When the Wandering Traveler Speaks: The Narrative Poetics of Early Anglo-Indian Women's Travel Writing
Type of Degreedissertation
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Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British women who traveled to and wrote about India have been examined and analyzed as many things—imperial colluders, pseudo-feminists, ethnographers, missionaries, and sexual objects—but rarely as literary writers. My dissertation examines these writers’ contributions to the development and evolution of the travel writing genre, one of the most popular literary forms in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain. Between 1757 and 1857, the period that is widely referred to as “the century of East India Company rule,” the travel writing genre underwent an enormous shift in its purpose and production. Prior to 1757, the travel writing field was dominated by scientific explorers, economic explorers, and wealthy leisure travelers, almost all of whom were men. These travelers prided themselves on writing depersonalized accounts that minimized the role of the individual and instead focused on presenting objective information. Gradually, as even distant lands became well-traveled, writers had to become more creative in how they marketed and presented their narratives. Borrowing and adapting techniques and strategies employed in fiction and other literary genres, Anglo-Indian women travelers, including Maria Graham, Fanny Parks, and Madeline and Rosalind Wallace-Dunlop, began emphasizing people over place by focusing on individuals they met and developing their own narrative personas, which would have been considered egotistical earlier in the period. The traditional non-fiction travel narrative, typically composed of letters or journal entries, also became more structured and plot-driven as women moved away from forms of immediate writing towards more retrospective forms, such as the chapter memoir. Women travel writers also used paratextual components, such as title pages, tables of contents, and descriptive page headers, to establish their authority and credibility as reliable narrators; to emphasize the truth, utility, and originality of their narratives; and to exhibit their knowledge and understanding of the genre’s literary roots. While early in the century women tended to publish less personal forms of writing, such as fiction and drama, about India rather than travel writing, by the mid-nineteenth century, travel accounts dominated the Anglo-Indian literary market.