The Changing Role of Women in Bengal, 1849-1905


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Basing her work on Bengali-language sources, such as women’s journals, private papers, biographies, and autobiographies, Meredith Borthwick approaches the lives of women in nineteenth-century Bengal from a new standpoint. She moves beyond the record of the heated debates held by men of this period—over matters such as widow burning, child marriage, and female education—to explore the effects of changes in society on the lives of women and to question assumptions about “advances” prompted by British rule.

Focusing on the wives, mothers, and daughters of the English-educated Bengali professional class, Dr. Borthwick contends that many reforms merely substituted a restrictive British definition of womanhood for traditional Hindu norms. The positive gains for women—increased physical freedom, the acquisition of literacy, and limited entry to nondomestic work—often brought unforeseen negative consequences, such as a reduction in autonomy and power in the household.

Originally published in 1984.

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