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Victorious Wives
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Subtitle: The Disguised Heroine in 19th-Century Malay Syair
Author/Editor: Mulaika Hijjas
New Pb 324 pp.
Subject: Poetry,Malaysia,History & Biography,Gender & Sexuality,Arts & Culture
Condition: Good
Published: 2011

Victorious Wives: The Disguised Heroine in Nineteenth-Century Malay Syair

Mulaika Hijjas

In Victorious Wives, Mulaika Hijjas uses tools drawn from literary criticism and gender studies to look at a previously neglected corpus of Malay literature in a new light. The relatively equal gender relations in Southeast Asia have long been presented as a defining characteristic of the region, but there are few detailed case studies of pre-modern women or women's literature to illustrate this point, and studies of women in traditional literature have of necessity relied on texts that expressed masculine viewpoints. The syair of the Riau Archipelago that are the basis of this book, six nineteenth-century Malay narrative poems, are a unique exception in that they allow access to women's imaginative worlds, and they provide a significant historical backdrop to anthropological accounts of gender in the Malay world in modern times.

Victorious Wives engages with these poems not as historical documents to be mined for data but as complex literary works. In the story lines, the heroine disguises herself as a man in order to rescue a male relative, reversing and subverting the assignation of passion (nafsu) to women and reason (akal) to men that was commonplace of religious discourse at the time. The book develops a nuanced textual analysis of this material, and explores the interplay between social reality and literary fiction.

    «I have never read an analysis concerning Malay literature with greater interest and enjoyment. This book is a timely addition to the current unflagging interest on the position of Muslim women in Southeast Asia.»
    Christine Campbell, Australian National University

    «This book is a very welcome addition to the study of Malay literature. It discusses texts on which little research has been done and fits in nicely with other studies on traditional Malay literature.»
    Jan van der Putten, National University of Singapore

Originally from Kuala Lumpur, Mulaika Hijjas studied at Harvard College and the University of Oxford before earning a PhD in traditional Malay literature at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), the University of London. She is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of the Languages and Cultures of South East Asia, SOAS.

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