Deconstructing Gender Stereotypes



Deconstructing Gender Stereotypes
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Deconstructing Gender Stereotypes: Prefiguring Modern
Sexuality in S.T. Coleridge’s “Christabel” (1797-1800) _____ 9
The Cult of Art in Henry James’s “The Aspern Papers”
(1888) ___________________________________________ 25
L’image controversée des femmes africaines dans le récit
de voyageuses et de missionnaires en Afrique du Sud au XIXe
siècle____________________________________________ 38
The Concept of Place in the Poetry of Dennis Brutus _ 61
Contemporary Cameroon English: Just Another Fad? _ 80
La Délocalisation de l’industrie du jute de Dundee à
Calcutta : 1855-1947 _______________________________ 99
Knight’s Gambit (1949) de William Faulkner: dilemmes
diégétique et auctorial ____________________________ 128
La création dans Tristram Shandy (1760-67) de Laurence
Sterne __________________________________________ 143
The Anthropological Role of Arabic Sociolinguistics: The
Touat Speech Community as an Example _____________ 165
The Dilemma of the Teacher and the Learner of English
in the Non-Native English Classroom: the Case of Cameroon
_______________________________________________ 181
Le conflit dans The Scorching Wind (1964) de Walter
Macken ________________________________________ 199
Deconstructing Gender Stereotypes:
Prefiguring Modern Sexuality in
S.T. Coleridge’s “Christabel” (1797-1800)
This essay grapples with a lesbian reading of Coleridge’s
“Christabel.” This modern perspective with regard to gender differentiation and sexuality shows that the poem deconstructs the heterosexist culture that considers homosexuality as a psycho-somatic disorder
and socially unacceptable. By gender we are generally referring to the
social and cultural distinctions between men and women. Sexuality is
seen from the perspective of eroticism, that is, desires or practices
which have an erotic significance. It is connected with, but distinguished from sex, which refers to the biological distinction between
men and women and the activity associated with sexual intercourse.
One of the main questions here will be to know if the use of gender to
describe sexual behaviour guarantees clarity of definition, and if
same-sex relations are necessarily equal to gender infraction.
This poem has continued to impose its enigma on criticism. The
present investigation is therefore not a finite statement on reading and
interpreting the poem, nor is it an altogether new approach to understanding the main arguments. But the reading is certainly innovative
within the paradigmatic stance adopted in the analysis proposed. The
poem is irresistible to questions on gender and sexual identification
and orientation. Most of the readings of the poem, as indicated in this
study, have been based on heterocentrism, psychoanalysis and Deconstruction.
It should be noted that “Christabel” hardly received positive appreciation when it was published and it also looks likely that later criticism was inspired from the initial reactions in Coleridge’s time. William
Wordsworth, William Hazlitt, Lord Byron and Thomas Moore did not at
all provide any favourable reading to the poem. The Edinburgh Review, The Quarterly and Examiner only helped in aggravating the
situation. Most of the views about the poem centred on its structure,
10 / Charles Ngiewith Teke
considered incoherent and incongruous and problematically incomplete. The conventional notions of evil and good, captured in the
nightmarish and “obscene sexuality” (its implicit lesbian and pornographic atmosphere) of the poem was not left uncommented. They
were all considered as damaging to the poem; if at all it were even to
be taken as successful. Later critics like G. W. Knight, John Beer,
Kathleen Wheeler, Karen Swann and Ash Tekinay have followed similar trends of early criticism. G. W. Knight interprets the nightmarish
experiences of Christabel under Geraldine’s spell, the instances of
horror which are intensified by the recurrent serpent-image in Part
Two as an expression of fear of some nameless obscenity that permeates the poem. He argues further that the implied erotic and sexual
nature of the poem is perverse and horrifying, representing the hellish
side of human experience.
Ash Tekinay perceives the poem in the same vein as Knight. He
contends that “Christabel” transcribes Coleridge’s fear and anxiety
about a chaotic and ambivalent universe. Christabel and Geraldine
represent innocence and evil respectively (2). Universal benevolence
is absent since the cosmic presence of evil embodied in Geraldine
prevails and triumphs. Tekinay’s interpretation of the erotic and sexual
in the guise of lesbianism falls within the framework of unbearable evil
and horror.
Kathleen Wheeler discusses the poem from a deconstructionist
perspective. She asserts that the poem leads to serious difficulties in
establishing meaning. The narrative, she accentuates, undermines
any authoritative meaning and the reader is confronted “with his own
reductive, moralising habits by saturating the narrative voice in a double reflection with ambiguities, avowals, disavowals, questionings,
uncertainties” (90). She continues that the introduction of Bracy and
his unfinished and desperately ambiguous dream only complicate the
poem. She is of the conviction that the two rival interpretations of this
dream as to who of the two girls represents good and evil, reflect the
paradox of the poem as a whole, and the unfinished nature of the
poem is also a structural problem that is added to the undermining of
narrative authority and the ambiguity of its core-content.
Deconstructing Gender Stereotypes / 11
John Beer reiterates Wheeler’s contentions, highlighting the deconstructionist poetics of fragmentation and irony. To him, the unfinished nature of most Romantic poems is an extended metaphor of
fragmentariness in meaning (237). “Christabel” is one of the poems
that display ambiguity, irony and undecidability. Beer concludes that
no optimistic interpretation of Coleridge can be said to be authoritative
or plausible.
The most remarkable observation with these critics is that they
do not really focus on the question of sexuality, unless in certain
cases where it is related with evil and obscenity. But this poem points
to the reshaping of a hegemonic male-centred tradition into a feminine
voice. The reason may be obvious. The patriarchal and phallocentric
mentality has often presented the male as determining gender roles,
both male and female. The question of challenging stereotypes therefore reactivates the modern debate concerning gender representations and sex-roles against the background of traditional or stereotypical notions. The expression sex-roles sounds slippery, but can be
interpreted as the behaviour of partners in sexual consummation,
whether in heterosexual or homosexual relationships, and also as the
male and female distinctions that are attributed to individuals by culture.
Stereotypes are either negative or positive attributes that are
given to individuals or groups, and at times with a strain of exaggeration, false prediction and false generalisation. The observation, differentiation, identification and categorisation of individuals, groups of
people, or even societies as fixed or inflexible images (for instance
with regard to race, religion, ethnicity, age, gender, national identity),
do not usually take into consideration the complexity of exceptionalism and the multidimensional character of attributes. Prejudices and
biased considerations have always led to false assumptions, necessitating, at times, misunderstanding. It becomes very problematic, for
example, to simply or reductively judge someone based on a stereotype without proper knowledge of facts pertaining to the uniqueness or
distinctive features he/she has that may not adhere to the stereotype.
While stereotypes may be accurate and even necessary, there should
be allowance or space for complexity and flexibility. That is, they
12 / Charles Ngiewith Teke
should not be reductively seen as absolutes, but as dynamic and
modifiable. Some undesirable, damaging or dehumanising stereotypes may even be completely challenged and, if possible, wiped out.
Gender stereotypes are a specifically complicated issue that this
work cannot satisfactorily handle, given that it focuses on the dimension of maleness and femaleness with regard to eroticism and sexuality as portrayed and interpreted in literature. It will therefore focus on
the central notions that have traditionally shaped the concept, and
show how moving away from their created centre gives the opportunity to re-define and re-conceptualise the notion in a modern mind-set.
In fact, gender stereotypes bring into the question differential sexroles with regard to the complexity of heterosexuality, bisexuality,
homosexuality and transsexuality. Gender has had such a huge influence on sexual behaviour that the appropriate answers as to what is
masculinity or femininity are not always easy to come by, given the
variety and at times irreconcilable clash of opinions.1
While all four stated orientations are not new to humanity, convention has dominantly favoured the first, seeing the man as masculine and the woman as feminine. Appropriate sexual behaviour has to
be based on such stereotypical categorisation, and most of what
characterises the remaining three has always been very problematic,
even if accepted. But as already stated strict stereotypical attributions
can be very unfavourable and unnecessarily biased, especially when
an individual is considered as acting contrary to the gender and/or
sex-role which they have been attributed. Not every individual can be
1 Most criticism related to this section is based on Romantic studies, with
the background of previous views, that is, seventeenth and eighteenth century
gender and feminist views. They include: Marilyn Farwell, Heterosexual Plots and
Lesbian Narratives (1996), Sonia Hofkosh, “The Writer’s Ravishment: Women and
the Romantic Writer” (1988), George Haggarty, Men in Love: Masculinity and Sexuality in the Eighteenth Century (1999) and Andrew Elfenbein, Romantic Genius:
The Prehistory of a Homosexual Role (1999). Haggarty’s introduction for instance
tackles the very sophisticated understanding of different sexualities. The inherent
complexity of sexuality, he contends, leads to several critical questions, How should
it be called? Queer studies? Queer theory? Lesbian and Gay studies? Sexuality
studies? Upon whom to focus? Homosexuals? Gay men and Lesbians? Queers?
