Academic journal article Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature : JASAL

Making an Expedition of Herself: Lady Jane Franklin as Queen of the Tasmanian Extinction Narrative

Academic journal article Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature : JASAL

Making an Expedition of Herself: Lady Jane Franklin as Queen of the Tasmanian Extinction Narrative

Article excerpt

In her site-specific installation Ebb Tide (The Whispering Sands) (Figure 1) from 1998, the artist Julie Gough constructs sixteen pyrographically inscribed life-size, two-dimensional figures of British colonialists who collected Tasmanian Aboriginal people and cultural materials for ethnographic purposes. Gough's matriarchal Aboriginal family comes from far north-east Tasmania, Tebrikunna, where her ancestor Woretemoeteyenner, one of the four daughters of the warrior Mannalargenna, was born around 1797. Installed across a tidal flat at Eaglehawk Neck in southern Tasmania, one image shows the smiling, half-submerged colonial Governor's wife Jane Franklin, who is neither arriving nor departing, waving nor drowning.1

The figure derives from a youthful portrait of Franklin by Amélie Romilly that was globally disseminated by Franklin herself across her lifetime (reproduced in Alexander, insert 198a). One cannot be sure whether the figure, as with any fragment or talisman of history, will be submerged, exposed or worn away. The white colonial authority figure loses its historical power as the water rises and settles, bleaching the pigment down. So Gough critiques the tragically dislocating ethnographic obsessions of early settler colonists, who are disabled and flattened, reduced to two-dimensional incursions in a space which, heretofore, they have forcibly, dimensionally occupied.

Tasmania has recently produced and/or inspired a stockpile of literary postcolonial novels, including realist, burlesque, and mythopoetic treatments of cannibalism, violent miscegenation, genocide and natural species extinction narratives. These histories are variously embodied in novels as stylistically diverse as The Sooterkin; Gould's Book of Fish; Jane, Lady Franklin; Cape Grimm; The Roving Party; The Hunter; Wanting and Death of A River Guide. The controversial figure of Jane Franklin also appears in several Tasmanian-themed millennial historical novels where she is variously portrayed with more and less postcolonial veracity than in Gough's site-specific installation.

This essay compares novelised portraits of Lady Jane Franklin in Richard Flanagan's Wanting (2008), Adrienne Eberhard's verse novel Jane, Lady Franklin (2004), Sten Nadolny's The Discovery of Slowness (1997) and Jennifer Livett's novel prologue from A Fool on the Island (2012). 2 Other pre-millennial works by non-Australian writers-Andrea Barrett's Voyage of the Narwhal (1999) and William Vollmann's The Rifles (1994)-are also discussed briefly as progenitors and/or 'outsider' precursors with Nadolny of a new antipodean wave of postcolonial novels that contest the Franklins' frozen bio-hagiographies.

The Australian novelists focus upon Jane Franklin's vilified roles as independent traveller, controversial colonial social reformer and performer of hubristic, public lamentations over the loss of her explorer husband on the doomed Northwest Passage expedition. The women novelists, Livett and Eberhard, alongside Flanagan, show how Franklin's decades-long grief 'performance' traversed two hemispheres, serving a personal memorial function while guaranteeing her tentative access to, and 'safe passage' through, the male-dominated imperial political, social and cultural discourses of her day. For Franklin, as Eberhard and Livett suggest, the 'expedition of mourning' (my term) was in itself a grand adventure in personal and public narrative-making, a compensatory surrogacy given the limits placed on nineteenth-century female exploration and travel. For Flanagan, such female expeditions are presented as expressions of monstrous ego.

I argue that these new literary portrayals differently exploit the historical figure of Jane Franklin (hereafter JF) to enact trenchant critiques of the parochial, racist colonial culture of early 'Hobarton.' I aim to show how the formally imaginative, genre-savvy works under discussion fearlessly navigate intercultural themes and representations to make important post-millenial contribution to imaginative, postcolonial iconographies of JF. …

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