Original Research

‘Speaking’ and ‘silence’ in the memoirs of Petronella van Heerden

Lizelle Smit
Literator | Vol 38, No 1 | a1298 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v38i1.1298 | © 2017 Lizelle Smit | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 30 March 2016 | Published: 28 April 2017

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Lizelle Smit, Department of English Studies, Stellenbosch University, South Africa

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Petronella van Heerden’s memoirs have received little academic attention. This article aims to contribute to the limited archive of research on her work to highlight women’s involvement in South African and Afrikaner (de/colonial) politics. It will also explore her manipulation of the autobiographical genre to impart what she considered as important to the Afrikaner youth. My investigation considers Van Heerden’s paradoxical shifts between ‘speaking’ and ‘silence’ regarding feminist issues and her lesbian sexual identity. The article illustrates Van Heerden’s employment of certain writing strategies to critique gender inequality implicit within hegemonic and patriarchal discourses - a central issue of her young life that arguably formed her dissident identity. An examination of the ‘opacity’ pertaining to her portrayal of a lesbian identity in the memoirs is also considered.


Petronella van Heerden; Queer identity; Feminist historiography; South African literature; Women's Life Writing


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