Sodomites? Sapphists?
Deconstructing Gender Stereotypes / 13
a representative of a group. So the question of what we can call a
metonymic function of an individual sounds unfairly reductive. The
issue of differential sex-roles in the specific discourse of English Romanticism is what will enable our understanding of stereotypes and
how Coleridge’s creative imagination and hetero-lesbian consciousness tackle the problematic in “Christabel.”
If we closely examine some of the extant literature on this poem
since it was written, we realise that most interpretative stances are
somehow connected with the problem of conventional and stereotypical orientation. Lesbianism is generally conceived as female homosexuality, which, like its gay counterpart, is dichotomously regarded
as a normal way of life, or as a psychosocial disorder or psychiatric
distortion. The term however is very inclusive, having diverse discourses, because there are female relationships which are homosocial without a sexual dimension.2 It is not a new sexual phenomenon, nor was it unknown in Coleridge’s time. But there has been an
evolution in the apprehension of the term since Coleridge’s time, and
as we shall see, Coleridge’s text does not treat the concept within the
meaning of the time the text was composed, justifying the question of
prefiguring and futurity. The resistance to see the poem positively as
an expression of sexual freedom and orientation may be a result of
societal imprint on the basic sex-types into which males and females
must fit themselves. It becomes easy to say that the homosexual undertones of the poem are a delineation of evil as Knight and Tekinay
would assert, or to dismiss the poem’s worth on deconstructive
grounds as Wheeler and Beer do.
2 For further reading see general works on lesbian theories like Bettie
Wysor, The Lesbian Myth (1974). In fact, she is not concerned only with theory, but
addresses literature as well, Chapter Six “Lesbianism in Literature” (190 – 256).
David H. Rosen’s Lesbianism: A Study of Female Homosexuality (1974) also provides an insightful reading to lesbian theory. See particularly Part Three, “Female
Homosexuality as a Way of Life” (65 – 78). Here he tries to debunk the myth that
has seen lesbianism as an abnormal, deviant or pathological problem. There is also
Adrienne Rich’s “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence” (1980) and
Susan Watkins’s Twentieth Century Women Novelists: Feminist Theory into Practice (2001). She discusses “Lesbianism Feminism and Queer Theory” (146-164).
14 / Charles Ngiewith Teke
Karen Swann, from a typical stereotypical perspective in “Literary
Gentlemen and Lovely Ladies: The Debate on the Character of
Christabel” (1993), asserts that the greatest scandal of the poem is
that Geraldine is a woman. Such a stereotypical critical view, against
the background of what Adrienne Rich calls compulsory heterosexuality, brings in the very important questions as to whether same-sex
practice is a betrayal of gender role, or an overlooked issue in stereotypical categorisation. Another question is whether sex differentiation
and orientation are simply a biologically or culturally or religiously
determined issue, or whether it is the physical feature or an interiority
characteristic of an individual that necessarily determines their sexual
feelings. All these questions can help in the understanding of the
reading we propose here.
“Christabel” is certainly not a reposition of the myth of masculine
self-possession, and should not be seen as having a specifically targeted gender audience. Its presentation of same-sex eroticism and or
sexuality is another dimension in which Coleridge portrays and into
which he translates the female image. So it is neither self-referential
nor self-representational, it neither betrays nor veils any facet about
Coleridge’s life in this direction. But it is socially contextualised, and it
is clear that modern readings and interpretations will largely vary in
terms of the sexual orientation of the reader. That Coleridge, a heterosexual, was interested in a lesbian oriented story shows the complexity of his imaginative engagement in different fields of experience.
In fact, he is concerned with another unavoidable, even if considered
disturbing psychosomatic reality about human sexuality. We can thus
say that the Coleridgean imagination is engaged in a constructive
deconstruction of hitherto uncritically received patterns, affirming the
previously held view that he is decentring male chauvinism and heterosexism in his imaging of the woman.
Andrew Elfenbein’s Romantic Genius: The Prehistory of a Homosexual Role (1999), to which this essay is indebted, has carefully
pointed out the different conceptions of lesbianism prior to Coleridge’s
Deconstructing Gender Stereotypes / 15
time.3 In the section dedicated to Coleridge, “’A Sight to Dream of, Not
to Tell:’ Christabel, Pornography, and Genius” (177-202), Elfenbein
holds that Coleridge unyokes lesbianism from its patriarchal context,
for he does not really represent a heterosexual background. The traditional conception of lesbianism had always seen it as attached to a
heterosexual framework, since lesbian representations always
showed the insertion of a hidden male, not indifferent to eroticised
females. He is therefore of the strong conviction that:
Christabel, for the first time, made lesbianism sublime. What had been
a mildly amusing or shocking topic became a matter of almost sacred
mystery. In Christabel, sex between women loses the characteristic
corporeality of eighteenth-century representation. Instead, a black
space in the text marks an event so burdened with sublime horror that
it cannot even be spoken. Like a cultic rite that remains unknown only
to initiates, lesbianism in Christabel points to mysteries forbidden to
ordinary mortals. (177)
Though Elfenbein associates lesbianism with the conventional
concept of genius and the sublime purification of art, asserting that the
poem assumes an aesthetic autonomy, he provides a modern background to interpreting the poem. It is this background that inspires the
need to attempt an interpretation of the poem as a challenge to
Elfenbein uses extant literary works to contend that they serve as an
unacknowledged background to Coleridge’s revisionist attitude to eighteenthcentury lesbian representations. The obscene works that he holds to have inspired
Coleridge include M. G. Lewis, The Castle Spectre (a gothic drama), Bishop Percy,
“Sir Gauline” (a ballad), The Frisky Songster, Being a Select Choice of Such Songs,
as are Distinguished for their Jollity, High Taste and Humour, and above two hundred Toasts and Sentiments of the most Delicious Order (a collection of obscene
songs, two important ones being “The Dispute” and “The Crab-Tree”). The critic also
holds that Coleridge must have read “Christabess,” published by John Duncombe.
Providing textual detail with “The Dispute” and “The Crab-Tree,” Elfenbein argues
that they are set in a heterosexual atmosphere because the ladies involved here
undress themselves, their defined intention being to determine who would please a
man’s sexual desire, and for the erotic excitation of a gazing male respectively. So
the scenes are not strictly same-sex consummation, but the all-female company
suggests lesbian undertones.
16 / Charles Ngiewith Teke
stereotypical sexual concerns, and to re-examine Coleridge’s productive imagination.
In Heterosexual Plots and Lesbian Narratives (1996) Marilyn
Farwell advances a contention that can set the pace for our analysis
of the erotic and lesbian implications inherent in “Christabel”:
Traditional lesbian theory treats the lesbian narrative as a text determined by the shared experience among identifiable lesbian authors,
readers, and characters and treats narrative itself as a relatively neutral tool into which lesbians can be written; postmodernism treats lesbian as a fluid and unstable term and narratives as a powerful if not
closed ideological system into which lesbians enter only to be entangled in a heterosexual, male story. (5)
Farwell’s argument is very delicate, but she clearly distinguishes
between lesbian narrative and narrative itself. But it would appear that
she inverts or rather complicates the understanding of the relationship
between lesbianism and literary representations. She is very clear
with her categorisation of lesbian authors, readers and characters,
that is, whether they are themselves lesbians or not. Any person with
interest in lesbian theory or fiction can fit her categorisation, depending on whether he/she is a writer or a reader. She therefore grapples
not only with lesbian writers, but also with non-lesbian writers whose
writings treat lesbian themes. The second part of her assertion, referring to postmodernism’s favouring of text and treating lesbianism as
fluid, furthers the depth and complexity of the debate that cannot be
pursued here. This notwithstanding, one of her main arguments that a
given narrative must disrupt, historically, conventional heterosexual
master plotting in order to qualify as lesbian, is important in the
framework of the argument here. We have already pointed out the fact
that Coleridge is heterosexist, though his poem delineates a lesbian
atmosphere, and reading the poem as a text from a modern perspective as proposed here, does not see lesbian representation as a fluid,
but as a seriously treated issue that does not fall into or is entangled
in a heterosexual story.
There is no doubt that Part Two of the poem involves a male narrative, but it is a male narrative that is more of a flashback and/or an
Deconstructing Gender Stereotypes / 17
accompaniment to a homosexual female story. Most interesting is
also the nature of the bond between Sir Leoline and Lord Roland.
They have children, no doubt, but it can be suggested that they once
shared a kind of psychological and homo-social bond, if not physical
homosexual relationship. The poem can therefore be interpreted as a
struggle to resist and efface signs of phallic male power, to use Elfenbein’s words, or to disrupt conventional heterosexual master plotting
from Farwell’s perspective. In fact, the all-female encounter in Part
One is clearly non-heterosexist in nature, and the lasting bond between the two fathers does not look heterosexual. In what follows, we
are going to address the basic issues here with a series of questions
and attempt at answers to demonstrate Coleridge’s presentation of
The events in the poem begin at midnight, and the first question
is what should Christabel be doing out at such a time in the woods.
