The 'Hindoo Girl's Song': A Shady Story from British India

Gillian Dooley, Umme Salma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Jane Austen’s surviving music manuscript books contain a wide variety of the songs popular in her time. The European fashion for music with vaguely “oriental” themes is evident, and on the face of it the most extreme example of this is Edward Smith Biggs’ “The Hindustani Girl’s Song,” with words by Amelia Opie. Austen titled it “Hindoo Girl’s Song” in her manuscript. Austen had family links to India through her aunt, Philadelphia Hancock, though India is barely mentioned in her novels. A note at the foot of the first page of this song in the printed version (London, 1800) claims that it originated from a song overheard by bearers of a palanquin returning “an Hindoo girl” who had “lived in the family” of an Englishman to her parents. The young woman “was so affected at parting with him, that … she could not be prevailed on, to receive any sustenance during the journey.” The actual provenance of the words and music is uncertain and it is thought unlikely that this story has any factual basis. The lyrics, attributing undying love and submissiveness to the woman, show that the relationship was an amorous and sexual one. In this paper we explore the dark side of this song, written for an English audience during the ascendancy of the British East India Company. The pathos of the woman’s words and her submissive attitude are calculated to excite sympathy, but also enact the imperial power relations the British envisaged with the Indian subcontinent. The women’s words also clothe in sentimentality the actual plight of local women abandoned by foreign men throughout the colonial period.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)333-347
Number of pages15
JournalSouth Asian Review
Issue number3-4
Early online date18 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • British India
  • Gender relations
  • Jane Austen
  • Amelia Opie
  • music
  • Imperialism and gender relations
  • Musical collections
  • class and sexuality
  • Indian women


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  • Jane Austen's Music

    Dooley, G., 2023

    Research output: Non-textual formFilm, Digital Media or Visual Output

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