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Naked Truths: Bodies, Knowledge, and the Erotics of Colonial Power

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 February 2013

Abstract

If clothing can be said to have political and cultural meaning, then the same must surely be true of its absence. In the British Empire, where the calibration of difference was paramount, nakedness acquired hierarchical significance. The sensibilities of the Victorians clashed with those of their colonial subjects on this topic over and over again, and nakedness came to define savagery and subjecthood. Through the optics of scientific literature, popular photography, and art, this essay examines the colonial politics of nakedness, its gendered dynamics, and the tensions between the erotic and the scientific.

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Copyright © The North American Conference on British Studies 2013

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References

1 Letters to the editor, The Times, 20 May 1885.

2 Letters to the editor, The Times, 23 May 1885.

3 Smith, Alison, The Victorian Nude: Sexuality, Morality, and Art (Manchester, 1996), 227–29Google Scholar.

4 A copy may be found online at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Firstchristmascard.jpg (accessed 10 September 2012).

5 Robert Browning, Parleying with Certain People of Importance in their Day (London, 1887), II; III.

6 O'Neill, Patricia, “The Painting of Nudes and Evolutionary Theory: Parleyings on Victorian Constructions of Woman,” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 34, no. 4, (Winter 1992):541–67Google Scholar.

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8 A copy may be found online at http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/poynter-paul-and-apollos-n03320 (accessed 13 October 2011).

9 A copy may be found online at http://www.victorianweb.org/painting/tadema/paintings/12.html (accessed 13 October 2011).

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15 Both the painting and the addition may be viewed online at http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/online/exhibitions/faith/martyrofsolway.asp (accessed 10 September 2012).

16 Thomas Huxley to Earl Granville, 12 August 1869, The National Archives (TNA): Colonial Office Circular Despatches, CO854/4.

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19 Edwards, “Photography and Anthropological Intention,” 28–29.

20 Levine, Philippa, “States of Undress: Nakedness and the Colonial Imagination,” Victorian Studies 50, no. 2 (Winter 2008): 189CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed.

21 Smith, Alison, “Morality and the Nude in Victorian Art,” in The Nude: Ideal and Reality: From the Invention of Photography to Today, ed. Weiermair, Peter (Florence, 2004), 266Google Scholar.

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25 Coombes, Annie reads this emphasis on physical characteristics as a means of associating subject peoples with animals rather than humans in her Reinventing Africa: Museums, Material Culture, and Popular Imagination in Late Victorian and Edwardian England (New Haven, 1994), 9394Google Scholar. See, too, Webb, Virginia-Lee, “Fact and Fiction: Nineteenth-Century Photographs of the Zulu,” African Arts 25, no. 1 (January 1992): 5859CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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29 Cited in Ryan, James R., Picturing Empire: Photography and the Visualization of the British Empire (Chicago, 1997), 148Google Scholar.

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38 Man, The Nicobar Islands and Their People, 59; Man et al., On the Aboriginal Inhabitants of the Andaman Islands, 109.

39 Im Thurn, “Anthropological Uses of the Camera,” 184.

40 Needham, George, “Manet, Olympia, and Pornographic Photography,” in Woman as Sex Object: Studies in Erotic Art, 1730–1970, ed. Hess, Thomas B. and Nochlin, Linda (New York, 1972), 8189Google Scholar.

41 See, for example, Balce, Nerissa S., “The Filipina's Breast: Savagery, Docility, and the Erotics of the American Empire,” Social Text 24, no. 2 (June 2006): 89110CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Morgan, Jennifer L., “‘Some Could Suckle over Their Shoulder’: Male Travelers, Female Bodies, and the Gendering of Racial Ideology, 1500–1770,” William and Mary Quarterly 54, no. 1, 3rd ser. (January 1997): 167–92CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

42 Elizabeth Elbourne argues that Saartje Baartman, the so-called Hottentot Venus, on display in London in the early 1800s, was marketed as the antithesis of the domestic. One might perhaps see her as a grotesque for whom desire would reveal considerable—and primitive—perversity. See Elbourne, “Domesticity and Dispossession: The Ideologies of Domesticity and ‘Home’ and the British Construction of the Primitive from the Eighteenth to the Early Nineteenth Centuries,” in Deep Histories: Gender and Colonialism in Southern Africa, ed. Woodward, Wendy, Hayes, Patricia, and Minkley, Gary (Amsterdam, 2002), 43Google Scholar.

43 One might consider the speculations of Parent-Duchatelet on French prostitute women and in an earlier era the anxious interest of Parisian naturalists in the genitalia of Saartje Baartman.

44 Ellis, Havelock, Studies in the Psychology of Sex, vol. 4, Sexual Selection in Man, 3rd ed. (Philadelphia, 1927), 151–52Google Scholar.

45 Alfred Duggan-Cronin was a self-taught photographer who rose to eminence in South Africa for his depictions of local people. Today, a gallery in Kimberley bears his name and displays examples of his work alongside tribal artifacts such as pottery, tools, and carvings, http://www.openafrica.org/participant/Duggan-Cronin-Gallery. For a helpful interpretation of Duggan-Cronin's Bantu series, see Godby, Michael, “Alfred Martin Duggan-Cronin's Photographs for The Bantu Tribes of South Africa (1928–1954): The Construction of an Ambiguous Idyll,” Kronos 36, no. 1 (November 2010): 5483Google Scholar.

46 A very good example is “Te Po, in War Costume,” National Library of Australia, Rev. John Williams Collections, http://nla.gov.au/nla.pic-an13770364 (accessed 27 September 2011). The same image is used as the frontispiece in Stewart, C. S.A Visit to the South Seas in the United States' Ship Vincennes, during the Years 1829 and 1830 Including Scenes in Brazil, Peru, Manila, the Cape of Good Hope, and St. Helena (London, 1832)Google Scholar.

47 A point driven home by Sandra Klopper, in “George French Angas' (Re)presentation of the Zulu in The Kafirs Illustrated.”

48 With thanks to David Smith of the University of Hong Kong for introducing me to this illustration.

49 The classic statement of the policy is to be found in Neville, A. O., Australia's Coloured Minority: Its Place in the Community (Sydney, 1947)Google Scholar. Neville did not originate the policy, but he was an enthusiastic advocate and practitioner of its advantages. Secondary works on this strategy include Jacobs, Margaret D., White Mother to a Dark Race: Settler Colonialism, Maternalism, and the Removal of Indigenous Children in the American West and Australia, 1880–1940 (Lincoln, 2009)Google Scholar; Haebich, Anna, Broken Circles: Fragmenting Indigenous Families, 1800–2000 (Fremantle, WA, 2000)Google Scholar; Moses, A. Dirk, ed., Genocide and Settler Society: Frontier Violence and Stolen Indigenous Children in Australian History (New York, 2004)Google Scholar.

50 Kerin, Rani, “‘Natives Allowed to Remain Naked’: An Unorthodox Approach to Medical Work at Ernabella Mission,” Health & History: Journal of the Australian & New Zealand Society for the History of Medicine 8, no. 1 (2006): 27CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Brock, Peggy, “Nakedness and Clothing in Early Encounters Between Aboriginal People of Central Australia, Missionaries and Anthropologists,” Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 8, no. 1 (Spring 2007): 30CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

51 Brock, “Nakedness and Clothing,” 39, et. seq.

52 Ibid., 33, 44.

53 Ibid., 35.

54 Vickery, Amanda, “An Englishman's Home Is His Castle? Thresholds, Boundaries and Privacies in the Eighteenth-Century London House,” Past and Present 199 (May 2008): 152CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 173.

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