Does she really represent good as conventional readings attest? If
Geraldine on the other hand is evil, why is she attributed qualities
pertaining to good? Does Coleridge implicitly or explicitly answer all
the questions that he poses? Does the wine that awakens Geraldine’s
erotic and sexual desires represent evil, or is her act actually diabolical or a repository transgression of sex-roles? Does Christabel’s reaction to Geraldine’s dominant and overpowering nature prove her innocence? What are the implications of Bracy’s story, and how can we
interpret it through dream theory? Is Sir Leoline to blame for his bitter
attitude towards his daughter? What does the unexplained gap in the
poem signify, and how can we interpret the poem’s open-ended nature with regard to the argument?
We cannot really say whether Christabel is definitely innocent or
not, for she remains mysterious. But her being outside at midnight
does not stand favourably as a sign of innocence. She is concerned
with a kind of ritual performance, which she could as well undertake in
the chapel in her father’s castle. The attributes of Geraldine only complicate the matter. Her description does not portray her as evil incarnate, unless her good qualities are a veiled expression of her socalled evil and the evil and sinister atmosphere she perpetuates. All
through the poem, the poet does not seem to be concerned with evil
18 / Charles Ngiewith Teke
per se. Rather; interpretation has created the myth of evil as the most
inherent issue of the poem. We have the following qualities, “A lady so
richly clad as she – / Beautiful exceedingly!” (L. 67-68), “And her voice
was sweet and faint” (L. 72), “Bright dame” (L. 106), “She was most
beautiful to see” (L. 224), “Nay, fairer yet! and yet more fair!” (L. 374),
and “Yet he, who saw this Geraldine, / Had deemed her a divine
thing” (L. 474-75). These are not qualities to be simply dismissed
because of her behaviour towards Christabel. In fact, they point to a
voluptuousness of Geraldine, which connects with the erotic and sexual urges that push her to consume them with Christabel.
One of the unanswered questions that the speaker poses further
helps to understand the nature of Geraldine, “And what can ail the
mastiff bitch? ... / For what can ail the mastiff bitch?” (L. 149; 153). It
may sound too reductive to simply say that the old bitch “an angry
moan did make” because Geraldine embodies evil. Dogs usually react
like this to people with whom they are not familiar. It can be argued
that this may as well be the case of the scene. The question of the
wine and Geraldine’s supposed strange behaviour is very central in
the lesbian reading. Christabel associates the cordial wine with her
mother and Geraldine’s reaction is captivating:
And will your mother pity me,
Who am a maiden most forlorn?
Christabel answered – Woe is me!
She died the hour that I was born.
I have heard the grey-haired friar tell,
How on her death-bed she did say,
That she should hear the castle-bell
Strike twelve upon my wedding day.
O mother dear! that thou wert here!
I would, said Geraldine, she were!
But soon with altered voice, she said –
‘Off, wandering mother! Peak and pine!
I have power to bid thee flee.’
Deconstructing Gender Stereotypes / 19
The questions that immediately follow are very intriguing, “Alas!
what ails poor Geraldine? / Why stares she with unsettled eye? / Can
she the bodiless dead espy?” (L. 207-09). We can add ours, why is
Geraldine so disturbed with the mentioning of Christabel’s mother’s
dream and wish for her wedding? This is where Coleridge brings in
the complexity involved in the dismantling of heterosexual inclinations.
Christabel’s expected marriage is unquestionably within the conventional and heterosexual frame, which is incompatible with Geraldine’s
same-sex desire. Her attitude is therefore a challenge to stereotypes,
“Off, woman, off! this hour is mine – / Though thou her guardian spirit
be, / Off, woman, off! ‘tis given to me” (L. 210-13). She seems to be
overcome by a strong sexual urge. This again is justified when she
further drinks and makes an appeal to Christabel to undress herself,
which she does without any resistance (L. 220-38). After undressing
herself as well, Geraldine creates a very erotic and sexual atmosphere, with no suggestion of a male presence. Two excerpts convey
Then suddenly as one defied
Collects herself in scorn and pride,
And lay by the maiden’s side! –
And in her arms the maid she took,
Ah well-a-day!
And with low voice and doleful look
These words did say.
In the touch of this bosom there worketh a spell,
This is lord of thy utterance, Christabel!
Thou knowest to-night, and wilt know tomorrow
This mark of my shame, this seal of my sorrow;
A star hath set, a star hath risen,
O Geraldine! since arms of thine
Have been the lovely lady’s prison.
O Geraldine! one hour was thine –
Thou’st had thy will!
(L. 260-70, 302-06)
20 / Charles Ngiewith Teke
The atmosphere is very suggestive of a lesbian erotic encounter.
It is a kind of ritualised performance of female bodies, a kind of “loss
of virginity” or an introduction or initiation rite of Christabel into womanhood, though from the viewpoint of a decentralisation from a heterosexual into homosexual act. We cannot really tell whether it is
Geraldine’s first encounter, but she is the dominant partner in this
same-sex consummation, and does not seem to be innocent in this
direction. Her self-conscious expression of anything abnormal in the
act must be seen from the ethics and stereotypes that convention has
struggled to implant in the consciousness of society. Geraldine is
therefore not an undesirable Other because she defies conventional
sexuality. She manifests some of the important inborn traits which
stereotypical categorisation in heterocentrism does not take into consideration.
Christabel’s reactions are not very clear, but there is every indication that a kind of awakening is in her. This is discernible in the
ambiguity with which the poet narrates the events after the trance,
(sexual act or erotic activity?):
[She] Gathers herself from out her trance;
Her limbs relax, her countenance
Grows sad and soft; the smooth thin lids
Close o’er her eyes; and tears she sheds –
Large tears that leave the lashes bright!
And soft the while she seems to smile
As infants at a sudden light!
Yea she doth smile, and she doth weep,
No doubt she hath a vision sweet.
(L. 312-19, 326)
Christabel’s mixture of joy and sweet vision and her consciousness of the act as a sin (again captured in lines 381-86) shows that
she does not completely reject it. And even when she refuses to tell
the truth to her father, she is afraid of his reaction rather than actually
expressing remorse over the performed act. So far, we can understand from a lesbian perspective that there is no real scenario of hor-
Deconstructing Gender Stereotypes / 21
ror or evil that lurks in the mind of Geraldine, nor is it clearly expressed by Christabel. Rather, we could talk about Christabel’s fears
and anxiety in the face of a new experience.
Part Two, as already indicated, involves the presence of, and allusion to male figures. But they pose no problem to Coleridge’s homosexual scheme. This part is an unravelling of the all-female scene in
Part One. The proposed questions on this part may shed more light
on the constant resistance to a heterosexual stereotype or framework.
Bracy’s story of the dove (which the Baron calls by the name Christabel) and the green serpent (L. 530-63), has been taken by structuralists and Deconstructionists as one of the subversive and resistant
accounts to any deeper structure or meaningful context in the poem.
The lesbian perspective here does not even necessitate a hermeneutic and phenomenological paradigmatic framework. While Sir Leoline’s
interpretation of the dream, “‘Sweet maid, Lord Roland’s beauteous
dove, / With arms more strong than harp or song, / Thy sire and I will
crush the snake!’” (L. 569-71), may be wrong or sound ironical to the
reader, it is textually justified. It is the same case when he is very
bitter about his daughter’s appeal to send away Geraldine.
Sir Leoline is obviously not aware of what has happened between his daughter and Geraldine, and given Geraldine’s account of
the story, and the fact that she is the daughter to his greatest friend,
there is no need for unexplained irony or irresolvable aporia. Reading
and interpreting this way will certainly involve the creation or re-writing
of a new text from a deconstructionist position. The present stance
resists this position. The serpent image rightly suggests a phallic interpretation, obviously not in a heterosexist frame. A psycho-sexual
perspective suggests that it can represent the androgynous or hermaphroditic quality in Geraldine. The Baron’s anger is also suggestively connected with the question of his child’s supposed jealousy of
Geraldine, or defiance to his authority. Strands of the Electra complex
in Freudian psychoanalysis can also be discerned from the text, accounting for the almost excessive attachment of the Baron to his
Coleridge’s display of imaginative energy rescues a multiplicity of
references to the poem. This is paradoxically done with what we can
22 / Charles Ngiewith Teke
call the large non-narrated space(s) that he creates, and the poem’s
open-ended nature, which leaves even the credibility of the present
stance only as long as the narrative lasts. In other words, the
gap/space that Coleridge creates or leaves unfilled in the narrative,
gives possibility to diverse elliptical inferences. This is related to what
the German literary theorist Wolfgang Iser in “The Reading Process: A
Phenomenological Approach” (1988) calls “gaps of meaning” and the
creative stimulation engendered by “unwritten” parts or implications of
the text (213, 216). But it is clear that Coleridge employs his creative
imagination to advance a question of great and important consideration, the dismantling of prejudiced and biased sexual stereotypes (for
example sexual intercourse must involve opposite sexes), which have
been overlooked. If he is not conscious of this, the text at least urges
reading and interpreting in this direction. This is where the strength of
the poem lies. That is, implied meanings depend on interpretative
contexts. The incomplete or fragmentary nature of the poem is fascinating and significantly contributes to the open-ended nature of different critical pursuits. This is another mark of the poem’s strength and
aesthetic value. It could be a deliberate technical measure that accounts for the multiplicity of critical discourse. Our analysis, though
based on the text as narrative, struggles all the same to depart from
the narrative as a structural reading to the poem. The fundamental
issue is the unchallenged theme of sexuality that pervades the poem.
