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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Fictions of the self : studies in female modernism : Jean Rhys, Gertrude Stein and Djuna Barnes Groves, Robyn


This thesis considers elements of autobiography and autobiographical fiction in the writings of three female Modernists: Jean Rhys, Gertrude Stein and Djuna Barnes. In chapter 1, after drawing distinctions between male and female autobiographical writing, I discuss key male autobiographical fictions of the Modernist period by D.H. Lawrence, Marcel Proust and James Joyce, and their debt to the nineteenth century literary forms of the Bildungsroman and the Künstlerroman. I relate these texts to key European writers, Andre Gide and Colette, and to works by women based on two separate female Modernist aesthetics: first, the school of "lyrical transcendence"—Dorothy Richardson, Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf—in whose works the self as literary subject dissolves into a renunciatory "female impressionism;" the second group—Rhys, Stein and Barnes--who as late-modernists, offer radically "objectified" self-portraits in fiction which act as critiques and revisions of both male and female Modernist fiction of earlier decades. In chapter 2, I discuss Jean Rhys' objectification of female self-consciousness through her analysis of alienation in two different settings: the Caribbean and the cities of Europe. As an outsider in both situations, Rhys presents an unorthodox counter-vision. In her fictions of the 1930's, she deliberately revises earlier Modernist representations, by both male and female writers, of female self-consciousness. In the process, she offers a simultaneous critique of both social and literary conventions. In chapter 3, I consider Gertrude Stein's career-long experiments with the rendering of consciousness in a variety of literary forms, noting her growing concern throughout the 1920's and 1930's with the role of autobiography in writing. In a close reading of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, I examine Stein's parody and "deconstruction" of the autobiographical form and the Modernist conception of the self based on memory, association and desire. Her witty attack on the conventions of narrative produces a new kind of fictional self-portraiture, drawing heavily on the visual arts to create new prose forms as well as to dismantle old ones. Chapter 4 focuses on Djuna Barnes' metaphorical representations of the self in prose fiction, which re-interpret the Modernist notion of the self, by means of an androgynous fictional poetics. In her American and European fictions she extends the notion of the work of art as a formal, self-referential and self-contained "world" by subverting it with the use of a late-modern, "high camp" imagery to create new types of narrative structure. These women's major works, appearing in the 1930's, mark a second wave of Modernism, which revises and in certain ways subverts the first. Hence, these are studies in "late Modernism" and in my conclusion I will consider the distinguishing features of this transitional period, the 1930's, and the questions it provokes about the idea of periodization in general.

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