Domesticity in Colonial India

Domesticity in Colonial India

Product ID: 16554

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Author: Judith E Walsh
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Year: 2004
Language: English
Pages: 253
ISBN/UPC (if available): 0195667972


What did women in the nineteenth century in India learn when men gave them advice? This is the focal question in Judith E Walsh's analysis of advice literature that was very popular in nineteenth century Bengal and elsewhere. She takes a close look at domestic manuals in Bangla that appeared between 1860 and 1900 to illustrate that colonial modernity entered the domain of the personal-the home-in its negotiation of life in British India, and were at the same time part of a global phenomenon.

Walsh uses this body of work to discuss the changing shape of the family--in which women chose to be educated against serious opposition from family members, and in which companionate spouses became the unit-- to point out that such changes were part of the new nineteenth-century world. This was a world in which colony and metropole were increasingly interconnected. In that sense, with the spread of imperial power, a bourgeois European discourse on family life became naturalized even in spaces where modernity was intersected by local caste and class divides.

This book is one of the recent studies which place the personal, emotional, the familial in historical context and highlight the space of the home in the world. In colonial India, the reform agenda was in the process of thrashing out rules governing home and family life, a process fundamentally linked to visions of nation and its components. Such politicization of the private space also meant that women, through advice literature, were offered participation in a 'new patriarchy' which challenged the older order of the joint family, but gave the woman the subordinate position in the new dyadic unit.

Walsh questions the suggestion of acquiescence on the part of women who were at the center of the debate. Through her nuanced reading of sources, she demonstrates how these early struggles are the harbingers of the feminisms of today. What women learned by standing at the various intersections of patriarchy was to re ad, and to speak of issues of identity and agency.

This complex but very readable analysis will be of interest to scholars exploring gender issues of the colonial period, as well as the lay reader curious about the ancestry of modern writings for and by women.






1. Global domesticity.

2. Domesticity in colonial Calcutta.

3. Rewriting patriarchy: the companionate marriage.

4. Will the educated woman still cook and scour plates?

5. What's love got to do with it?

6. The well-ordered home.

7. What women learned: rewriting patriarchy, writing the nation and the self.


Appendix A: Conversations with the Wife (Strir sahit kathopakathan)

Appendix B: A Husband's Advice to His Wife (Strir prati svamir upades)

Appendix C: The Laksmi of the Home (Grha laksmi)

Appendix D: The Duties of Women (Ramanir kartavya)

Appendix E: Woman's Dharma (Nari dharma)

Supporting Translations: A Note on Bengali Domestic Manuals and their Authors