Anna Snaith's Modernist Voyages mines archives, as well as the "canon" of marginalized modernisms, for poetry and prose published by seven colonial women writers who visited London between 1890 and 1945. The project's aim is twofold: to "locate" the grande dames of the periphery in sites primarily associated with British modernism's "men of 1914," and to construct alternative maps of the capital, centered around "resistant spaces and networks that worked to counter an urban architecture that monumentalized imperial power" (5).
Snaith uses the (more or less) anti-imperialist work of Olive Schreiner, Sarojini Naidu, Sara Jeannette Duncan, Katherine Mansfield, Jean Rhys, Una Marson, and Christina Stead (as well, in the afterword, of Elizabeth Smart), to suggest that "one way to read modernism transnationally" is to remap the intellectual cartography of early twentieth-century London (5). This reconstitution attempts too to develop frameworks for reading London (space and organism) transnationally, shifting the emphasis from its embodied symbolism as centrifuge to its material and demotic reality as a system of geopolitical contestations.
In the context of their presence in and engagements with the "imperial metropole" (5), Snaith's writers' evocations of racism and oppressive sexual politics, which underlie modernities' "unstable foundations" (33), challenge the meanings assigned to geopolitical points in space, as well as the linearity and unidirectionality of travel between them. Each of Snaith's subjects performs a "voyage in" that challenges the "imperial cartographic logic" (196) of articulate citizens "voyaging out" from the heart of empire to its spatially and culturally othered outposts.
Their articulations of colonial identity, problematizing civilization and citizenship, also reverse definitions of geographies "known" and "unknown" to the "British" subject. By inhabiting, occupying, and rewriting space in London, they call into question meanings of
belonging, colonizer and colonized, making and mimicry in modernism. Their commonly felt (though differently experienced) "disillusionment on arrival, and the exposure of the so-called centre of enlightenment as hostile, decaying and corrupt" lays bare the duplicitous "dichotomy of parochial colony and modern metropolis" (22).
In this schema, even the narratives governing these writers' reception as hybrid colonial intellectuals, flâneuses of color, ambassadors and representatives of peoples--primitive, impoverished, exotic, unruly--become dynamic, multilateral negotiations of language and power, unmaking and remaking the cityscape central to modernist experiments in aesthetics, crises of identity, and sociopolitical upheaval.
And finally, offering a nuanced perspective on how the language, bodily presence, and networks of resistance might both reconfigure the site of resistance and redeem it, Snaith argues that the colonial woman writer's London is a "catalyst" for "destabilization" (206) at best, a heterotopic space, or a migrant notion.
The first chapter of Modernist Voyages converges on Olive Schreiner's treatment of indigenous Africans, Boers, Jewishness, and the intersections of race and gender in From Man to Man (1926). Snaith contextualizes the novel comprehensively, reading Schreiner's evolving "views on colonialism . . . through her gender politics, particularly in terms of mothering and family" (37), traced across literal and metaphorical mediations and movements between South Africa and London (1881-89 and 1913-20). Acknowledging the inadequacy of Schreiner's "solidarity" with races she writes as stepmothered by a real or symbolical Queen Victoria, Snaith nevertheless offers a sympathetic consideration of her anti-capitalism. Diamond mining, prostitution, as well as empire and marriage, act as constructs that perpetuate the commodification and exploitation of individuals and communities in Schreiner's work.
The second chapter speaks to Sarojini Naidu, in London for study and as part of Indian delegations to the seat of imperial power from 1895-98, 1912-14, 1919-21, and from September through December 1931. Modernist Voyages examines the influence of both the Irish literary revival (which in turn drew on notions of "Indian spiritualism and philosophy") and subcontinental feminist renditions of Vedic, post-Vedic, and early Mughal reverence for women on Naidu's lyric verse and burgeoning anti-colonialism (78). Youthful poetic attempts often dismissed by critics as derivative are reframed here as "the product of [Naidu's] hybrid situation" (79); her "particular commitment to a discourse of human rights, social justice and nation state" as well as "the eclecticism of her literary influences" is reread as the "product of cross-cultural contact" in London (81).
