Why can't she stay home? : expatriation and back-migration in the work of Katherine Mansfield, Robin Hyde, Janet Frame and Fleur Adcock.
My thesis examines changing conceptions of colonial, artistic and female
identity. I build on the work of previous critics (including Ash, Parkin-Gounelas, Pride,
Sandbrook, Wevers), but I seek to place renewed emphasis on literary-historical context
and questions of aesthetic value.
My introductory chapter grounds the twentieth-century works in literary
analyses of a sample of published nineteenth-century accounts by British women of their
emigration to New Zealand. These women align expatriation with bereavement, yet
advocate the colony's new egalitarianism. The chapter ends with a reading of Victorian
fiction by 'Alien' (Louisa Baker: once popular, but now seldom read), for whom
expatriation was already a complex matter.
For 'Alien', the New Zealander's return to England connotes artistic selfbetterment
and women's entry into valuable work: themes crucial to Mansfield, in whose
early prose expatriation represents similar liberation. However, connections between
travel and social freedom become increasingly questionable; Mansfield's stories
illustrate the restrictiveness of European sexual moeurs, establishing disturbing
correspondences between expatriation, the lost past, the undermining of identity, and
Hyde takes up Mansfield's preoccupations, in works which richly dramatise the
scope and limits of expatriation for a colonial woman artist. The inclusion of backmigration
in her narratives reconciles expatriation with rising literary nationalism.
Adcock's initial poetry repeats Mansfield's adolescent depiction of New Zealand
as stifling. Although her stance on the relationship between self and homeland grows
more conflicted throughout her career, she rejects Hyde's idea of redemptive backmigration.
Return merely leads to reiteration of insoluble debates over identity.
Janet Frame's novels parody - and repudiate - previous perspectives on
expatriation. Her autobiography partially returns to modernist structures (expatriation as
arrival at self-possession), yet her total oeuvre finds its only possibility of home in
I conclude with a brief examination of fiction by Kirsty Gunn and Emily
Perkins, both of whom use expatriation to signify moral uncertainty. My study aims to
deepen a sense of the intertextual relationships between the selected authors. I hope that
my account opens new ways of interpreting the links between history and gender in
narratives of leaving home.