Catherine the Great’s Embroidery and Maria Mitchell’s Stewpot: Discursive Domesticities

Marilyn Booth

in May Her Likes Be Multiplied

Published by University of California Press

Published in print July 2001 | ISBN: 9780520224193
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520925212 | DOI:
Catherine the Great’s Embroidery and Maria Mitchell’s Stewpot: Discursive Domesticities

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A dominant tactical move in biographies of women with waged work or public careers is to assert the primacy of domestic loyalties while making the claim that duty at home need not obviate another career. It is no accident that we witness Catherine the Great at her embroidery, Fatma Aliye raising children, Jane Austen sewing, Queen Maria Christina boiling sweets, and Zaynab Fawwāz and Maria Mitchell washing the cooking pots. This rhetorical dialectic operates in tandem with discursive constructions of companionate marriage as desirable and then expectable, and of the nuclear family as the ideal unit of national organization. Through the figuration of domesticity, biography in Egypt helps us to see where notions of “home” intersected with demands of “nation,” and how politically significant the configurations of women, work, and home were. Deploying the rhetoric of home as nation, as a site of purity, discipline, and national resistance, writers in Egypt also displaced it, making of it a home base from which women of a certain class could travel elsewhere—as long as they returned.

Keywords: Egypt; biographies; women; Catherine the Great; domesticity; home; nation; Maria Mitchell; family; work

Chapter.  27407 words. 

Subjects: Asian History

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