Elspeth Huxley: Gender, Empire and Narratives of Nation, 1935-1964

Webster, Wendy (1999) Elspeth Huxley: Gender, Empire and Narratives of Nation, 1935-1964. Women’s History Review, 8 (3). pp. 527-545. ISSN 0961-2025

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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09612029900200219


This article explores the impact of empire on narratives of the British nation during a period of decline of British colonial rule through a study of Elspeth Huxley's successive reworkings of such narratives between 1935 and 1964. It sets Huxley's work in the context of post-1945 anxieties about national decline and their connections with the loss of imperial power, and looks at the difficulties surrounding the articulation of national identity as virile and masculine in post-imperial Britain. Although anxieties about masculinities were often addressed through a misogynistic discourse which showed women emasculating men, Huxley's work suggests the significance of a counter-theme. It indicates not only her own attachment to an imperial identity but also the ways in which this continued to be articulated in the midtwentieth century as an identity with a wide appeal to a metropolitan audience, and one through which women could be incorporated into the story of nation. In exploring the terms of this incorporation, the article considers the opportunities open to women to claim to embody exemplary national qualities through the figure of the doughty, intrepid, imperial female pioneer, and the particular resonance and appeal this figure acquired in the context of the end of empire.

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