Olive Schreiner's Story of an African Farm: Reconciling Feminism and Anti-Imperialism?

Moore-Gilbert, Bart J.. 2003. Olive Schreiner's Story of an African Farm: Reconciling Feminism and Anti-Imperialism? Women a Cultural Review, 14(1), pp. 85-103. ISSN 09574042 [Article]

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The nature of the relationship between (proto-)feminism and (anti-)imperialism is highly contested. A case in point is the work of Olive Schreiner, and the articulation of gender politics with (anti-)imperialism which has been subjected to repeated scrutiny in the last twenty years. One strand of criticism, exemplified by critics like Laura Chrisman, Anne McClintock and Carolyn Burdett, argues that Schreiner generally successfully integrates a (proto-)feminist politics with criticism of imperialism in her writing produced after The Story of an African Farm . However, her first novel is viewed as more problematic in this regard. While acknowledging it as a major early text of the women's movement, such critics see the novel as in large measure endorsing prevailing Victorian ideologies of racial hierarchy. Drawing on the methodology of Sub-altern Studies, Moore-Gilbert proposes a rather different interpretation of The Story of an African Farm . Following the lead of Ranajit Guha and his colleagues, he seeks to trace the impact of (the resistance of) the colonized subaltern on the colonizer's unconscious and how this is reflected in the colonizer's regimes of representation and self-image. He proposes that Waldo can be read 'catachrestically' as a figure of the (partially resistant) colonized who at the manifest level occupy only a marginal role in Schreiner's text. The aim is not to overturn readings of Waldo that see him as an exemplary 'modern', embodying many of the characteristics of western civilization at the time. Rather, the argument is that such a 'catchrestic' reading can co-exist simultaneously with these received interpretations of his role, thus corroborating the perception of the Subaltern Studies historians on the existence of conflicts and contradictions in the colonizer's unconscious that mark the (oppositional) presence of the (historically effaced) subaltern. Against their emphasis, however, Moore-Gilbert suggests that the colonizer's unconscious can also be the seat of 'progressive' drives. And the presence of such drives on Schreiner's novel suggests that its racial politics are more consonant with those of her later work than is commonly assumed.

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English and Comparative Literature


April 2003Published

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12 Mar 2009 15:41

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07 Dec 2012 12:51

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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