oa Alternation - A Social Function for Literature? Two Women Critics and South African English Literary Studies, 1939-1948

Volume 5, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1023-1757



Debates in contemporary South African literary studies routinely make claims about the contribution of English Studies to the formation of a critical public sphere and a democratic citizenry1. Such aspirations and gestures are not original. In the 1930s and 1940s two talented women critics invoked the same political and cultural ideals in their literary criticism. In this paper, I set out Christina van Heyningen and Dora Taylor's literary criticism from the 1930s and 1940s, exploring the following concerns: their attitude to politics; their understanding of the social function of literature; and their critical method. Finally, I assess their respective efforts to connect English Literature and the promotion of democracy in South Africa in the decade leading up to 1948.

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