Gendered transactions

The white woman in colonial India, c. 1820–1930

By Indrani Sen

Gendered transactions


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Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-0-7190-8962-6
  • Pages: 240
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £80.00
  • Published Date: February 2017
  • BIC Category: Ethnic Studies, Society & social sciences / Gender studies: women, Indian sub-continent, Humanities / History, HISTORY / Asia / India & South Asia, SOCIAL SCIENCE / Women's Studies, SOCIAL SCIENCE / Gender Studies, POLITICAL SCIENCE / Colonialism & Post-Colonialism, HISTORY / General, Humanities / 20th century history: c 1900 to c 2000, Humanities / Modern history to 20th century: c 1700 to c 1900, Humanities / Colonialism & imperialism, History, History, Gender studies: women & girls, Colonialism & imperialism, SOCIAL SCIENCE / Ethnic Studies / General
  • Series: Studies in Imperialism


This book seeks to capture the complex experience of the white woman in colonial India through an exploration of gendered interactions over the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It examines missionary and memsahibs' colonial writings, both literary and non-literary, probing their construction of Indian women of different classes and regions, such as zenana women, peasants, ayahs and wet-nurses.

Also examined are delineations of European female health issues in male authored colonial medical handbooks, which underline the misogyny undergirding this discourse. Giving voice to the Indian woman, this book also scrutinises the fiction of the first generation of western-educated Indian women who wrote in English, exploring their construction of white women and their negotiations with colonial modernities.

This fascinating book will be of interest to the general reader and to experts and students of gender studies, colonial history, literary and cultural studies as well as the social history of health and medicine.


'Sen combines her various research areas in the field . from the perspective of "gendered transactions" over . diverse topics such as missionary and civilizing mission by white women, social reform and women's education, English-speaking Literature of female actors and the complex relationships between British and Indian women and the memsahib. The various sources . are remarkable. memoirs, letters, diaries, biographies, newspaper articles, novels, household manuals and medical guides. . Sen makes an important contribution to the feminist historiography of colonial India by placing the diverse voices of European and Indian women at the center of their analysis.'
Manju Ludwig, Heidelberg, H.Soz. Cult (trans.)

'Sen's book has presented an extremely accessible account of white womens' experiences from the zenana to the colonial home to the barracks, all within an intricate web of gender, race and class relations.'
Zoya Sameen, University of Chicago, Social History

'Sen brings out a perspective that is often doubly neglected in writings on India: the voice of colonised women.Sen's research uses an impressively wide array of sources, which is particularly apparent in her work in the colonial archives digging up medical manuals available to colonial doctors, Sen demonstrates how resolutely imperial and prescriptive of women's roles they were.The analysis of these transactions is useful and revealing. Sen's work is a good reminder that white women in India did not work and live entirely separately from Indian life. They were also, crucially, not the only ones who were imagining the world around them, and Sen's work on 'Returning the 'gaze' across the racial divide is particularly welcome.'
James Watts, University of Bristol, Ex-Historia


Indrani Sen is Associate Professor in the Department of English at Sri Venkateswara College, Delhi University


Part I: The white woman and the 'civilising mission'
1. The missionary 'gaze' and the 'civilising mission': zenana encounters in nineteenth-century Bengal
2. Flora Annie, social reform and female education in late nineteenth-century Punjab
3. Returning the 'gaze': colonial encounters in Indian women's English writings in late nineteenth-century western India
Part II: Colonial domesticity, white women's health and gender disadvantage
4. The ambivalences of power inside the colonial home: memsahibs, ayahs and wet nurses
5. Marginalising the memsahib: the white woman's health issues in colonial medical writings
6. The colonial 'female malady': European women's mental health and addiction in the late nineteenth century
Select bibliography

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