Narrating (her)story : South African women’s life writing (1854-1948)

Smit, Lizelle (2015-03)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University. 2015

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Seeking to explore modes of self-representation in women’s life writing and the ways in which these subjects manipulate the autobiographical ‘I’ to write about gender, the body, race and ethnic related issues, this thesis interrogates the autobiographies of three renegade women whose works were birthed out of the de/colonial South African context between 1854-1948. The chosen texts are: Marina King’s Sunrise to Evening Star: My Seventy Years in South Africa (1935), Melina Rorke’s Melina Rorke: Her Amazing Experiences in the Stormy Nineties of South-African History (1938), and two memoirs by Petronella van Heerden, Kerssnuitsels (1962) and Die 16de Koppie (1965). My analysis is underpinned by relevant life writing and feminist criticism, such as the notion of female autobiographical “embodiment” (239) and the ‘I’s reliance on “relationality” (248) as discussed in the work of Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson (Reading Autobiography). I further draw on Judith Butler’s concept of “performativity” (Bodies that Matter 234) in my analysis in order to suggest that there is a performative aspect to the female ‘I’ in these texts. The aim of this thesis is to illustrate how these self-representations of women can be read as counter-conventional, speaking out against stereotypical perceptions and conventions of their time and in literatures (fiction and criticism) which cast women as tractable, compliant pertaining to patriarchal oversight, as narrow-minded and apathetic regarding achieving notoriety and prominence beyond their ascribed position in their separate societies. I argue that these works are representative of alternative female subjectivities and are examples of South African women’s life writing which lie ‘dusty’ and forgotten in archives; voices that are worthy of further scholarly research which would draw the stories of women’s lives back into the literary consciousness.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: In ‘n poging om metodes van self-uitbeelding te bespreek en die manier waarop die ‘ek’ van vroulike ego-tekste manipuleer om sodoende te skryf oor geslagsrolle, die liggaam, ras en ander etniese kwessies, ondersoek hierdie verhandeling die outbiografieë van drie onkonvensionele vrouens se werk, gebore vanuit die de/koloniale konteks in Suid-Afrika tussen 1854-1948. Die ego-tekste wat in hierdie navorsingstuk ondersoek word, sluit in: Marina King se Sunrise to Evening Star: My Seventy Years in South Africa (1935), Melina Rorke se Melina Rorke: Her Amazing Experiences in the Stormy Nineties of South-African History (1938), en twee memoirs geskryf deur Petronella van Heerden, Kerssnuitsels (1962) en Die 16de Koppie (1965). My analise word ondersteun deur relevante kritici van feministiese en outobiografiese velde. Ek bespreek onder andere die idee dat die vroulike ‘ek’ liggaamlik “vergestalt” (239) is in outobiografie, asook die ‘ek’ se afhanklikheid van “relasionaliteit” (248) soos uiteengesit in die werk van Sidonie Smith en Julia Watson (Reading Autobiography). Verder stel ek voor, met verwysing na Judith Butler, dat daar ‘n “performative” (Bodies that Matter 234) aspek na vore kom in die vroulike ‘ek’ van Suid- Afrikaanse outobiografie. Die doel van hierdie tesis is om uit te lig dat hierdie selfvoorstellings van vroue gelees kan word as kontra-konvensioneel; dat die stereotipiese uitbeelding van vroue as skroomhartig, nougeset, gedweë ten opsigte van patriargale oorsig, en willoos om meer te vermag as wat hul onderskeie gemeenskappe vir hul voorskryf, weerspreek word deur hierdie ego-tekste. Die doel is om sodanige outobiografiese vertellings en -uitbeeldings te vergelyk en sodoende uiteenlopende vroulike subjektiwiteite gedurende die periode 1854-1948 te belig. Ek verwys deurlopend na voorbeelde van ander gemarginaliseerde Suid-Afrikaanse vroulike ego-tekse om aan te dui dat daar weliswaar ‘n magdom ‘vergete’ en ‘stof-bedekte’ vrouetekste geskryf is in die afgebakende periode. Ek voor aan dat die ‘stem’ van die vroulike ‘ek’ allermins stagneer het, en dat verdere bestudering waarskynlik nodig is.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/97034
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