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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Splitting the stereotrope : reading women in colonial texts Vann Struth, Elissa


Splitting the Stereotrope: Reading Women in Colonial Texts explores gendered communication through a process of discourse analysis. A historical reconstruction of the life of Maharani Baiza Bai (1784-1863) allows for investigating concepts of voice, agency, and hegemony of the colonial subject. Through use of a variety of textual materials, including travel narratives and government records, we are able to challenge certain assumptions surrounding the nature of colonial interaction on levels of gender, class, and race. The organizing doctrine of public and private spheres, the Self/Other schism central to theorizing Orientalism, and the colonizer/colonized framework for imperialist rhetoric are the specific themes that will be examined during the course of this thesis. Thus, the goals of this thesis are threefold. Firstly, to construct a history of the Maharani Baiza Bai that uses available texts from the period. Placing the Bai in time by providing brackets of fact and record will help to answer some of the following questions. Who was she? What did she do? What are the organizing tropes against which she is read? Does the historical record provide the opportunity to argue convincingly for evidence of her voice and agency? Secondly, this thesis will identify and theorize the female colonial narrators who record their meetings with Baiza Bai - specifically, Fanny Parks, Emily Eden and Fanny Eden. By directing the gaze back at the narrators we are able to interrogate our colonizing women , placing them witMn a postcolonial framework where the facts of empirical history and the theories of colonial discourse meet. This encompasses delving behind the screen oi purdah and exploring life in the ,%enana, particularly as recorded by the female colonial. Thirdly, this analysis will reexamine and evaluate the nature of imperialism and Orientalism from a gendered perspective. Questions surrounding the female figure as an icon of imperialism and as a sexualized metaphor central to Orientalism should be addressed. Does Orientalism differ when viewed from the female perspective? What theoretical extensions can be developed from this re-evaluation? The use of enduring binary categories to read and interpret historical texts as a series of dualities: Self/Other, Colonizer/Colonized, Brown/White, Ruler/Subaltern, Man/Woman, Public/Private, has imposed an artificially structured paradigm on an ambiguous series of subject positions. For the purpose of this thesis, the word "stereotrope" has been utilized in reference to these dualities. Stereotrope means a trope or allegory of understanding that has been overused to the point where it has become part of a fixed conceptual framework. Stereotrope extends beyond the notion of a stereotype by challenging not only the content of the metaphor but its inherent binary structure. Reading colonial era texts against themselves holds potential for splitting the stereotrope and provides fertile ground for a reinvigorated and inclusive post-colonial narrative.

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