Portrait with Still Life: Re-imagining Silenced Women’s Stories Through Historiographical Metafiction

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Broadbent, Lianne Rose (2017) Portrait with Still Life: Re-imagining Silenced Women’s Stories Through Historiographical Metafiction. PhD thesis, Victoria University.


This thesis is made up of two separate components: a creative manuscript titled Portrait with Still Life and its accompanying exegesis. The project as a whole problematizes the links between life and fiction, examines the power of female artistic ‘voice’, in both imagery and text, and discusses the significance of this voice in re- imagining silenced women’s stories. Furthermore, the intersection of image and text used throughout is central to the development of the overall structure of this thesis and its attempt to answer key questions: What is the potential of historiographical metafiction in creating awareness of the exclusion of women from official history and dominant narratives, particularly women who have been institutionalised or have transgressed societal norms? What is the possibility of female artistic endeavour, particularly artists who utilize disquiet and unease in their work, in highlighting the uniquely gendered experience of women in Western society? It further questions whether the use of imagery as a metafictional device in the creative manuscript can contribute to the analysis of subjectivity in historical writing and be used as a method to unearth silenced women’s stories. Portrait with Still Life is an experimental text that uses historiographical metafictional devices to highlight the gaps and omissions inherent in many women’s lives. The novel blurs the boundaries between fiction, historical writing, memoir and biography in order to explore and re-imagine the lives of women – both past and present. The hybrid nature of the creative work as fictional autobiography is a significant aspect of this text and its aim to highlight the links between life and art, and that it is rooted in fact. The narrative recounts the story of Sarah, a contemporary Australian woman suffering from mental illness, her quest to discover the mystery of her ancestor Rebecca, and how this process allows her to not only write Rebecca’s story but also come to terms with her own difficult past. The dream that Sarah harbours of finding connection with a haunting image of Rebecca, and the narrative she creates, is integral to her eventual freedom and recovery. The exegesis discusses the work of a number of female writers and artists, particularly women who have used autobiographical and historiographical metafictional devices in their work, and how they have influenced and informed the writing of the creative manuscript. It also explores the power of the artist’s voice, both in image and text, and the importance of this voice in the recovery of hidden or silenced stories in order to attempt to answer the overarching questions outlined above. The use of my own personal story throughout each part of the exegesis further examines the links between life and artistic pursuit and its role in highlighting women’s gendered experience in order to question, and eventually counter, its negative experience on many women in contemporary society.

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
URI https://vuir.vu.edu.au/id/eprint/40538
Subjects Historical > FOR Classification > 1699 Other Studies in Human Society
Historical > FOR Classification > 1904 Performing Arts and Creative Writing
Current > Division/Research > College of Arts and Education
Keywords creative manuscript; exegesis; life; fiction; voice; women; writers; artists; historiographical metafiction
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