Perrin, Alice 1867-1934
PERRIN, Alice 1867-1934
PERSONAL: Born July, 1867, in India; died February 13, 1934 in Vevey, Switzerland; daughter of John Innes (a major general of the Bengal Cavalry) and Bertha (Biederman) Robinson; married Charles Perrin (an engineer), May 24, 1886.
MEMBER: Writers' Club, Ladies Imperial Club.
Into Temptation, 2 volumes, White (London, England), 1894.
Late in Life, 2 volumes, Hurst & Blackett (London, England), 1896.
East of Suez, Treherne (London, England), 1901.
The Spell of the Jungle, Treherne (London, England), 1902, Duffield (New York, NY), 1910.
The Stronger Claim, Eveleigh Nash (London, England), 1903, Duffield (New York, NY), 1910.
The Waters of Destruction, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1905.
Red Records, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1906.
A Free Solitude, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1907.
Idolatry, Duffield (New York, NY), 1909.
The Charm, Fitzgerald (New York, NY), 1910.
The Anglo-Indians, Methuen (London, England), 1912, Duffield (New York, NY), 1913.
The Woman in the Bazaar, Cassell (London, England), 1914.
The Happy Hunting Ground, Methuen (London, England), 1914.
Separation, Cassell (London, England), 1917.
Tales That Are Told, Skeffington (London, England), 1917.
Star of India, Cassell (London, England), 1919.
The Vow of Silence, Cassell (London, England), 1920.
The Mound, Methuen (London, England), 1922.
Government House, Cassell (London, England), 1925. Rough Passages, Cassell (London, England), 1926.
Other Sheep, Benn (London, England), 1932.
SIDELIGHTS: Alice Perrin is best known for her romantic Anglo-Indian fiction about British colonizers in India. As Anne Colclough Little noted in the Dictionary of Literary Biography: "During their heyday [the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries] Anglo-Indian writers were extremely popular because they offered readers a look at the previously unknown place referred to as 'the gem of the Empire' and satisfied a market for romantic, sometimes supernatural stories set in exotic places." Little added: "these works were also excellent vehicles for celebrating British imperialism." Perrin's work, which relies on stereotypes of India for an aura of mystery and danger, also contains some glimmers of curiosity about Britons' participation in the problems of India. Moreover, Perrin's readable, romantic style drew many readers.
Perrin's parents were from a wealthy British background; her father, Major General John Innes Robinson, was a member of the Bengal Cavalry and the son of a baronet. Perrin, educated in England, returned to India with her husband, Charles Perrin, an engineer for the Indian Public Works Department. There, Perrin began writing her romantic stories set in the interstices of British and Indian culture, and even after she and her husband left India in 1900 Perrin continued to draw on her knowledge of the country for her creative material.
Perrin's first works were short stories published in London magazines such as Belgravia. In the stories, as Little pointed out, Perrin emphasizes "the conflict between English and Indian characters, a supernatural occurrence, and punishment for the guilty." For example, in Perrin's first story, "Caulfield's Crime," a fakir who has been upsetting Caulfield's hunting is murdered, only to return to life as a jackal. He haunts Caulfield, who finally dies of an animal bite-–though the narrator will not say which animal bit him. In "In the Next Room," a woman hears voices in an adjacent room that ultimately save her from murder. Perrin's fascination with the overlap of spiritual and physical worlds emerges in each story. Critics praised her work for its accurate portrayal of Indian life. A critic writing in Punch remarked of her first story collection, East of Suez: "For graphic description, sharp incisive sketches of character, and effective dramatic situation [her stories] are second only to the Plain Tales, by Rudyard Kipling; while two or three of them run even the best of Kipling's uncommonly close."
While in England, Perrin continued to publish romances of the same stripe; in Stronger Claim, for example, an Englishman is drawn to India, where he discovers he has some Hindu blood. In Idolatry she continued her Anglo-Indian themes, telling of a British-raised girl going to India, where her stepfather is a missionary. The girl has planned to win back an old flame—a soldier who has come into some money—but is unexpectedly uplifted when she meets another young missionary who inspires in her selflessness and breadth of perspective. A New York Times critic wrote: "Idolatry shows clever workmanship, good style, insight into human nature, and some capacity in its portrayal, and considerable knowledge, at least of the surface, of life in India."
Perrin again considers the conflict of "blood" and breeding through a love story set in Anglo-India and titled The Charm. An Englishman foolishly rushes into a marriage with a widow of English and Indian descent. The bride's Eastern ways increasingly repulse her new husband. He finds himself particularly disgusted by his young stepson, whom Perrin describes as "an atavistic throwback to his Indian ancestors." The bride senses her husband is rejecting her, so she decides to use an Indian love philtre to win back her husband's affections. Unfortunately, however, the love potion is actually a poison that Indians who wished to break off her marriage gave to her. When the wife serves it she makes her husband dangerously ill. Grief-stricken, she takes the rest of the poison herself. The novel won some praise for its thorough knowledge of India, but its love story and musings on race relations fell flat. "The story is not elaborate," a Saturday Review critic commented. "It is rather the atmosphere of native life that gives the book its value and interest."
Perrin's novels and stories of India increasingly fell out of favor. Though her work received praise during her lifetime, her audience had already begun to fade by the time of her death. Her books have come to seem even more hackneyed. In Delusions and Discoveries, for example, Benita Parry said that Perrin's work only exploits India as "a place of vast mysteries and immense horrors." Despite their dated qualities, however, Little suggested: "Perrin's novels and short stories are typical of Anglo-Indian fiction, with what can now be recognized as characteristic flaws of the subgenre as well as some felicitous exceptions that challenge the obscurity to which she has been consigned." Moreover, her novels offer an index to the perspectives of her generation—the more valuable because those perspectives now seem outdated. Though Perrin's books offer, at times, stereotypical Indian "mystery," they also depict India with deep affection.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 156: British Short-Fiction Writers, 1880-1914, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Howe, Susanne, Novels of Empire, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1949.
Singh, Rashna B., The Imperishable Empire: A Study of British Fiction on India, Three Continents Press (Washington, DC), 1988.
Bookman, April, 1910.
New York Times, March 6, 1909.
Saturday Review, December 17, 1910.*