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STRANGERS IN EVERY PORT: STEREOTYPES OF VICTORIAN WOMEN TRAVELLERS JANICE SCHROEDER University ofAlberta Stereotypes ofthe female tourist circulated in Victorian travel literature, popular fiction, and reviews in the periodical press, and continue to appear in contemporary biographical accounts of nineteenth-century women travellers.1 Two separate but related stereotypes — The Spinster Abroad and the Memsahib — dominate descriptions of European women travellers' experience. In what follows, I will take up the travel documents of two Victorian writers, Elizabeth Rigby Eastlake and Harriet Martineau, but not to show how they "fit the stereotype." Rather, I want to demonstrate how conventional categories, of identity for women which circulated in the 1840s conditioned their particular textual and tourist gazes upon others. That is, the reader's recognition of the stereotypic representations of others in Eastlake's and Martineau's texts depends, in part, upon a received notion of Victorian women's sexual and racial identities as "domestic travellers" in the colonial context of Victorian tourism. Travel does not represent a middle-class woman's escape from the gendered and colonial ideologies of the political and social order in which she is located, although part of her authority may rest upon a notion of "escape" which allows her the illusory possibility of seeing others as they "really are." I argue that the English woman traveller's identity abroad is continually reshaped and reassessed in discourse to preserve her tenuous position both within and outside of dominant ideologies about women's proper sphere of activity. By examining stereotypes and chains of stereotypes in colonial discourse, it is possible to conceive of the colonial and sexual categories of identity available to Victorian women who, through their writings, play out those categories in a network of available versions of both the Victorian Review 24.2 (Winter 1998) JANICE SCHROEDER1 19 "domestic other" and the "foreign other." Homi Bhabha's suggestions for reading the colonial stereotype in "The Other Question" are integral to my discussion, in that they map out the ways in which representations of sexuality and race work in productive tension with one another to produce overdetermined discourses about the other. *The epithets racial or sexual," Bhabha writes, "come to be seen as modes of differentiation, realized as multiple, cross-cutting determinations, polymorphous and perverse, always demanding a specific and strategic calculation of their effects" (72). That is, productive critiques of colonial discourse do not merely catalogue racial stereotypes in order to deny them on the basis of their deviation from an illusory "origin" or "unity" of national, racial, or sexual identity. Rather, Bhabha calls for critiques of colonial discourse which historicize and specify its effects; a notion of the specific impact of stereotypical discourse is necessary for an understanding of the "binding of a range of differences and discriminations that inform the discursive and political practices of racial and cultural hierarchization" (72). Constructions of sexualized, racialized, and gendered subjectivities that rely on stereotypes need to be recognized and critiqued not simply as "false representations of a lived reality," but as powerful tools for organizing and containing what is unknown about the other. Although he calls for a historicized notion of the overdetermination and radical constructedness of stereotypes, Bhabha says little in "The Other Question" about the ways in which dominant constructions of normative, gendered subjectivities inflect and continually reshape the constitution and circulation of stereotypic representations of women. In Allegories of Empire, Jenny Sharpe explores more specifically nineteenth-century gendered ideologies-of "natural" domesticity, the civilizing mission, and separate spheres to argue that the figure of the women in the colonial text is forged out of a variety of competing ideologies which often produce contradictions and anxieties about her sexual, social, and moral function.2 Sharpe notes, "The contradictions to white femininity are more evident in a colonial context where the middle-class English woman» oscillating between a dominant position of race and a subordinate one of gender, has a restricted access to colonial authority" (12). Like otner stereotypes, the image of the Victorian woman traveller, exemplified by the Spinster Abroad and the Memsahib, does not simply "describe" sexualized and racialized subjects, but actually produces them on the basis of their sexual and racial differentiation from...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 118-129
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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