Heidi Hutner. Colonial Women: Race and Culture in Stuart Drama.
The book is a fascinating exploration of early modern representations of "woman" as a metaphor of the New World. Focusing on seventeenth-century England, with an emphasis on the constructions and intersections of race and gender in Restoration drama and historical accounts, Hutner demonstrates how English patriarchy identifies and reconstructs "itself over the body of the native woman or the European woman who has gone native" (3). The woman-as-land metaphor, which depicts the New World as a pliant and desiring female body, has a dual function in Restoration plays and discourses: it facilitates the promotion of England's "appropriation, commodification, and exploitation" of the cultures and inhabitants of the New World, and it alleviates the anxieties of white male subjects about colonization, expansion, and patriarchal authority. Hutner's application of interdisciplinary scholarship is exemplary. She interweaves early modern historical narratives, political discourses, and myths in her trenchant literary analyses of the representations of colonization in Stuart drama. She also brings to our attention a number of important and previously neglected literary and extra-literary texts.
Although Hutner's primary interest is in Restoration drama, particularly plays by John Dryden, William Davenant, and Aphra Behn, the study begins with an examination of how early seventeenth-century plays that inscribe English colonialist ideologies elucidate Restoration playwrights' revisions and adaptations of colonialist metaphors of the New World. Chapter 1 argues that the myth of Pocahontas, which tells the story of Pocahontas' love of a white man, her self-sacrifice, marriage, and conversion, underwrites early and late seventeenth-century dramatic portrayals of colonialism, including plays in which the myth of Pocahontas is only implied. Although Pocahontas represents both a "threatening and benevolent" other, her story needs to be "repeatedly restaged" because in her embodiment of "sexual chaos" and savagery (18) in need of taming, she justifies English colonialism. The chapter goes on to illustrate how Shakespeare's and Fletcher's inscriptions of the myth, in The Tempest and The Sea Voyage respectively, reflect a larger cultural appropriation of Pocahontas as a metaphor of the possibility of the triumph of colonialism.
Chapter 2 provides timely and insightful readings of Restoration revisions of The Tempest that were popular in their day but that have been largely neglected by modern scholars. Hutner demonstrates how the Restoration Tempests attest to the need for a reassessment of the relation between "European expansionism" (22), Restoration political ideologies, and the impact of colonialism on late seventeenth-century cultural constructions of gender, race, and class. Chapter 3 situates two plays by Dryden, namely The Indian Queen (1664), a collaboration with Robert Howard, and its sequel The Indian Emperour (1665), in the evolving colonialist discourses and "constructions of sex, love, and honor" (65). Like The Tempest and its earlier Restoration redactions, the two plays' appropriations of Native American culture and the figure of the sexually rapacious Indian woman sanction colonization, deflecting English political instability and fragmentation. Chapter 4 deftly explores how Behn's The Widow Ranter, or The History of Bacon in Virginia (ca. 1688-89) modifies and "distorts ... in disturbing and complex ways" (99) historical narratives of Nathaniel Bacon's rebellion in the Virginia colony (1675-76) and the dethroning of James II in the 1680s. Central to Behn's alterations is her foregrounding of the anxieties attending seventeenth-century stage representations of "the other woman" (105). The Widow Ranter reveals that for the native woman being gazed at and being represented on stage has profoundly "dangerous consequences"; for white women, the theatrical impersonation of the Indian woman has the same "dangerous" effects "as 'going native' in the real world" (106).
In the afterword, Hutner notes that the ambivalence attending the figure of Pocahontas, "interracial romance," and the woman-as-land metaphor has survived in our own day in "white American cultural texts," especially in American television programs and films, confirming "our ongoing anxieties about the blurring of gender, race, culture, and ethnicity" (109).
Although there has been considerable growth in recent years in the scholarship on the representation of women and race in early modern texts and discourses, the intersections of colonialism, race, and gender in Restoration drama have not drawn much attention. Hutner's analyses and provocative argumentation make Colonial Women a timely and groundbreaking book.
Wilfrid Laurier University
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2003|
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