“I am a teacher cleaving a track through the undergrowth of method. I am a bird”: Teaching as a site of female subversion in Sylvia Ashton-Warner’s Spinster


The aim of this paper is to scrutinise the influence of teaching on the female identity of Anna Vorontosov, the protagonist of Sylvia Ashton-Warner’s Spinster. Kristeva’s theory of the semiotic and the symbolic is referenced to argue that the work of a teacher enables the heroine to transcend the patriarchal model of experience, predicated on rationality, self-restraint and stability. Through teaching, Anna renews her bond with the semiotic, surpassing the bounds of a unitary and fixed self. After providing an overview of Ashton-Warner’s own career in education, the paper analyses the tensions inherent in the role of a female teacher as represented in the novel and explicates them in Kristevan terms. Subsequently, detailed attention is paid to how the peculiarities of Anna’s teaching method contribute to her enhanced experience of the semiotic and shape her female self.


semiotic; symbolic; teaching; Ashton-Warner; female identity

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Published : 2019-09-30

Orzechowska, A. (2019) “‘I am a teacher cleaving a track through the undergrowth of method. I am a bird’: Teaching as a site of female subversion in Sylvia Ashton-Warner’s Spinster”, Crossroads. A Journal of English Studies, (26), pp. 47-59. doi: 10.15290/cr.2019.26.3.04.

Anna Orzechowska 
University of Warsaw, Poland  Poland

Anna Orzechowska is a PhD candidate at the Institute of English Studies of the University of Warsaw. Her academic interests include New Zealand women’s literature, feminist studies, in particular psychoanalytic feminism, feminist existentialism and motherhood studies.