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Bodies and Gender in the Annual
Close reading and computational exploration of gendered bodies
Early in our team's research, we explored gendered bodies in The Bengal Annual. We used both digital tools and traditional analysis to comb through the contents for references to women and body parts. Using Voyant Tools, we conducted many experiments, but included here is one that shows the instances of the word "her" and instances of the word "his" in the annual. Below these lists is a manually constructed list of where and how women and women's bodies are represented in the annual.
The pronouns "his" and "her" are interesting points of departure for further literary investigation, and have interesting links to the team's manual findings.
Aside from the fact that there are 894 instances of "he" and just 275 of "her," the lists below show that women are described as possessing things like "beauty" and different parts of the body in two-thirds of cases. Men are described in terms of their body parts in some cases, but they also possess "career," "contributions," "country," etc.
In combination, computational and traditional approaches to analyzing text help us move beyond the obvious finding that there is gender inequity and objectification of women in the annual, and towards a better system for 1) digging deeper into examples of gender representation in the annual's language and 2) learning which patterns of gender representation recur. We might be able to move toward a more systematic understanding of gender dynamics in 1830, in context of colonization. For example, how can we use the manual discovery that women are often blamed for negative occurrences to mold new data-driven inquiries? How might we reframe positive or negative sentiments in the annual in terms of gendered narrative agency?
Manual findings related to bodies and gender throughout the annual:
"The Sage and the Nymph" is rife in illustrations of patriarchal thinking. Women are often referred to as objects, and The Nymph acts as an "scandalous woman" to sway the pious sage, and she ends up getting married to him and "giving up her freedom."
"Dames"--Used twice in "Sage and the Nymph" by Narrator to describe the women
"Female"-- Twice in "Sage and the Nymph"--but still made into object. One is "Female Train" (20)
"Breast"--Once in reference to female breast (connected with passion) and thrice for male (physical)
"Beauty"--4 times in this poem to describe women and the concept of Beauty. Once in Introductory stanzas in reference to nature.
"woman"-A foreign woman that the British male rider blames for the fact that he got lost (p. 45).
There’s also a grieving woman with her dog who sees 3 ghosts (she dies from the shock of it)
A witch who causes misfortune (p.74-75).
“To” pg. 117 – from the speaker’s perspective (male); references a woman’s physical appearance and bewitching allure. Treats the woman as an object of passion.
“The Minstrel” pg. 119 – has references to a woman’s virtuousness, her capacity for a loyal type of love; talks about a “beauteous bride."
“The Seven Ages” – pg. 132 – description of a woman; talks about her lips, “snowy dimpled chin,” calls her a “divinity,” “perfection clothed in a mortal form.” Calls her soft/pure, like “new fallen snow.”
Pg. 135 – one character (Leon) reads a sonnet titled “A Sonnet to my Mistress’s Eyebrow”; objectifies a woman."
“The Leg” pg. 304: To summarize, it is about a mad Englishman who proves his love to Emilia, woman he met in Calcutta, by cutting off his leg due to her own lack of a leg. Three years later, he realizes maybe it wasn’t such a good idea.
Charles, the mad Englishman, represents attitudes of colonialism, serving as a critique about Britain’s own fascination with the allure of India,
The conclusion seems to emphasize this with how Charles regrets marrying his wife Emilia and enjoys the company of his surgeon more, a fellow Englishman.
“The Handmaiden’s Dream” pg. 315: Other than the Indian female narrator being described as a “maiden” who bathes herself in a spring. The most interesting scene from this poem is when she find the grotesque corpse of her Indian lover. The details it gives of the corpse and how ghastly it look is interesting as this scene must suggest something, I’m just not sure what yet.
“Human Sacrifices” pg. 321: I see this text reinforcing ideas of Empire with how it portrays the natives who practice ritual sacrifice. Written in a style more akin to an article, the narrator hides no attempt to hide their fear or disgust of human sacrifices in India as he tries to understand the natives’ reason for a barbaric practice. I think this text uses the imagination of the reader to image the bodies in the paper with ideas akin to that of Orientalism by portraying the East as savage with these rituals.
“The Mosquito’s Song” pg. 312: It has a lot more references to the mosquito’s body but also has that of the human body with eyes, heart, and blood. The only mentions of the women is when the English solider in India in the poem is dreaming of a fair lady’s eyes. However, I think the strongest reference to the human body comes from when the mosquito’s drinks his blood, but the poem seems to give more details to the body of the mosquito. Overall, I think the poem is meant to resist Empire because I think the Mosquito is meant to represent the British Empire as a parasite to India meaning all the references to the Mosquito’s body are then references to the body of British Empire.
“The Boatman’s Song to Ganga” pg. 320: A boatman does a lot of personification by refering to the river, boat, moon and the boat as women but only refers to the sun as a man. He describes them differently as well seeming to focus more on the beauty of the things he describes as female while referring to the sun as regal. Given that the author, Kashiprashad Ghosh, is most likely a native of India I think this poem is an example of hybridity with the author using the styles of British Romanticism and the subject matter of India with the Ganga river.
“The Venus of Cleomenes” pg. 325: It seems to place the idea of the male sculptor and the female statue, Venus. It creates a dichotomy between these two with mortal and immortal, earthly and celestial, describing the divine beauty of the artist’s creation.
“To (blank)” pg. 331: This is very much a love letter with the male captain expressing his longing and desire to touch his love. It has a lot of lines referring to intimacy and touching of their bodies.
“Verses Written At The End Of My Album” pg. 337: Written by a female author, Catherine, it does a lot of referencing to the hand as she mourns the loss of her friends and death. She uses phrases such as “hand which traced may never transcribe again,” “hand of age,” and “world’s cold hand.” I’m assume her usage of hand is meant to refer to her act of writing and maybe also relate to her being a female author.
“The Hunter’s Song” pg. 349: There is a symbolism with the swan being the hunter’s wife, Cathelin, who he seems to be mourning over. It goes into detail describing the beauty of the swan which is meant to refer to Cathelin’s beauty and the hunter’s act of hunting it may be him “claiming” the swan/Cathelin or maybe getting over Cathelin.