To Be Oneself and Not: Persona as a Source of Agency (and Play) in the Literary Essay

Author: Lisandra Linde

  • Thesis download: available for open access on 20 Oct 2026.

Linde, Lisandra, 2023 To Be Oneself and Not: Persona as a Source of Agency (and Play) in the Literary Essay, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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This thesis explores the uses of persona in the literary essay. It argues that the concept of narrative persona is key in understanding how essayists achieve intimacy and agency in their work. The literary essay is a hybrid form which plays with the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction. Persona aids this hybridity and offers avenues for the exploration of agency and intimacy.

The thesis is divided into two parts. The first part is a creative work titled Life/Myth. In Life/Myth, I use three personas to interrogate various subjects related to identity. I explore the ways in which personas can blend fiction and nonfiction in order to negotiate greater agency and engender different forms of self-reflection and expression. By writing a themed collection of essays, I write into the current trends in Australian publishing. This tendency towards dedicated collections rather than regular essay columns sets my writing apart from Clift’s, and by examining her persona and its construction within the newspaper column alongside my own personas in the space of a complete collection, I aim to show the ways personas are created and utilised in different publishing spaces. In doing so I aim to show the creative possibilities of using personas in the literary essay in the twenty-first century.

The second part of the thesis examines the use of persona in the essays of Australian author Charmian Clift. Clift wrote a range of fiction and nonfiction during her career, including essays for a regular newspaper column in the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne Herald from 1964-1969. In focusing on these works, an oeuvre underexplored in Clift scholarship to date, I argue that the persona Clift used in her essays allowed for greater agency in her work than what was typically available for women writers in 1960s Australia. Clift’s persona blurs the boundaries between fact and fiction and is both accessible to a diverse readership and able to address contentious social issues.

Keywords: persona, essay, literary essay, literary persona, persona studies, literary studies, Charmian Clift, Clift, creative writing, hybrid essay, hybridity, experimental essay, essayistic persona

Subject: Humanities thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2023
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Kylie Cardell