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Travelling home and empire British women in India, 1857-1939 Blunt, Alison Mary


This study focuses on the British wives of civil servants and army officers who lived in India from 1857 to 1939 to examine the translation of feminine discourses of bourgeois domesticity over imperial space. Three questions form the subject of this research. First, how were cultures of domesticity and imperialism intertwined in complex and often contradicatory ways over space? Second, did imperial rule, and the travel that it necessarily implied, challenge or reinforce the claim that 'there's no place like home'? Third, how and why were places both like and yet unlike 'home' produced by British women living in India? I start by examining the 'mutiny' of 1857-1858 as a period of domestic and imperial crisis, focusing on representations of and by British women at Cawnpore and Lucknow. Then, considering the place of British women in the post-'mutiny' reconstruction of imperial domesticity in India, I focus on two scales: first, home and empire-making on a household scale; and, second, seasonal travels by British women to hill stations in North India. In their travels both to and within India, British women embodied contested discourses of imperial domesticity. Throughout, I focus on the mobile, embodied subjectivities of memsahibs. While imperial histories have often neglected the roles played by British women in India, revisionist accounts have often reproduced stereotypical and / or celebratory accounts of memsahibs. In contrast, I examine the ambivalent basis of imperial and gendered stereotypes and conceptualise spatialised subjectivities in terms of embodiment, critical mobility, and material performativity. As members of an official elite, the British wives of civil servants and army officers came to embody many of the connections and tensions between domesticity and imperialism. Both during and after the 'mutiny,' the place of British women and British homes in India was contested. The place of British women and British homes in India reveal contradictions at the heart of imperial rule by reproducing and yet destabilizing imperial rule on a domestic scale

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