Coleridge’s hetero-lesbian consciousness does not imply that he had
any homosexual inclinations. It implies that, though he was a heterosexual, he carefully explored, through the prefigurating power of the
imagination, a theme that gives prominence to the changing patterns
involved in the re-conceptualisation of sexual and erotic orientation.
Though this poem neither implicitly nor explicitly points to the question
of spirituality, Coleridge does not explicitly nor implicitly present it as
anti-religious or anti-spiritual. The poem clearly engenders a careful
examination of lesbian theory that is gaining much ground today.
Charles Ngiewih TEKE4
4 Charles Ngiewih TEKE (PhD), Chargé de Cours, Department of English, Higher Teacher Training College (ENS), University of Yaounde I - Cameroon
Deconstructing Gender Stereotypes / 23
Beer, John. “Fragmentations and Ironies,” Questioning Romanticism. Ed.
John Beer. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995. 23464.
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. The Complete Poetical Works. Ed. Ernest Hartley
Coleridge. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1912 [1966].
Elfenbein, Andrew. Romantic Genius: The Prehistory of a Homosexual Role.
New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.
Farwell, Marilyn R. Heterosexual Plots and Lesbian Narratives. New York:
New York University Press, 1996.
Haggerty, George. Men in Love: Masculinity and Sexuality in the Eighteenth
Century. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.
Hofkosh, Sonia, “The Writer’s Ravishment: Women and the Romantic Author,” Romanticism and Feminism. Ed. Anne Mellor. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1988. 93-114.
Iser, Wolfgang, “The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach,”
Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader. Ed. David Lodge. London and
New York: Longman, 1988. 211-28.
Knight. G. Wilson. “Coleridge’s Divine Comedy,” English Romantic
Poets: Essays in Criticism. Ed. M. H. Abrams. London: Oxford University Press, 1975. 202-13.
Rajan, Tilottama. Dark Interpreter: The Discourse of Romanticism.
Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1980.
Rich, Adrienne. “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence’, Signs,
5. 1980. 631-60.
Rosen, Daniel H. Lesbianism: A Study of Female Homosexuality. Illinois:
Charles T. Thomas Publisher, 1974.
Swann, Karen, “Harassing the Muse,” Romanticism and Feminism. Ed.
Anne Mellor. Bloomington and Indianapolis. Indiana University Press,
1988. 81-92.
“Literary Gentlemen and Lovely Ladies: The Debate on the Character
of Christabel,” Romantic Poetry: Recent Revisionary Criticism. Eds.
Karl Kroeber and Gene W. Ruoff. New Brunswick: Rutgers University
Press, 1993. 204-20.
Tekinay, Ash. “Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’
and ‘Christabel’: Doubts About the Universal Order”, Dogus University
Journal, # 1, 2000, 184-92.
24 / Charles Ngiewith Teke
Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today: A User Friendly Guide. Routledge: New
York, 1999.
Watkins, Susan. Twentieth-Century Women Novelists: Feminist Theory into
Practice. Palgrave: New York, 2001.
Wheeler, Kathleen “Coleridge and Modern Critical Theory,” Coleridge’s
Theory of Imagination Today. Ed. Christine Gallant. New York: AMS
Press, 1989. 83-102.
Wysor, Bettie. The Lesbian Myth. New York: Random House, 1974.
The Cult of Art in Henry James’ s
“The Aspern Papers” (1888)
And as I fixed upon the down-turned face
That pointed scrutiny with which we challenge
The first-met stranger in the waning dusk
I caught the sudden look of some dead master
T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”
Henry James’s “The Aspern Papers” is both a popular and, according to critics, very fine story composed in a period of rich creativity, while the author was writing The Tragic Muse and Princess
Casamassima. It belongs to a series of texts described by James as
tales, that is narratives which develop a single anecdote and are too
long to be short stories and too short to be novels. The author sometimes used the tale to explore the complexities of literary life which
was his main focus in a whole series of stories. “The Aspern Papers”
could be classified among the tales dealing with the specificities and
peculiarities of creation and what revolves around it. The story recounts a critic’s quest for a great poet’s letters written to his muse,
who is the last survivor of the poet’s acquaintances. To reach his goal,
the narrator finds accommodation under a false name in the old lady’s
house, and through ruse and deceit, he attempts to get hold of her
literary possessions. He draws the line at marrying her niece though,
and when he regrets and returns to her, he finds the papers destroyed
by the rejected heir.
In his New York edition preface to “The Aspern Papers,” Henry
James expands on the genesis of his story which is based on an anecdote related by a Boston collector; in the hope of finding Shelley’s
and Byron’s papers, he takes rooms in the Florentine home of Claire
Clairmont, Byron’s mistress. When he discovers that the price to pay
for them is to marry the old lady’s middle-aged niece, he gives up the
treasure hunt and flees. James highly valued the creative potential of
26 / Aristie Trendel
this situation and spoke elatedly about it: “[…] history, ‘literary history’
we in this connection call it, had in an out-of-the-way corner of the
great garden of life thrown off a curious flower that I was to feel worth
gathering as soon as I saw it” (James: 1953 159). It was in the wings
of literary history, then, that James found inspiration, or “the first impulse,” as he called it (James: 1953 159), for this tale. “The Aspern
Papers” developed on a fortuitous incident that inflamed James’s
imagination opening up a vista of literary relations full of dramatic
potential. The author clearly stated that “nine tenths of the artist’s
interest in […] [the facts] is that of what he shall add to them and how
he shall turn them” (James 1953: 163). James turned this somewhat
amusing anecdote into a homage to the power of the past, as well as
to the artistic ideal and the ethical dimension it ineluctably involved.
It is worth noting that there was a shift in the thematic interests
of James by the end of the mid-eighties, namely from the AmericanEuropean antithesis to more universal moral concerns which could
truly accommodate the theme of lost innocence central in the author’s
work. In “The Aspern Papers,” the three main characters lose their
innocence through their implication, to a greater or lesser degree, in
the possession of or quest for the poet’s invaluable papers. Through
his narrator’s monomaniac quest for the poet’s papers, James investigates the cult of art which, as the Latin etymology of the word indicates (cultus), signifies worship, its observances and various manifestations, such as the preservation of relics and the creation of icons.
The negative connotation, attached to the term in this tale, complexifies and enriches the story which investigates a rich gamut of literary
relations under the lens of the ethical dimension of art in an artistic
James’s shift of setting from Florence, where the events of the
literary anecdote took place, to Venice reveals the spell that the city
cast upon the author’s mind. Venice was for James the Museum city
par excellence, offering “the palpable, visitable past” which the author
“delighted in” (James: 1953 164). In a sort of mystical visitation to the
quester, the poet reminds his biographer, who invoked him, of the
capital importance of the place: “aren’t we in Venice together, and
The Cult of Art in “The Aspern Papers” / 27
what better place is there for the meeting of dear friends?” (38) 1. This
intimate meeting between master and pupil takes place under the
cultural firmament of the most propitious for such a city of encounters.
Moreover, it is in the antiquated glamour of an old palace that James
sets his ancient female character who possesses the living past in the
form of a bundle of documents. This bunch of letters is James’s fictional gift to the city which provides him with its own pieces of art,
used by the author, as we shall later see, as a nexus of meaning.
James’s sensitivity to the visual arts certainly found fertile ground in
this place of predilection. Only Venice then, the city of cities, could
harbour the hidden exhibit which the narrator sets out to possess. As
the title indicates, the Aspern papers are in the centre of the narrative
and provide the link between the characters. Bonds are created or
broken around these papers which mediate three main sets of relations in the tale: master and pupil, the author and his muse, the man
of letters and the laywoman.
