Siobhan Lambert-Hurley, "Elusive Lives: Gender, Autobiography, and the Self in Muslim South Asia" (Stanford UP, 2018)

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Muslim South Asia is widely characterized as a culture that idealizes female anonymity: women's bodies are veiled and their voices silenced. Challenging these perceptions, Siobhan Lambert-Hurley, University of Sheffield, highlights an elusive strand of autobiographical writing dating back several centuries that offers a new lens through which to study notions of selfhood. In Elusive Lives: Gender, Autobiography, and the Self in Muslim South Asia (Stanford University Press, 2018), she locates the voices of Muslim women who rejected taboos against women speaking out, by telling their life stories in written autobiography.

To chart patterns across time and space, materials dated from the sixteenth century to the present are drawn from across South Asia – including present-day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Lambert-Hurley uses many rare autobiographical texts in a wide array of languages to elaborate a theoretical model for gender, autobiography, and the self beyond the usual Euro-American frame. In doing so, she works toward a new, globalized history of the field. Ultimately, Elusive Lives points to the sheer diversity of Muslim women's lives and life stories, offering a unique window into a history of the everyday against a backdrop of imperialism, reformism, nationalism and feminism. In our conversation we discuss autobiographical writing, travelogues, letters, diaries, interviews, low literacy rates, the social and physical geographies of authors, reasons Muslim women narrated their life, the role of editors, translators, on publishers, intended and unintended audiences, the actress Begum Khurshid Mirza, and gender difference across autobiographies.

Kristian Petersen is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies at Old Dominion University. You can find out more about his work on his website, follow him on Twitter @BabaKristian, or email him at kpeterse@odu.edu.

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