Discourses of Difference: An Analysis of Women's Travel Writing and Colonialism

Discourses of Difference: An Analysis of Women's Travel Writing and Colonialism

Discourses of Difference: An Analysis of Women's Travel Writing and Colonialism

Discourses of Difference: An Analysis of Women's Travel Writing and Colonialism

Synopsis

Unravels the complexities of writings by British women of the `high colonial' period. Sara Mills analyses the writings of three women travellers, extending recent post-colonial and cultural theory in an important and inspiring study.

Excerpt

This book is concerned with the analysis of women’s travel writing in the period of what James Morris calls ‘high imperialism’, roughly demarcated here as the mid-nineteenth century to early twentieth century. (Morris, 1979c: 23). In this period, a new colonial relationship emerged, where formal conquest, annexation and administration became the most common relation between Britain and certain other countries, and Britain declared itself to be an imperial nation (Hobsbawm, 1987). I will be concentrating mainly on the writings of British women travel writers who describe their travels to colonised countries, which I am taking to mean broadly those countries which were under British economic, religious or political control, however loosely that may be defined. Rather than viewing colonialism as a unified phenomenon, I concentrate on the differences of discursive frameworks which the changes in the colonial situation entailed. Critics such as Peter Hulme and Dennis Porter have analysed the heterogeneity in discourse structures within the colonial period, but they have not considered the way that women writers had to negotiate different textual constraints (Hulme, 1986; D. Porter, 1982).

The period of 1850-1930 is the one where British colonial interests in other nations were made most apparent; but how was this colonial strength negotiated in texts by women who were conventionally seen not to be part of the colonial expansion? When I first started studying women’s travel writing, I was surprised at the sheer volume of writing, especially since critics like Worley suggest that ‘very few women broke out of the domestic circle in the nineteenth century to venture into the wider world as self-acknowledged travellers’ (Worley, 1986:40).

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