It is quite interesting that in the year when “The Aspern Papers”
was written, James was writing a series of critical appreciations of his
favourite novelists and tale-tellers, especially the French, among them
Balzac, Flaubert, and Guy de Maupassant. He was, then, himself
under the sway of his own masters. James’s act of paying tribute to
them parallels his character’s endeavours to do the same for his own
poetic icon. It is even more interesting that the tale seems to be indebted to Hawthorne’s novel, The House of the Seven Gables, as
Millicent Bell demonstrates in her study Meaning in Henry James. Bell
maintains that James is reluctant to acknowledge this literary debt in
his New York edition preface: “Admitting so frankly the donnée from
life  the story of Silsbee and Miss Clairmont  he is silent about the
blossom plucked from the past of literary example” (Bell 192). There is
no proof, though, that James’s silence was voluntary. However,
whether conscious or unconscious, this instance of intertextuality
points to the story’s literary ramifications and echoes the master-pupil
1 All the quotations from “The Aspern Papers” refer to the Zulma classics edition of The Italian Tales.
28 / Aristie Trendel
theme in The Aspern Papers, given James’s own reverence for Hawthorne.
The uniqueness of the master-pupil relation was most dear to
James who also investigated the specificity of this bond in “The Lesson of the Master” and “The Pupil”. Contrary to these two stories, the
master is not only dead in “The Aspern Papers,” but also physically
unknown by the pupil, except through pictures. Therefore, the narrator’s devotion to the poet could never be met with any kind of reciprocity; the pupil could never realistically hope for his master’s acknowledgement, which creates the pathos that surrounds this variant of the
master-pupil bond and makes the pupil’s endeavours to get hold of
and make public the master’s private work all the more poignant.
Even in this one-sided variant of the bond, the pupil’s faith in the master is no less staunch, “The world, as I say, had recognised Jeffrey
Aspern, but Cumnor and I had recognised him most” (13). Although
this relation is wholly based on the master’s work and the osmosis
has been achieved only through reading, the erotic element that subtends this special relation, as George Steiner demonstrates in his
study Lessons of the Masters, is no less present either. In his quest
for the papers the pupil loses himself in the labyrinth of love. The
poet’s presence is perceived by the narrator from the very moment he
approaches the palace that is supposed to shelter the papers: “Jeffrey
Aspern had never been in it that I knew of, but some note of his voice
seemed to abide there by a roundabout implication and in a ‘dying
fall’” (12).
It becomes overwhelming when the narrator meets the poet’s
muse: “Her presence seemed somehow to contain and express his
own, and I felt nearer to him at that first moment of seeing her than I
ever had been before or ever have been since. Yes, I remember my
emotions in their order, even including a curious little tremor that took
me when I saw the niece not to be there” (25). The intimacy, this têteà-tête entails, turns the old lady into a vicarious object of desire, which
is confirmed by the narrator’s urge to touch her: “I felt an irresistible
desire to hold in my own for a moment the hand Jeffrey Aspern had
pressed” (30). Although Bell rightly observes that the narrator’s “curiosity is implicitly sexual ─ a rage to impermissibly penetrate ─ to
The Cult of Art in “The Aspern Papers” / 29
ransack drawers, break into cabinets in order to seize hold of papers
that are arguable love letters” (Bell 192), calling this curiosity “voyeuristic”, just like other critics2 he misses the main point of this fundamental literary relation which is “eros, […] and indeed love”, according to
Steiner (Steiner 2).
Nevertheless, the narrator can neither touch the lady nor see
her, as she always appears with a green shade over her eyes except
once, as we shall later see. As Jean Starobinski puts it: “Le caché
fascine. […] Il y a, dans la dissimulation et dans l’absence, une force
étrange qui contraint l’esprit à se tourner vers l’inaccessible et à sacrifier pour sa conquête tout ce qu’il possède.” (Starobinski 9). Miss
Bordereau’s hidden eyes are emblematic of the force that drives the
narrator to her. Thus the possession of the papers could be experienced by him as the only form of fulfilment of his desire, which explains his readiness to go to extremes for their sake. Moreover, the
ambient misogyny in the narrator’s discourse could be accounted by
the demands of exclusiveness which passion entails. This is how he
refers to the women in the poet’s life: “Almost all the Maenads were
unreasonable and many of them unbearable” (14). It is no surprise,
then, that at the end of his story, the pupil refers to his condition as
“the most fatal of human follies” (102), which could be read as a definition of love, and finds himself prostrate with grief before his master’s
There is little doubt that the narrator’s discourse consecrates his
object of love aggrandised by art. His ultimate cult is that of the art of
speech, embodied by Jeffrey Aspern, who becomes alive and active,
a man in flesh and blood, in the narrator’s imagination. Religious vocabulary abounds. In the light of the narrator’s urge to get hold of the
papers, it does not even sound hyperbolic; “One doesn’t even defend
one’s god: one’s god is in himself a defence” (12), albeit slightly sibylline, “‘One would think you expected from it the answer to the riddle of
the universe,’ she said; and I denied the impeachment only by reply2 cf. Lustig T.J. “In such tales as […] “The Aspern Papers” James had
already returned to the realms of private psychopathology, to the themes of possession and vampirism which had marked his early stories (Lustig 90).
30 / Aristie Trendel
ing that if I had to choose between that precious solution and a bundle
of Jeffrey Aspern’s letters I knew indeed which would appear to me
the greatest boon” (12). As for the letters, they are naturally the sacred “relics” (17) of the “divine poet” (13). In this Venetian summer of
thrills and heartbeats, the critic becomes fully conscious of the farreaching implications of his work and his experience takes on a mystical tinge,
My eccentric private errand became a part of the general romance and
the general glory  I felt even a mystic companionship, a moral fraternity with all those who in the past had been in the service of art. They
had worked for beauty, for a devotion; and what else was I doing? That
element was in everything that Jeffrey Aspern had written, and I was
only bringing it to light. (38)
The narrator becomes part and parcel of a universal team, a task
force in the holy service of art. Aesthetics and metaphysics blend and
yield the apotheosis of art. The notion of a sacred brotherhood created by art is to be found is such artistic groups as the Nazarenes and
the Nabis. Although the narrator is not a poet, as he himself admits,
his critical and biographical work ushers him into a higher reality discovered by an inner vision. As a consequence, he is one of the elect
whose mission is to reveal a spiritual truth. Disappointment had led
many of the artists in the Nabi group to assume the identity of the
martyr and Christ figure. At the end, struck by the loss of the papers
and thrown back into a dingy reality, the narrator assumes a posture
of suffering: “I can scarcely bear my loss” (106). He seems to be a
jaded pilgrim before his holy icon.
If the master-pupil bond seems to be the strongest in the tale, as
it is shaped by the discourse of an auto-diegetic narrator who relates
the vicissitudes of a full-blown passion, another literary relation
emerges from his account of the events, that of a poet and his muse.
The critic’s biographical flair digs up a quaint romance between two
Americans in Europe. Expatriation deepens the romantic aura that
surrounds the idyll: “When Americans went abroad in 1820 there was
something romantic, almost heroic in it, as compared with the perpet-
The Cult of Art in “The Aspern Papers” / 31
ual ferrying of the present hour” (42). At the same time, the narrator
stresses “the Americanness” of the poet and his muse: “His own
country after all had had most of his life, and his muse, as they said at
that time, was essentially American” (43). James’s concern to confer
upon his country a literary tradition it did not have is balanced by the
universal quality Aspern’s muse attains, when she loses all her national characteristics and becomes “an American absentee” (40).
James builds a female character worthy of a great American
poet. To start with, the narrator places her along prestigious women
such as Mrs Siddons, Queen Caroline and Lady Hamilton who become referential characters in the story. Miss Bordereau belongs to
the tradition of strong women in James’s fiction who can be traced
back in the author’s childhood. Leon Edel is quite enlightening about
them: “the mother’s relatives are all strong females holding their men
under their thumbs […]. The Great Aunt probably sat as Juliana Bordereau in “The Aspern Papers” ‘throned, hooded, draped’ as the small
boy saw her” (Edel 107). Miss Bordereau’s niece, Tina consolidates
the image of the muse as a woman of substance and power: “Everyone can be managed by my aunt” (65). Indeed, Tina’s testimony fully
supports some of the narrator’s inferences concerning the poet and
his muse. The biographer depicts Miss Bordereau as a bold, adventurous and contemptuous-of-convention woman who challenges the
morals of her time for the love of a poet. If the intimacy of the affair is
mostly conveyed through the worshipping eyes of the narrator, Tina’s
quoted words can only give credit to it. “‘She’s very fond of them’”
(63), “‘Oh, she lived on them’” (98), she says about the poet’s papers.
However, there is no first-hand revelation of the muse’s relation to the
poet. Miss Bordereau remains the mysterious lady who preserves the
privacy of her story to the end. Vainly has the narrator besieged her
secrets. Although Tina is the one who finally destroys the papers, it is
Miss Bordereau’s will to carry her secrets with her, like a Pharaoh to
his tomb, that triumphs.
