Ramachandra Guha has a fine essay in The Caravan reminiscing about his experiences with the Indian Branch of the Oxford University Press, which started out very well:

A British historian once said that being published by the Oxford University Press was like being married to a duchess—the honour was greater than the pleasure. My experience was otherwise. Not long before I began working in their archives, the OUP had published my first book. As scholarly books go, it was a work of art—set, using hot metal type, in an elegant Baskerville by the legendary PK Ghosh of Eastend Printers, Calcutta. The cover was arresting—a photograph by Sanjeev Saith of a Himalayan oak forest cut up by the designer to represent the ‘unquiet woods’ that the book documented. The prose inside, jargon-ridden and solemnly sociological in its original incarnation, had been rendered moderately serviceable by the intense (and inspired) labours of the book’s editor, a young scholar with a PhD in English literature from the University of Cambridge.

To enter the Bombay office of the OUP in 1993 and 1994 was, for me, like entering an ancient club of which I was a privileged new member. The honour was manifest, but so also the pleasure. In the foyer were displayed the works of the best Indian sociologists and historians—André Béteille’s The Idea of Natural Inequality, Ranajit Guha’s Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India, Ashis Nandy’s The Intimate Enemy, Irfan Habib’s An Atlas of the Mughal Empire. Also on display were the works of OUP authors who were not Indian, among them such colossally influential scholars as Isaiah Berlin, Ronald Dworkin and HLA Hart. The gentry and literati of Bombay came to this showroom, and I spent some time there myself. But my main work lay upstairs, where, in a locked cupboard, lay the correspondence between a writer whose life I was writing and a publisher who had once dominated the building in which I now sat. […]

A historian’s happiest days are always in the archives. In the case of this now somewhat elderly historian, the days have accumulated into years. Yet of all these days and years, the weeks in the OUP archive in Bombay may have given me the most joy. The letters I found there were, for my purposes, infinitely rewarding; but the real pleasure (and honour) lay elsewhere, in seeing (and sensing) oneself as being part of a great, continuous, scholarly tradition; a freshly-minted OUP author enters a building that stocks the works of the greatest OUP authors to work on the letters of a long-dead OUP author—all for a book that would one day be published by the OUP itself.

It ends with a sad tale of decline which I will allow you to discover for yourself; in between are some wonderful stories and personalities. I object, however, to his calling himself “somewhat elderly”; the man’s just a tad over fifty, for heaven’s sake. (Thanks, Paul!)


  1. like being married to a duchess—the honour was greater than the pleasure
    This makes no sense in any way.

  2. There is one possible explanation for your inability to find sense in that quote: you are a duke, so marrying a duchess would not enhance your sense of distinction.

  3. j. del col says

    Did duchesses have a reputation for being…ummm… cold and stiff?

  4. Far from it. Quite the opposite, especially in the 17C. (See Charles II’s girlfriends the duchess of Cleveland, duchess of Portsmouth, duchess of Portland; then the duchesses of Marlborough 1 & 2, and many more; many, many more).

  5. Not sure that those married to those duchesses had all that much pleasure from them, AJP presumably-Stakhanovite Онлайн Работа. Or what they had was heavily leavened with heartache.

  6. However, they became duchesses after Charles had ado with them, and perhaps are not typical therefor.
    I sat next to the Duchess at tea.
    It was just as I feared it would be:
         Her rumblings abdominal
         Were simply phenomenal,
    And everyone thought it was me.

  7. Keyhole, Prince Charles seems quite happy with his wife the duchess of Cornwall. And if you put the sex to one side (and I understand he did), the late duke of Devonshire surely derived much pleasure from the company of Deborah Mitford, the current dowager duchess.

  8. bruessel says

    But they were’t duchesses by birth, which seems to me the point of the original quotation.

  9. The second duchess of Marlborough is one exception, but surely there are very few English or Scottish duchesses by birth.
    Anyway, I now see that it’s a misquotation.Being published by the Oxford University Press is rather like being married to a duchess: the honour is almost greater than the pleasure is what the historian, G.M. Young, said.* The ‘almost’ gives the real quotation a completely different meaning that’s neither snide about duchesses nor wrong.
    *Dictionary of Modern Quotations, Oxford University Press. (Haha).

  10. Heh. Excellent catch!

  11. But where would English Literature be without its misquotations? (For all I know, literature in other languages as well.) A rose, as they say, by any other name would smell as sweet (but Shakespeare didn’t).

  12. John Cowan says

    “Were it not for imagination, Sir, a man would be as happy in the arms of a chambermaid as of a Duchess.” —Sam: Johnson

    “Although Queen Elizabeth is the Duke of Guernsey [and Jersey], Prince Philip is by no means the Duchess.” —me

  13. A rose, as they say, by any other name would smell as sweet (but Shakespeare didn’t).

    I say, old chap, how do you know how Shakespeare smelled?

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