Situated at the intersection of the colonial and the postcolonial, the modern and the postmodern, the novelists Christina Stead, Doris Lessing, and Nadine Gordimer all bear witness to this century's global transformations. From the Margins of Empire looks at how the question of national identity is constructed in their writings. These authors—white women who were born or grew up in British colonies or former colonies—reflect the subject of national identity in vastly different ways in both their lives and their work. Stead, who resided outside of her native Australia, has an unsettled identity. Lessing, who grew up in southern Rhodesia and migrated to England, is or has become English. Gordimer, who was born in South Africa and remains there, considers herself South African.
Louise Yelin shows how the three writers' different national identities are inscribed in their fiction. The invented, hybrid character of nationality is, she maintains, a constant throughout. Locating the writings of Stead, Lessing, and Gordimer in the national cultures that produced and read them, she considers the questions they raise about the roles that whites, especially white women, can play in the new political and cultural order.
"An elegant and insightful challenge to ways of thinking about both postcolonialism and women's writing. Yelin's readings of Stead, Lessing, and Gordimer put questions of nation and race at the heart of feminist criticism and show us why that is precisely where they belong. Combining detailed readings of these writers' struggles to fashion their own identities with a fully informed theoretical and historical analysis of identity construction itself, Yelin reminds us of how very complex and disordered identity and identification can be. And she shows us the crucial role novels play in that complexity. This is criticism at its politically engaged best."
Carla Kaplan, University of Southern California
"Louise Yelin's rich and thoughtful study brings together three white women novelists who published during the second half of the twentieth century.... From the Margins of Empire is most interesting and original on the issues of national identity and political affiliation."
Bryn Mawr Review of Comparative Literature
"This study of national identifications has benefited from Louise Yelin's astute, meditated, and precise formulations of feminist fictions and narratology. Subtle, lucid, and informed, Louise Yelin's contribution to women writing about politics and social change is a lasting one—sure to be valuable to critics of ideology and fiction."
Dale M. Bauer, University of Wisconsin, Madison
"A complex account of the relationship between issues of gender, national identity, and political affiliation."
Yearbook of English Studies
"The paradox of women without economic or political clout becoming symbols of a powerful system is familiar to feminists. But in bringing together Christina Stead, Doris Lessing, and Nadine Gordimer in an important new Study, Louise Yelin helps us imagine how the colonies looked to bright young women of European descent."
Modern Fiction Studies
"From the Margins of Empire is a book that should be read. Yelin maintains a difficult balance between criticism and praise for these three authors who are so interesting, and yet so problematic, in ways that must not be ignored."
American Book Review
"Yelin's superbly clear organization of this material is crucial to the book's success; while each chapter's detailed readings of novels... are all capable of standing alone, they also develop thematically and chronologically.... What further unites Yelin's discussion is her highly intelligent analysis of gender and genre in affirming a national identity or writing the nation."
Research in African Literatures
"Yelin's study presents the novels provocatively, insightfully, and with a perfectly balanced appreciation of text and context.... Her uncovering.... testifies to the imaginative power of writers with a will to write a different story."