Survival and Acceptance in Flora Annie Steel's On the Face of the Waters: A Tale of the Mutiny

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Journal Article

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Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies


In 1896 Anglo-Indian novelist Flora Annie Steel published On the Face of the Waters: A Tale of the Mutiny, a novel that interrogates what it meant to be an unchaperoned British woman during the 1857 Uprisings.(1) Steel’s novel challenges conceptually dominant Victorian ideologies of race, gender, and the home while illuminating the complicated position that Victorian women held in India as racially superior yet gendered and subordinate. The text speaks directly to the colonial administration, the cultural differences perpetuated by the popular ideology of the white man’s burden, and the burgeoning feminist movement of the late nineteenth century. Kate Erlton, Steel’s protagonist, embraces Hindu practices as she seeks protection from the sepoy rebels, and Alice Gissing, a married woman, flaunts her sexuality through a public affair with Kate’s husband. These two women represent the diverse physical and intellectual positions Anglo-Indian women inhabited, and the novel illustrates the restrictive nature of Victorian mores, encouraging social change by portraying women who successfully take control of their own lives, even in the face of mortal danger. On the Face of the Waters portrays Anglo-Indian women who challenge gender, cultural, and racial stereotypes, representing an altered colonial relationship and creating a new Uprising narrative.

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