Writing the Other, Writing the Self: British Travelogues and Iranian Women’s Life Writing, 1890s-1920s
MetadataShow full item record
This dissertation examines the ways that Iranian women’s writing deployed and reshaped the life narrative form to suit the social milieu of early twentieth-century Iran. In terms of scope, this project examines British women’s travelogues written between the 1890s and 1920s as well as writings by Iranian women from the same time period. This genealogical framework can, I argue, inform contemporary transnational feminist debates in light of the growing marketability of Middle Eastern women’s life narratives in the Western literary market. Chapter 2 explores the dual work that representations of Iranian womanhood performed in British women’s travelogues in terms of both documenting the Oriental Other and relationally defining the self. As this chapter shall discuss, to the female British travelers writing between the 1890s and 1920s, the travelogue – which occupied an important place in England’s colonial project – provided ample opportunity for self-exploration. In this context, representations of the Iranian Other came to serve as a counterpoint against which the narrator’s image of an autonomous, liberated self could be textually enhanced. Chapter 3 analyzes Astarābādī’s Ma’āyib-i Rijāl (1894) and the memoir of Tāj us-Saltanih (c. 1914), both of which were autobiographical and drew upon the author’s personal life experiences as grounds from which to broach broader social issues such as women’s rights and reform. This chapter illustrates how the textual and ideological ambivalences of Tāj’s memoir were rooted in the growing influence of Eurocentric prejudices that promulgated cultural misrepresentations of Iran as backward and corrupt. Chapter 4 is divided into two parts. Part 1 explores the ways that the early women’s journals of the 1910s legitimized women’s rights to publication by adopting the eugenic elements of Iran’s nationalist discourses and emphasizing the role that women would play in the modernization of the nation. Part 2 examines how (both male and female) contributors to the late-1920s journal Peyk-i Sa’ādat-i Nisvān adopted the rhetorical potentials of the first-person narrative form to address collective issues of reform and national progress. As this chapter demonstrates, the strategic use of women’s narratives alerts us to the potential limits of the “genuine” use of the first-person voice.