Emma Barnes is a Lecturer in Nineteenth-Century and World Literatures at the University of Salford, and is a Research Assistant on the AHRC-funded project, ‘South African Modernism 1880-2020’.
‘Olive Schreiner and the New Women of New Zealand’
Writing to Edward Carpenter in 1908, Olive Schreiner lamented that: ‘South Africa is quite 80 years behind Europe; and a century behind Australia & New Zealand’ (Letter to Edward Carpenter, 24th February, 1908). As the first country to attain voting rights for women in 1893, Aotearoa New Zealand provided Schreiner with a model of success for women’s suffrage movements, and a point of reference in establishing her own feminisms. Yet these lines of influence were not unilateral; Schreiner in turn inspired New Women writers from New Zealand. The subtitle of Louisa Baker’s 1894 novel, A Daughter of the King, for example, is ‘An Answer to “The Story of an African Farm”’, and the novel opens with an epigraph from Schreiner’s 1883 text. Jane Mander makes her familiarity with Schreiner’s novel known in A Story of a New Zealand River (1920), which incorporates several references to The Story of an African Farm and Woman and Labour (1911). Hermione Carlisle, in Edith Searle Grossmann’s In Revolt (1893), appears to be modelled after African Farm’s Lyndall; both are freethinking feminists who reject marriage.
In this chapter, I offer analysis of the intertextual aspects of work by Grossmann, Baker, and Mander, suggesting that although Aotearoa New Zealand was at the forefront of the women’s suffrage movements, the emergence of New Woman writing and associated feminist literary cultures was indebted to Schreiner’s international reach. Building upon the recent work of Kirstine Moffat (2019), who acknowledges the influence of Schreiner across New Zealand’s New Woman fiction, and scholarship by others who have considered Schreiner’s status as a New Woman writer at great length (Heilmann, 2004; Hetherington, 2011; Stanley, 2014), I demonstrate how Schreiner’s influence reaches beyond the literary and political networks of which she was directly part. I make the case that the impacts of Schreiner’s feminist arguments and experimental writing extended to a country Schreiner herself never visited, and its feminist literary cultures continue to be shaped by the afterlives of her writing. In considering the interrelation of South African and New Zealand literary cultures, this chapter will analyse New Woman writing within the context of what Sarah Comyn and Porscha Fermanis describe as a ‘southern archive’ (2021, p.3) of nineteenth-century intercolonial relations across South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. Comyn and Fermanis suggest that literary production from the southern colonies reveals a nuanced form of knowledge exchange that emerges from missionary circuits and settler-Indigenous relations. I build on this notion by considering how Schreiner’s literary presence in New Zealand facilitated the formation of another form of knowledge exchange grounded within a white, feminist literary network.