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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction

The First Indian Author
in English

Michael H. Fisher

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To purchase The First Indian Author in English

Title: The First Indian Author in English
Author: Michael H. Fisher
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: (1996)
Length: 323 pages
Availability: The First Indian Author in English - US
The First Indian Author in English - UK
The First Indian Author in English - Canada
  • Dean Mahomed (1759-1851) in India, Ireland, and England
  • Includes The Travels of Dean Mahomet (1794), and supporting material and commentary by Michael H. Fisher
  • See also The Travels of Dean Mahomet (University of California Press, 1997) (see our review), which is fundamentally very similar
  • The University of California Press volume, The Travels of Dean Mahomet can also be found online -- a version that is highly recommended

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Our Assessment:

B+ : interesting historical document, excellent supporting and explanatory material

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Indian Econ. and Social History Rev. . 7-9/1997 Indrani Chatterjee
Intl. J. of Hindu Studies . 4/1998 A.J. Dawson
Journal of Asian Studies A 8/1997 Douglas M. Peers

  From the Reviews:
  • "(T)his close attention to recovering the voice of Dean Mahomed has not been undertaken at the cost of the bigger picture. Fisher carefully situates Mahomed within the broader historical context, and his explanation of the structure and composition of the Bengal army of the eighteenth century is particularly lucid and comprehensive. (...) It is not so much his life, but how he wanted his life to be seen, that allows us to appreciate just how complex cross-cultural navigation was in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Michael Fisher has done a first rate job in making such complex interactions so accessible, enlightening, and entertaining." - Douglas M. Peers, Journal of Asian Studies

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Note: Michael H. Fisher has edited two very similar books, both of which include the text of The Travels of Dean Mahomet (1794) and supporting material. The Oxford University Press edition provides more detailed commentary, and so the focus of this reviews is on Fisher's contribution, while the focus of the review of the University of California edition is on Dean Mahomed's actual text.

       Michael H. Fisher presents Dean Mahomed's 1794 account, The Travels of Dean Mahomet, in this volume (as well as in the eponymous one published by the University of California Press (see our review)). The text is an interesting and worthwhile (and relatively short) historical curiosity, and Fisher does a fine job of introducing it to a modern audience.
       The Travels of Dean Mahomet, however, only tells Dean Mahomed's story until his arrival in England in 1784 -- not even following him to his first final destination, Cork, Ireland. Dean Mahomed actually lived until 1851, first in Ireland, then London, then Brighton, and his life beyond India is no less remarkable (and in many ways more remarkable) than his life in his homeland was. Fortunately Fisher devotes a great amount of space (two-thirds of this volume) to providing a background for The Travels of Dean Mahomet and then relating the Indian's experiences in Ireland and England.
       Fisher is an academic, and this is a serious book, focussing on detail. It is, however, never dreary and rarely dry, and there is a wealth of information here. Fisher manages to explain almost all aspects that related to Dean Mahomed's life, and much of it is fascinating.
       Among the subjects of particular interest:

  • the English East India Company, and the Army in India -- led by European officers (of often dubious worth) but reliant on the native population for manpower and support
  • other foreign influences in the India of that time -- so, for example, the Danish East India Company (and including a possible explanation on why Dean Mahomed came to England on a Danish ship, rather than an English one)
  • the complex interactions between the English and the Indians in India, on so many levels
  • the publishing industry in England and Ireland (as Fisher gives an excellent overview of how Dean Mahomed went about publishing his book -- a small success, though generally attracting little notice)
  • the role of colonial immigrants in England at the beginning of the nineteenth century
  • the rise of the resort of Brighton
       Dean Mahomed's life was a fascinating one, from when he found a patron in the Army when he was ten (having just lost his father) to his final success as a "shampooing surgeon" in Brighton. Fisher adds a great deal to Dean Mahomed's own account, providing much of the necessary background information (as well as filling in some pieces left out -- and, for example, explaining his benefactor's resigning his position (in some disgrace) more fully). Fisher provides a remarkable overview of India and specifically the dealings of those affiliated with the Army at the time.
       It is Dean Mahomed's life in Ireland and England, however, that stands out. He lived first in Cork (where the family of his benefactor, Godfrey Evan Baker, was fairly influential), and he eloped with a local girl, Jane Daly, in 1786. He conceived of the plan for his book, finding subscribers, writing it (including cribbing some of it from other sources, as Fisher fully documents) and achieving a modest success with it.
       Around 1807 Dean and Jane Mahomed moved to London, and he opened up the Hindostanee Coffee House, an exotic establishment that did not turn out quite as successful as Mahomed hoped (he had to declare bankruptcy). True success came only when Dean Mahomed moved to the budding resort town of Brighton. He worked in a bath house, and then opened up his own, playing up his exotic origins and the special treatments he could offer. Despite the unfortunate death of one patient and incapacitation of another (Dean Mahomed broke a man's arm while "treating" it, eventually necessitating the amputation of the limb) business took off. Royalty frequented the establishment, and it was a huge attraction. Dean Mahomed, the "shampooing surgeon", made his mark. (Financial success proved somewhat more elusive, and was unfortunately not as lasting.)
       Fisher documents all this in marvelously clear and almost never pedantic detail. The material is rich, and Fisher explores various fascinating tangents, easily weaving them into his narrative (from details about the publishing world to the resort-culture of Brighton). The asides never stray too far afield and add colour to the broad canvas of of that time in first India, then Cork, then London, then Brighton that Fisher presents.
       Fisher's book is an altogether remarkable achievement, and should appeal to all interested in either the Indian or the British worlds around 1800.

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The First Indian Author in English: The Travels of Dean Mahomet: Dean Mahomed: Michael Fisher: Other versions of this book under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • Hasan Shah's The Dancing Girl
  • See also the Index of literature from and about India at the complete review
  • See also the Index of Biography under review

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About the Author:

       Michael H. Fisher is Professor of History at Oberlin College.

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