Woman alone: solitude in selected short stories by Katherine Mansfield, Janet Frame, and Jacqueline Sturm (2020)
Type of ContentTheses / Dissertations
Degree NameMaster of Arts
PublisherUniversity of Canterbury
AuthorsHoskins, Polly Isabella Cumnorshow all
The great accomplishment of Michele Leggott in her seminal essay on women’s writing in New Zealand poetry, “Opening the Archive: Robin Hyde, Eileen Duggan and the persistence of record”, is to point to “a lost matrix of women poets” whose work needs “urgent reappraisal” (267). This dissertation responds to Leggott’s call by examining selected short stories by Katherine Mansfield, Janet Frame, and Jacqueline Sturm with the aim of discovering whether there exists a “matrix” of feminine narrative. I argue that these writers are bound to this matrix, showing that they are combined in looking at the woman alone, particularly by a shared attention to the feminine experience of solitude. The theme of “Woman Alone” is one that, with few exceptions, commentators have been reluctant to acknowledge but, as this thesis makes clear, is prevalent in the work of Mansfield, Frame, and Sturm. Moreover, in this first thematic reading of this trope in the work of these three writers, I argue that states of solitude are a vital precondition for women in the twentieth century to reflect on their lives and explore their identity at a time of shifting identity in New Zealand society. In their short fiction, Mansfield, Frame, and Sturm give voice to the modern woman’s desire to escape from the routine of the confined everyday environments they inhabit, revealing that female characters are often active seekers of self through their alienation. In analysing these narratives, I have shown that for these women, the consequence of escaping house and home is to encounter a sequence of solitudes that occur in localized environments—a garden, park, beach, or town—but which seem from some other dimension. In experiencing these solitudes, many female characters sense they are poised on the threshold of a liminal and deeply interior space, a place where the gap between the realm of things and the realm of the mind or imagination becomes blurred, and where they begin to expand their perception of self. Situated in contemplative isolation, such female characters encounter both the imagined and embodied, and this bothness is what makes the experience liminal and uncanny—a kind of haunting. Thus Mansfield, Frame, and Sturm evince a modernist sensibility by examining women in moments of solitude through the interplay of social and psychological reality. Taken together, their articulations of female experience provide an alternative voice to the masculinist narrative trope and confront the conventions of representation to which women were traditionally assigned.