Scrutinizing the nature, dynamics and political ramifications of the colonial encounter is a characteristic preoccupation of postcolonial studies. Feminists committed to rematerializing encounters between English women and the British Empire have concentrated on examining them either in distant colonial locales like India, Nigeria or Egypt (Callaway, 1987; Chaudhuri and Strobel, 1992)—where English women encountered indigenous peoples in their capacity as officers’ wives, missionaries, social reformers and adventurers-or in Victorian women’s ‘domestic’ literary production-where, as in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, the figure of an ambiguously racialized feminine Other (Bertha Mason) helps to structure the novel and, with it, the English heroine’s fate (Spivak, 1989; Azim 1993; Sharpe, 1993). Examining the historical variety of colonial encounters among women is crucial political work if we are to appreciate, among other things, the historically situated relationships of Western women to imperial ideologies and practices. As Jenny Sharpe has written with regard to British India, understanding the ways in which ‘Englishwomen’s bid for gender power passes through a colonial hierarchy of race’ is a precondition for such critical appreciation (Sharpe, 1993:12).