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“The First English Lady Seen in These Parts”: Autoexoticizing Race and Gender in Colonial Women's Writing on Cyprus

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020


I have before remarked upon the … excitement which our presence caused in many villages, where we were assured that, with the exception, of course, of a Turk, we were the first Europeans seen…. The extraordinary sight of the first English lady ever seen (indeed, few Europeans had got so far) brought a crowd….

—Scott-Stevenson, Our Home in Cyprus

From its earliest literary representations in english, Cyprus has been associated with intersecting anxieties toward race, religion, and sexuality. Inaugurating this theme, Shakespeare's Othello appropriates the culturally hybrid setting among Africa, Asia, and Europe as a space of uneasy female autonomy and as a locus of dangerous political and sexual activity orchestrated by men: Venus's island is, for European Venice, a “business of some heat” (211; 1.2.47), a commercial hub degrading into a deathbed of intercultural, interfaith, interracial sex. On the cultural frontiers among Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Islam, staged temporally between Western Europe's waning crusading past and the rise of the Ottoman Empire, the island is an exoticized and effeminized space treated axiomatically as requiring the protection of Western paternalism. These themes pervade subsequent textual depictions of the space, a de facto British colony from 1878 to 1960, in works that venerate a reclaiming of the Ottoman possession by neo-Crusaders in the Orient. While academic scrutiny has addressed narratives such as Lawrence Durrell's Bitter Lemons (1957), there has been little focus on the patriarchal structuring of empire in this oeuvre of colonial travel writing or on the “persistent gendering of the imperial unknown” during this period (McClintock 24).

Theories and Methodologies
Copyright © Modern Language Association of America, 2017

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