Academic journal article Gender Forum

Fleshed Out: Bodies of Language in Kate Grenville's Lilian's Story and Dark Places

Academic journal article Gender Forum

Fleshed Out: Bodies of Language in Kate Grenville's Lilian's Story and Dark Places

Article excerpt

1Histories and bodies are written. But the question of who gets to author these histories and who gets to tell the stories is not an easy question to be answered. There are power dynamics to be considered, dynamics that change circumstances and control them, dynamics that are determined by any number of different factors. In novels such as Kate Grenville's Lilian's Story (1985) and Dark Places (1994) the power dynamics that control the way characters live and that determine who gets to write their histories are particularly complex. Grenville takes a narrative about the patriarchal oppression of women from the Victorian era and skillfully weaves it throughout a narrative closely resembling those of postcolonial oppression, exemplifying many struggles deemed that of the settler and/or the postcolonial subject. Lilian's Story tells the tale of Lilian, daughter of Albion; whereas, Dark Places gives voice to Albion. Both stories are essentially the same, but from alternative perspectives. In Lilian's Story Lilian narrates what life was like growing up in Victorian Australia with a stereotypically masculine father. Dark Places, on the other hand, belongs to Albion and acts as a prequel to Lilian's Story; it answers the question of how a seemingly normal man can become so cruel, and so tarnished by the pressure to be masculine. In these particular novels Grenville uses the bodies of her characters, primarily her two protagonists Lilian and Albion, and their relationship to facts and food in order to show how they are able to unsettle these complex power dynamics in much the same ways that the colonized other is able to find their way out of the oppressive structures imposed on them. Grenville ultimately shows how the journey to a true and authentic self in the physically othered character is almost always a case of appropriating the dominant language and finding a balance, unable to escape the ways in which their bodies are inscribed from the patriarchy or colonizer they must find alternate methods of performing a 'whole' self.

2When past scholars - for example Chantal Greff-Kwast in "Fat vs. Fate" and Delys Bird in "Bodily Desires and Narrative Pleasures" - have written about Lilian's Story they have most often focused on the protagonist of the story, Lilian, and her relationship to food. This is not surprising, as she is a very memorable and emotionally abrasive character with a unique relationship to food; these complexities make her perfect to write about. She is also a significantly liminal character, belonging both within the center and outside the center, in and out of the margins; both belonging and not belonging to a given time and society. These are not, however, characteristics unique to just Lilian. Her father, brother, mother, and other various 'minor' characters all contribute something significant to the story and how the story maps out connections between food, language, the body, and other significant ambiguities. Previous researchers of Lilian's Story such as Chantal Kwast-Graffand Delys Bird have written about the feminine relationship to food and body in the novel, and have dealt moderately with the problematic patriarchal power structures at play, but as was stated previously these scholars focus solely on Lilian (with, in one case, a single brief mention of her mother). All mention of Albion, her father, is merely to drive home his role as patriarchal oppressor, but fails to delve deeper into his personal narrative and psyche. In this paper I seek to fill the spaces that have been leftunexplored by other scholars. I will, of course, also discuss Lilian but in order to develop a complete picture of the kinds of complex issues of these novels it is important to also discuss Lilian's mother, Norah, her brother, John, and her father Albion as complex characters in their own right.

3These two novels, Dark Places and Lilian's Story, are so intricately woven together that a disservice is done when one is discussed without the other, so for that reason both texts will be included in this paper. …

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