Modernist Movements: Border Crossings and Ways of Knowing in the Literature of Anglo-American Women, 1913-1930

  • Katharina Boeckenhoff

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis proposes a new way of thinking about relations between literary modernism and movement by exploring the writings of Anglo-American women published between 1913 and 1930. Crossing borders to ‘foreign’ places is an instance of movement particularly relevant to the colonial geopolitics and ethnographic projects in Britain, Europe and North America in the early twentieth century. In the discourse of anthropology and sexology – gradually emerging as disciplines with ‘scientific’ ambitions at the time – travels abroad served as a way of gathering knowledge empirically: ‘men of science’ traversing national borders to gather data is a central and gendered aspect in the production of anthropological and sexological knowledge. This thesis brings into critical focus the scientific paradigm of travel with the aim of illustrating the ways in which border crossings and ‘foreign’ spaces figure in literature’s engagement with forms of knowing sexual otherness in the early twentieth century. Texts by Olive Moore, Natalie Clifford Barney, and Djuna Barnes are read as sites appropriating and interrogating movement as a gendered way of knowing through experiments with narrative movement, textual space, female authorship, and the legibility of eccentric bodies. How movement is mobilised as a practice of knowing sexual otherness not only in anthropological and sexological publications but also in modernist studies is the subject of Chapter One. Chapters Two to Four explore the distinct ways in which the complex relationship between gendered movement and sexual knowledge shapes the experimental aesthetics of texts published by Anglo-American women writers between 1913 and 1930. Chapter Two examines how the story of an ‘unnatural’ English woman’s emigration to an island in Southern Italy in Moore’s Spleen (1930) aligns deviations from gender norms with geographical peripheries but, at the same time, complicates this correspondence. The oscillation between loyally replicating and ironically mimicking ‘scientific’ discourse on gender, sexuality and race characterize a novel invested in figuring itself as different whilst taking dialectical recourse to existing paradigms of difference. Chapter Three probes how the ‘journey of discovery’ in Barney’s The One Who Is Legion or A.D.’s After-Life (1930) unfolds in form of the protagonist’s quest for a genderless existence and in form of the text’s search for a new way of representing outside of any literary traditions. The novel seeks to overcome the reproduction of sameness – encapsulated in procreative heterosexuality – by exploring the potential of liminal states and spaces as grounds for difference. Chapter Four illustrates the significance of travel as an exceptionally productive concept, uniting aspects ranging from the skill of literary representation and the production of knowledge to female authorship, in newspaper articles and short stories published by Barnes between 1913 and 1930. By taking recourse to the language and logic of tourism many of her pieces pose questions about travelling and storytelling as ways of producing authentic representations about a place and its people. Geographical frameworks and spatial concepts proliferate in current approaches to literary modernist studies. The thesis contributes to this critical momentum by exploring a less considered line of inquiry: rather than examining the kind of knowledges a spatial concept like movement yields it probes how a number of female-authored texts playfully interrogate how moving across space is implicated in a process of knowing sexual otherness, as a male prerogative, in the early twentieth century. How these texts respond to the gendered discourse of movement as a ‘scientific’ way of knowing presents a yet little examined aspect of the epistemological and aesthetic concerns of female modernist writers.
Date of Award1 Aug 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorDaniela Caselli (Supervisor) & Laura Doan (Supervisor)


  • Travel
  • Sexuality
  • Knowledge
  • Literary modernism
  • Gender

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