Unfallen women : negotiations of alternative feminine identities in selected writings by Olive Schreiner

Snyman, Vicki (2010) Unfallen women : negotiations of alternative feminine identities in selected writings by Olive Schreiner. Masters thesis, Rhodes University.




This study constitutes an inquiry into how Olive Schreiner‟s peripheral position as a colonial woman writer enabled her rewriting of feminine identity, specifically her subversion of Victorian feminine stereotypes. I focus particular attention on three novels: The Story of an African Farm (1890), and the posthumously published From Man to Man (1926) and Undine (1929). I employ a feminist literary approach to examine how Schreiner‟s hybrid identity as a British South African enabled her revisioning of femininity. If Schreiner is situated within the context of her time, it can be demonstrated that her negotiations of feminine identity are influenced by her dual intellectual and cultural heritage. On the one hand, she can be situated within a British tradition of women‟s writing – in particular, the New Woman fiction which emerged in the late nineteenth century. On the other hand, she can be situated within a nascent South African literary tradition – and demonstrates prototypically post-colonial concerns. Schreiner‟s writing style develops out of her colonial heritage and her experiences as a woman living in a patriarchal society. The resultant voice subverts the narrative traditions of the metropolitan novel in an attempt to articulate an alternative view of femininity. I examine in detail how Schreiner undermines and subverts Victorian stereotypes, and focus particular attention on the „fallen woman‟ and the „mother-figure‟. She attempts to challenge conventional Victorian conceptions of femininity by erasing the binary between the „angel‟ and the „whore‟ in order to create a New Woman. In Undine and The Story of an African Farm the full realisation of this New Woman is deferred, since both protagonists die, but From Man to Man is more nuanced, particularly in its emphasis on economic empowerment for women. Schreiner also destabilises traditional notions of motherhood, in order to offer glimpses of an alternative maternal role. It is my contention that, in her depiction of mother-figures and (un)fallen women, Schreiner challenges stock Victorian notions of femininity and, in the process, creates a space in which new possibilities for women can be imagined and negotiated.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Uncontrolled Keywords:Olive Schreiner, Feminism in literature, Women and literature, South African literature, Story of an African farm, From man to man, Undine
Subjects:P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Divisions:Faculty > Faculty of Humanities > English
ID Code:2121
Deposited By: Ms Chantel Clack
Deposited On:13 Oct 2011 14:24
Last Modified:06 Jan 2012 16:22
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