South African female subjectivity (1868-1977): life writing, the agentive "I" and recovering stories

Smit, Lizelle (2019-02)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch Univesity, 2019.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This dissertation investigates the formation of white female subjectivity in the life writing of three South African women, penned between 1868 and 1977. The subjects are: Betty Molteno (18521927), Hettie Smit (1908-1973) and Joyce Waring (1914-2003). I consider subjectivity formation as contingent on geo-cultural, historical, ethnic and socio-political contexts, as well as cultural and political markers of identity such as race, gender and ethnicity. My analysis of Molteno’s journals, letters, autobiographical poetry and life writing about her, Smit’s letters and autobiographical fiction titled Sy kom met die Sekelmaan [She appears with the Sickle Moon] (1937), and Waring’s trilogy of autobiographical texts I’m no Lady (1956), Sticks and Stones (1969) and Hot Air (1977) indicate these three women’s subjectivities as embodied and formed relationally. However, differences in their respective constituted subjectivities and the discursive divergences noticeable in their life writing practices are also examined to argue the heterogeneous and multifaceted nature of female subjectivity in the delineated period. Concepts such as “embodiment” (Cahill Objectification viii; Anderson 90; Grosz ix-xi; Smith Subjectivity 14) and “relationality” (Coullie 7; Smith and Watson Reading 248; Kleinman and Fitz-Henry 53) are employed throughout my examination of the three selected women’s texts. The aim of the project is to examine unknown subjects’ or women’s life writing which has been neglected in literary scholarship to complement the existing body of work on South African women’s life writing. Archives house memories, forgotten texts have important stories to tell: I maintain throughout this dissertation that these unconventional, conflicted and controversial women employed diverse and arresting autobiographical forms to narrate their respective subjectivities; therefore, their materials are worth investigating. By analysing their life writing, I address lacunae in South African scholarship: Molteno’s materials engendered a discussion of nineteenth century lesbianism and the Mazdaznan religion. My analysis of Smit’s letters enabled me to categorise Sy kom met die Sekelmaan as the first published Afrikaans autobiographical fiction and to discuss her split subjectivity, or two “I”s, which she respectively named “Hettie” and “Hessie”. White middle-class feminism of the 19501980s, of which little has been written, and white women’s endorsement of apartheid through their writing, which is rare, is made possible through my examination of Waring’s autobiographical texts.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie verhandeling ondersoek die ontwikkeling van wit vroulike subjektiwiteit in die ego-tekste van drie Suid-Afrikaanse vroue gedurende die periode van 1868 tot 1977. Die drie skrywers is: Betty Molteno (1852-1927), Hettie Smit (1908-1973) en Joyce Waring (1914-2003). Ek gaan van die standpunt uit dat hierdie ontwikkeling in subjektiewe gewaarwording afhang van die geokulturele, historiese, etniese and sosio-politieke kontekste, sowel as dié van kulturele en politieke identiteitsmerkers soos ras, gender en etnisiteit. My analise van Molteno se joernale, briewe, outobiografiese gedigte sowel as ego-dokumente geskryf oor haar deur ander, Smit se briewe en outobiografiese fiksie, getiteld Sy kom met die Sekelmaan [She appears with the Sickle Moon] (1937), asook Waring se trilogie van outobiografiese tekste I’m no Lady (1956), Sticks and Stones (1969) en Hot Air (1977), toon duidelik dat die onderskeie vroue se subjektiewe bewussyn ontwikkel het in ’n parallelle verhouding tot bogenoemde kontekste. Die verskille in die daargestelde subjektiwiteit tussen die verskillende vroue word ook ondersoek. Hierbenewens word die afwykings in die diskoers van die onderskeie ego-tekste ontleed om sodoende die heterogene en veelvlakkige aard van vroulike subjektiwiteit in die aangeduide periode aan te toon. Konsepte soos “vergestalting” (Cahill Objectification viii; Anderson 90; Grosz ix-xi; Smith Subjectivity 14) en “relasionaliteit” (Coullie 7; Smith and Watson Reading 248; Kleinman and Fitz-Henry 53) word deurgaans gebruik in my bespreking van die tekste van die drie gekose vroue. Die doel van die ondersoek is om onbekende vroulike ego-dokumente, wat tot dusver meerendeels verontagsaam was in die bestaande Suid-Afrikaanse literêre studies, aan te spreek, sowel as om die bestaande werk oor ego-tekste deur Suid-Afrikaanse vroue aan te vul. Herinneringe word in argiewe gehuisves. Vergete tekste omsluit belangrike verhale. Ek handhaaf die mening regdeur my verhandeling dat hierdie onkonvensionele, gefolterde, kontroversiële vroue verskillende, maar tegelykertyd boeiende, outobiografiese skryfstyle ingespan het om hul onderskeie vroulike bewussyn uit te beeld. Hierdie tekste verdien dus om ondersoek te word. Deur die onderskeie egotekste te ondersoek, spreek ek leemtes in die Suid-Afrikaanse kritiek aan. Molteno se werk het ’n gesprek oor lesbianisme in die neëntiende eeu vereis sowel as ’n ondersoek na Mazdanianisme. My analise van Smit se briewe het my tot die oortuiging gebring dat Sy kom met die Sekelmaan as die eerste gepubliseerde Afrikaanse outobiografiese fiksie beskou kan word. Ek kon verder ook haar gesplete self-bewussyn, of die twee ego’s, wat sy onderskeidelik “Hettie” en “Hessie” genoem het, identifiseer. Die feminisme van die wit middelklas gedurende 1950-1980, ’n onderwerp wat grootliks geïgnoreer is, sowel as die onderskrywing van die beleid van apartheid deur blanke vrouens (waaroor daar inderdaad min navorsing beskikbaar is) word bevestig deur my bespreking van Waring se ego-dokumentasie.

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