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21 - Settler Stories: Postcolonial Short Fiction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 November 2016

Victoria Kuttainen
Affiliation:
James Cook University
Dominic Head
Affiliation:
University of Nottingham
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Summary

People, not Plots

Miss Mansfield does not write what one usually thinks of as a ‘short story’. She is interested in people, not plots.

To open with Robert Littell's observation about the modernist short story writer Katherine Mansfield is to undertake the kind of re-reading, re-positioning and re-framing that the postcolonial perspective often suggests. Each of the writers discussed in this chapter has typically been understood in terms of their contribution to national literature or to a literary school or style more broadly. As a case in point, Katherine Mansfield has traditionally been classed as a modernist whose stylistics were informed by her distance from New Zealand and her exposure to metropolitan literary experiments, allowing her to exceed the conditions of her colonial upbringing to create universal art. More recently, however, scholars have re-evaluated the effects of her colonial upbringing and subsequent exile on her writing to demonstrate ways in which she might instead be understood as a paradigmatic settler postcolonial writer. To understand these writers and their work in these terms is a gesture towards claiming for them a common set of stylistics informed by their shared postcolonial condition in settler domains.

Here the term ‘postcolonialism’ is used in its widest sense, not as a marker of contemporary periodicity or of time after political independence, but rather as a signal of the enduring aftermath of colonialism, in which the problematics of settlement are discernible in the first wave of colonization through to the present day. This scope extends from the work of short story writers typically understood as ‘colonial’, in whose writing the motifs of place and displacement and the themes of longing and belonging take root, to the work of contemporary writers whose stories are more often read in terms of postmodernism. Reading through these optics draws attention to the common thread of exile and alienation that is present in nineteenth- and twentieth-century fiction. This frame also focalizes through a postcolonial lens what Lyotard has identified as postmodernism's central feature, ‘incredulity toward meta-narratives’, as writers such as Peter Carey or Janet Frame grapple with colonial legacies that have persisted in ideological forms long after independence.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2016

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References

Baldwin, Dean and Quinn, Patrick J., eds., An Anthology of Colonial and Postcolonial Short Fiction (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006).
Bennett, Bruce, Australian Short Fiction: A History (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 2002).
Chapman, Michael, ed., Omnibus of a Century of South African Short Stories (Johannesburg and Capetown: Ad Donker Publishers), 2007.
Dvorák, Marta, and New, W. H., eds., Tropes and Territories: Short Fiction, Postcolonial Readings, Canadian Writings in Context (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2007).
Gwynne, Joel, The Secular Visionaries: Aestheticism and New Zealand Short Fiction in the Twentieth Century (Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2010).
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