Speak to me, Stranger: Subjectivity, Homosexuality and the Preliberation Narratives of James Courage
This thesis surveys the life of expatriate writer James Courage (1903-63). More than a literary biography, Speak To Me, Stranger exhibits the ‘strangeness’ and unique historicity of past lives. It uses one man’s experience to elucidate the complexities, ambivalences and potentialities of ‘pre-liberation’ New Zealand and Britain. Drawing on journals, personal correspondence, photography and literature, this thesis exposes the multifarious, divergent and sometimes incoherent ways that one individual’s identity was produced, experienced and transformed through time, space and text. It appraises stories – cultural, personal and fictive – as a means to unveil the complexity of past lives. In particular, Speak To Me, Stranger follows recent assertions made about modernity and its role in producing individuation. Modernity is best understood as a localized and partial process that has specific and diverging effects on individuals. These divergences speak very carefully to various categories of identity and experience – class, nationality, and gender, in particular – that, together, help shape modern subjectivities. Courage’s story is in turns dramatic and mundane, triumphant and tragic. Courage resided in London from 1923, making only one return trip to New Zealand in 1933. But his story bridges multiple worlds – both centre and periphery. Engaging the problematic category of ‘pre-liberation’, this thesis seeks to challenge the assumptions and timescale common to a number of assessments of the pre-Stonewall era. Liberationist articulations of the past have tended to paper over the complexities of past lives. Such impulses have grouped people together without differentiation and sometimes undercut questions of agency. Perhaps for the first time, this thesis traces the unfolding of history through emphatically queer and New Zealand eyes. Alike or alien, familiar or foreign, Courage’s personal and literary stories speak to modernity, subjectivity and narrative in powerful ways. They show the unique variegation, complexity and dynamism that is evident across a single lifespan, and forces a reconceptualisation of what it meant to be a queer New Zealander in the years before liberation.
Advisor: Brickell, Chris; Seymour, Mark
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Gender Studies; History
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Homosexuality; James Courage; Subjectivity; Queer theory; New Zealand; Gay liberation; Literature; Canterbury; London; Masculinity
Research Type: Thesis