Victorious Wives: The Disguised Heroine in 19th-Century Malay Syair

Monograph 44
Victorious Wives: The Disguised Heroine in 19th-Century Malay Syair
By Mulaika Hijjas
332pp 151x229mm Softcover

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 premodern women or women's literature to illustrate this point, and studies of women intraditional literature have of necessity relied on texts that express masculine viewpoints. The syair of the Riau Archipelago that are the basis of this book, six 19th 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Victorious Wives engages with these poems not as historical documents to be mined for data but as complex literary works.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 storylines, 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 a 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.

About the Author:

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 Languages and Cultures of Southeast Asia, SOAS.

Introduction: Romantic Syair in 19th-Century Riau

Chapter 1: Not Just Fryers of Bananas and Sweet Potatoes: Women in the Malay Literary Community
Chapter 2: The Best Ones Make You Cry: Genre, Gender and Catharsis
Chapter 3: Ruling Passions: The Control of Emotion in Syair Siti Zuhrah and Syair Sultan Yahya
Chapter 4: From Battlefield to Bedroom: War and Marriage in Syair Siti Zubaidah and Syair Sultan Abdul Muluk
Chapter 5: Calculating Women, Foolish Men: Reason in Syair Siti Dhawiyyah and Syair Saudagar Bodoh

Conclusion: The Heritage of the Disguised Heroine Syair

Appendix 1: Women Authors and Copyists
Appendix II: List of Manuscripts
Appendix III: Extracts and Translations

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