CSGS Visiting Scholar: spring/fall 2010
Sandeep Parmar received her PhD in English Literature from University College London in 2008. The subject of her research was the unpublished autobiographies of the modernist poet Mina Loy. She received an MA in Creative Writing (poetry) from the University of East Anglia in 2003 and studied for her BA at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is the Reviews Editor for The Wolf magazine and was Member of High Table at Newnham College, Cambridge from 2008-2009, where she was editing the writings of the modernist poet Hope Mirrlees. Mirrlees’ Collected Poems will be published by Fyfield Books (Carcanet) in 2011. She has published various articles on Loy’s archived prose: one in Jacket magazine and a chapter in the forthcoming Salt Companion to Mina Loy. A selection of her poetry will appear in the forthcoming anthology, Voice Recognition: 21 Poets for the 21st Century (Bloodaxe Books, 2009). She has taught Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Hertfordshire, the Open University and the University of Cambridge.
‘Discoverers of the Not-known’: Travel and Collaboration in Modernist Women’s Autobiography
Since writing about Loy’s autobiographies, I have been increasingly drawn towards the possibilities that travel offered modernist women writers. I aim to explore the dimension of collaboration between women writers of the early twentieth century and to uncover how much the joint adventures of travel enabled them to create autobiographical selves away from the gendered constraints of home, family and national identity. My research considers the writings of Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962), H.D. (1886-1961), Hope Mirrlees (1887-1978) and Mina Loy, who all left Britain (for varying periods of time) in order to construct fictional (and sometimes mythical) autobiographical selves. In addition to these writers’ travel and residence away from England, I am interested in their collaborations with writers who accompanied them—in most cases their female companions—and how they might have influenced their counterpart’s refashioning of an autobiographical ‘self’. The effect of increased access via trains, airplanes and automobiles as well as greater freedom due to education, literacy and democratization are central to the expanding mobility of the modern woman. The historical figure of the traveler—modeled as much after the scholarly aristocrat on a ‘grand tour’ as the medieval religious pilgrim—offered women a place in what Sidonie Smith describes as the ‘cultural logic of the individualizing journey’. Indeed, travel as a singularly masculine endeavor, contrary to the homogenizing realm of feminized domestic space, provided for some women writers the necessary distance to create alternative autobiographical selves. Travel, and its transformative powers, is at the center of my approach, as well as the necessity for women to travel with other women (if not accompanied by men). Early twentieth-century women, restricted by propriety from traveling alone, would have traveled together without fear of damaging their reputations or inviting unwanted attention. In three of the four pairs of women writers in this proposed study, lesbian relationships were disguised by either scholarly pursuit or the illusion of married women traveling on holiday together (or to rejoin their husbands). In this way, the journey is a move to define not the individual woman so much as the unnamable union of two secret lovers.