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English major writes about her honors thesis under the guidance of Chris Phillips, assistant professor of English

For her honors thesis, Cary Marshall ’09 (Rockville, Md.) is looking for similarities and differences in Indian literature written by women in the 19th century and British literature written by women at the same time. The English major is working under the guidance of Chris Phillips, assistant professor of English.

The 1800s were a time of great change in India, with colonialism in full swing and the changes it created beginning to take effect. Especially in the elite classes and castes, Indians were beginning to adapt to more British ways of life, whether it be in what they read, how they dressed, or how they acted.

As a group, women, especially elite women, were beginning to be “emancipated” from what the British saw as oppressive Indian culture, and cultivated into what the British regarded as properly educated women. Under these circumstances, it would seem probable that both Indian women’s literature and British women’s literature written at the time would have deep and telling similarities.

For my thesis, I am comparing different forms of literature written by these newly emancipated and educated Indian women to works by established British female authors: namely, Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, and Elizabeth Barret Browning. I am also focusing a great deal on pieces found in both British and Indian periodicals, since journals and magazines played such a large role in 19th century print culture.

I hope to glean both the similarities and differences in what these women were writing and what topics they were writing about. I am looking at language, themes, genres, characterization, and even page layout. In studying these different works, I expect to see similarities across each of these areas.

Specifically, I hope to see the early incarnations of the fabled “new woman,” or the woman with self-assertive independent ideals so talked about in the late 19th and early 20th century, in works from both countries. I am also, however, focusing on the inherent differences between works from these two countries. How do they differ? Is it obvious? Are the differences clearly cultural? And, finally, what do these differences indicate about the pervasiveness of colonial hegemony in India, specifically Indian women’s education?

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