Senior Honors Project
The British Empire possesses a long history of imposing ways of thinking, political structures, economic structures, and social standards on their territories. From 1934 to 1940, during the final years of the Raj (British sovereignty in India), this imperialism extended to standards of beauty and respectability in Hyderabad, the capital of the Hyderabad state. These standards arise in the archived letters British governess Marjorie Ussher wrote to her family during this timeframe. Through a close reading of the letters, this thesis recognizes and reflects on Ussher’s aesthetics depictions of the people, objects, and the natural landscape around her. Within this context, the research analyzes the letters for the themes of race, gender, and apparel. This first-hand account, through the eyes of Ussher, offers a unique glimpse into how culturally conditioned aesthetic judgments impact assessments of beauty and respectability in the British Raj context. Through this thesis, it is evident that Ussher acts in line with white British social standards of what it meant to be a likable, attractive, and well-mannered woman in the 20th century British Empire despite her separation from the metropole. By doing so, Ussher presents herself as a respectable British woman to her social circle and family back in Ireland. As a common person without a specific motivation to promote the empire, Ussher’s understanding and promotion of the imperial message provides a unique perspective on how deeply British social standards permeated into citizens’ everyday lives.
Nelsen, Erin A., "Social Standards of Imposition: Respectability and the Raj through the Eyes of Governess Marjorie Ussher" (2020). Antonian Scholars Honors Program. 57.