Randall, Mary Stewart (1991). IMAGES OF WOMEN IN NOVELS WRITTEN IN ENGLISH BY SOUTH AFRICAN WOMEN. BPhil thesis The Open University.



The thesis discusses over a century of novel writing by South African women writers as they respond to political change from colonialism to apartheid. It follows the sequence of publica­tion. The first five chapters describe the work of Olive Schreiner, Sarah Gertrude Millin, Pauline Smith, Nadine Gordimer and other white writers; the last two chapters are on Bessie Head and other black writers.

The thesis briefly examines problems of writing and publication, and the reasons why some writers choose or are forced to live abroad. Many novels are autobiographical, and many writers interpret the South African situation didactically for their readers in the West and South Africa. Most of the novels are written within the European realist tradition: exceptions like A Question of Power stress the importance of the inner life in bringing about personal and political change. The thesis examines the ways in which the writers use imagery, particularly from nature, to suggest changes in women's lives and even help to create myths.

The novels reflect the divisions in the society: perhaps only Bessie Head and Phyllis Altman cross them successfully. The novels indicate how misuse of power by men can change the lives and characters of women, although white women's lives still rest on black labour. Although white bourgeois women increasingly insist on choosing the direction of their lives, becoming less dependent on personal relationships, the novels illustrate how rarely even educated black women can choose how to live. The break-up of families is a recurring theme, as is the isolation and fear of women. However, hope for the future lies in the creation of male characters with feminist sympa­thies, such as Waldo and Pholoso. In such ways the writers themselves become part of the process of change in South Africa.

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