Women occupied a unique social space in colonial India. Unlike British men, they did not make political decisions, build roads and bridges, or serve in the army. They were instead expected to manage the household and support their husbands in whatever way was needed to contribute to the maintenance of a smoothly-working imperial project. However, there were many British “memsahibs” who took their observations of empire a step further. Unburdened from the daily political and administrative pressures of running a colony the size of India and having more time to spend at leisure, socializing with other women and encountering Indian natives in the local markets and bazaars, many British women communicated these first-hand observations in a body of literature that has been undervalued by scholars who generally dismiss them as “lady romancers,” while ignoring what their works can tell us about how the British saw themselves and those they colonized.
In keeping with this year’s theme of “Text as Memoir: Tales of Travel, Immigration, and Exile,” this special session examines how these “lady romancers” can also be read as cultural commentators. What do their works tell us about the colonial presence in India? How did their observations of native peoples and landscape differ from traditional male narratives? In what ways do their personal reminiscences complicate the “official” history of the British in India? How can we read their work through the lens of postcolonial theory? Possible topics include subversive elements in Anglo-Indian popular romances, memoirs as cultural/political statements on the British presence in India, women’s travel narratives while journeying across the subcontinent, and housekeeping guides as cultural artifacts. Contributions that highlight the wide-range of women’s writing during the Raj period, from memoirs and personal journals to periodical publications and fictional works, are welcome.
The Convention will be held November 9-11, 2012, at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel and Convention Center, Research Triangle Park, Durham, NC. By June 10, please submit paper proposals of no more than 500 words (along with a short bio) to Melissa Makala, University of South Carolina, at email@example.com.
Proposers need not be members of SAMLA to submit, but panelists must be members in order to present.