Olivia in India by O. Douglas

This is the first book which O.Douglas, sometimes known as Anna Buchan, had published (in 1912). It’s very autobiographical and it’s written in the form of a series of letters, the first of which is written from a ship in Liverpool which is ready to set off on the long voyage to India. Olivia is going to India to spend time with her bother, affectionately nicknamed Boggley. He is in India doing some sort of Empire related job.

We only read the letters which Olivia is writing and it’s very near the end before we learn who she’s actually writing them to. There are never any replies, although she sometimes alludes to something which has been mentioned in a letter to her. Obviously the early letters are all about the voyage and the other passengers but when Olivia reaches India she’s all over the place, experiencing as much of the life there as she can, taking trains across the country, visiting the Taj Mahal and meeting all sorts of people, good and bad.

So it’s all very different from her other books which are set in Scotland but she does write about home and reminisces about the past. She even mentions that she’s writing a book, encouraged by her brother John’s books’ good reviews.

So I started wondering how much of this book was fiction and I had a look at the index of O.Douglas’ biography “Unforgettable, Unforgotten” and sure enough she did go to India to visit one of her brothers. I’ll have to get around to reading that one soon.

I enjoyed Olivia in India and I think it is probably a realistic account of life in India for Anglo-Indians, the fear of mutinies and disease and the odd bomb or two being thrown as Indians became more and more dissatisfied with their position as part of the British Empire.

I borrowed “Olivia in India” from the library but I’ve promised myself that I’m not going to look at books when I return the ones I have out. Last week I went to two libraries in two different towns and apart from this book I also borrowed:

Symposium by Muriel Spark
The 12.30 from Croydon by Freeman Wills Crofts
Augustus Carp Esq. by Himself
The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allen Poe

The Poe book is one of those ones that I feel I should have read years ago and for some reason or other I haven’t.

So, with an eye on the due back dates I’m neglecting my own books and Mary Stewart’s The Ivy Tree in particular has been glowering at me from the top of a pile of books which are balanced on a cantilevered sewing box near my bedside. I’m banning myself from the library!

20 thoughts on “Olivia in India by O. Douglas

  1. On the spur of the moment as I was passing the Chambers Institution this afternoon, I decided to drop in to the library to see if I could find any of O Douglas’s books. I found Penny Plain which I will read to try to pin down the Rig as much as anything else, and Ann and Her Mother.They do have other O Douglas’s, but all out on loan at the moment, so they are still read – This copy of Penny Plain hasn’t been out of the library for over a year though, and Ann and her mother were last out in August 2011 – so not read often then!

    • Evee,
      She must be more popular over in Fife, they go in and out quite frequently. I wonder if in Peebles they are all saying ‘Kent her faither’! Mind you they are couthie, quaint books and at times a bit preachy as you would expect from a daughter of the manse in those days.

  2. I completely understand you banning yourself from the library, but as a librarian I do hope that not too many people do the same!
    I find India so interesting and it sounds like Olivia describes it well. It looks like there are a few O. Douglas’s available for the Kindle, but this isn’t one of them. Darn 🙁

    • Olivia in India and The Setons are also available as free downloads for Kindle from ManyBooks for Kindle (manybooks.net).

        • No, but I have Olivia in India on my Kindle. I may start on it next, but I have Russian Winter from the library right now and planned to read that next.

          I like to read about India but have no desire to go there. My tattoo (only one) is the Sanskrit word ‘ahimsa’, meaning ‘do no harm to any living creature’, and one of my favorite books is A Fine Balance. Probably very different from Olivia in India, though.

          • Joan,
            I haven’t read A Fine Balance but feel that I should as it’s a favourite of yours. I hope you enjoy A Russian Winter, I don’t know if any of the Boston bits will be recognisable to you.
            You have a Sanskrit tattoo, you’re so ‘with it’! Two of my nieces have tattoos but they are Celtic designs. I would never go to India because of the distance but mainly because the heat would kill me and I know I would find the poverty heartbreaking. I’ve enjoyed reading quite a lot of books set in India though.

    • Anbolyn,
      I know – I’m always in a quandary, wanting to push up the library statistics, but I don’t think there is any likelihood of either of the libraries I visited closing as they are both the main library in large towns. One was the very first Andrew Carnegie library in his home town of Dunfermline!
      I’m going to have to get myself a Kindle for all these books which Peggy Ann tells me about which are on Project Gutenberg.

