Thursday, September 7, 2006

Women writing India

Being a bookie, I of course am thrilled by Google's digitization of books in the public domain. Been exploring a bit, and have found some gems of colonial writing by women (a fascination for which I developed as an undergrad malcontent double majoring in gender studies -- Rumer Godden, what what?).

Cutch: Or, Random Sketches, Taken During a Residence in One of the Northern Provinces of Western India
By Marianne Young

"I should infer, that a Cutchee woman, under the influence of social circumstances more congenial to the development of female character, might become a very fascinating ornament of society. Unfortunately, however, they are condemned to every description of menial drudgery; and, condemned as they are by their indolent masters, it is almost a matter of surprise that the impulse afforded by mere female vanity should prove sufficiently strong to induce them to braid their hair, and ornament their persons with the care which is every where evident. Were it possible for a Hindu woman to feel herself an object of regard to the other sex -- could she once learn to estimate her own worth, in creation's scale -- could her full dark eye beam with intelligence, and her lips speak the language of feeling, she would yield to few in attractiveness and grace, and to none, perhaps, in the native gentleness of her character, and the simple elegance of her general deportment. Separated, however, as these women are from the advantages of civilized opinion, the taste of the observer is pained to see so much artless grace enslaved by ignorance, and so much beauty condemned to the most filthy and disgusting labours." (1837; p. 276-277)

Setting aside the various issues -- otherness, the concept of civilization, religious aspects, racialized language, etc. -- I find this intriguing and, might I say, a bit progressive (hey, at least she acknowledges the tremendous capacity of Indian women to endure and make the best of situations in which they are somewhat degraded). She's a victim of her age, but at least Young isn't disgusted by the women, calling them ugly, etc.

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