The most geographically ambitious of the many female botanical artists of the nineteenth century, Marianne North’s memoir and global painting expeditions serve as excellent illustrations of two relatively banal streams in the discourses of imperialism: women’s travel writing and the “science” of botanically-accurate plant illustration. This paper will show that both botanical art and women’s travel writing, were in fact deeply entangled with British imperial ideologies.
The effects of botanical representation on home-country attitudes toward the agrarian and resource-exploitation potential of the colonies was significant. Because botanical records almost entirely occluded human inhabitants of an ecosystem or land, or because these images more typically showed plants against a blank background—completely unmoored from their eco-setting, the viewing public or colonial ideologues could be indulged in thinking the land vacant or unoccupied. Women travelers were often complicit in the wish to see the land vacant or unthreatening and were prone to downplay disagreeable physical conditions or physical dangers to their person. In the case of North’s work, this propensity helped to assure emmigrating or traveling British women that they would encounter a sphere of inviolability in South Africa, and that they would be sealed off from contact with the “menacing Africa” more typically invoked in earlier travel and exploration discourses.
I will utilize Marianne North’s painting and memoir record as examples of the trends in botanical art and travel writing outlined above. North’s representations of South Africa helped to declare the region a tamed and ordered Eden, an unpeopled and lush stage setting poised and ready to submit to the civilizing hand of British imperialism.
PAPER PRESENTED AT AUETSA
(ASSOCIATION OF UNIVERSITY
ENGLISH TEACHER'S OF SOUTH AFRICA)
University of Stellenbosh,