Between 1500 and 1700, that is, during most of the early modem period, girls’ and women’s roles in tale collections shifted dramatically in ways that set the stage for the emergence of the modern fairy-tale heroine. At the beginning of this period novella heroines held their own against a world brimming with antagonists, using mother wit to sustain their social and sexual independence. Two centuries later, girls had become frightened damsels, their mothers had retreated into the shadows, and maids and sisters who had formerly lent their mistresses a helping hand had disappeared. Since Alice Clark’s pathbreaking 1919 study, The Working Life of Women in the Seventeenth Century, historians and literary critics have more often than not attributed the kinds of changes I discuss here to the advent of capitalism. In turning to recent studies in women’s history, sex, sexuality, and family formation to attempt to decipher this remarkable and complex literary phenomenon, this essay represents a fundamental departure in efforts to interpret the status of historical literary heroines.
I want to begin with an indisputable fact, namely that during the nineteenth century unprecedented power, compared to which the power of Rome, Spain, Baghdad or Constantinople in their day were far less formidable, was concentrated in Britain and France and later in other Western countries, the United States especially. This century, the nineteenth century, climaxed what has been called the "rise of the West." Western power allowed the imperial metropolitan centers at the end of the nineteenth century to acquire and accumulate territory and subjects on a truly astonishing scale. Consider that in 1800, Western powers claimed fifty-five percent, but actually held approximately thirty-five percent, of the earth's surface. But by 1878, the percentage was sixty-seven percent of the world held by Western powers, which is a rate of increase of 83,000 square miles per year. By 1914, the annual rate by which the Western empires acquired territory had risen to an astonishing 247,000 square miles per year. And Europe held a grand total of roughly eighty five percent of the earth as colonies, protectorates, dependencies, dominions and Commonwealth, one of them of course being Canada. No other associated set of colonies in history was as large, none so totally dominated, none so unequal in power to the Western metropolis. As a result, says William McNeill, in his book The Pursuit of Power, "the world was united into a single interacting whole as never before."
Assuming there really is something we may call a Western cultural hegemony or cultural imperialism, then 'orientalism' is its literary and social scientific form, and 'occidentalism' is a programme for revenge.
Asians and Europeans who study each other are at the same time agents and students of the relationship between East and West. It can, no doubt, be an exchange based on equality and mutual respect, but the danger always exists that studies and research programmes in Europe, the United States, and Australia will represent a continuation of an Orientalist tradition of cultural domination and, consequently, that research centres based in Asia will try to formulate some kind of 'genuinely' Asian approach to culture and science, in opposition to the basic ideas of the Occident.
The present article shall be dedicated to a reflection on the relationship between East and West and the role of researchers and intellectuals in that relationship. Research publications and conferences are today an enormous growth industry and play an increasingly important role in cultural as well as political and economic exchanges between states and regions. Students and researchers in humanities and social sciences cannot conceive of themselves as standing outside the processes they are studying. By virtue of doing what they do they are active participants in the formation of the future of East-West, North-South and global culture.