Stories at War: Images of Algerian Women From Colonial Accounts to the Life Story of Fadhma Amrouche

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Abstract

This article brings into discussion and analysis a wide array of stories told by different actors about native Algerian women. According to Walter Benjamin a story, “… does not expend itself. It preserves and concentrates its strength and is capable of releasing it even after a long time.”1 The stories we discuss in this article were produced in the nineteenth century, and are deployed herein as a portfolio of narratives that tell the same story from multifarious angles and perspectives. We begin by reading colonial images as phantasmagorical storiesabout native women as told by Orientalist artists and colonialist photographers. Set in imagined Orientalist decors these image-stories aimed to reproduce the world of the Arabian Nights rife with odalisques cloistered in harems for the pleasure of their lascivious masters. Every image invites you to weave your own story and to listen to the mute silhouettes of the represented
women. Gazing on these image-stories one often wonders, what story would these women tell if they were able to write? We then compare these mute image-stories with a selection of written stories recorded by war ethnographers and army officers as testimonies on colonial violence against these same native women. Theirs are horror stories, which allow present time readers to question the civilising mission of the French conquerors in contrast to the barbaric practices of the conquest. Moving away from these male narratives, the article
discusses in juxtaposition the story of the women of Algeria as told by French feminist Hubertine Auclert in her book Les Femmes arabes en Algérie, and a counter story to hers written by Fadhma Aït Mansour Amrouche, as the story of her life, Histoire de ma vie. In these female her/stories the two respective authors speak from opposing positions; that of the coloniser and that of the colonised. Bringing these two contrasting sets of stories into discussion will
enable us to evaluate the extent to which native women were central to French women’s agenda of ‘saving them’, and assess the extent to which they were saved.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNew Area Studies journal
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 25 Oct 2021

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