Naidu used "the infantalising and orientalizing gestures" of Yeats, Symons, and Gosse "to construct her public persona to her own advantage" (89). She worked "alongside a British sisterhood" (85) for women's suffrage, protested the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and its infamous aftermath in the House of Commons, and developed a framework for articulating the agency of female citizen-subjects, in the flesh or acting through a reconstituted, political zenana. Her "extraordinary mobility" across national boundaries, "metropolitan institutions, networks and organisations," her "shifting roles [as] celebrity, tourist, lobbyist, campaigner and facilitator," and the multidirectional influence of her traveling work allowed her to rhetorically reverse the "trope of imitation" on which imperial perceptions of the "provincial colony" depended (89).
Unlike Naidu, whose representational focus remained on her country of origin, most of Sara Jeannette Duncan's journalism and fictional work was set in London. Evoking Schreiner's troubled affection for the "Cinderella of the British Colonial Family," chapter 3 of Modernist Voyages examines Duncan's view of Britain as a potential source of cultural and social welfare through readings of The Imperialist (1904) and Cousin Cinderella (1908). "A theoretical supporter of empire, Duncan feared the growth of materialism and capitalism and hoped that allegiance to the British monarchy, as opposed to American democracy, would be a way of maintaining ideals of honour, tradition and loyalty" (94). Nevertheless, her portrait of "women's involvement in imperial politics and the imperial consequences of domestic arrangements," by way of topical engagements with issues such preferential tariffs for Canada (confederated in 1867), offers a robust critique of London society's commodification of the colonial woman, and the farcical, if tragic and profoundly unproductive, fact that a "colonial subject's attempt to enter and contribute to the metropolis paradoxically results in a reassertion of British superiority and dominance" (109).
Duncan's highly mobile life, and her protagonists', transform the central London flat from entry point for a surveillant and suspicious state to a migrant, dynamic "fortress" or "retreat" (107). Mary Trent as well as her author emerge through Snaith's telling as writers of superb integrity and candor. By gendering the "average" colonial voice female, constantly choosing to renavigate, remap, reverse colonize, and rewrite a variety of urban spaces, faithfully reporting the stark and unadorned reality of discourse around "aliens," eugenics, and final solutions, but also the problematic rhetoric of "discovering" and wishing to "plunder" the "mother country," "Duncan decentralizes empire" (105), finally evoking the equal outrage perpetrated by the colonized other and/or federated outsider on First Nations peoples and implicating herself and her readers in the capitalist structuring of a society that reads inhabitants as raw resource.
Chapter 4 situates Katherine Mansfield at the center of Modernist Voyages. None of Snaith's twentieth-century travelers had closer relationships with the iconic actors of Bloomsbury than Mansfield: she has been "prominently integrated" (111) into the European modernist canon. Her short stories, their experiments with subjective voice and interiority, tensions between tradition and the individual talent, perceptions of time and the politics of space, as well as her involvement with "little magazines" have received sustained critical attention.
Modernist Voyages emphasizes Mansfield's sense of deracination, of her self as trespasser and interloper, both as a New Zealander (in Europe, England, London) and in the perpetual shadow of a Māori landscape oppressive with the memory of violent appropriation, of physical and cultural destruction. Snaith explores her infrequently read Urewera Notebook, and the periodicals that published her stories--anonymously, in various guises, and under a variety of pseudonyms--particularly The New Age and Rhythm.
Mansfield emerges from Modernist Voyages as obdurately and strategically borderline. Her unsettled relationship with the aesthetics of violence, her movements between the self as "savagely crude" and the subject (human or nonhuman) as "crudely savage" (123-27), between being "made Māori" and reading with a "pioneer taint" (122), sympathize with (even as they subvert) the "vigorous, determined" (equally violent) aims both of instruments of empire and theoretical spaces designed to "familiarize us with our outcast selves" (128).
Through Snaith's account of Mansfield in the margins, The New Age as well as inter/national/ist periodicals and journals that provided platforms not only for colonial women in London between 1890 and 1945, but for a range of global voices insisting upon the "interconnectedness of colony and the metropole," by/and "unsettling categories of racial and national identification upon which colonialism relies" (133), are revealed as versions of Michel Foucault's heterotopic space. The magazines at once made visible and contained the undesirable, the revolutionary and vexing, seditious and incommoding flotsam and jetsam, the "fragments and fractures" of modernity.
