Paperback / softback
August 6, 2007
37 illus.
9.00 Inches (US)
6.00 Inches (US)
1.1 Pounds (US)
$25.00 USD, £18.99 GBP
v2.1 Reference
July 16, 2015
37 illus.
9.00 Inches (US)
6.00 Inches (US)
1.48 Pounds (US)
$99.00 USD, £72.00 GBP
v2.1 Reference

The Pacific Muse

Exotic Femininity and the Colonial Pacific

The Pacific Muse offers a fresh perspective on a seductively familiar topic: the colonial stereotype of the exotic Pacific island woman. By tracing the evolution of female primitivism from Western antiquity to twentieth-century Hollywood images, the book sheds new light on our understanding of how and why this ideal has persisted and the major role it has played in the colonization of Pacific peoples.

While examining colonial culture in its many manifestations, from art, literature, and film to the journals of explorers and missionaries, O’Brien rereads not only the canonical texts of Pacific imperialism, but also lesser-known remnants of this cultural heritage with an eye to what they reveal about gender, sexuality, race, and femininity. Over its long history – from the famous (and much romanticized) settlement of Tahitian women and mutineers from the Bounty on Pitcairn Island in 1789 to the South Seas romantic tradition, Gauguin, and beach culture – notions of female primitivism changed in response to the ideological watersheds of Christianity, Enlightenment science, and race theories, as well as the development of democratic nation-states, modernity, and colonialism. The Pacific Muse shows the continuities and differences in representing colonized women across geographical regions and historical epochs and highlights the importance of sexualization and feminization in imperial enterprises.

Including 37 illustrations of Pacific women from early etchings by shipboard artists to recent photographs, this panoramic view of gendered Pacific history is enlightening reading for cultural anthropologists, women’s and gender studies scholars, and historians of colonialism and the Pacific.

About the Author

Patty O'Brien teaches history through the Center for Australian and New Zealand Studies in the School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University.


"O'Brien's book contributes to the burgeoning field of studies of gender and sexuality in Pacific Studies at the same time that it broadens the feminist critique of constructions of sexuality and gender… O'Brien allows us to glimpse many fascinating women, including Alice Henriette Handy, a Maori woman who was taken to America by her father, a New England whaling captain; and Maria de los Santos y Castro, a fifteen-year-old girl from Guam who was married to Matthew Mazarro, a Genoese four times her age."—Journal of World History

"The Pacific Muse is a complex historical narrative and O'Brien wields a vast amount of material."—Journal of Folklore Research

"O'Brien's panoramic study on the evolution of the Western notion of the exotic feminine in the Pacific is riveting..The book is essential reading because the Pacific Muse remains alive and well today—- precisely because she continues to serve this role."—Journal of Pacific History

"As a 'gender-focused world history', Patty O'Brien foregrounds the female body in her exploration of the colonial South Pacific. O'Brien takes an overlapping thematic and chronological approach, tracing the production of exotic femininity from its foundations in antiquity through the present day.. [it is] an engaging, wide-ranging, and insightful work, enhanced by the liberal inclusion of excellent images."—BC Studies

"As Patty O'Brien illustrates with almost encyclopedic detail, since their earliest connections with Europeans, Pacific womenhave been portrayed as lascivious, hypersexual, sensual, enticing, and always available. . . . O'Brien's task is to unfold the sexing of the Pacific, from Renaissance representations of the sixteenth century to the celluloid images of the twentieth. . . The research is meticulous."—The Historian

"Patty O'Brien's study offers readers an examination of the role of the feminine in the construction of the Pacific in the western imagination. . . [a] rich and detailed book."—Pacific Historical Review

"The Pacific Muse reaches beyond the words and images that Europeans, particularly European men, painted about women in the Pacific. O'Brien explores the relationship between images of Pacific womanhood and different configurations of imperialism around the region."—Journal of Women's History


"O’ Brien offers lessons that many readers will have a hard time forgetting. Most insightful is her interpretation of the sexual nature of colonial power and the dominant sexual undertones of voyaging, discovering, conquering, and colonizing."—Miriam Kahn, University of Washington

"A scintillating consideration of the classical trope of the odyssey in Pacific voyages in moulding the subjectivity of men and their perceptions of women. Her analyses of the relation between women, water, and sexual danger and the figures of sirens, nymphs and mermaids are captivating."—Margaret Jolly, Australian National University

9780295987651 : the-pacific-muse-o-brien
Paperback / softback
$25.00 USD
9780295996165 : the-pacific-muse-o-brien
338 Pages
$99.00 USD

Other Titles in SOCIAL SCIENCE / Ethnic Studies / American / Asian American Studies

Contemporary Asian American Activism

edited by Diane C. Fujino, Robyn Magalit Rodriguez
Jan 2022 - University of Washington Press
$99.00 USD - Hardback
$30.00 USD - Paperback / softback

Awake in the River and Shedding Silence

Janice Mirikitani, foreword by Traise Yamamoto, Juliana Chang
Dec 2021 - University of Washington Press
$99.00 USD - Hardback
$24.95 USD - Paperback / softback

Dancing Transnational Feminisms

edited by Ananya Chatterjea, Hui Niu Wilcox, Alessandra Lebea Williams, foreword by D. Soyini Madison, series edited by Piya Chatterjee
Dec 2021 - University of Washington Press
$99.00 USD - Hardback
$30.00 USD - Paperback / softback

Other Titles in Ethnic minorities & multicultural studies

Signs of Home

Barbara Johns, foreword by Stephen H. Sumida
Aug 2021 - University of Washington Press
$34.95 USD - Paperback / softback
$49.95 USD - Hardback

Art of the Northwest Coast, second edition

Aldona Jonaitis
Jun 2021 - University of Washington Press
$99.00 USD - Hardback
$29.95 USD - Paperback / softback

The Coming of the Spirit of Pestilence

Robert T. Boyd
Apr 2021 - University of Washington Press
$30.00 USD - Paperback / softback
$60.00 USD - Hardback