Sociology of small things : Olive Schreiner, Eleanor Marx, Amy Levy and the intertextualities of feminist cultural politics in 1880s London
Hetherington, Donna Marie
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This thesis investigates the cultural politics of a small group of women through their writing and other activities in 1880s London. Focussed on Olive Schreiner, Eleanor Marx and Amy Levy and the connections they had to one another and to other women, such as Henrietta Frances Lord, Clementina Black and Henrietta Müller, it explores key events in their everyday lives, the writings and texts they produced. It analyses a wide selection of textual sources, re-reading these for small details, intertextual connections and points of disjuncture, to allow for different ways of understanding the mechanics of feminist cultural politics as produced and performed by these interconnected women. Small things in texts can be revealing about such women’s everyday lives and connectedly the cultural politics which underpinned their actions, thus contributing to knowledge about how writing was used strategically and imaginatively to challenge, side-step and overcome oppression and inequality, in these years in London and after. Using the term ‘writing’ in a broad sense to include letters and diaries and other archival sources such as newspaper articles, reviews and manuscript drafts, as well as some selected published work and biographies, the thesis is anchored around four event-driven investigations: Olive Schreiner being accosted by a policeman; the first public performance of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House; the writing of a letter mentioning Eleanor Marx; and, the death of Amy Levy. Relatedly, there are discussions concerning working with historical documents, documenting and archiving the past, researching and representing the past in the present. These investigations allow for the operationalization of a research approach framed by ideas concerning micro, small-scale, everyday life and its qualitative aspects, which together contribute to a re-conceptualisation of a ‘sociology of small things.’ Specifically, it is argued that close and small-scale studies of women’s writing, whether undertaken alone or connected to others, sheds light on the importance of relationship dynamics in connection with writing output, on what writing was produced and what role each text played in larger scale political agendas. Concepts such as palimpsest, liminality and bricolage are interrogated with respect to researching and representing the spatial and temporal interconnectedness of the selected authors and textual sources. And contributions are made to contemporary thinking about epistolarity and social networks, focussing on reciprocity, gift-giving and receiving and notions of ‘letterness,’ along with the defining of boundaries, and the value of determining the nature of ties between women. The thesis also argues that the relationships between intimacy and distance, interiority and exteriority, public and private, are frayed with complicated overlaps.