Alison Blunt's Embodying War: British Women In The Indian 'Mutiny'

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While Britain had control over India, there was a Great Rebellion by the Indian public in 1857. Even though this rebellion was quickly and ruthlessly stopped, the British people were left feeling as if their power over India was diminished. This vulnerable feeling can be seen in their representation of British women as symbols of honor during this tumultuous period, as they used this ideology to justify their own merciless rebuttal of the rebellion. This justification is studied in Alison Blunt’s essay, Embodying war: British women and domestic defilement in the Indian ‘Mutiny’, 1857-8, as she examines the representation of British women at both Cawnpore and Lucknow. During and after this tumultuous period, the British feminist movement used …show more content…
They were representations of imperialist Britain’s greatness, as “the presence of a defenseless British wife and mother [embodied] the severity of this threat to domestic, national, and imperial power” (Blunt, 407). Due to the British women being depicted as these beacons of honor, when the news of their victimization by Indian men reached England, it caused a major uproar within the community. However, as Blunt shows, it was not the harm that came to the women as people that caused the outrage as much as it was the harm that came to what the women represented. An example of this is the news reports and images that the British public received about the deaths of 210 British women and children at Cawnpore. Blunt states, “Although the first soldiers and officers to reach Cawnpore saw the bodies of British women and children, later eyewitnesses were only able to view the room where they were held captive and killed” (413). What the women represented did not require their presence for it to be upheld, and in fact, it discouraged it. A second example that exemplifies the hindrance of women’s physical presence in what they represented is the lack of news reports about 240 women being held captive at Lucknow. As Blunt states, “Unlike the detailed accounts of British women as victims at Cawnpore, newspaper reports remained largely silent about the place of British women …show more content…
As Blunt states, the women were, “positioned as Christian, feminine, and bourgeois ‘agents of mercy’ and moral responsibilities… as moral guardians of familial, national, and imperial honour” (410-411). This British feminist movement is examined further in Burton’s essay as she states, “Rather than overturning the Victorian feminine ideal, early feminist theorists used it to justify female involvement in the public sphere by claiming that the exercise of woman’s moral attributes was crucial to social improvement” (138). Honor, in this instance, was not used as a tool of British feminine repression, but as a tool of feminine agency. Even though the British woman was unquestionably the weaker sex in the public, they were also endowed with inherent qualities of purity, spirituality, and moral superiority. To argue against their predisposition to understandings of morality would be to argue against ideals that were being used to justify spiteful vengeance against the Indian public among other imperialist ideals. Also, British women, as they argued, were “mothers of the race,” and because they were as important as men were in child-rearing, they deserved to be equally represented in the government of British people. However, while honor was used as a tool of feminist power, it was not

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