Woman and Empire: Representations in The Writings of British India (1858-1900)

Item Code: NAG078
Author: Indrani Sen
Publisher: Orient Longman Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2008
ISBN: 9788125033462
Pages: 223
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 250 gm
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Book Description

About the Author

Indari Sen is reader at the department of English, Sri Venkateswara College, University of Delhi. She has published widely in leading academic journals. Her edited collection, memsahib's writings: colonial narratives on Indian women is scheduled for release in 2008. Currently she is working on a project, "Gendered transactions: literature and culture in colonial India", for which she has received a research award from the university grants commission.


Over the last decade or so the idea of the colonial space as a gendered terrain has been increasingly attracting attention, especially in the fields of social history and cultural studies, where wide-ranging questions on gender, ethnicity and empire are increasingly being addressed.' However, much of this engagement has been in the area of women's history, while a scrutiny of the writings of nineteenth-century British India from this perspective has not been adequately undertaken.' In particular, its literary productions have suffered from enormous and inexplicable critical neglect, augmented perhaps by the amazing fact that no systematic documentation of these texts exists even to this day? If we look upon literary texts as cultural products then this indeed becomes a serious gap in cultural studies that needs to be addressed.

It is precisely in the context of inadequate work having been done in this area that this project was originally undertaken. Essentially, the aim of this book is twofold: First, to identify the complex web of gender-attitudes which prevailed in nineteenth-century British India through an examination of both its social context as well as its non- literary discursive writings-its newspapers and periodicals, organs of public opinion (which too, incidentally, suffer from scholarly neglect). Second, the aim is to examine Anglo-Indian literary texts of this period and their negotiations with these cultural paradigms- occasionally excavating, in the process, certain works which are virtually forgotten today. (For the fact is that an enormous body of neglected colonial literature does exist, waiting to be recovered, a recuperation which would help to thicken the discursive field of colonial writings in nineteenth-century India-a task, however, that is sadly outside the scope of this book.) Indeed these two aims are inextricably interlinked. By examining the literary texts of empire which were produced from the establishment of empire till the turn of the century (from roughly 1858 to about 1900), this book hopes to uncover the interfaces between colonialism and gender-representations during a historical period when, for a number of reasons, women (both white and Indian) had become more visible in the discourse of British India than ever before.

The factors of race, class, gender and sexuality rooted in the specific social and material realities of British India, together constitute the axes along which this study is built. While scrutinising representations of women (white, Indian, as well as women of mixed races), the aim is to study the politics of gender-representations and their location within the intricacies of colonial power-structures. A good deal of more recent feminist theorising has correctly sought to insert the categories of race, class and colour to problematise the category of gender. In keeping with this approach, gender is situated in this book within a complex web of intersecting, shifting, multiple relations, made up of race as well as class, with the possible overall privileging of race, given the colonial context It is located as socially constructed, created by men as well as by women, embracing contradictions and complexities, with women as simultaneously both victims and agents. Moreover, the category of gender would no doubt be further complicated in the case of Indian women by the factors of caste/region/religion.

Arguably, sexuality has to form an important aspect of any study of gender-touching upon issues such as the definition and control of women's sexuality by society, the sexual objectification of women, and sexual violence and exploitation. Male and female sexuality is approached in this book not as natural and unchangeable, but rather as socially constructed. Thus the social construction of male and female sexuality is seen as contributing to the concept of male sexual aggression, power and domination, as opposed to female passivity, powerlessness and subordination. Sexuality intersects with gender, race and class in complex ways. Moreover, there is an eroticisation of power, operating within the dynamics of race, class/caste, which can create unspoken assumptions that men have rights of sexual access to women belonging to sections perceived as 'inferior', such as women of lower classes/castes or those belonging to other races. At another, discursive level, however, sexual identities are recognised as being not watertight categories but, instead, subject to fluidities and overlaps, epitomised in figures such as the androgynous white girl, or in the colonial stereotype of the effeminate Hindu-intersecting in the latter case with issues of race and power, though still operating essentially within the hierarchies of gender.

