The Foreign Woman in British Literature: Exotics, Aliens, and Outsiders

The Foreign Woman in British Literature: Exotics, Aliens, and Outsiders

The Foreign Woman in British Literature: Exotics, Aliens, and Outsiders

The Foreign Woman in British Literature: Exotics, Aliens, and Outsiders

Synopsis

While England has been strengthened by a proud isolationism, she has simultaneously been enriched by the economic, social, and political complexities that have emerged as people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds have moved within her borders, or when her own citizens have emigrated among those foreigners to live or rule. This book explores the foreign element in English culture and the attempt by English writers from the early 19th to the mid 20th century to portray their complex and often ambiguous responses to that doubly foreign element among them: the foreign woman. While being foreign may begin with national or ethnic difference, the contributors to this book expand it to include other forms of alienation from a dominant culture, resulting from gender, race, class, ideology, or temperament.

Excerpt

Books have diverse origins. This collection began, in an important way, in the editor's personal experience, but as it evolved, it engaged both the personal and literary interests of many others.

My interest in the foreign woman is attributable chiefly to two factors in my family background. First, my mother, by American standards, is a foreign woman. She was born and raised in London, and in spite of over fifty years of being married to an American, she retains both the speech and mannerisms of the English. When I was growing up, for example, teatime became the single most predictable daily event. It still is. It occurs at four o'clock sharp and is accompanied by biscuits and conversation. During December festivities, Christmas crackers always began the holiday meal, and until recently, when my nieces declared their unqualified aversion, plum pudding was served as dessert. My mother is the only person I know who can knit intricate patterns without looking (a talent developed from her days at convent school) and who refuses to discuss the future of the royal family because to do so would be to acknowledge the institution's vulnerability to change. My mother's character and talents as a homemaker flavored our childhood with the pleasures that come from blending two cultures in one home.

Second, my father's career in the American Civil Service brought our family into contact with people from all over the world. Some of my earliest childhood memories include dinner parties for friends and employees of the Voice of America, for which my father was then director (1956-1958), at our home in Arlington, Virginia. Guests brought their native dishes of Indian curry, Korean spare ribs, or French escargot. We enjoyed their native costumes, songs, and language. They shared their culture and their lives, often entrusting to us insights about the personal and political complexities of their experience in America. Six years in Paris, France, while my father served as Public Affairs . . .

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