Document Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Comparative Literature

First Advisor

Luiza Franco Moreira

Second Advisor

Monika Mehta

Third Advisor

Susan Strehle


This dissertation undertakes the first sustained examination of representations of Islamicate material culture, domestic interiors, residential forms, and historic sites in the early Anglophone writing of South Asian Muslim women. Reading the memoirs of Pakistani diplomat Shaista Suhrawardy Ikramullah, From Purdah to Parliament (1963), in conjunction with three early Anglophone novels, namely, Zeenuth Futehally’s Zohra (1951), Mumtaz Shah Nawaz’s The Heart Divided (1957), and Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961), I develop the analytic category of autoethnographic spatial discourse in contradistinction to the harem fantasy inflected colonial spatial discourse prevalent at the time in order to describe the representational practice of these twentieth century Muslim women authors, who by virtue of writing in English are compelled to serve as cultural translators. I argue that their writing positions them as cultural agents engaged in a curatorial intervention that brings the past, the built environment and cultural practices to bear on forms of remembering, and greatly influences the form of the early novel in India and Pakistan.

The first chapter shows that the traditional residential form was crucial to Ikramullah’s self-fashioning as an exceptional member of the reconstituted postcolonial Muslim elite milieu of Pakistan. Ikramullah used her command over ceremonial and material culture to articulate a hybrid identity that incorporated the seemingly incommensurable inheritance of Islamicate cultural traditions and the learned codes of colonial modernity. The second chapter investigates why the novels escaped sustained scholarly attention when they first appeared, in what contexts they enjoyed renewed interest, and what this tells us about the field of literary history in South Asia. I argue that the current frames through which early novels in South Asia are viewed require some recalibration in order to accommodate discussions of Muslim women’s writing in English. The third and final chapter presents readings that suggest that while the private residence is conceptually monumentalised in Sunlight on a Broken Column, the autoethnographic spatial discourse in The Heart Divided and Zohra privatizes monumental landscapes as sites of transgressive love, folding them within the domain of interiority and erotic excess.