Collaborative individualisms in the autobiographical writings of H.D., Djuna Barnes, Gertrude Stein and Emily Coleman
Perrin-Haynes, Hannah Sara Jean
In this thesis I investigate how far ‘collaboration’ can be used an aesthetic interpretative category to examine the subjectivities narrated in the autobiographical writing of H.D., Gertrude Stein, Djuna Barnes and Emily Coleman. These writers were living and working in the collaborative literary networks of the modernist period, which provided aesthetic stimulus, models of exchange and reciprocity, and creative influence. I argue that, beyond being a social context, collaboration was also a central narrative tool used by these writers to achieve autobiographical self-definition by presenting the self relationally through the prism of an other. I engage directly with relevant theoretical frameworks that examine relationality, including crowd theorists who were writing about the impact of the multitude and proposing methodologies for navigating the boundaries of individualism and collectivism, and contemporary autobiographical theory that examines the plurality of the autobiographical subject and how it is constituted by its relations with others. In chapter one I look at the autobiographical novels of H.D. that include the depiction of a collaborative union with Bryher that manifested in the self-creation of multiple relational subjectivities. In chapter two I examine the journalism of Barnes from 1913 to 1931, as well as her novel Nightwood (1936), and find her navigating varying levels of connection to explore how subjects are constituted in and by their relations to an other or several others. In chapter three I turn to Stein’s Everybody’s Autobiography (1938), in which she is developing a narrative and stylistic conception of the inescapable effect of the multitude on a subject’s self-perception, while also trying to carve a space for the subject to exist outside this context in order to preserve their individuality. In chapter four I find that Coleman’s diaries are an account of an ultimately futile search for a creative other with whom she could collaborate to fully realise her autobiographical selfhoods. The notion of collaboration enables an interrogation of the specific textual strategies that these writers use for autobiographical self-representation, which reveals distinctive methodologies for writing in a way that takes account of the context of the multitude in the shaping of and insistence on the individual.