- The Lives of Girls and Women from the Islamic World in Early Modern British Literature and Culture by Bernadette Andrea
This book constitutes an important intervention in the still often male-oriented, and male-dominated, discussions that centre on Christian interactions in the early modern Islamic world, as Bernadette Andrea aims to recover the traces of female lives in these exchanges. This is no mean feat, given the hundreds of years of women being written out of archives and histories. Andrea is no stranger to making such contributions to a field that her previous work, perhaps most notably Women and Islam in Early Modern English Literature (Cambridge University Press, 2007; reprinted 2009), has already greatly ameliorated. The Lives of Girls and Women is again overwhelmingly successful, and an impressive depth of archival research is coupled here with convincingly argued theoretical groundings, where Gayatri Spivak's subaltern dominates. Due attention is paid to Edward Said and Orientalism as that school of theory applies to what were "proto-imperialist," "protoorientalist," or "paracolonial" moments in England (these fraught terms are not left dangling and are all critically explained in the introduction before being revisited later, typifying the book's admirable clarity). Connections to a wide span of literary works, from Shakespeare, Mary Wroth, and John Dryden to the Gesta Grayorum and court revelry, are genuinely illuminating, as are the readings of the rich tissue of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century travel literature.
The book focuses on case studies of five women from the Islamic world – or Dar al-Islam, to use Andrea's preferred term – whose impact on British culture and literature forms the basis of the assertions made within: Elen More, Lucy Negro, Ipolita the Tartarian, Teresa Sampsonia, and Marian Khanim. These figures share a number of commonalities and connections: More and Negro with likely similar roots in West Africa before accruing a certain amount of fame in Scotland and England with resonances in court pageantry and Shakespeare, respectively; Ipolita, similarly, an "acquisition" whose presence in England was doubtless a result of the influence of the slave trade and whose intended use was as a "human pet"; and Sampsonia and Khanim, early seventeenth-century wives of prominent Englishmen, their mobility taking them to England at around the same time, exposing them to "multiple [End Page 168] positions of subalternity" along the way. The chapters take each case study in hand, one by one, detailing the particularities of each, before drawing on various media – "historical documents, literary works, and visual sources" – to facilitate instructive analysis and comparison. Each woman's story is a fascinating tale in its own right, making the book an enjoyable encounter as well as an informative read.
Not only are these case studies informative and enlightening glimpses into a hitherto obscure set of narratives, but they are also stellar examples of how to conduct thorough and convincing archival research on marginal characters faced with a relative paucity of "hard evidence." One must work harder to recover the lives of these women, veiled by the male-oriented archive. Andrea is aware that she can only gesture in the direction of the reality of the presence of women who came from Dar al-Islam to Britain in its entirety, which perhaps drives the brevity of this work. Yet, as a micro-historical approach based on fragmentary evidence, it is unfailingly effective, and the relatively short length of the book does nothing to hinder the delivery of its argument. This is all whilst interrogating the ideological and material contingencies of the archive.
At a time when a new chauvinist spectre, often donning the guise of academia to maliciously appropriate historical narratives, is becoming increasingly prevalent, Andrea's work is a timely remedy to some prevalent historiographical imbalances. It reclaims narratives and identities that have long been cast by the wayside. It should thus be regarded as crucially informative reading for scholars in the field of early modern cross-cultural encounters and an essential resource for those interested in the lives of...