chapter  1
Defamiliarizing “the mistress”
Representations of white women in the West Indies
Pages 23

If the early women’s narratives are a diverse lot, the same can be said of white women in the West Indies of the period. This chapter attempts a rapid trawl through historical and literary sources – always admitting the slippage between these – in order to outline what features are generally attributed to this group of women. Naturally, no claim is being made for the correspondence of representations with the actuality of lived experience but, in the absence of other witnesses, it is to these records that we must turn. Which records, though? Many are inconsistent and unreliable, and so of limited use in constructing an identity profile of the white colonial woman in the nineteenth century. Historians themselves admit this. For example,

In seeking to probe the gender dimension in the history of the Caribbean since European contact, . . . Whether we rely on official records of different kinds, newspapers and periodicals, correspondence and other materials produced by private citizens, missionaries or travelers, or published accounts by residents and visitors, our sources are mostly written by men. We have little recorded testimony by women.