Re-writing “the little coloured ball of earth entirely”: Language and Ecology in Gertrude Stein, H.D., and Virginia Woolf

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Sigouin, Kimberley




My dissertation investigates the relationship between experimental writing, bodies, and ecology in the work of modernist women writers. Specifically, I propose that the stylistic experiments of Gertrude Stein, H.D., and Virginia Woolf are inseparable from these authors' theorizations on the body and material environments. They examine how questions of language and the body are ecologically inflected. By "ecology," I do not simply refer to traditional representations of "green ecologies" that explore the human agent's place within balanced ecosystems consisting of plants and animals. Ecocritical readings of these modernist writers' works typically promote Stein's, H.D.'s, and Woolf's interest in restoring harmonious environments by emphasizing a return to serene and stable environments. As a result, the nonhuman world is cast as a pastoral, romantic, or distinctly feminine space of tranquility and restoration. In contrast, I examine precarious environments of which the body is not simply an integral component but indiscernible from the material composition of the nonhuman world. My dissertation builds upon but fundamentally reconceptualises a standard account of feminist modernisms' return to the body in light of the recent turn in both modernist scholarship and feminist studies towards ecocritical models of reading. My critique aligns with emerging conversations on the trans-corporeal body and agential materialism. Both Stacy Alaimo and Karen Barad reconsider how the body, materiality, and discursive processes are bound up in a material recreation of the world. These ideas are part of a larger conversation on the "narratives of matter" investigated by new material ecocriticism. I argue that as Stein, H.D., and Woolf examine the tension between the nonhuman world and socially constructed ideas of what is "natural," they suggest that nature is not a restorative space separate from cultural locales, but an unpredictable, volatile force central to their artistic projects. This rethinking of reductive readings of nature reveals how women writers and literary modernism move beyond discussions that focus on linguistic, historical, and cultural reconstructions of the self and the world, and instead considers how these discussions are imbricated in the ongoing performance of human and nonhuman matter.


Modernism (Literature) - Women authors
Stein, Gertrude, 1874-1946
H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), 1886-1961
Woolf, Virginia, 1882-1941




Carleton University

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Theses and Dissertations

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