Where Post-Colonialism Takes A Nineteenth Century Stroll

A Short Introduction (1)

Post-colonialist criticism has won my favour today, because I’ve been revising all the theories that I haven’t written about in my essays. This presents a problem, because I didn’t realise at the beginning of the year that I couldn’t write about the same topic twice. This means I’m in the slightly tricky position of having to write about all the theories that quite frankly, well, I’m mediocre (at best) at. This means that a frantic revision of all the compulsory reading ensued, and now I’m feeling marginally calmer, I’ve  had an epiphany: I will not have to write about Jacques Derrida under exam conditions. Anyone familiar with Derrida’s work will realise what a completely beautiful blessing this is.

Anyway, I’ve been reading extensively around the subject of post-colonialist criticism today, which essentially considers the nature of literature in terms of its understanding of ‘the subaltern’, and how Britain perceives the world, whilst it perches on something of a pedestal due to its great imperial past. It was certainly a great past, if slightly ethically questionable. Some would argue that because our empire has disintegrated, that we are no longer great, and instead ride on the coat-tails of the reasonably new superpower, the United States of America. But that’s a whole other conversation.

Title page from the first edition of Jane Aust...

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I like the idea of the subaltern; the idea that we cannot communicate with the subaltern, as proposed by Edward Said is interesting, because it suggests we have no way of creating a common language with which to communicate. Structuralist theory, as dictated by Ferdinand Saussure, suggests that in order to communicate, we must have a culturally agreed code to fall back on, to determine the meaning of the sign. (In this case, words). Without this shared culture, it is seemingly impossible to communicate quite literally, across the world.

Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park is one of the best examples of literature that is concerned with empire. She discusses the role of Sir Thomas Bertram in Antigua, running a slave plantation. She personally was opposed to slavery, however in the novel, it is implicitly accepted as a commodity that is fundamental to the wealth of the Bertrams. Interestingly, when the financial difficulties of the plantation become apparent, no lifestyle changes occur, almost as if to suggest there is an innate wealth underpinning the lifestyles of the family.

Post-colonial critics have suggested any number of things about Jane Austen in relation to this novel, such as the idea that she supports slavery because of the nature of the Bertrams wealth. An interesting counter to this argument however is that Fanny Price, the novel’s protagonist, asks her uncle, Sir Thomas about the plantation, and he neglects to give a reply. This could be interpreted as showing an awareness of immorality, and therefore an unwillingness to discuss the situation with his niece.

Returning to the ideology itself however, I find it extremely compelling because of its entanglement with history, perhaps more so than other forms of literary criticism. The key critics behind post-colonialism, including Spivak and Said, present repeatedly reputable arguments that discuss the British attitudes towards empire, and towards this culture that we are unable to communicate with, due to our extreme cultural differences, and historic hegemony towards them.

For anyone with a particular interest in the British Empire, I’d suggest reading Orientalism by Edward Said; it presents some very interesting forward thinking on the subject of empire and dominance, and for anyone unfamiliar with the concept of hegemony, I’d suggest looking that up too. Antonio’s Gramsci’s marxist thoughts on hegemony provide a very interesting inside into the ways of imperialism in the modern world, a world that has long moved on from naval conquests, into a more political kind of empiricism.

Happy reading!

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(1) http://cultural.emulty.com/wp-content/uploads/wpid-41ecV3AnOOLSL500.jpg

(2) Image courtesy of Wikipedia

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My Misguided Affair with Jane Austen

For a long time now, I’ve hailed Jane Austen as my least favourite author. Having suffered through Pride and Prejudice at GCSE and despising every second of it, I couldn’t bring myself to suffer through Sense and Sensibility. However now, I’m compelled to read Mansfield Park  in preparation for next term, and so snuggled up in bed with a pot of tea, I braced myself for yet another sitting room drama and social commentary. And was extremely pleasantly surprised.

I’ve always found the endless social details of Jane Austen nothing but intolerable, but when I began this novel, I was slowly brought around to the idea that I may actually enjoy Jane Austen. The story of Fanny Price departs from the diatribe that is (at least in my opinion) Pride and Prejudice and begins to explore themes a little wider than marriage, and the roles of women; she begins to look at adultery and themes of friendship. The humility of Fanny is endearing to any reader, and unlike Pride and Prejudice, there seems to be a little more in the way of progression and action, which as a reader, I find crucial.

Jane Austen's House (1)

In much the same way as I find Much Ado About Nothing intolerable, I like a novel to have an engaging and interesting plot, if only so that I can enjoy it on a superficial level, and to give some enjoyment to  the physical act of reading. There is nothing worse than having to struggle with a novel, reducing it to being an unendurable experience. Fundamentally, reading should be a positive act, something to entrance the mind instead of repelling it. By making literature inaccessible to everyone say a selected few, the author strangles his industry. That is not to say that Jane Austen is inaccessible however; only in my personal opinion, at least she was, up until now.

Whilst I haven’t quite finished the novel quite yet, I feel as though I’m going to enjoy it. I may become fascinated with her as both a person and a writer, and I think that after this novel, I will try to tackle Emma. Suggestions here are welcome!  I think my plan for the evening involves a small drink with my flat mates, an episode of Blackadder, and then an evening of Mansfield Park. What more could I ask for?

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(1) http://www.infobritain.co.uk/Jane_Austen_House_Garden.jpg

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