Cambodian Glory

by Harriett Winifred Ponder

Language : English

1934 - Thornton Butterworth Keystone Library, 1938; #126 at Templation Library - 320 pages - Hardback Thornton Butterworth Ltd, London

Several aspects set this travel book from the 1930s aside, to begin with the remarkable knowledge the author came to accumulate about the current state of archeological and historical research at the time of her visit.

For instance, H.W. Ponder brings to us important insights on the discussion among Angkorean specialists regarding temple datation. Was the Bayon an early architectural prowess or the testimony of an art that already had reached its peak and was prone to symbolic excess?

Also fascinating is the deliberately feminine, and even feminist approach of the Khmer temples. The author never shies away when attempting to describe the emotions and feelings triggered by the Angkor site, the tactile vibration of ruins and nature. Women of the ancient Khmer civilization are vividly evoked in chapters boldly titled "Celestial Nymphs" or "Citadel of Women" (about Banteay Srei).

This free-spirited and modern mindset is obvious when the learned traveler pays attention to oral traditions and contemporary rituals that, as she senses it, can inform us on ancient history more vividly and perhaps accurately than academic, cold studies.

The author is an equally excellent observer of the Cambodian society in the 1930s, describing with the same alert eye the young students at the Ecole des Arts Khmers that George Groslier had founded in Phnom Penh a decade earlier or the solemn ceremony of a royal cremation.  

  • In 1937, The Geographical Journal reviewed H.W. Ponder's book much positively, defining it as a "well-documented summary of Angkor's tangled history and chronology, and an intelligent review of recent archeological scholarship and conclusions." (Vol. 89, No. 1 (Jan.1937), pp. 73-74)
  • The study reflects extensive reading and conversations with George Groslier, Philippe Stern (Musée Guimet, Paris), Col. D.M.F Hoysted (Secretary of the Royal Asiatic Society), among many other scholars and researchers.
  • The book is dedicated "To the Memory of W.B.H., to whose wise and witty counsel I owe so much".
  • With 22 silver halide photographs, 4 maps and plans.

About the Author

Harriett Winifred Ponder

H.W. Ponder (1883, Buckinghamshire UK - 1967, Brisbane Australia) was a reputed travel writer who wrote extensively on Cambodia, Java and the South Pacific. First published in 1936, her book about Angkor, Cambodian Glory, was almost as successful as the one by her American counterpart Helen Churchill Candee.

Through her career and personal interests, she befriended several female artists of her time, including the famous British contralto singer Clara Butt (1872-1936) -- writing and publishing her autobiography in 1928 -- and the Australian sculptor Daphne Mayo. 

In recognition of her original research work, and her contributions to geographical knowledge, H.W. Ponder became a Fellow of the London Royal Geographical Society. in her later years, she lived in Brisbane (Queensland, Australia), where she published several journalistic accounts.