Outsider Architecture: the Literary Constructions of Eve Langley


  • Lucy Treep University of Auckland


Eve Langley, Outsider architecture, New Zealand


Outsider architecture references a continuum of unofficial constructions, from the tenuous envelope of found materials that a homeless person folds about themselves nightly, to the compellingly precarious sculptural artefact, painstakingly but illegally built, in a front garden or on public land. One way that the homeless deal with their vulnerability to harsh weather, psychological disturbance and lack of privacy is the construction of ad hoc shelters from found objects and recycled rubbish. These shelters represent one form of outsider architecture. Roger Cardinal notes that another form is the idiosyncratic construction of sculptural assemblages, also, typically from recycled materials, to form architectural structures, modified dwellings, landscaped areas, collections, monuments and shrines that seem to pop up in most cities, or anywhere there are people (169). All over the world, homeless people seek to provide at least temporary shelter for themselves, and at the same time, a certain number of people, sometimes the same people, engage in personal projects of construction in which the expression of individuality is as, if not more, important than physical containment or shelter. This article will consider the work of one author, Eve Langley, as a form of outsider architecture and will suggest that the physical entity formed by Langley’s novels, as a manifestation of outsider architecture, provided their author with the hope of psychic shelter when she wrote them. Langley wrote at a time in which it was difficult for a woman to succeed as an artist, or to support herself financially. As well, she experienced a dysfunctional marriage and suffered from uncertain health. Despite these difficult conditions, she wrote compulsively, sending manuscripts, one after another to her publishers, long after they had stopped publishing her work. Yet, the large body of unpublished manuscripts in the Mitchell speaks of more than the mental ill health that is frequently associated with Langley. Consideration of the debates active within the literary community of New Zealand at the time Langley was writing, and the nature and content of, in particular, her novelistic oeuvre, suggests that Langley may have been writing at least partly in response to local literary voices. Despite her peripatetic lifestyle and solipsistic tendencies, Langley was part of the community of writers living in New Zealand in the mid-twentieth century. Her writing was supported and criticised by it, and undoubtedly shaped by it. This article will consider the part this community played in Langley’s writing, the dual aspects of vulnerability and strength, feelings of alienation and centrality, exhibited in Langley’s authorial choices. By examining Langley’s body of work through the lens of outsider architecture, Langley’s prolific literary output in the face of a largely negative reception may be seen, not so much as the sign of a loss of control, but as a strategic, if eccentric, construction of an authorial presence.

Author Biography

Lucy Treep, University of Auckland

PhD graduate English Department