The relation between gender and power is inevitably multiple, shifting, even contradictory. Thus the white woman is located as both suffering from gender disadvantages vis-a-vis men of her own race and at the same time enjoying in the colony the privileges of race, while within the category of ' the white woman' itself class differences between various sections of the community are enormous. In turn, women of both races are placed in opposition to each other as well as located as similar in their shared gender oppression. What kind of links as well as contradictions exist between the representations of these two categories of women? How is class inscribed and how are Eurasian women (of mixed race) perceived? And how far is the concept of female sexuality problematised by race? Put another way, what are the tensions and contradictions in colonial perceptions of white female sexuality as compared to that of Indian women? These are some of the questions that this study seeks to examine.

The first chapter maps the social and cultural space in which the white woman in India was located. It seeks to trace the social context as well the cultural paradigms about the white woman in the colony that were selectively invented by the written word. For this purpose, it examines the periodical literature of the period-Anglo-Indian newspapers, journals, printed material as well as letters and memoirs. Scrutinised in chapter 2 is the construction of the 'native' woman in contemporary non-literary discursive writings and the colonial agendas that these representations fed into. As in the earlier chapter, here too, we examine the web of contesting gender models invented by Anglo-Indian print culture-by missionary accounts, nineteenth-century studies on women and, above all, by the leading Anglo-Indian periodicals and newspapers of this period.

Since one of the central premises of this book is that literary texts are cultural products, the third chapter attempts the task of charting some key themes in the literary discourse of this period. Having already identified in the earlier two chapters some of the predominant gender-representations in Anglo-Indian culture, this chapter attempts to trace how the literary productions negotiate with these themes, drawing for this purpose upon a host of important, popular novels, many of them now almost forgotten. Although no detailed study of individual texts is made here, nevertheless an attempt IS made to tease out-wherever relevant-some of the hidden meanings and submerged narratives that underlie the textual representations as well as their negotiations with certain themes.

In the remaining three chapters, the book focuses on key literary productions of three leading writers of the time. Examined in chapter 4 are the unusual Indian-woman-oriented literary texts of Philip Meadows Taylor and their negotiations with gender issues, especially the issue of 'native' female social reform. It concludes with a detailed study of an important text of that time: Seeta (1872), Taylor's 'Mutiny' novel. Flora Annie Steel's literary productions, generally regarded as 'different', are discussed in chapter 5, and the attempt is to see how this 'suffragette', Victorian feminist-memsahib's perceptions of gender are complicated by her imperialist predilections. Steel's literary writings may have been very different from Taylor's, but both share a close knowledge of and focus on Indian women in some of their fiction. Apart from scrutinising her 'Mutiny' novel On the Face of the Waters (1896)-which also happens to be a current scholarly favorite and a key colonial textwe also examine her completely neglected 'Indian' short stories, which offer a rich site for unravelling the complexities of gender and race dynamics. In analysing these texts in some detail, we also note the ambivalences and contradictions in their narratives.

The last chapter focuses on the writings of Rudyard Kipling. We may note here that notwithstanding the numerous studies on various aspects of Kipling's writings, somewhat less work has been done on both his perceptions of women and his location within contemporary Anglo-Indian literary discourse." Although, in many ways Kipling's literary productions often appear to bring to an apotheosis many of the gendered tropes of colonial literary discourse, this chapter attempts to unravel the well-known narrative ambivalences of his early texts (primarily Plain Tales from the Hills) and tease out their complications and submerged narratives.

The concept of 'colonial discourse' is of course a highly complex one and has been a much contested terrain. In this book it is used simply in the sense of a domain in which language is used and which in turn is rooted in social practices and institutions pertaining to the colonial enterprise." Colonial discursive practice-like all discursive practices-can be a means of exercising power and control and can participate in the formation of ideologies. In this study both the literary and the non-literary writings of Anglo-India are considered as part of the discourse of empire. But although these two kinds of writings are broadly discussed separately in different chapters in this book, this does not mean that non-literary texts are seen as factual, faithful, 'objective' representations of reality. On the contrary, although we do not attempt at 'dismantling' writings such as news- paper items, journals, memoirs, 'sociological' studies and personal accounts, these are nevertheless not located as innocent. Instead, they are seen as representing their own version of reality and betray, through their emphases, their own (often hidden) political and cultural agendas. In other words, 'factual' accounts too are shown to help in 'constructing' certain gender ideologies by selectively focusing on certain aspects and ignoring other aspects. Indeed, as I have tried to show in the first two chapters, the non-literary writings of Anglo-India selectively highlighted certain aspects of an imagined reality and thereby actively participated in the agenda of inventing gender paradigms.