In this foursome of characters, Tina is the least immersed in art.
Yet her filiation to the poet’s muse makes her special, interesting and
useful for the narrator. Through his discourse the reader is presented
with two conflicting visions of the niece shaped by the biographer’s
32 / Aristie Trendel
changing gaze. It is the critic’s “literary heart” (37) that remains cold
and unfeeling to Tina’s humanity and femininity or flies out to her and
momentarily alights upon her loving face. The man of letters’ condescending eyes, after sizing her up, settle on a plain laywoman devoid
of interest: “Only she had lived for years with Juliana, she had seen
and handled all mementoes and  even though she was stupid 
some esoteric knowledge had rubbed off on her. That was what the
old woman represented  esoteric knowledge” (38). Tina lives in the
mystic shadow of her consecrated aunt and thus attracts the narrator’s attention. In his quest for the papers he becomes her suitor and
seducer drawing her out of her Carmelite’s life. When she stands by
him and preserves the papers for his sake, she undergoes a series of
transformations. From “a piece of middle-aged female helplessness”
(94) she turns into an angel of deliverance: “She stood in the middle
of the room with a face of mildness bent upon me, and her look of
forgiveness, of absolution, made her angelic. It beautified her; she
was younger; […] this trick of expression, this magic of her spirit,
transfigured her” (104).
Before such a radical transformation the narrator instantly decides to take the plunge and marry the niece, although he fled when
she had presented her conditions to him. As she has already destroyed the letters, the narrator’s sudden insight into her inner beauty
represents a moment of supreme irony which highlights his blindness.
He fails to see that the agent of Tina’s transformation is love and that
he is sensitive to it. Without the precious documents, Tina instantly
changes back into “plain dingy elderly person” (105). His obsession
with “a bundle of tattered papers” (100), as he himself called them
when he was faced with the dilemma of marrying the niece, makes
him impervious to life and love. Tina’s love in the tale is the closest to
life and enacts the theme of life versus art. The critic’s obtuseness to
life may be the most severe authorial criticism of the narrator. James
subjects his character to scrupulous moral scrutiny.
If the narrator’s fatal flaw is to love literature more than life, his
semi-unreliability raises a series of ethical issues that question the
moral immunity of art. It is no wonder that this character did not fare
The Cult of Art in “The Aspern Papers” / 33
very well with the critics: “In the case of “The Aspern Papers” there is
no uncertainty about James’s attitude toward the narrator: James lets
us know that the papers were none of the journalist’s business and
that the rebuff served him right”, says Edmund Edel in his essay “The
Ambiguity of Henry James” (Dupee 17). This sweeping statement
points to the unlikeability of the narrator, but leaves aside the ambiguity and ambivalence present in the tale. On the contrary, Leon Edel
probes deeper into the authorial design, “Between the lines of “The
Aspern Papers” James is saying that an artist’s life should be preserved from prying hands and that he should be read on his work
alone. Yet James is also ambivalently on the side of the biographer
who seeks human elements in the artist’s work” (Edel 1960: 27). Both
critics, though, touch upon the delicate question of the frontier between the public and the private sphere in an author’s life. The first
question put forward in “The Aspern Papers” is whether each and
single document produced by a writer should come under the spotlight. Does an author’s private life belong to him or to posterity? Darshan Singh Maini in “The Epistolary Art of Henry James” states that
James “entertained a peculiar aesthetic of ambivalence in regard to
the whole question of publishing letters”, and that he objected to publishing “a certain type of private letter” (Fogel 1993: 359). However, he
finally seems to agree with Edel that “the letters of the great man’s
friend and schoolmates in “The Abasement” described quite accurately James’s own view on the matter. Thus if many pages were too
intimate to publish, most others were too rare to suppress” (Fogel
1993: 361).
It is quite understandable that James was torn between the man
who had to protect his own privacy and that of the people around him,
and the author who constantly assessed the literary value of what he
wrote that ultimately cried out to be read. In “The Aspern Papers,”
James dramatizes this issue presenting two radically opposed views,
the biographer’s and the muse’s; the former has no doubt that the
papers belong to the public, while the latter dismisses every attempt
at their publication. They both act in the name of truth whether accessible or inaccessible. Thus the narrator says in utter conviction: “He
had nothing to fear from us because he had nothing to fear from the
34 / Aristie Trendel
truth, which alone at such distance of time we could be interested in
establishing” (13). While Miss Bordereau, in full wisdom, sneers at the
narrator’s naïve readiness to measure the truth of an author’s work by
private documents and solemnly states: “The truth is God’s, it isn’t
man’s: we had better leave it alone” (70). The matter would remain
truly unresolved if James did not push his inquiry further. If there is a
modicum of truth to be intimated, should it be reached by any possible
means? This is the second fundamental issue which makes matters
more complex in the tale. Should the end justify the means? James
investigates literary life in the light of this old ethical question.
On the one hand, there is little doubt about the narrator’s nobility
of purpose. Intellectual curiosity, thirst for knowledge, love and concern for the Aspern readership are the driving forces behind his quest.
On the other hand, however elevated his aim may be, the means to
achieve it are base. Henry James, an advocate of objective representation, “shows” instead of “telling.” The first person narrative in this
story serves this purpose. The narrator carries the full moral responsibility of his discourse. Right from the start, he seems to employ immoral means to fulfil his wish: “I can arrive at my spoils only by putting
her off her guard, and I can put her off her guard only by ingratiating
diplomatic arts. Hypocrisy, duplicity are my only chance. I’m sorry for
it but there’s no baseness I wouldn’t commit for Jeffrey Aspern’s sake”
The sheer accumulation of such means and the gravity of the
committed wrongs have an incremental effect. The narrator does not
hesitate to exploit female desire, and seduces Tina, thus carrying out
his initial plan “to make love to the niece” (19), albeit expressed jocularly at that point. His lies, ruse and deliberate deceit pave the way for
the final act of violence which Juliana witnesses. The narrator acts out
his plunderer’s fantasy and attempts to steal the documents from Miss
Bordereau’s secretary. It seems highly significant that only at this
moment does Juliana turn upon him an uncovered gaze, only at this
moment is the narrator enabled to behold her incriminating eyes. If the
question of biographical truth seems highly hypothetical and remains
unresolved in the story, the truth that Juliana expresses through her
accusatory eyes is categorical and ineluctable.
The Cult of Art in “The Aspern Papers” / 35
The documents are both sacred relics and “spoils”. The narrator
is both a Holy Grail Knight and a “publishing scoundrel” (88). His ambivalence is deepened by his temporary dismissal of the letters as “a
bundle of tattered papers” (101), when he is faced with the dilemma of
accepting Tina’s offer. Critics see in this withdrawal the same “‘inverted realism’ seen in the novels of the eighties” (Fogel 1981: 174).
However, the narrator’s regret and final reversal restore the idealism
in his beliefs. Albeit desolate and defeated, he remains a true believer
in the Aspern temple. It is quite paradoxical that in his quest for the
truth, the man of letters had to resort to lies, that in his search for
transcendence he had to go through a squalid reality. Nevertheless,
James’s dismissal of his character, built on a balanced combination
between aesthetic sensibility and moral callousness, on a divergence
between the aesthetic and the moral sense, is not complete. The narrator’s contemplation of Verrochio’s great equestrian statue of Bartolommeo Colleoni, the famous Venetian condottieri throws into perspective the man of letter’s moral inquiry into his acts. Although it is
not the first time in the story that the critic questions the rightness of
his course of action, his showdown with this magnificent piece of art,
after he has fled from Tina’s proposal, is quite significant, for his interest in it is not aesthetic: “The statue is incomparable, the finest of all
mounted figures […] but I was not thinking of that; I only found myself
staring at the triumphant captain as if he had had an oracle on his lips.
The western light shines into the grimness at that hour and makes it
wonderfully personal” (102).
Through the artistically marvellous statue of a man who disregarded the moral conduct in life, James pinpoints the ethical dimension of art and its faculty to awake its viewer to a moral reality. It is
quite likely that the narrator is confronted with his own mercenary
behaviour. As Adeline R. Tintner states, “There is hardly a tale among
James’s one hundred and twelve stories and twenty novels that does
not catch within its net some artefact of status […] provided it can
concretely underline some moral, human, or technical point James is
making” (Tintner 2). At the same time, Tina’s attitude could also be
commented through the author’s use of the statue, as Tintner remarks: “Tina could be viewed as someone who is working out her own
36 / Aristie Trendel
stratagems” (72). Like a soldier of fortune, Tina demands her price
which reveals the ambiguity that complexifies the female characters in
the tale. Doesn’t Tina take an opportunistic advantage of the documents to force the narrator into marriage and hasn’t Miss Bordereau
used his interest in them to lure the critic into staying longer in her
palace at an exorbitant rent? In any case, there is no happy ending in
this tale of love and loss, of unrecoverable past, of an unwritten biography, and ultimately of a shattered dream of innocence.
