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 Monika Fludernik

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 Karin Kukkonen

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Updated Up To 26/06/2018
Volume 16, issue 1 (January 2018) : 125-143
Written in the Stars? Women Travellers and Forgers of Destinies in Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries

Barbara Franchi
Rubric A: Then and Now
Rubric B: Women Writers



How do women travelling the colonial frontier create a feminine, and potentially less hierarchical type of modernity? And how does Neo-Victorian fiction explore gendered and racialized types of modernity through the use of travel? Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries (2013) represesnts the quest for a postcolonial and feminine modernity through the trope of the woman traveler, worker, storyteller and entrepreneur. In particular, protagonists Anna Whetherell and Lydia Wells oppose the highly racist and sexist societies of gold rush frontier towns of the 1860s New Zealand through solitary travel on foot, by sea and across textual layers. This paper argues that such independent solitary women travelers stand for a new representation of white women in colonial contexts and challenge traditional categories of Victorian femininity, such as the dichotomous opposition between the Angel in the House and the fallen woman. By shifting across white femininity and queer Chinese identities (in Anna’s case), and by embracing a masculine, capitalist model (for Lydia), Catton’s heroines survive, on their own, as members of a minority in the communities of white, male miners. The two women thus embody new types of femininity and, while placing themselves outside the colonial hierarchy, they question the social structure, the exploitation of the Other (the woman, the Chinese) and set an example for a more viable and more equal society born out of colonial settlement. Finally, while shaping modernity through their female gaze and a free way of travelling the peripheries, the two women also accomplish their own Bildung process and, forgers of their own fortunes, symbolize the shift from masculine, imperial modernity to a feminine, neo-Victorian, postcolonial paradigm.

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