However, it is also true that it is problematic to collapse a novel with non-literary writing. The 'literary' status of creative writing cannot be ignored; the writings of Kipling, for instance, would certainly have similarities with, say, a newspaper report or a 'sociological' piece in The Calcutta Review, but by virtue of being an imaginary and creative representation of reality they would also be different and possess a certain generic distinctiveness. Thus, in our scrutiny of key or unusual literary texts of that time, we examine in some detail their construction of an imagined reality, studying how this construction involves both an incorporation of contemporary cultural ideologies and a conscious or unconscious resistance to them. While identifying the web of contesting strands within these literary texts, especially in the last three chapters, we also encounter their narrative instabilities. As we tease out some of their submerged narratives, we seek to explore how these literary writings, even while they seem to echo prevailing ideologies, may simultaneously contain oppositional elements which militate against them.

For instance, in the notion of colonial self-identity, which frequently appears in these literary texts, the very concept of distinct, watertight, race/class/gender identities stand dismantled. Instead, the instabilities and fluidities within the very heart of colonial self- identity come to be exposed." The blurring of race/class/gender identities can be seen, for instance, in the figure of the Indianised European or the white woman who is virtually confined to a purdah-like situation or the Eurasian, who threatens through her racial hybridity the distinctness of colonial identities. In other words, even while working within the material realities of a colonial space where the overarching categories of race/gender/class hierarchies would no doubt prevail, this book simultaneously tries to tease out other meanings in the literary narratives, other fluidities among these categories that sometimes militate against the stabilities and even contest a unified and unproblematic assertion of colonial identity or power.

Some terms used in this study need explication: 'Anglo-Indian' is used in the sense of its original meaning of the British resident in India, while the word, 'Eurasian,' is used to indicate a person of mixed blood-in keeping with its usage till the early part of the twentieth century? The literary texts that are discussed in this book were written by the large numbers of English people who came out to India as colonial administrators or in non-official capacities. Although the English were never a settler community (unlike in many other British colonies), the term, 'colony', is often used in this book to denote their temporary settlements, the 'stations' which they inhabited. Essentially, this term is used as shorthand for not only the physical and material space of these settlements but, far more importantly, the ideological space these constituted. Although 'ideology' has been a much debated, theoretically vexed term, it is located in this study not as something imposed from 'above', or as false consciousness but as a form of hegemony, a received 'common sense'.'? Thus the first two chapters essentially try to map out how a 'common sense' about race and gender is constructed or 'invented' by the written word in the context of colonial India.'! The word 'native' is placed within quotation marks throughout, since in the context of the racial hierarchies of empire the word obviously carries overtones of racist stereotyping and needs to be constantly interrogated. For a similar reason, the term, 'Mutiny', used by the British for the Rebellion of 1857, is used within quotation marks.

As for the word 'imperialism', it is used throughout this book, at one level, in its most direct sense of 'pertaining to Empire', referring, in other words, to the period after the takeover by the Crown in 1858. Both 'imperialism' and 'colonialism' are complex, theoretically and historically vexed terms which have been debated and defined variously. On the whole, this book uses the term 'colonial' to refer to the entire period which pre-dated the industrialised, capitalist phase of this colonial relationship, while 'imperialism' is used specifically for that phase of the relationship which coincided with the growth of capitalism in the nineteenth century. The two terms needed to be separated for the purposes of our study, since the post- 'Mutiny' phase (which was also the period of takeover by the Crown) was marked by a largely different set of parameters in British India.

Finally, one unavoidable lacuna in this study is that it could not give much space to the 'native' perspective. Unfortunately, given the scope and nature of this project, the gendered colonised or for that matter Indians in general have hardly any voice in this book. It hardly needs to be mentioned that many Indians contributed richly to discursive writings, initiated major changes and actively participated in passionate debates on many issues related to the ones which have preoccupied us in this book. But, regrettably, the scope of the project, involving a scrutiny of British India's gender attitudes, precluded the possibility of a more central space for the Indian opinion (or voice) and ruled out anything other than the very rare, occasional glimpse of contemporary Indian reactions and perspective.

