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  • The Lives of Girls and Women from the Islamic World in Early Modern British Literature and Culture by Bernadette Andrea
  • Nedda Mehdizadeh (bio)
The Lives of Girls and Women from the Islamic World in Early Modern British Literature and Culture. By Bernadette Andrea. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017. Pp. xii + 250.

Bernadette Andrea's Lives of Girls and Women from the Islamic World in Early Modern British Literature and Culture seeks to illuminate the crucial role Islamic girls and women played in the shaping of English imperial identity during the age of discovery. Through a close study of these figures within extant (European) accounts, Andrea draws them out from the margins to bring focus to their presence within England and to demonstrate how their lives informed the diplomatic and literary ambitions of England's most elite women. Andrea "resituat[es]" (3) these girls and women in the center of scholarly discourse, challenging current attitudes in early modern scholarship that claim a dearth of material surrounding such figures. Though they did not produce trade documents, memoirs, or other material artifacts that we know of, the "traces" (3) they leave behind within extant European diplomatic, literary, and visual materials provide a meaningful way of assessing the impact they had at the time of their travels, enslavement, and residence.

After providing an overview in chapter 1 of the lives of the Islamic girls and women who drive the critical inquiry of her book, Andrea employs her expert [End Page 261] archival research and close textual analysis to model how scholars can begin excavating the forgotten or marginalized stories English texts already communicate about these figures. Andrea argues that the Islamic girls and women who were brought to England "informed the negotiation of authorship and authority by two of the era's most important women writers" (38): Queen Elizabeth I and Lady Mary Wroth. These women relied on the stories of Islamic girls and women in order to position themselves as voices of authority within a larger discourse about England's place in the world. English imperial desires, Andrea posits, extend beyond diplomatic discourse when the presence and influence of these Islamic girls and women appear on the early modern stage, where fantasies of imperial expansion are performed through the body of the gendered subaltern.

In chapter 2, Andrea begins her discussion with the English traveler and Muscovy Company agent Anthony Jenkinson, who attempted (and failed) to facilitate an exclusive trade agreement with the Persian shah in the mid-sixteenth century. On his return journey to England, he brought back a gift for his queen: the "Tartar girl" (46) later known as "Ipolita the Tartarian" (47). The human trafficking Jenkinson arranges implicates Elizabeth I within a broader mission; the mercantile mission—in which Ipolita becomes both commodity and traveling body—turns into a protocolonial agenda the queen enacts in order to broaden the boundaries of empire. Wroth, the subject of chapter 3, likewise establishes her authority and authorship, but she does so through her literary ambitions. Pamphilia, the heroine of Wroth's Countesse of Mountgomeries Urania, "aligns with elite women from what Wroth's contemporaries would identify as the Islamic world," which "results in the appropriation of the 'other' woman's voice and effacement of her historical agency" (60). Andrea argues that the representations within Urania of Tartars and Persians specifically advance the larger desire for the empire-building she maps out in chapter 2. With her study of Elizabeth I and Wroth, Andrea underscores the ways in which narratives about Islamic girls and women were mobilized by elite Englishwomen in order to cultivate authority, whether political or literary, in spaces predominately negotiated by men.

The imperial desires articulated in the writings of Elizabeth I and Wroth extended into the world of the theater, where the bodies of the Islamic girls and women whose stories Andrea illuminates became sites of imperial expansion and dominance. Andrea centers her discussion of theater history, audience reception, and gender/race performance on two specific plays: The Comedy of Errors (chapter 4) and Henry VIII (chapter 5). Chapter 4 begins with an account of Lucy Negro, who not only likely sat in the audience...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-3555
Print ISSN
0037-3222
Pages
pp. 261-263
Launched on MUSE
2019-05-09
Open Access
No
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