FANTASTIC FICTIONS: MODELS OF THE LAW, OF TIME, AND FEMALE IDENTITY IN H. RIDER HAGGARD'S SHE AND OLIVE SCHREINER'S THE STORY OF AN AFRICAN FARM
Swann, Cynthia G.
Throughout the mid and late-nineteenth century the question of women's proper place in English society posed a fascinating and frustrating conundrum - did a move toward increased economic, educational, and political opportunities for women mark a positive step forward, or did it instead signal a frightening, destabilizing attack against a healthy status quo? The woman question, while elusive in itself, did clarify that the language used to conceptualize women needed to be reexamined.An inherent part of this reexamination included raising the thorny question of how to address, and possibly resolve, the anomalous position of married women under the law. This anomaly was the result of the long-standing common law principle of coverture, a legal fiction providing that married women had no legal identity separate from their husbands. At the very heart of the fiction was the inescapable contradiction that in satisfying society's expectation that she become a wife, a woman simultaneously became "nonexistent" in the eyes of the law. This contradiction became the focus of an array of legislation that affected nearly every facet of women's lives, including child custody rights, divorce, and property ownership. The debates that surrounded the legislation necessarily forced an examination of, and opened a dialogue about, the issue of whether women's anomalous legal status could be successfully challenged - that is, there was a move toward imagining the possibility that women's legal position could be changed.Whether women could (or should) achieve autonomy, how such autonomy might be achieved, and what the movement toward autonomy might look like were questions that were also being explored beyond the courts and legislature. Concerns regarding the genesis and authority of the law, as well as women's role in the history of its evolution were also being raised by historians and tested in the emerging field of anthropology, while questions regarding women's place in the evolutionary development of the human species were being generated by Charles Darwin and other biologists. Yet neither the discourse of the law nor of science could arguably fully articulate a critical component of the movement toward autonomy: the importance of creating a temporal space for contemplating what that autonomy might look like.Both H. Rider Haggard in his novel She (1887) and Olive Schreiner in her The Story of An African Farm (1883) create such a space through their use of the fantastic. Although the work of Haggard and Schreiner is not typically conceived as intersecting, but instead as marking an ideological and artistic divide, both She and African Farm make use of the fantastic to allow a contemplation of legal personhood as well as to create a space for transformation. This thesis specifically examines how the narrative forms of both She and African Farm model the temporal and conceptual spaces that they consider, and how that modeling itself creates a virtual space for imagining greater autonomy for women.
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