Is the cult of art a value? In James’s scepticism and self-irony
there looms a post-lapsarian age of art. “The Aspern Papers” could be
read as “a moral fable for historians and biographers”, 3 if it did not
also focus on the most intense literary relationships to be disentangled from the web of art.
Aristie Trendel4
Works cited
Bell, Millicent. Meaning in Henry James, Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, 1991.
Dupee, F.W. ed. The Question of Henry James: A Collection of Critical
Essays, New York, Henry Holt and Company, 1945.
Edel, Leon. Henry James: The Untried Years 1843-1870, London: Rupert
Hart Davis, 1953.
--------------. Henry James, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1960.
Fogel, Daniel Mark. Henry James and the Structure of Poetic Imagination,
Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981.
Fogel, Daniel Mark ed. A Companion to Henry James Studies, Westport:
Greenwood Press, 1993.
James, Henry. The Art of the Novel, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons,
3 Leon Edel cited by Anthony Curtis in his introduction to “The Aspern
Papers” and the Turn of the Screw (James: 1984 7).
4 Aristie Trendel, Université de Montpellier I (France).
The Cult of Art in “The Aspern Papers” / 37
-------------------. “The Aspern Papers” and the Turn of the Screw, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984.
-------------------. Italian Tales, Paris: Zulma Classics, 2005.
Lustig, Thomas S. Henry James and the Ghostly, Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1994.
Steiner, George. Lessons of the Masters, Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, 2003.
Tintner, R. Adeline. The Museum World of Henry James, Michigan: UMI
Research Press, 1990.
L’image controversée des femmes africaines
dans le récit de voyageuses et de missionnaires en Afrique du Sud au XIXe siècle
L’arrivée des premiers missionnaires en Afrique du Sud, à la fin
du dix-huitième siècle, suit de près l’occupation du Cap de Bonne
Espérance par les troupes Britanniques en 1795. En effet, les représentants de la London Missionary Society arrivent dès 1799. Sous
l’action des théologiens, l’impérialisme britannique se pare d’une dimension sacrée: la main de Dieu guidant le déroulement de l’histoire,
la puissance souveraine de l’Angleterre ne peut être qu’un décret de
la Providence. « We are […] the greatest colonising nation that the
world has ever seen – The Chosen People of Progress » (Rankin
94), écrit un militaire posté en Afrique australe au tournant du siècle à
sa lointaine épouse. Le rôle prépondérant que joue la nation britannique dans le monde, l’autorité qu’elle exerce sur les pays colonisés
émanent de la volonté divine telle qu’on l’interprète dans les écrits de
la Genèse et du Nouveau Testament :
God’s commands in the book of Genesis to subdue the earth and to go
forth and multiply […] (Genesis 1:28, 9:1), and the other two most
frequently cited texts from the New Testament, Matthew 24:14 (that
the Gospel might be preached throughout the whole world to prepare
for the last days) and Mark 13:10 (that it should be published among
all nations) […] could sanction the English to ‘plant as well as preach,
and […] subdue as well as teach,’ in the words of Richard Eburn. (Armitage 94)
Conquête territoriale et mission civilisatrice se croisent et
s’entrecroisent dans des desseins parfois labyrinthiques: « British
missionary enterprise thus sometimes provided channels through
which Imperial controls followed; at other times it delayed annexation
and colonization, or even subverted Imperial authority. In many places
L’image controversée des femme africaines… / 39
(sometimes on purpose, often unintentionally) Christians and their
churches provided powerful stimuli for local resistance and opposition
to colonial rule » (Porter 222-23).
L’accompagnement et la protection des émigrants britanniques
dans leur nouvelle existence semblent constituer l’action prioritaire de
ces missions. Il s’agit d’éviter que la colonie ne se transforme en une
zone de dépravation, qu’elle n’exhale le parfum nauséabond du vice.
« As the empire expanded, and new colonies were founded, it became necessary to follow up the emigrant children of the Church with
spiritual influences », peut-on lire dans The History of the Society for
Promoting Christian Knowledge (1898), « The fear of secularism and
infidelity spreading in the colonies filled the hearts of good men at
home with alarm, and who that knows the present state of parts of
Australia or South Africa will feel that such fears were ungrounded? »
(Allen & Mcclure 5).
La conversion des autochtones constitue l’autre défi que se propose de relever l’armée de missionnaires. En envahissant l’Afrique,
les soldats de Dieu sont également les instruments de l’impérialisme
politique. « God, our God, put it into the minds of our rulers that all
tribes in south-east and east Africa must submit to British power, and
that is the interest of all Africans to do so. Heathenism must perish;
God wills it so », écrit le révérend Hepburn à Sir Bartle Frere, dans
une lettre adressée en 1878 au nouveau gouverneur de la colonie du
Les remous que provoquent les serviteurs de Dieu dans la colonie sud-africaine envoient des reflets divergents selon les observatrices : la luminosité glorieuse de l’avènement de la civilisation chrétienne ou de l’extension de l’Empire s’évanouit sous des teintes plus
obscures de la trahison sociopolitique et du sabordage racial ou du
glacis funèbre. « I feel it incumbent on me to bear testimony, not only
in this instance and in this colony, to the enormous of real, tangible,
common-sense good accomplished among the black races all over
the world by Wesleyan, Methodist, and Baptist missions and missioLettre datée du 17 décembre 1878, citée dans l’ouvrage de Frances
Colenso sous la référence: « Parliamentary Papers C 2316 p.3 » (221).
40 / Ludmila Ommundsen
naries » (YH 196), proclame une enthousiaste Lady Barker dans A
Year’s Housekeeping in South Africa (1877). Affirmation pleine
d’optimisme dont la motivation émerge cinq pages plus loin, lorsqu’elle achève une visite de la mission des Wesleyens à Edendale
dans le Natal : « What I longed for more than anything else was to
see a regular training school established in this and similar stations,
where these clever little monkeys could be trained for future domestic
service for us whites, and good knowledgeable wives for their own
people » (YH 201). « The native has no wants. If we could give him
wants he would work to satisfy them. This is the object of the most
enlightened missionary efforts » (LSA 96) écrit, dans Letters from
South Africa (1892), Flora Shaw, correspondante du Times, pour qui
les nouveaux besoins du « sauvage » sont les meilleurs fruits de
l’entreprise missionnaire. Vision qui s’oppose à celle de Sarah Heckford, auteur de A Lady Trader in The Transvaal (1882), qui reproche
aux Africains chrétiens d’afficher un mépris ridicule dans leur façon de
se différencier des « Cafres bruts » : l’un de ses exemples montre une
femme qui, parce qu’elle s’assoit sur une chaise et utilise des couverts pour ses repas, refuse la compagnie de ses voisins jugés trop
frustes :
The Kaffirs living in the kraal were what is called raw Kaffirs, the men
indeed being in some sort clothed in old European garments, but the
women wearing skins, and the children being naked. […] Besides
these, he Mr. Higgins had several families of what is called Urlams,
or civilized Kaffirs, living in mud houses in his property. These families
dressed like Europeans, and had food like Europeans, even to the
drinking of early coffee. They also went to school to the missionary station at Rustemberg periodically, and learned a little reading and singing of hymns. I don’t think the school did them much good. I heard of
one Kaffir woman saying, that when she came back from school and
had been made a Christian, she would sit on a chair and eat with a
knife and fork, and not let the raw Kaffirs eat with her, for then she
would be better than they. (LTT 77-8)
L’éducation de l’indigène, réduite ici à la manipulation orgueilleuse d’objets très ordinaires produit l’illusion de l’égalité avec la race
L’image controversée des femme africaines… / 41
civilisée. L’arrogance que le nouveau disciple affecte à l’égard de ses
compatriotes impurs et la distance qu’il leur impose est condamnée
par l’observatrice. Loin de raffiner sa pensée, la conversion de
l’Africain ne génèrerait que chaos mental. Ainsi déclare-t-elle plus
loin : « I am certain that missionaries have done a great deal of harm
in some ways in Africa » (LTT 304). Pour sa part, E. K. Lowndes perçoit la civilisation de l’Africain comme la soumission d’un ingénu épicurien à une forme d’esclavage, une civilisation non pas imposée
mais plutôt interprétée comme un don terrible que ne soulage aucune
compensation : « I thought of the easy, comfortable life of the raw
Kaffir, and looked at the native here in Cape town, almost a slave to
the necessities of civilised life. Poor native! Is this all that the white
man has given you? Surely when he has deprived you of so much of
this world’s pleasure, he owes you far more effort than he is making to
give you a knowledge of the life eternal » (EL 165), se lamente-t-elle
dans Everyday Life in South Africa (1900). Enfin, selon Violet Markham : « It is thought by many people that the regeneration of the black
races is better achieved through secular than through ecclesiastical
agencies »(South Africa Past and Present, 1900 : 39). « Few things
have had more far-reaching influence in South Africa than that disastrous native policy between 1843 and 1847 for which Dr. Philip was
responsible. It was a policy founded on the theory of political equality
between black and white, and it broke down completely », tonne-t-elle
avant de préciser : « The net result of Dr. Philip’s work was the alienation of the Dutch from the English section of the population » (SA
41)2… Son livre paraît au moment de la guerre anglo-boer du tournant du siècle.
