UNSW Canberra

Publication Search Results

Now showing 1 - 1 of 1
  • (2022) Schwirtlich, Anne-Marie
    Following the 1857-1858 Mutiny and its expression of Indian hostility to British rule, the British response included the formal transition of power, in 1858, from the British East India Company to the Crown. A significant increase in the size of the British population - driven by an increase in the number of British soldiers stationed in India - accompanied this shift in governance. The Mutiny, for the first time, required British authorities and the British public to deal with a significant number of British widows. These women were a stark visual reminder of personal and national vulnerability and of Britain's military failure. The subsequent four decades saw the consolidation of, and the growth in opposition to, British authority in India, and the fashioning of Britain's imperial narrative. Articulations of the purpose of British rule of India focused on Britain's advanced status, its strength (economically, legally, politically, educationally, and morally), and on the benefits India, in turn, would derive from British rule. The success of the narrative required the British in India to exemplify this purpose, status, and strength. This thesis argues that British women widowed in India between 1860 and 1900 were emblematic of the vulnerability, failure, and cost of Britain's presence in India. The fact of their widowhood and their behaviour while in India could tarnish, if not threaten, Britain's narrative of superiority by their critique of British rule, and by their indigence, lack of industry or immorality. An analysis is made of the cultural expectations of widows and the manner in which fiction, advice manuals, consolatory literature and policy marked the boundaries of acceptable behaviour and set the parameters to 'manage' widows. This is complemented by close research of the experiences of a cohort of 260 British women widowed in India between 1860 and 1900. The exploration of the interplay between societal expectations and the ways in which widows accepted, accommodated, adapted, or exploited these expectations illuminates our understanding of gender in British imperialism. This study concludes that while a few widows openly challenged societal expectations and conventions, or simply operated outside them feeling little obligation to model imperial behaviour, most widows found elements of the conventions sufficiently useful and elastic to forge lives of purpose and meaning.