  3. The 12.30 from Croydon by Freeman Wills Crofts sounds good to me! I don’t have much interest in India so never really wanted to read Olivia in India. Of course our libraries here in the states don’t have any of O Douglas’ books.

    Anbolyn, Project Gutenberg has Olivia in India in the kindle format for free. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/10899

    • Peggy Ann,
      I think you would still enjoy the book, it’s worth looking at it anyway as it’s free. I’m just about to start the Wills Crofts book, I was attracted by the cover!

      • The Pit Prop Syndicate? That one is on my list for the Vintage Challenge at Bev’s My Reader’s Block. I am starting ‘My Aunt Flora’ by Elizabeth Cadell, recommended by Nan over at Letters from a Hill Far. had to get it from somewhere else in the state via inter-library loan. Shouldn’t take long and then will start pit prop. I’m itching to get back into a vintage mystery!

        • Peggy Ann,
          I haven’t read anything by Elizabeth Cadell for yonks and haven’t read that one. I think you’ll love Freeman Wills Croft, are you getting it via Project Gutenberg?

          • yes of course:) I have gotten over 100 books from them now. all vintage of course! Pit Prop Syndicate is the only one they have by Wills Croft right now though:(

          • Peggy Ann,
            I had a look at your Waiting On My Shelves section last night – what a pile! Mind you I would probably be as bad, I daren’t list them all! I really loved the Wills Croft book – 12.30 from Croydon.

          • I will never get all of these books read! But to quote L.M. Montgomery “I am simply a ‘book drunkard.’ Books have the same irresistible temptation for me that liquor has for its devotee. I cannot withstand them.” I got two more tonight on the free table at the library! Mysteries, how could I resist:) One is by E.X. Ferrars – Experiment with Death. It’s from ’81, too bad isn’t one of hers from the 40’s.

          • Peggy Ann,
            Well a book addiction is a lot less trouble than any other kind. I’ve only read one Ferrars, The Seven Sleepers but I did enjoy it.

  4. I should have told you before about the big annual weekend Book Sale in Peebles! It fills the Burgh Hall and goes on for two days! I went along today and found a few O Douglas’s, some Neil Munro’s and Neil M Gunn’s that I brought home!! I love these old Scottish books! There were a few Maurice Walsh’s too, but I left them behind this time. There are books of all genres, and on all subjects! It’s an amazing sale! If you’ve nothing to do tomorrow you should head on down there! I have to go out or could have met up, but it will be worth a visit!

    • Evee,
      I would have loved to have gone but this weekend has been so busy. Arbroath and Dundee today and Sunday is my last chance to get to the Creative Stitches thingy at the SECC so that’s where I’ll be, I’ve never been before. I like Gunn and Munro too, haven’t read Walsh though. See you soon, use your bus pass when you have some spare time!

  5. I thought I was the only person around with any interest in O Douglas still so very interested to find this recent blog! I have a complete collection of the works of O Douglas which I assembled from second hand book shops about 20 years ago now in the days before Amazon. Anna Buchan herself says somewhere that her brother John invented his tales but ‘in my stories I was always remembering’ and much of her material is drawn straight from real life. Olivia in India is almost completely autobiographical and recounts her trip out to Calcutta to visit her brother William who sadly died from a mysterious illness when home on leave in 1912. I take great pleasure in the small compass of her books and her viivd descriptions of the minutiae of daily life in a small Scottish town between the wars. There is also a sadness that she never found a husband, children and house of her own which comes through although it is never stated. She is always describing interiors for her heroines homes. The other novels are well worth seeking out, i was very sad when Ihad read then all!

    • Jennifer,
      I’m slowly working my way through John Buchan’s books and that’s why I started reading O. Douglas too. The family lived in Kirkcaldy for a number of years, as I’m sure you will know and I live in Kirkcaldy too. I think her books have captured the way of life in a small Scottish border town very well, I suppose she realised that everything was changing and she was detailing the social history of the times.
      I wondered what had happened because in Olivia in India she is obviously writing to someone she is hoping to settle down with – but it never happened, maybe he died. I suppose she wrote about the life she would have liked to have had herself. I have quite a few of her books on my shelves waiting to be read, I generally get them at second-hand bookshops but there aren’t so many of them about now, sadly. Thanks for dropping by and taking the time to comment.


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