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LOTUS BUDS: AMY WILSON CARMICHAEL AND THE NAUTCH-GIRLS OF SOUTH INDIA JO-ANN WALLACE University ofAlberta The little Lotus buds are His — His and not another's. The children of the temples of South India are His — His and not anotiier's. So now we go forth with the Owner himself to claim His own possessions. Amy Wilson Carmichael, Lotus Buds (1909) Miss Carmichael has begun rescuing little girls who are being sold to die temples for lives of shame___ For some she paid ten cents, others had been promised to die temple for as high as thirty dollars, while some she got free. Sherwood Eddy, India Awakening (1911) The topic of the article, an obscure, out-of-print book by a mostly unknown writer, requires some explanation. Lotus Buds (1909), by Amy Wilson Carmichael, is a book I came across six years ago in the British Library, where I was conducting research on Josephine Butler's 1880s and 1890s campaigns against contagious diseases and cantonment acts in India. Following up a footnote reference to anti-nautch movements brought me to Lotus Buds, an extravagantly produced and lavishly illustrated book describing die autiior's missionary "rescue work" in South India. I found die book extremely unsettling, even upsetting: its fifty photo illustrations, almost all of diem highly aestiieticized portraits of children (see figures 1 and 2), and its highly sentimentalized rhetoric of childhood (in which girls are invariably described as "buds" and boys as "teddies") seemed at odds botíi witii its descriptions of die "evils" of the Hindu "temple system" and its narrative describing the virtual kidnapping ofHindu infant girls, many of whom, in die absence ofa wet nurse, did not survive die "rescue." Victorian Review 24.2 (Winter 1998) 176Victorian Review This article is an attempt to understand the historical conditions which made the 1909 publication of Lotus Buds both possible in terms of its format and allowable in terms of its content. What was the function of the photographs and within what paradigms of representation — visual, religious, political — were diey read? What assumptions underwrote the language of commerce and commodification which structured Carmichaers representation of the children she acquired? What would Carmichaers very elliptical allusions to "the Temple system" evoke for British and American readers of that period? And why would so many Evangelical Christians find it allowable, even laudable, to spirit infant girls away from their families and train them in a system which frequently made them strangers in their own communities? I can only conclude that Lotus Buds "made sense" to these readers because, in spite of its foreign location and its insistence that "the finished product of the Temple system of education is something so distorted that it cannot be described" (281), it offered them already familiar images, scenes, and narratives. In "How to Read a Culturally Different Book," a meditation on R.K. Narayan's 1980 novel The Guide, Gayatri Spivak notes that "if the railway train as a harbinger of progress and class-mobility is a cliché in the literature of imperialism, the nautch (dance) girl is a cliché of the imagining of British India" (Spivak 132). Spivak goes on to outline current feminist subaltern scholarship which suggests that the decline of an artisanal devadasi or nautch profession in colonial India was a function of capital formation and a concomitant commodification of women's bodies. In contrast Spivak herself notes the degree to which the devadasi "slips through both cultural relativism and capital logic" (143). Nonetheless, the epigraphs to this article, quotations from missionary texts of die early years of this century (years which also saw the consolidation of anti-nautch campaigns by social reformers in India), attest to the commodification of ihe girl's body in certain forms of evangelical Christian "rescue" work. The epigraphs simultaneously and contradictorily decry the "trade" in girls and appeal to a discourse of rightful, because divine, ownership. While it is clear that evangelical missionaries like Amy Wilson Carmichael and Sherwood Eddy deliberately evoked the language of commerce and property to shock their readers into an appreciation of what they understood to be the sexual and commercial exploitation of girls in a corrupt temple system...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 175-193
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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