Major Department



College of Liberal Arts & Sciences


BA (Bachelor of Arts)

Session and Year of Graduation

Spring 2019

Honors Major Advisor

Kathleen Diffley

Thesis Mentor

Florence Boos


By the late nineteen century, Englishwomen had established themselves in India in considerable numbers, gaining the sobriquet, memsahib (female superior), seen as a stereotyped English woman, concerned only with her material home and social life. However as the century progressed Anglo-Indians rose in social status, adopting the same demands for education and sexual independence along with the “New Women” of England. Their concern with independence, respect, and intellectualism can be seen in Victorian Indian novels as India becomes a space where people push against the social norms of Britain. Yet this space is also highly segregated, only leaving room for white English women to break their oppression. New Woman novels often champion racial segregation and “purity” in the domestic sphere, complicating the feminist ideal.

In this project, I examine two New Woman novels within India and by contrast two novels by an Indian author set in Britain. While the New Woman in Anglo-Indian novels was often glorified, the racist roots of the authors have been left untouched. I will consider the space that India provides for the female writers and characters, along with what the writers consider to be a New Woman and her interaction with the wider world. This also leads to the question of mixed race children, and these novels reveal that the imperialist New Woman ideal goes hand in hand with racial purity, so that mixed-race children are killed. Of the four New Women novels examined, the first, Anna Lombard (1901), appears to break racial segregation, only to reinforce it through the heroine’s second British marriage and the death of her first Anglo-Indian child. The second, On the Face of the Waters (1896), reflects on Britain’s rise to power through the Great Mutiny, shifting the focus to the domestic sphere and the racism instilled within. Finally, as an Indian native, Toru Dutt’s novels, Bianca or the Young Spanish Maiden (1878) and Le Journal de Mademoiselle d’Arvers (1879), present an anti-colonialist perspective on the domestic sphere and intersection of cultures, subverting the imperialist New Woman narrative and its resolution. These novels form a conversation about death and grief as well as revealing the New Woman’s role in imperialist India, with the Indian writer “writing back” against the assumptions of the Anglo-Indian women novelists.

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Copyright © 2019 McKenna Coon