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Uncovering the Zenana: Visions of Indian Womanhood γν Englishwomen's Writings, 1813-1940* Janaki Nair Here as there [in England] the end object is not merely personal comfort but the formation of a home—that unit of civilisation where father and children, master and servant, employer and employed can learn their several duties.... When all is said and done also, herein lies the natural outlet for most of the talent peculiar to women___An Indian household can no more be governed peacefully, without dignity and prestige, than an Indian Empire. F.A.Steel and G. Gardiner, The Complete Indian Cook and Housekeeper The growth of feminism in the past two decades and the emergence of women's history as a field have produced a desire not only to establish that women too have a history, but also that they took part in the well known moments of human history.1 A relentless search for new areas of enquiry into women's pasts has left few stones unturned. If attempts have been made to recover the role that women played in revolutionary moments of human history, some liberal feminist historians have also asserted a place for women in other domains traditionally held "masculine," such as imperialism.2 The nostalgia for the Raj, whose multiple cultural productions mark an acknowledgement of the end of empire and arises from the complexities of postcolonial race relations in Britain, has amply prepared the ground for an easier recovery of the roles of English women in India in support of such a contention.3 As a result, colonialists' writings, a long critiqued source in nationalist or marxist scholarship, have, in certain feminist intellectual practices, retained a kind of credibility they had lost elsewhere. In this paper, I will propose an alternative scheme for the reading of Englishwomen's writings on India, not in order to establish the "correctness of the representation nor its fidelity to some great original"4 but to locate them within the production of colonial discourse on India.5 Within © 1990 Journal of Women's History, Vol. 2 No. 1 (Spring)___________________ * This article bears traces of the critical voices of Cissie Fairchilds, Rajeshwari Mohan, Rosemary Hennessy, and Madhava Prasad. Several others have patiently borne its other incarnations. I remain solely responsible for the arguments developed herein. 1990 JANAKINAIR 9 such a "discourse analysis," my emphasis will be on plotting the multiple, and apparently ambiguous, ideological purposes that were served by the various representations of Indian women engendered in these writings on the Indian zenana.6 Such ideological functions revealed the primary economic role that India played as Britain's colony but must also be revealed in terms of "the exigencies of domestic—that is European—and colonialist politics and culture."7 The "family" and the "empire" were not the homologous structures that Steel and Gardiner suggest they were: the idealized family as represented in the writings I examine below served as a means not only to critique the colonized but emerged as a response to the "threats" to the English family posed by the women's movement. The correspondance of these representations of Indian women with English feminist discourse of the period must also be traced. Implicit in this analysis, too, is a critique of some of the most recent instances of the recuperation of Englishwomen's roles in India., Englishwomen were rare in India during the period of the East India Company, especially in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. By the time direct governance was assumed in 1857, and as larger areas of the Indian map came under British rule, there was a gradual shift in the control of intercourse between English men and Indians, and the colonial regime actively began discouraging officials from marrying indigenous women.8 The separate and superior nature of the master race began to be emphasized , a separateness that could not be established without replicating the English home, which, therefore, necessitated the presence of English women. By their very sense of leisure, made possible by retinues of Indian servants, these women could communicate an ambience of gentility. They could also, and even more importantly, provide the sexual services that had been met by Indians in the past.9...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2036
Print ISSN
1042-7961
Pages
pp. 8-34
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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