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"I mean to win": the nautch girl and imperial feminism at the fin de siècle

  • Author / Creator
    Jagpal, Charn Kamal Kaur
  • Grounded in the methodologies of New Historicism, New Criticism, Subaltern Studies, and Colonial Discourse Analysis, this dissertation explores Englishwomen’s fictions of the nautch girl (or Indian dancing girl) at the turn of the century. Writing between 1880 to 1920, and within the context of the women’s movement, a cluster of British female writers—such as Flora Annie Steel, Bithia Mary Croker, Alice Perrin, Fanny Emily Penny and Ida Alexa Ross Wylie—communicate both a fear of and an attraction towards two interconnected, long-enduring communities of Indian female performers: the tawaifs (Muslim courtesans of Northern India) and the devadasis (Hindu temple dancers of Southern India). More specifically, the authors grapple with the recognition that these anomalous Indian women have liberties (political, financial, social, and sexual) that British women do not. This recognition significantly undermines the imperial feminist rhetoric circulating at the time that positioned British women as the most emancipated females in the world and as the natural leaders of the international women’s movement. The body chapters explore the various ways in which these fictional devadasis or tawaifs test imperial feminism, starting with their threat to the Memsahib’s imperial role in the Anglo-Indian home in the first chapter, their seduction of burdened Anglo-Indian domestic women in the second chapter, their terrorization of the British female adventuress in the third chapter, and ending with their appeal to fin-de-siècle dancers searching for a modern femininity in the final chapter. My project is urgent at a time when imperial feminism is becoming the dominant narrative by which we are being trained to read encounters between British and Indian women, at the expense of uncovering alternative readings. I conclude the dissertation by suggesting that the recovery of these alternative readings can be the starting point for rethinking the hierarchies and the boundaries separating First World from Third World feminisms today.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    2011-06
  • Type of Item
    Thesis
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
    https://doi.org/10.7939/R3NG6V
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
    English
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
    Doctoral
  • Department
    • Department of English and Film Studies
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
    • Slemon, Stephen (English and Film Studies)
    • Wallace, Jo-Ann (English and Film Studies; Women's Studies)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Brantlinger, Patrick (English)
    • Qureshi, Regula (Music)
    • Devereux, Cecily (English and Film Studies)
    • Sinnema, Peter (English and Film Studies)