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Reviewed by:
  • Allegories of Empire: The Figure of Woman in the Colonial Text, and: Dialogics of the Oppressed
  • Moira Ferguson
Jenny Sharpe. Allegories of Empire: The Figure of Woman in the Colonial Text. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1993. 204 pp. $39.95 cloth, $14.95 paper.
Peter Hitchcock. Dialogics of the Oppressed. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1993. 244 pp. No price given.

In a series of brilliant readings on the topos of rape in Anglo-Indian fiction, Jenny Sharpe lays global mythologies to rest about the alleged Indian Mutiny in 1857, more appropriately termed the First War of Independence or the Sepoy Rebellion. Put another way, Sharp innovatively genders a subject that critics have used historically to rationalize and affirm the "civilizing mission;" chronicling the era when sexual violence became a discourse, Sharpe demonstrates how rape "emerges in and is constructed by its enunciation" (4), how the crisis in British authority was managed through the sign of violated white female bodies. When the enforced duality of western civilization and eastern barbarism cannot be affirmed, rape permits strategies of counterinsurgency "to be recorded as the restoration of moral order" (6). Allegories of Empire, that is, specifically addresses the discursive use made of the one massacre of Englishwomen and children at Cawnpore and alleged dark-skinned rapists as confirmation of the necessity of a British presence.

In Jane Eyre, the protagonist empowers herself as a civilizer, even as a missionary woman at one point—thus asserting racial supremacy to resolve her sense of lowliness with respect to Rochester. Bertha Mason Rochester's madness, in turn, is the sign of a declining plantocracy. On a related gendered note, references in Jane Eyre to sati enable Hindu women to be rated as inferior to Englishwomen (52).

This question of sati also inflects On the Face of the Waters by Flora Annie Steele (1896), a novel that makes a firm and feminine intervention in the "domestic role of women." It concerns a paradigmatic Anglo-Indian women in a passionless marriage stalwartly surviving anticolonial turmoil. Whereas in Jane Eyre, the question of sati resolves the problem of reconciling female self-determination with self-renunciation, in On the Face, the discourse about sati opens up a confrontation concerning female survivors of the rebellion; the suicide of Kate's sexual rival, the Rajput widow, Tara Devi, uncannily echoes that of Bertha Rochester. Steele reconstructs [End Page 443] Devi's subjectivity "in life" [Sharpe's italics] from her decision to die. The narrative function of the Rajput widow is to stabilize the Victorian ideal of womanhood so that the Mutiny role of the English woman might be realigned. The Sepoy Rebellion fictionally redefines the domestic location of Anglo-Indian women as well as the relationship of English and Indian women; it prompts a requestioning of historical evidence that blames women for violence. Such unorthodox discussion aside, however, the rebellion remains configured as a "barbaric attack of Indian savages on innocent English-women and children" (85). The text does not ultimately break with colonial logic.

In its accentuation of race relations, A Passage to India offers a different angle of vision on the Rebellion, challenging earlier critical interpretations and foregrounding rape as a system of colonial relations (120); it represents a critical, fictional intervention in a discourse that encodes anti-colonial rebellion as the assault of English women. The case of Adela offers a concrete example when she compensates for her sense of gender inferiority by asserting racial superiority. The cry of rape becomes a sign of repressed desire. Indian women, by difference, are an absence; textual silences are necessities to be explained, not deficiencies to be filled. In a riveting final insight in the court scene, the untouchable man signifies homosexuality as a subordinate culture, not external to race, class, and caste hierarchies.

Recapitulating colonial historiography, The Jewel in the Crown provides Sharpe with a synthesis of sorts, conveying a shift in meaning from sexually violent acts to colonial government. In a sliding chain of signification and doubled narration, English women "become" Indian men who "become" India. The Amritsar masssacre is read through the fusion of individual and the nation into a single, semi-transparent fictional plot...


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pp. 443-446
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