Travelling in Different Skins Gender Identity in European Women's Oriental Travelogues, 1850-1950

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2012-09-07
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press

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Dunlaith Bird argues thatvagabondage- a physical and textual elaboration of gender identity in motion - emerges as a totemic concept in European women's travel writing from 1850. For travellers including Olympe Audouard, Isabella Bird, Isabelle Eberhardt, and Freya Stark,vagabondageis a means of pushing out the physical, geographical, and textual parameters by which 'women' are defined. Travelling in Different Skinsexplores the negotiations of European women travel writers from 1850-1950 within the traditionally male-oriented discourses of colonialism and Orientalism. Moving from historical overview to close textual reading, it traces a complex web of tacit collusion and gleeful defiance. These women improvise access to the highly gendered 'imaginative geography' of the Orient. Tactics including cross-dressing, commerciality, and the effacement of their male companions are used to carve out a space for their unconventional and often sexually-hybrid constructions. Using a composite theoretical basis of the later critical work of Judith Butler and Edward Said, this comparative study of British and French colonial empires and gender norms draws out the nuances in these travellers' constructions of gender identity. Women travel writers are shown to play an important role in the legacy of sexual experimentation and self-creation in the Orient, traditionally associated with male writers including Gide and Pierre Loti, and now ripe for critical re-evaluation. This study demonstrates how these women use lived experiences of restriction and negotiation to elaborate advanced theories of motion and gender construction, presaging the concerns of twenty-first century feminism and post-colonialism.

Author Biography

Dr Dunlaith Bird is Maitre de langue at the Ecole normale superieure, Paris, where she teaches courses on Irish culture, history, and literature, travel writing, post-colonial and gender studies, and translation. She studied English and French at St. Catherine's College, Oxford University, and was awarded her doctorate by Oxford University in 2009. She has published articles on Isabelle Eberhardt and cross-dressing, women's travel writing and commerciality, and Samuel Beckett and textual interstices. In 2010 she organised the Beckett Between International Conference at the Ecole normale superieure, and has acted as Guest Editor for Samuel Beckett Today: Aujourd'hui. She is the 2008 winner of the Wallace Watson Award, and has twice retraced the route of Isabella Bird's Unbeaten Tracks in Japan (1880), filming a documentary on the topic with NHK in Japan in August 2011.

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