Overlapping Discourses

Widows, Witches, and Forms of Literary Haunting
  • Pompa Banerjee
Part of the Early Modern Cultural Studies book series (EMCSS)


I begin with the silence that haunts the rest of this book. The erasure of the witch from European depictions of widowburning invites this question: When European witnesses of sati watched a woman burn—in ways that I will argue were very similar to the manner in which witches were burned—why didn’t they seize the analogy of burning witches in their own countries in order to better explain the unfamiliar event of sati to their audiences at home? Despite the dissimilar cultural encoding of the two scenes that constructed a Hindu widow’s burning as the sacrifice of a heroic martyr and a witch’s burning as the punishment of an extremely wicked woman, there must have been extraordinary consonances between the two forms of burning; enough, at least, to call forth a comparison. This correlation between the two forms of burning I will discuss in this chapter was not that unusual; much later, in 1928, Edward Thompson employed exactly this analogy in his history of sati. The silence appears to relate specifically to early modern responses to sati. The following pages will test if such an analogy was linguistically or even realistically feasible for early modern Europeans; that is, could the Europeans who watched incidents of Hindu widowburning have known about similar burnings in Europe in order to have the conceptual frame of reference necessary to make such a connection? Were they in a position to seize the analogy?


East India Company Indian Fruit Travel Writer Ecclesiastical Authority Witch Trial 
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© Pompa Banerjee 2003

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  • Pompa Banerjee

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