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May Her Likes Be MultipliedBiography and Gender Politics in Egypt$
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Marilyn Booth

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780520224193

Published to California Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520224193.001.0001

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

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

Chapter:
(p.171) 5 Catherine the Great’s Embroidery and Maria Mitchell’s Stewpot: Discursive Domesticities
Source:
May Her Likes Be Multiplied
Author(s):

Marilyn Booth

Publisher:
University of California Press
DOI:10.1525/california/9780520224193.003.0005

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

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