Coetzee’s Womanizing


The theme of womanizing has attracted much critical commentary – and speculation – in discussions of Coetzee’s writing. In this paper, however, I discuss an earlier, now obsolete meaning of ‘womanizing’, not as a theme, but as a distinctive fictional device that opens up different ways of reading Coetzee’s women. Alongside the colloquial contemporary meaning of consorting (illicitly) with women, the Oxford English Dictionary expands on earlier meanings of the word ‘womanizing’: ‘to make a woman of’, ‘to become womanlike’. This paper thinks through Coetzee’s narrative strategy of ‘womanizing’ with reference to these lesser-known meanings of the word. The paper ends with a brief philosophical reflection on two of Coetzee’s critical essays: ‘Fictional Beings’ and ‘Thematizing’ – to explore the implications of the dyad: theme/thematizing; woman/womanizing.


When I told one of my colleagues in Amsterdam that I’d been invited as a keynote speaker to the conference, Reading Coetzee’s Women, he said ‘Well, that’s just because you’re a woman, and conference organisers are under pressure to invite woman keynote speakers; they probably had a little tip-off from the Gendered Conference Campaign’.1 The Gendered Conference Campaign announces on its website that it ‘aims to raise awareness of the prevalence of all-male* conferences’ and ‘of the harm that they do’. The term ‘all-male’ is tagged with an explanatory footnote: ‘By “all-male” we mean all-male lists of invited speakers’.2 I decided not to ask Sue Kossew whether she’d been under any pressure from the Gendered Conference Campaign to invite women speakers, and I gladly accepted the invitation.3 This anecdote, far from being a gratuitous aside, touches the central nerve of this paper; I begin by discussing my title, ‘Coetzee’s…

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Published 25 February 2018 in Thematising Women in the Work of J. M. Coetzee. Subjects: Gender - Literary portrayal, Women - Literary portrayal, J.M. Coetzee.

Cite as: Clarkson , Carrol. ‘Coetzee’s Womanizing.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 33, no. 1, 2018, doi: 10.20314/als.d01cda02b5.