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Fashioning Society in Eighteenth-century British Jamaica

Description: White women who inhabited the West Indies in the eighteenth century fascinated the metropole. In popular prints, novels, and serial publications, these women appeared to stray from “proper” British societal norms. Inhabiting a space dominated by a tropical climate and the presence of a large enslaved African population opened white women to censure. Almost from the moment of colonial encounter, they were perceived not as proper British women but as an imperial “other,” inhabiting a middle space between the ideal woman and the supposed indigenous “savage.” Furthermore, white women seemed to be lacking the sensibility prized in eighteenth-century England. However, the correspondence that survives from white women in Jamaica reveals the language of sensibility. “Creolized” in this imperial landscape, sensibility extended beyond written words to the material objects exchanged during their tenure on these sugar plantations. Although many women who lived in the Caribbean island of Jamaica might have fit the model, extant writings from Ann Brodbelt, Sarah Dwarris, Margaret and Mary Cowper, Lady Maria Nugent, and Ann Appleton Storrow, show a longing to remain connected with metropolitan society and their loved ones separated by the Atlantic. This sensibility and awareness of metropolitan material culture masked a lack of empathy towards subordinates, and opened the white women these islands to censure, particularly during the era of the British abolitionist movement. Novels and popular publications portrayed white women in the Caribbean as prone to overconsumption, but these women seem to prize items not for their inherent value. They treasured items most when they came from beloved connections. This colonial interchange forged and preserved bonds with loved ones and comforted the women in the West Indies during their residence in these sugar plantation islands. This dissertation seeks to complicate the stereotype of insensibility and overconsumption that characterized the perception of white women ...
Date: December 2015
Creator: Northrop, Chloe A.
Partner: UNT Libraries