Writing Home: The Making and Shaping of Racialized Bodies in Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century Zenana Narratives

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My paper examines the various ways that nineteenth and early twentieth century zenana narratives are presented and re-presented by British and Indian authors. Focusing on the literary modes of representation of gender, sexuality, race, class, and nation within the zenana – the spaces in Indian homes relegated to women and girls – offers a new paradigm for understanding the gendered dynamics of subject formation both in the metropole and in the British Empire. By framing these narratives within historical and political moments, I discuss the ways that discourses surrounding British domesticity and the zenana become integral to the discourses of empire-making. Instead of a singular master narrative that depicts Indian women as objects in need of rescue, I argue that the rhetoric of the zenana shifts throughout this period, creating discourses that offer assertions of imperial and anti-imperial sentiment – at times even an opportunity for English women to escape masculinist discourses and the male gaze in order to experience different ways of being unavailable to them at home. The relative anonymity of many of these authors provide a unique opportunity to explore the various ways the spectacle of the zenana and the performance of racialized bodies disrupt contemporary notions of subject formation.


Keywords: zenana narratives, Britain and India, colonialism, race and ethnicity, 19th and 20th century
Stream: Literature, Literary Studies
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Writing Home: Gender, Domesticity, and Racialized Bodies in Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century Zenana Narratives


Jenni Keys

Ph.D. Candidate, Department of English, University of California
Riverside, California, USA

Jenni Keys is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of English at the University of California where she teaches courses in the Department of English and the Department of Women's Studies at the Riverside campus. She also teaches courses in English literature and gender studies in the Arts and Letters College at California State University, San Bernardino. Her research interests include Victorian studies, travel narratives, colonialism and postcoloniality, and gender studies.

Ref: H08P0094