Abandoned by her father as a child, she grew up on the uncertain mercies of the queen not knowing any world but the one of gay parties and high fashion of British high society. Her life changed when she came to India, and learnt, for the first time, the depths of British perfidy that had deprived her father of his kingdom and India of its freedom and self-respect. That disenchantment, shows former Anita Anand, BBC radio and TV presenter writing her debut novel, bred revolutionary sympathies in her with Indian nationalists and the women’s suffragettes, who demanded the vote for women.
…Anita Anand traces what she calls the ‘roots of rebellion’ to Sophia’s father. Duleep Singh had been proclaimed maharajah of the Punjab at the age of six, after his path to the throne of his putative father, Ranjit Singh, had been cleared rather in the manner of Kind Hearts and Coronets. He inherited a vast Sikh kingdom, a huge fortune, and the Koh-i-noor diamond, all of which he was forced to sign away at the age of 11 when the British annexed the Punjab…
Anita Anand writes about the whole family, but keeps Sophia at the heart of the book and makes excellent use of letters and diaries to trace her subject’s evolution from frivolous socialite to militant suffragist.
Sophia, Anand’s literary debut, recounts the forgotten tale of one woman’s extraordinary life, set against a sweeping historical backdrop.
It takes us from the foundations of the Sikh faith in the 15th century to the fight for Indian independence, which was finally secured in 1947.
But at its heart is the role Queen Victoria’s goddaughter played at the vanguard of the suffragette movement, fighting alongside more celebrated heroines like Emmeline Pankhurst to secure votes for women.
Part of a biographer’s job is to rescue forgotten figures, and in “Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary” Anita Anand has salvaged an extraordinary one. Sophia Duleep Singh was a Punjabi princess and Queen Victoria’s goddaughter, a bucktoothed “docile little thing” who went on to become a celebrated London fashion plate and then a steely suffragist…
As subject matter goes, the life of Sophia Duleep Singh offers the potential for about a dozen biographies rather than just one…
This is an unforgettable, vivid tale, sweeping in scale, made all the more extraordinary when one considers it is based entirely on real life.
Sophia is so well researched that this is likely to remain a definitive account.
It also sheds light on its period and has new things to say about 19th and 20th century Anglo–Indian relations.
Anand’s passion shines through.
All set to release her first book “Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary”, a biography of the suffragette Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, the daughter of the last Maharaja of the Sikh Empire, Anand, who calls herself a feminist, says it is about one of her own heroines.
“I applaud bravery and nobility in all its forms and Sophia had it by the sackful.” She scaled her presenting duties down to the weekly Radio 4 show to have more time for research — which was just as well, given the scope of the story she was unearthing.
Her book takes in a broad and turbulent sweep of history: the Anglo-Sikh wars, the British Raj and the early years of the fight for Indian independence, the rise of the Labour Party and trade unions, and the campaign for women’s suffrage.
Sophia offers an important view of the kind of history that is rarely produced; the contribution of a woman of colour (from the “colonies”) to the movement for equal representation in Britain; the space and position occupied by the families, the women, marginalized by the policy of annexation. What makes Anand’s work not only interesting, but significant, is that it offers this view in a manner that is accessible to a casual reader of history.
Sophia, by Anita Anand (Bloomsbury). Born in 1876, Princess Sophia Duleep Singh was the daughter of the last maharaja of the Punjab, who had been deposed, exiled to Britain, and given an enormous allowance to dissuade him from returning to foment insurrection. Sophia had a lavish upbringing; she was a goddaughter of Queen Victoria. As an elegant, lively young woman, she was a trendsetter in everything from clothes to dog training. But by her early thirties she had joined the suffragettes, and she became a key figure in the movement. Providing a rare glimpse into imperialism’s intimate effects, this biography explores the forces that radicalized her, including an early trip to India and the British aristocracy’s refusal to countenance mixed-race unions, which prevented her from marrying. More
by Maria Misra
The television series Downton Abbey is much mocked for its anachronistic depiction of improbably progressive aristocratic life early last century. Lord Downton’s stuffy drawing room has hosted Irish Fenians, radical suffragettes, socialist parlour maids and a host of intriguing “oriental gentlemen”. But reading BBC journalist Anita Anand’s absorbing biography of Sophia Duleep Singh suggests that Downton’s creator — Julian Fellowes — has shown great restraint. For in Duleep Singh we have a figure far more improbable than any conjured up for Downton: a real-life Sikh princess; an anti-vivisectionist; a radical feminist; a friend of “extremist” nationalists — and a goddaughter of Queen Victoria.