Library Dissertation Showcase

Reinforcing and Challenging Gender Identities and Stereotypes in Representations of the Indian Mutiny, 1857-1858

  • Year of Publication:
  • 2019

Nineteenth century British portrayals of women in the 1857 to 1858 Indian Mutiny are a wealthy source for examining the construction of colonial gender identities, yet little literature devoted to them exists. Using the work of Blunt who argues of a ‘defilement of domesticity’, and the consequent writings of De Groot, this study uses new evidence from the years 1857 to 1859 to further some of their ideas while challenging others. This postcolonial study will look at themes revolving around gender and class in the context of Empire to focus on representations of women in Mutiny depictions. White women as the victims of native savagery will be considered in relation to the ideas of domestic defilement to build Sharpe’s ideas that British female victims became a symbol for vengeance. The absence of females in depictions of the Cawnpore Massacre will be argued to be a visual device which let viewers decide the female fate, as well turning the grounds of the Massacre into a site of mourning in collective memory. A comparison of the events which transpired at Cawnpore and Lucknow suggest that women were able to defy gender norms in order to represent the attack of domesticity on the Empire, while conformation of gender roles portrayed the reassertion of British rule. The lack of scholarship about depictions of Indian females in the discourse of Mutiny will be addressed, putting forward the idea that Indian women were depicted in two ways; hyper-sexualised to represent India as subdued after the Mutiny and as what Sen describes as the ‘faithful ayah’ in order to portray them as non-white supporters of Empire. Ultimately, this study tackles the complex constructions of colonial gender identities, while considering complications of race and the audience of the middle-class male viewer at home.

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