Marguerite Poland's landscapes as sites for identity construction.
Jacob, Mark Christopher.
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In this dissertation I focus on the life and works of Marguerite Poland and argue that landscapes in her fiction act as sites for identity construction. In my analysis I examine the central characters’ engagement with the land, taking cognisance of Poland’s historical context and that of her fiction as represented in her four adult novels and eleven children’s books. I also focus on her doctoral thesis and non-fiction work, The Abundant Herds: A Celebration of the Nguni Cattle of the Zulu People (2003). Poland’s latest work The Boy In You (2008) appeared as this thesis was being completed, thus I only briefly refer to this work in the Conclusion. My primary aim puts into perspective personal, social and cultural identities that are constructed through an analysis of the landscapes evident in her work. Post-colonial theories of space and place provide the theoretical framework. In summary, this thesis argues that landscape is central to Poland’s oeuvre, that her construction of landscape takes particular forms depending on the type of writing she undertakes; and that her characters’ construction of identity is closely linked to the landscapes in which they are placed by their author, herself a product of her physical and cultural environment. “Landscape is dynamic; it serves to create and naturalise the histories and identities inscribed upon it, and so simultaneously hides and makes evident social and historical formations” (Carter et al 1993: xii). The implication of this statement is that the landscape is continuously constructed and deconstructed; that there is a constant evolution of meaning between individuals and the landscape; and that socio-historical conditions are largely responsible for forming ideology and consciousness. This, I argue, is also true for Poland’s fiction. Poland’s own position, as a writer who draws inspiration from the land and its inhabitants, is also discussed. In this thesis I examine the different phases of Poland’s work looking at different kinds of identity construction through different kinds of landscape portrayal. As a prolific South African female contemporary writer, Poland has made inroads into the world of fiction writing once dominated by men. Consequently, feminist issues abound in her writings and I deconstruct characters’ engagement with the land in order to uncover their gendered identities. Primarily, I explore the themes of belonging, identity formation, displacement and dispossession in a particular space and place. My thesis opens with an introduction outlining reasons for my choice of writer, her works to be discussed and the theoretical approaches to landscape and identity construction pertinent to the thesis. I focus on what Poland’s writing yields in terms of gendered identities, racial attitudes and cultural practices in her fictional landscape construction. These sections are grounded in the theories proposed by writers such as, inter alia, Paul Carter, Edward Relph, Chris Fitter and Dennis Cosgrove. In Chapter 2 my discussion focuses on the life and works of Poland placing her in a historical and cultural context. In Chapter 3, I explore how Poland constructs what I call a ‘mythological landscape’. My aim here, as in the following chapters, is to analyse place as a text upon which histories and cultures are inscribed and interpreted and which, in turn, inscribes them too. I also show the extent to which Poland relies on oral folklore to create space and place in her fiction. The literary focus is on her children’s literature and her writings on cattle description and folklore. Chapter 4 focuses on a literary analysis of Train To Doringbult (1987), Shades (1993), and Iron Love (1999) respectively. These novels demonstrate how Poland shows identity shaped within a ‘colonial landscape’. I examine how these novels reiterate that socio-historical conditions are responsible for forming ideology and consciousness. I also analyse how this particular genre puts into perspective personal, social and cultural identities that emerge from particular periods in South African history. Chapter 5 focuses on what I call the ‘indigenous landscape’, on how the South African landscape and the indigenous cattle of the region become characters in their own right. A literary analysis of Recessional for Grace (2003), The Abundant Herds: A Celebration of the Nguni Cattle of the Zulu People (2003) and Poland’s thesis, Uchibidolo: The Abundant Herds: A descriptive study of the Sanga-Nguni cattle of the Zulu people with special reference to colour-pattern terminology and naming practice (1996), form the basis of my discussion in this chapter. I conclude my thesis by further confirming the significance of landscape in Poland’s work as a site for the construction of identity. I focus on Poland’s impact on South African literature to date. I also focus on Poland’s preoccupation with identity in a transforming landscape, showing that there is a constant evolution of meaning between individuals and the landscape within which they find themselves. In this regard I show that identity linked to place has to be seen in terms of context. I mention Poland’s most recent commissioned project – a historical biography of the St. Andrew’s College in Grahamstown, an institution that is now a hundred and fifty years old. Poland’s association with this college, its social and historical context and other discursive issues pertaining to landscape, transformation and construction of identities are fore-grounded, to lend impetus to my thesis.