Citing Foucault, Snaith describes the vessels, upon and wielding which (or on whose sufferance) dissidents, migrants, prodigals, the curious, and curiosities arrived in England, as heterotopic: the boat is a "simultaneously mythic and real contestation of the space in which we live" (190). The conceit is equally apt in the case of little magazines or fringe publications publicizing an intervention into the patriotic public discourse, registering a protest against the "materialist motivations" of empire or war (121), dissenting against the rhetoric of primitivization, or disseminating "the histories of migrant urban outcasts" (143). Their space, pace Lefebvre via Snaith, is neither empty nor geometrical, but is emphatically "socially produced" (4). The New Age or Rhythm might easily be read as parallel venues in their own right, though operating in concert and kinship with London.
The idea is carried forward and to its conclusion in chapters 5 and 6. Marson's and Rhys's "two-way, dynamic and shifting negotiation between seeing and being seen" as West Indians in London suggests that "the incorporation and visibility of racial others and the reconfiguration of the boundaries of empire are constituent parts of the modernity of the metropolis" (163). Collaterally, a London that eschews or is shorn of these incorporations and reconfigurations cannot revert to its function as province: the metropolis has become the borders and heterotopias of empire, "the curious limbo" it sustained, was sustained by, and sought to contain (141).
Rhys and Marson bookend versions of what might loosely be termed the Caribbean exilic/migrant experience of European modernism, or Caribbean modernisms on the move. They do so, however, merely by virtue of their juxtaposition--or proximity--in Modernist Voyages. The treatments they receive in the book, like their respective historical and critical voyages, are almost oppositional.
Rhys arrived in London as a sixteen-year-old student, refused to return home after an abortive academic career, and embarked instead on an unsettled literary one, interspersed with stints as a chorus girl, a nude model, and "a mirror that reflected men at twice their actual size." Snaith's interpretation of her nomadic life replaces "the critical cliché of the Rhys victim, the passive protagonist dependent emotionally and financially on men" (137) with the politically traumatized Dominican alienated thrice over: by degenerating British/colonial relations that fueled racial violence in England in 1919 as well as industrial action and rioting in the Caribbean through the 1930s; by the particular precarity of the Creole population in Dominica, where mixed-race and free Afro Caribbeans formed a majority in the Assembly by 1838; and by the British public's particular ignorance about West Indians (neither Africans nor Indians, the white population classless and tainted with suspicions of "miscegenation").
Snaith's chapter on Rhys pivots on the triangular tension between the writer's awareness of an imperial, colonizing cartography's inhuman, mechanized, geographical description of Dominica's living landscape, its rhetorical (and political) fixing toward a utilitarian and commodifying end, the unsettling disjunctions, temporal and spatial disruptions and distortions of her own "Creole vantage point" (136), and the internalized rudders that permit a pirouette spanning appropriative empathy and guilt but no voyage (out or in) of sympathetic, collaborative kinship.
Despite constantly moving and being moved "between resistant possibilities" (151), Snaith argues, Rhys can neither convert the urban spaces she inhabits into "places of belonging" (143) nor leave them behind; she can neither occupy positions of power with authority nor of powerlessness with authenticity. "Articulations of identity . . . are only ever provisional" (147); her only "escape" is through "masquerade" (143). Consequently, Rhys's peculiarly "unstable" or "mongrel" identities within empire perpetually "equal mendaciousness" (141).
Her motility in this regard has more in common with the South African "Jews" Schreiner advocates for in Snaith's first chapter than with Marson's Afro-Caribbean protagonists in London Calling (1937). Clearly written for a Jamaican audience, the play depicts a group of students whose "parodic performance as natives" becomes "a carnivalesque occasion for turning their visual objectification and imitation of a colonial stereotype into fully realized cultural agency" (163). London Calling's production history and Snaith's reading demonstrate that regardless of the privilege and platforms denied them, within certain fora Marson's characters (and compatriots) could claim complete cognizance, not just of a monolithic Caribbean identity but of "blackness."
