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Sexual Politics of Authorship: rereading the travels and translations of Richard and Isabel Burton

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Abstract:

Women who accompanied male adventurers and geographers often made crucial (yet generally unacknowledged) contributions to the research and writing of their partners. These women were not always named as authors, but nevertheless participated in the production and promotion of texts, influencing their form and their impact. In this light the author reconsiders the works of Isabel Burton, wife of the famous British Victorian traveller, geographer, translator and author, Richard Burton. Reinterpreting and recentring the marginalised and often caricatured Isabel Burton, it is shown that Isabel performed many roles in the 'Burton industry', influencing the production, content and circulation of texts attributed mainly to her husband. While Isabel frequently worked with her husband, she sometimes worked against him, subverting and recasting 'his' texts, partly in order to oppose her husband's sexual libertinism and to advance her own political agenda, which can be located within late-Victorian social purity movements. Isabel's involvement with the gendered politics of purity illustrates the second dimension in what the author calls the twofold sexual politics of authorship.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09663699925015

Publication date: September 1, 1999

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