New Frontiers: Women Writers and the British Raj

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Inspired by the 2018 British Women Writers Conference’s invitation to reconsider the work of individuals living at the margins of traditional understandings of nationality and profession, this exhibit highlights the relationship between English-speaking women writers and British rule in India in the late nineteenth and twentieth century. Where India offered an escape from the orthodoxy of Britain to some white women like Amy Carmichael and Marianne North, colonial anxieties regarding racial superiority led many women to act as guardians of traditional British values. At the same time, British rule eroded many Indian cultural practices including its strict patriarchal order. This led to new educational and professional opportunities for Indian women even as it imported new patriarchal and racial ideologies and left them struggling to articulate the new identities imposed on them by colonization. This exhibit attempts to interrogate the colonial implications of the idea of the frontier, acknowledging the importance of the concept as a justification for “civilizing” India. At the same time, the exhibit emphasizes the frontier’s potential as a space at the edge of and even beyond systems of control. Through a mixture of poetry, fiction, scientific, and personal writing, “New Frontiers” speculates on the complex mixture of freedom and disenfranchisement imposed on both British and Indian women writers by the contradictions of Empire.
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