‘Queering the Imperial Romance’: New SouthHem Publication

Porscha Fermanis, ‘Queering the Imperial Romance: Settler Colonialism, Heteronormativity, and Interracial Intimacy in Sygurd Wiśniowski’s Tikera’, Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies, 17.3 (2021):


Abstract: Building on the idea of queer studies as a ‘subjectless’ critique that has no fixed political referent, this article considers the politics of interracial romance in Sygurd Wiśniowski’s novel Tikera or Children of the Queen of Oceania (Dzieci królowej Oceanii), first published in serial and codex form in Poland in 1877. It argues that the novel’s queering of British/Māori mixed-race bodies and Māori kinship structures is revealing of the biopolitics of modern sexuality: first, by showing how sexuality is entangled with discourses relating to ethnographic primitivity; second, by framing mixed-race and Indigenous peoples as queer populations marked for death; and third, by regulating and replacing Indigenous sexual and gender norms with the sexual modernity of European settler subjects, in particular, with western European understandings of heteronormative couplehood and privatised intimacy. Yet despite the eventual containment of Jenny/Tikera’s transgressive energies within the heteronormative reproductive structures of the nuclear family unit, the novel represents something of a test and a limit case for nineteenth-century novelistic genre conventions. Uneasily straddling the generic features of the imperial romance, the gawęda folk form, the tropes of Polish Romanticism, and the seriality of periodical fiction, the novel’s formal, representational, and ideological dissonance works to test the conventions of the imperial romance and the impulse towards salvage ethnography it tends to inscribe. In so doing, it replays the ongoing dialectic between realism and romance as part of a displaced relationship between coloniser and colonised, metropolitan and colonial fiction, and between British, American, and Polish novelistic conventions.

Image: Eugene von Guerard, ‘Lake Wakatipu with Mount Earnslaw, Middle Island, New Zealand’ (1877-9), oil on canvas, Mackelvie Trust Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki

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