Femininity, Class and Contradiction in Late Colonial New Zealand Novels


Daphne Antonia Lawless


A thesis

submitted to the Victoria University of Wellington

in fulfilment of the

requirements for the degree of

Doctor of Philosophy

in English Literature


Victoria University of Wellington





This thesis re-evaluates ideas of the depiction of women in New Zealand novels of the late colonial period (1890s-1930s) in light of a Marxist-feminist critical approach. Starting from a rejection of the usefulness of distinguishing "popular" from "serious" novels of the period, it analyses both romantic convention and deviations from that convention in terms of the aspirations of middle-class colonial women. In the case of Pakeha femininity, it sees both those narratives which emphasise female purity and submission, and those which concentrate on female independence and agency, as part of a single middle-class identity. For colonial middle-class women, individuality and adherence to social conventions are both necessary to maintain the subjectís class identity and privileges. These social conventions are intimately connected to the ideology whereby the settler woman was seen as embodying the virtues of imperial society.

The "Angelic" narratives are shown to offer a paradoxical discourse of liberation for the middle-class woman. By espousing a cause of moral purity such as prohibition, she can wield power and influence over the men of her social class, while still maintaining the appearance of selflessness which is a requirement for the "good" imperial woman. In contrast, the "New Woman" novels often follow a "boomerang" trajectory of these narratives, in which an independent heroine returns to conventional heterosexual marriage at the end. This can be seen not as a confusion in the narrative or a repression of a feminist consciousness, but a necessary correction by which the heroine can experience both freedom and class privilege. The thesis also looks at Maori femininity through an analysis of novels with "half-caste" heroines. These novels are characterised by a constant struggle on the part of the heroines to disavow their "savage" ancestry and culture, to preserve their privileges as white middle-class women, such as subjectivity and marriage to a man of the correct race and class. The alternative, to be seen as a Maori woman, is an experience of abjection, sexualization and servitude. In the narratives of Pakeha women, where Maori barely feature, it is the white working class who suffer this denial of subjectivity.

These narratives are shown to differ slightly from those of the metropolis. The wider sphere of female independence in colonial society (for example, suffrage) meant that a broader range of action was possible within the female role, but, conversely, that colonial women had to be more careful to assert their adherence to the feminine role.




Well. What a long, strange, drawn-out trip itís been.

As that famous English academic, J.R.R. Tolkien, said of his masterwork, this tale grew in the telling. By the time it was done it bore very little relationship to what I originally conceived it as being. In a sense, it grew with me over the slightly more than four years I spent researching and writing it. If it is a different thing than it was when it started, so is its author, as anyone whoís known me over this period can attest.

First and foremost thanks over this period go to my supervisor, Jane Stafford, who never lost faith in me, even when Iíd totally lost faith in myself. The staff at the Alexander Turnbull Library were never anything but courteous and helpful. Important clues were given me in the early stages by Vincent OíSullivan, who gave me perceptive advice on my research proposal; and Kirstine Moffat, whose own doctoral thesis The Puritan Paradox was responsible for much of the structure and the bibliography of the second section.

Financial support came initially from the University Scholarships Office; latterly, from the nice people who were prepared to hire me, at the University Library and the Disabilities Support Service. A special tip of the hat to the students I tutored in ENGL 114, who were a joy and a pleasure to teach. Von Zedlitz 704 was a very pleasant office, with a nice view.

My flatmates, my friends, my lovers, my workmates, my comrades, my cats, my stuffed toys, everyone who came to my performances or bought Undinal Songs, and everyone else who kept me going over the last four years are, of course, far too numerous to mention. Except, of course, for Kelly, Jessica, Meredith and Cal. I love you all so very much.

This thesis is for anyone who thinks that my work might help you - best of luck. I really hope it does. Iím going to the beach now.

Daphne Lawless

Wellington, December 2003.








Class, Gender, Colonialism and Popular Literature, a Theoretical Survey *

Why These Texts, Why These Images *

Ideology *

The Dialectical-Materialist Approach to Literary Criticism *

"Popular" and "Serious" Novels *

Class, Colonialism and Femininity *

Images of the Pakeha Woman: Angels, New Women and Romance *

The Conventions of Romance *

The Angel in the House *

The New Woman *

The New Woman, the Angel, and the Romance Heroine: Conjoined Triplets *

Images of Maori Women: The Half-Caste and the Indigenous Maiden *

Opposite Views of the Half-Caste: Colonial Plague and Useful Servant *

Indigenous Women: Colonialism, Sexuality and Desire *

The Internal Struggle: Gothic Half-Breeds and "Tragic Mulattoes" *

Conclusion: Questions to be answered *



Colonial Angels: Narratives of Feminine Purity and Power *

The Apotheosis of the Angel Isafrel *

"A sweet, unselfish girl", Nellie Main in For Fatherís Sake *

Susan Mactierís Pioneer Angels *

Other Angels, "Babbie", Cameron, Storey *

Angels and Men, Kathleen Inglewood and Guy Thornton *

Conclusion *



Virgin Territory: Maori and Half-Caste Women at the Crossroads of Race and Gender *

Femininity, Savagery and Passing: Half-Caste Heroines in Vogel and Baume *

"A White Man, In All Senses of the Word": Savagery, Virtue, Beauty and Colour *

Unfallen Women: Ngaia and Ngaire as Tragic Half-Breeds *

"The Religion of Women": Gender-Variant Behaviour in Baume and Vogel *

Other Half-caste Heroines: Adams, Satchell, Smith *

Conclusion: The Half-Caste Woman and Colonial Power *





Throwing Down the Gauntlet: Class, Romance and the Image of the "New Woman" *

Constance Clyde: The Independent Woman in the Colonial City *

Louisa Baker: The Angel Evolving *

Daughter of the King: Pragmatism and Atonement *

Wheat in the Ear: Suffragettes, Servants and the Romantic Imperative *

The Rural Romantic Heroine: Rosemary Rees *

Edith Searle Grossman: The Middle-Class Tames The Upper Class *

Conclusion *




Points of Exclusion: Summary and Conclusion *

Points of Departure: Where do we go from here? *


Primary Sources: *

Secondary Sources: *