From the Margins of Empire: Christina Stead, Doris Lessing, Nadine Gordimer

From the Margins of Empire: Christina Stead, Doris Lessing, Nadine Gordimer

From the Margins of Empire: Christina Stead, Doris Lessing, Nadine Gordimer

From the Margins of Empire: Christina Stead, Doris Lessing, Nadine Gordimer

Synopsis

Situated at the intersection of the colonial and the postcolonial, the modern and the postmodern, the novelists Christina Stead, Doris Lessing, and Nadine Gordimer all bear witness to this century's global transformations. From the Margins of Empire looks at how the question of national identity is constructed in their writings. These authors-white women who were born or grew up in British colonies or former colonies-reflect the subject of national identity in vastly different ways in both their lives and their work. Stead, who resided outside of her native Australia, has an unsettled identity. Lessing, who grew up in southern Rhodesia and migrated to England, is or has become English. Gordimer, who was born in South Africa and remains there, considers herself South African. Louise Yelin shows how the three writers' different national identities are inscribed in their fiction. The invented, hybrid character of nationality is, she maintains, a constant throughout. Locating the writings of Stead, Lessing, and Gordimer in the national cultures that produced and read them, she considers the questions they raise about the roles that whites, especially white women, can play in the new political and cultural order.

Excerpt

This is a book about women writers and national identity. It examines the construction of national identity in the novels of Christina Stead, Doris Lessing, and Nadine Gordimer, three white women who were born or grew up in British colonies or former colonies. These writers, whose lives span the 20th century, are situated at the intersection of the colonial and the postcolonial, the modern and the postmodern. As white women, they occupy positions at odd angles to these binaries. Their lives and work encompass a range of national identifications. They exemplify three strategies for negotiating between colonial or formerly colonial "peripheries" and metropolitan "centers": Stead, who lived most of her life away from Australia, where she was born and died, has an unsettled national identity; Lessing is or becomes English; Gordimer identifies as a South African. These identifications are played out in their novels, which raise questions about the role of whites, especially white women, in the contemporary—post‐ colonial, postimperial—global political and cultural order.

The years between 1940, when Stead published The Man Who Loved Children, and 1990, when Gordimer published My Son's Story, saw the threat of fascism, a world war, anticolonial struggles and decolonization in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean, and, finally, the end of apartheid in South Africa. During these years, many new nations emerged, and radical changes occurred in some of the older ones: in the aftermath of European empires, the map of the world was profoundly rearranged. All three writers bear witness to this global transformation; their novels inscribe their own changing national identifications and changing conceptions of national identity itself.

The national identity of Stead, Lessing, and Gordimer is in question in a way that it would not be for writers—white writers, at least—born . . .

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