Jungle (1902), The Happy Hunting Ground (1914), Star of India (1919), and Government House (1925). The strain of life in India and the rift that occurs between husbands and wives is also a major concern in The Woman in the Bazaar (1914) and Separation (1917). The influence of Indian religion and the effect of various forms of native Indian spiritual belief on the British are prominent themes in Idolatry (1909), The Vow of Silence (1920), and The Mound (1922). Perrin remained dubious about the work of British missionaries, and in several of her novels these characters usually do more harm than good. The Anglo-Indians (1912), considered by many to be Perrin’s masterpiece, is set almost entirely in England and concerns how the Fleetwoods, a quintessential Anglo-Indian family, adjust with varying degrees of success to life away from India. Although Perrin was best known for her Anglo-Indian novels, she was also an accomplished writer of ghost stories. Like her contemporary Bithia Mary Croker, she chose to keep her supernatural writing within the genre of the short story. Perrin’s first supernatural tale, ‘Caulfield’s Crime’, was published in the December 1892 issue of Belgravia, and her ghost stories appear in the collections East of Suez (1901), Red Records (1906), Tales That Are Told (1917), and Rough Passages (1926). With the publication of East of Suez, Perrin enjoyed increased critical and commercial success. One reviewer considered that ‘for graphic description, sharp incisive sketches of character, and effective dramatic situation’, the stories in East of Suez were ‘second only’ to Kipling’s Plain Tales, ‘while two or three of them run even the best of Kipling’s uncommonly close’ (Punch, 23 Oct 1901, 296). It was reported that in 1911 Queen Mary took a set of Perrin’s novels to India on the royal visit for the durbar. In addition to her works of fiction, Perrin contributed reviews on Indian-themed publications to The Bookman in the years following her return from India. In London Perrin was involved in many literary societies, including the Society of Women Journalists (which she served as president), the Royal Literary Fund, the Writers’ Club, the Women Writers’ Suffrage League, the Ladies’ Imperial Club, and the Incorporated Society of Authors, Playwrights, and Composers. She was also active in the Women Writers’ Club and spoke at many of their meetings. These associations brought her into contact with other well-known women authors of the day, including Mrs Baillie Reynolds (Gertrude Minnie Robins), Violet Hunt, Radclyffe Hall, and Marie Belloc Lowndes.
In 1925 the Perrins moved to Vevey, Switzerland. There they hosted several British writers, including Perrin’s fellow ghost story writer Algernon Blackwood. They suffered the loss of their only child, who was found dead in a gas-filled room in his Bayswater home in June 1928. Predeceased in 1931 by her husband, Alice Perrin died at Bellaria, La Tour-de-Peilz, Vaud, Switzerland, on 13 February 1934. An obituarist described her as ‘tall and handsome with an exuberant sense of humour and a gift of conversation which made her the best of good company’, noticing also her critical generosity to other authors. Her work was praised for its ability to both entertain and ‘instruct’ through depictions of Anglo-Indian life (The Times, 15 Feb 1934).
After Indian independence and the end of the British raj, Perrin’s work, along with that of many Anglo-Indian popular fiction writers, suffered a decline and all but vanished from critical view. The cultural importance of such works has, however, received renewed scholarly interest. Perrin and her contemporaries (such as Flora Annie Steel, Bithia Mary Croker, and Maud Diver) are discussed not simply as ‘romancers’ and narrow-minded imperial apologists, but as important commentators on the lasting negative consequences of empire. Modern critics are increasingly recognizing the extent to which such works of fiction can highlight women’s colonial experience and the role women played both in upholding and in subverting the imperial system.
Wealth at Death: £10,492 8s. 8d.: probate, 12 March 1934
(Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)