As regards the primary material used in this book, the bulk of the Anglo-Indian literary texts that I have consulted are now out-of- print and many altogether inaccessible. Tracking them down was a challenging, sometimes frustrating, but in the end an immensely re- warding task especially since one was working within the constraints of doing archival research on such an area in Indian conditions. Possibly, most fascinating was the serendipitous 'discovery of Anglo-India'-of its newspapers, periodicals, travelogues, memoirs and missionary accounts in the most unexpected of libraries.

Originally based on my doctoral dissertation, this monograph has taken several years to assume its present shape and working on this project has been a labour of love. The whole thing began as an idea for a doctoral project suggested by Meenakshi-di (Professor Meenakshi Mukherjee), which fired my imagination and made me embark on such a long journey. I would like to take this opportunity of expressing my deep appreciation to her. I would also like to thank Sujitda for his encouragement and for many stimulating conversations. Study leave granted by Sri Venkateswara College (University of Delhi) during the early phase of doctoral work and a minor research project grant from the University Grants Commission were invaluable, while an Associates ship at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, later helped in revising this manuscript in wonder- fully salubrious surroundings. Most crucially, timely grants from the Charles Wallace (India) Trust at different stages enabled me to make two brief, yet vital, visits to England to consult archival materials. Indeed, had it not been for the financial support extended by the Trust, this monograph, simply put, could never have materialised. I wish to put on record my profound debt of gratitude to them, especially to Mr. Cavaliero and Dr F. H. Taylor of the Trust.

At Orient Longman I deeply appreciate the interest taken by Dr Nandini Rao, Ms Priti Anand and Dr Veenu Luthria in the shaping of this book, as also the helpful comments of the anonymous reader of this manuscript. I am also thankful to Ms Heather Ercilla of the Well come Trust Medical Photographic Library, London, for the jacket photograph. Above all, I take this opportunity to thank the Editors of the New Perspectives in South Asian History Series for selecting this monograph for the series.

My gratitude to the helpful staff of the British Library, the erstwhile India Office Library, the libraries of the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University (Senate House), the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, the Welcome Library (all at London); the National Library and the Asiatic Society (Calcutta); the libraries of the Royal Asiatic Society and Bombay University (Mumbai), the Indian Institute of Advanced Study (Shimla), the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, the National Archives of India, the British Council, India International Centre, Delhi University, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Sri Venkateswara College (all in Delhi). I would also like to thank the University Library, Cambridge.

My family and friends too have provided enormous sustenance. Rusheed (Wadia) unforgettably procured rare materials which would otherwise have been impossible for me to see, Bhaskar helped in many ways, Dada kept up the life-support system at London all the way from NYC in the difficult early years, so too did Sati pishi at Essex, while Bua and Chin Chin have provided cheer and enthusiasm. My very special thanks to] for his helpful thoughtfulness at every step and to both him and Sangeeta for their warm affection. My debt to Chandan, my friend and husband, is more than I can put in words. All I can say is that without his companionship and support through every page of this monograph I would not have had the staying power to see this through.

My one abiding sorrow will always be that my father, who was eagerly awaiting the arrival of this book, is not there to actually see it in print. His sudden demise is especially poignant since he took such keen interest in my research. This work is, in so many ways, a culmination of the years of encouragement that both he and my mother have given me. I, therefore, dedicate it to both of them.



  Preface viii
  Acknowledgements xviii
  List of Abbreviations xix
1 Woman, ideology, empire: inventing thewhite woman in nineteenth century British India 1
2 Satis, bibis, purdahnashins: Anglo-India and the Indian woman 39
3 Gender and imperial citizenship: nineteenth century British raj fiction 71
4 Representing chivalric rescue: the novels of Philip meadows Taylor 104
5 Gender and the white woman's burden:flora Annie steel 131
6 Imagining (Anglo) India: Rudyard Kipling and the construction of women 160
  Epilogue 185
  Glossary 191
  Bibliography 192
  Index 207


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