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In the early 1920s, a young British woman visiting India met the man she would subsequently marry. As the woman's daughter later revealed, she and her companions “were just sitting down to dinner when he came in through the door and one of the bearers came forward to take his gun and clean it, but my father would have none of that. He always cleaned his own gun before he did anything else. This impressed my mother.” If the narrative halted here, the contemporary reader might construe the story as yet another example of traditional gender dynamics. The love-struck young woman admiringly observes the male imperialist's competent, professional handling of his firearm, symbol both of his mastery over the colonized Indian landscape and its people and of his masculine sexual prowess. In this instance, however, the young woman was no passively adoring female quivering before this symbolic display of male power and sexuality. She herself, as her daughter revealed, had been “brought up with guns” and was a “crack shot.” Her admiration for the man who would become her husband stemmed not from feelings of awe or feminine inadequacy but rather from her cool assessment that here was someone who was her equal—and could be her partner—in hunting, shooting, and handling of firearms. Indeed as their daughter recalled, the successful marriage between these two gun aficionados was based in part on the wife's participation in her husband's hunting duties as an officer in the Indian Forest Service.
The ubiquity of the European social club in the European empires in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries has been widely recognized in both popular and academic writings on European, and particularly British, imperialism. The “European” ascription of imperial social clubs derived from their predominantly whites-only membership policy in which all elite Europeans, whatever their nationalities, were potentially included. Although each individual club often catered to a very different and distinctive clientele among elite Europeans in the empire, the “clubland” as a whole served as a common ground where elite Europeans could meet as members, or as guests of members, of individual clubs. These clubs, it has been argued, represented an oasis of European culture in the colonies, functioning to reproduce the comfort and familiarity of “home” for Europeans living in an alien land. The popular narrative of the club, as is evident from the account by the official historian of the Bengal Club, one of the oldest social clubs in India, easily oscillated between an understanding of the club as a broadly European cultural institution and as a specifically British one. Either way, the cultural values that it represented were understood as transplanted to the colonies: “It is the practice of European peoples to reproduce as far as possible in their settlements and colonies in other continents the characteristic social features of their natural lives …. For more than a century no institution has been more peculiarly British than the social club.”
The 1914 British Nationality and Status of Aliens (BNSA) Act stated that “the wife of a British subject shall be deemed to be a British subject, and the wife of an alien shall be deemed to be an alien.” By this reenactment of an 1870 law, a British woman who married an alien became an alien herself, losing the rights and privileges accorded to British nationality. During the 1920s and 1930s, British feminists from around the Empire worked to change this regulation, but only in 1948 were women in the United Kingdom granted the right to their own nationality regardless of their marital status. The House of Commons largely supported the feminists' efforts to reform the laws so that women would not automatically lose their nationality on marriage. Members of Parliament introduced several bills to equalize the nationality laws that were read without division. The Government, however, consistently blocked the bills, citing the imperial nature of the nationality laws and Dominion disagreement with the change. This contest over nationality has been a neglected topic in the study of twentieth-century British history. Legal historians have, by and large, only described changes in the laws regarding married women's national status. While some historians of the women's movement in the British Isles have noted the equal nationality campaign, most have not realized how it can contribute to our understanding of interwar Britain and British feminism. Pat Thane, however, has seen in this topic an example of the way the Empire has influenced British culture.
“In Malaya,” the Daily Mail noted in 1953, “three and a half years of danger have given the planters time to convert their previously pleasant homes into miniature fortresses, with sandbag parapets, wire entanglements, and searchlights.” The image of the home as fortress and a juxtaposition of the domestic with menace and terror were central to British media representations of colonial wars in Malaya and Kenya in the 1950s. The repertoire of imagery deployed in the Daily Mail for the “miniature fortress” in Malaya was extended to Kenya, where the newspaper noted wire over domestic windows, guns beside wine glasses, the charming hostess in her black silk dress with “an automatic pistol hanging at her hip.” Such images of English domesticity threatened by an alien other were also central to immigration discourse in the 1950s and 1960s. In the context of the decline of British colonial rule after 1945, representations of the empire and its legacy—resistance to colonial rule in empire and “immigrants” in the metropolis—increasingly converged on a common theme: the violation of domestic sanctuaries.
Colonial wars of the late 1940s and 1950s have received little attention in literatures on national identity in early postwar Britain, but the articulation of racial difference through immigration discourse, and its significance in redefining the postimperial British national community has been widely recognized. As Chris Waters has suggested in his work on discourses of race and nation between 1947 and 1963, these years saw questions of race become central to questions of national belonging.