Nationalism, gender and sexuality in the autobiographical writing of two Afrikaner women

Viljoen L. (2008)


This article makes the point that autobiography, a genre often considered marginal to the literary canon, can be regarded as a site for examining the impact of nationalism on the construction of gendered and sexual identity. It investigates questions of nationalism, gender and sexuality in the autobiographical texts of Petronella van Heerden and Elsa Joubert. Petronella van Heerden (1887-1975) became the first Afrikaner woman to qualify as a medical doctor and published two short autobiographical texts, Kerssnuitsels ('Candle Snuffings') and Die sestiende koppie ('the Sixteenth Cup'), in the early 1960s. Elsa Joubert (1922- ) established herself as one of the most important novelists in Afrikaans literature and published the first part of her autobiography, titled 'n Wonderlike geweld ('A Wonderful Violence'), in 2005. The article argues that van Heerden's omission of overt references to her lesbianism can be attributed to the strong, though embattled, position of Afrikaner nationalism at the time her texts were published. With regard to Joubert's autobiography, the article makes the point that the text demonstrates the erotic appeal of the nationalist spectacle, constituted by events surrounding the Second Trek in 1938. © 2008 Taylor & Francis.

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