Accessible Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter September 21, 2020

Insularity, Identity, and Alterity in Patrick White’s A Fringe of Leaves

Heinz Antor
From the journal Pólemos


In his novel A Fringe of Leaves (1976), Australian Nobel laureate Patrick White takes up the famous case of the 1836 shipwreck and subsequent survival on an island of Eliza Fraser, a Scottish woman who managed to return to white colonial society after having spent several weeks among a tribe of Aborigines in Queensland. White uses this story for an investigation of human processes of categorization as tools of the construction of notions of identity and alterity in contexts in which social, racial, and gendered otherness collide in the separateness of various insular spaces. In shaping the character of Ellen Roxburgh as Fraser’s fictional equivalent, he chooses a hybrid figure the liminality and the border-crossings of which lend themselves both to an investigation and a critical questioning of strategies of self-constitution dependent on imaginings of negative others. On a more concrete historical level, White thus questions the ideas of race, class, and gender early Australian colonial society was founded on and raises issues that are still of consequence even in the 21st century.

Corresponding author: Heinz Antor, University of Cologne, Cologne, Germany, E-mail:

Published Online: 2020-09-21
Published in Print: 2020-09-25

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