Modernist Voyages both records and glosses over Marson's ambivalence toward the pan-African politics she helped shape and give voice to, both through her London Calling characters' explicit disavowal of knowledge regarding their ancestral continent, and in Pocomania (1938). Snaith notes that "middle-class Jamaicans" echoed imperial stereotypes about modes of worship that drew on African religious practices; "pukkumina was associated with immorality, uncontrollable and licentious behaviour" (165). Marson's depiction "of the difficulties for black middle-class women in reconnecting with their African heritage" takes the form of her heroine fainting mid-ceremony. Stella's fragility distances her despite her political self from African "savagery" and establishes instead a physical kinship with figurations of femininity from "the oppressor's language." Snaith provides her reader with a range of critical perspectives on "Marson's seeming about-turn" (166), as well as the effect that debates around the rhetorical "return" to Africa had on those around class divisions. Pocomania "shows Marson thinking across class boundaries, and recognizing the need for attention to working-class culture in the reclamation of African identity and the rejection of imperialism" (167).
Marson's narrative, journalistic, and poetic work through the "transformative" London years is characterized by a "vertiginous response to the city"--where "the city" is not London, but Kingston (155). Yet her writerly achievements, as well as her extraordinarily interactive and public campaign for visibility, render her "the most significant black British feminist of the interwar years" (155; emphasis mine): Marson's dizzying, powerful reversals and inversions of the voyage out transform the symbolic functions of modernist icons, and of modernist iconicity. In a photograph of Marson, William Empson, Mulk Raj Anand, Narayana Menon, M. J. Tambimuttu, and T. S. Eliot--"the meeting and sharing of colonial and metropolitan writers and texts" on the BBC's Voice--it is no longer clear which rhetorical spaces are occupied by whom. In contrast with Rhys's inability to break out of "colonial logic" (196) or experience London except as an "abject other" (140), Marson has exceptional command over her hybrid identity.
This is also true for the seventh author treated by Modernist Voyages. The final chapter, on Stead's transnationalism, nurtured through engagement with the radical left in Sydney, offers another perspective on the scope as well as the provenance of internationalism in early twentieth-century magazines. The Left Review and New Masses too are read as publications that turn into venues: heterotopic spaces akin to the ships, boats, and planes the colonial woman writer voyages on, and to London, where she arrives. But this chapter focuses on a "radical deflation of London as a destination or place of 'arrival'" (178). Instead of adhering to the pattern that characterizes her contemporaries, who often "travelled . . . to free themselves from the sexual and economic constraints of small-town living" (179), Stead's rewriting of the quest narrative in For Love Alone (1944) places a colonial woman at its center and reconfigures "home" as that which is unfamiliar. Her Fleet Street interlocutors are "picaresque, amiable, floating men" (196); the subject is the International Brigade; her colonial woman unmoors from place, redefines and embodies cosmopolitanism: at home on the move, and radically "at ease with difference" (195).
Modernist Voyages presents a superbly elegant paradigm for reading modernist London as dynamic and transnational; it traces modern London's cosmopolitan reality and radical potential back, at least in part, to colonial women's resistance in situ. But Snaith's reading also defines already emblematic, monumentalized, South African, Indian, Canadian, New Zealand, Dominican, Jamaican, and Australian writers as "colonial" in a way that deprioritizes both their national experience and the widespread elision of less cosmopolitan, more vulnerable, multiply persecuted, colonial experience upon which their iconicity is, at least in part, based. The exigencies of caste and class, the primacy of hierarchical feudal or capitalist systems globally, and specifically across the British empire, means that the women of Modernist Voyages are exceptions as well as exceptional among "colonial" writers. In this context the designation serves less to place modernist London in dialogue with modernism in the colonies, than to reconfigure one geopolitical entity as an "incubator" (4) and "intellectual organiser" (4) for multiple, global modernisms: a literally incomparable "between space." Reading London as a "crucible" (32) for the many, globally diverse forms of anti-colonial dissent and resistance through the early twentieth century, without calling attention to the rhetorically and ideologically marginalized but culturally (and therefore politically and economically) critical "centers" of empire from Kolkata to Constantine, risks relocating transnational modernisms to "the imperial metropolis" (5).
Concomitantly, Modernist Voyages refashions the colonizing cosmopolis and the language around it, offering up the space as well as the discourse as self-questioning and questionable terrain, for scholars exploring crucial intersections of (hi)story, space, and politics. Courses and projects engaged in critiquing formations of centrality and singularity, narrative dominance, and canonicity, readers curious about colonial (and neocolonial) rifts and resistances, fissures of gendered experience, disproportion in the distribution of the privilege of visibility and the consequences of power/conflict, and philosophical mediations between physical and discursive constructions of material and political reality, particularly in London and/or the British colonies, will find Snaith's book invaluable.