« People make it a matter of satire sometimes, and of criticism:
they point to the comfortable homes of these Protestant Missionaries, and talk about the expenses of their wives and families, and
En 1828, à la suite d’une campagne menée par le révérend John Philip, nommé à la tête de la London Missionary Society au Cap, et dont les Researches in South Africa dénoncent le statut légal misérable des Khois dans la
colonie, les Britanniques promulguent la « cinquantième ordonnance » qui reconnaît
l’égalité juridique entre les Khois et les Blancs et le droit à la propriété pour les
42 / Ludmila Ommundsen
then, contrast it in the most charming fashion … with the self-denial,
and so on of the Roman Catholic celibate Missionaries », commente
amèrement le révérend Wardlaw Thompson, qui vient d’effectuer un
bref séjour à la colonie du Cap. « But I will say this …, that one
Christian Missionary home with a Christian wife does more to humanise, elevate, and evangelise a race of people than twenty celibate
men », conclut-il triomphant (Report of The Centenary Conferences
on The Protestant Missions of The World Held in Exeter Hall, June
9th-19th, London 1888, 409). Les mots de ce pasteur, qui mesure en
termes d’efficacité, de rentabilité le travail féminin accompli pour
l’Eglise protestante, véhiculent l’importance particulière accordée à
l’influence féminine dans le mouvement de christianisation des barbares. « My best men are women », clame le général William Booth,
fondateur de l’armée du Salut. « Christian women are waking up to
the sense of their power and responsibility with reference to the Lord’s
work. And women are not alone in recognising the important place
which female missions ought to occupy » (iv), entonne Emma Pitman
dans la préface de Lady Missionaries in Foreign Lands (188?) pour
ensuite citer le cas exemplaire de Mrs. Wilkinson, qui accompagne
son époux dans le pays zoulou en 18703 :
In the prosecution of missionary work, long and sometimes dangerous
journeys had to be undertaken. […] Often, after halting for the night,
when the men of the party were refused all supplies of food, with surly
gestures and manners, Mrs. Wilkinson would manage to buy excellent
rations. She would go about from hut to hut, […] and she would return
to her husband accompanied by a bevy of women and girls bearing
abundance of food. (LM 135)
Sous la plume de sa biographe, la conquête spirituelle de
l’Afrique du Sud reste fondamentalement une entreprise féminine. A
l’inverse de la représentation virile des échanges brutaux entre les
3 In 1870, the Right Rev. Bishop Wilkinson was appointed Bishop of the
Diocese of Zululand, […] He sailed from Falmouth […] accompanied by Mrs.
Wilkinson and a band of missionaries ». L’évêque du Zululand quittera ce poste en
1874 (Pitman 126).
L’image controversée des femme africaines… / 43
peuples, la pénétration des territoires étrangers est essentiellement
conçue en termes de négociation entre femmes.
« If we got only the mothers, the wives, the daughters of the
country, we have got the men », assure le révérend Swanson dans
une conférence sur les missions protestantes dans le monde en 1888.
Et de justifier ensuite son hypothèse en déclarant: « to whatever land
you go woman has the power » (Report of The Centenary Conferences 52). Raisonnement qui souligne la position stratégique de la
femme dans la conversion des peuples, l’étape féminine obligatoire
dans un processus d’infiltration. La libération physique et mentale de
l’Africaine forme le prétexte avancé pour motiver la frappe missionnaire, une tâche plus particulièrement assignée à la consœur blanche
de la malheureuse opprimée, son efficacité dans cette approche délicate étant jugée supérieure à celle de ses compagnons de mission.4
« Woman has always been the slave and drudge of man, but now
through the influence of the Gospel she is raised to be man’s helper
and equal », déclare Mrs. Thomson, membre de la London Missionary
Society détachée dans le Matabeleland (Report of The Centenary
Conferences 416).5 Interprété comme une magnifique doctrine égalitaire, l’évangile est supposé bouleverser l’esprit de la femme et lui
permettre de s’émanciper d’une avilissante tutelle masculine. Le travail de ces femmes missionnaires auprès des indigènes est présenté
comme un phénomène révolutionnaire motivé par un désir philanthropique et orienté vers la stabilisation des sociétés africaines.
Selon Emma Pitman seules les femmes y parviennent : « Devoted
men have laboured in heathen countries for nearly a century, among heathen
peoples, without making much impression upon women. Why? Because, almost
invariably, male missionaries are denied access to native women … But when
these lady teachers go, bearing the Gospel message, they are eagerly welcomed,
and besought to come again » (Pitman, iii).
5 « I have seen with my own eyes how much poor women suffer there
in Africa because the light of the Gospel has not reached them. As Christian
women we ought to hail with gladness the new tone that is taken with regard to this
work amongst women in heathen lands. », dit la conférencière avant le passage
cité. « Special Missionary Subjects, Third Meeting: Women’s Mission to Women »
(Report of The Centenary Conferences 416).
44 / Ludmila Ommundsen
Les récits féminins de voyage en Afrique australe n’offrent
qu’une vision très générale des couples évangélisateurs, vision où
l’on ne distingue que les fruits communs du labeur sacré, seuls éléments significatifs de leur vie parmi les sauvages. En effet, lorsqu’elles signalent les bienfaits et les méfaits de la christianisation en
Afrique du Sud, les voyageuses négligent les apports spécifiques de
la collaboration féminine… alors qu’elles sont capables de s’étendre
sur le rôle des Africaines dans leur communauté, tantôt sorcière manifestant la perversité et la cruauté de la femme sans maître, tantôt
victime résignée de transactions entre hommes, dégradée par
l’avarice d’un père ou la paresse d’un compagnon polygame.
Lors de son séjour dans le Bechuanaland raconté dans On Veldt
and Farm (1897), Frances Macnab aperçoit un groupe de femmes
débarquer au village de Klein Chwiang, « the most extraordinary and
evil-looking set of females I ever saw » (VF 80), avoue-t-elle à propos
de ce formidable conseil de guerre mobile dont les délibérations portent sur la nécessité d’un soulèvement contre la puissance britannique. Fraîchement installée parmi les Meroquailes, – « hideous to
look at – treacherous, cruel, conceited, superstitious, dissolute race »
(VF 88). Dans la pensée de la différence des sexes guerroyer, faire
couler le sang est une transgression suprême. Placées hors de
l’enceinte féminine ces créatures imparfaites liées à la mort – la fonction « naturelle » de la femme étant de donner et perpétrer la vie – ne
fixent-elles sous le glacis de l’effroi l’urgence d’un assainissement
spirituel des zones immorales du globe ?
Sarah Heckford est persuadée que l’Afrique du Sud est plantée
de médées : « The men who knew the Kaffirs best […] said they had
no doubt that I was right in my conclusions; that Kaffir women were
quite capable of poisoning their own children in revenge upon their
husbands » (LTT 115). Quelques pages plus tôt elle plaignait la victime masculine d’une virago :
a certain Andreas [...] lived in a small separate kraal on Mr. Higgins's
estate. […] I also remember that a short time before, Andreas and his
wife had a desperate disagreement, ending by Mrs Andreas running
away to her father across the mountain. This is a usual form of hus-
L’image controversée des femme africaines… / 45
band-bullying among the Kaffirs. Girls are sold high amongst these
people, an attractive and active girl fetching a considerable price in
cattle for a wife. She has to work hard afterwards [...]; but if her husband displeases her she walks off to her old home; and as it is considered a great disgrace to a man for his wife to be in her father's kraal,
he generally buys her back, paying the father one or more head of cattle to restore her. (LTT 110)
Dans le même esprit, Lady Barker offre à ses lecteurs un grossissement, presque ridicule, de l'image de l'épouse-marchandise africaine. Après avoir décrit sa maison, elle nous instruit sur ses domestiques :
All this labour was performed by stalwart Kafir women; one of whom, a
fearfully-repulsive female, informed my cook she had just been bought
back by her original husband. Stress of circumstances had obliged him
to sell her, and she had been bought by three other husband-masters
since then; but was now resold, a bargain, to her first owner; whom
she declared she preferred. (YH 57)
Les ventes successives de la Zoulou lui font perdre de la valeur,
à la grande joie de son premier époux qui peut enfin la récupérer. Tel
un homme d'affaires, celui-ci a su tirer profit de la situation, vendre
son épouse à bon prix, et même réaliser un bénéfice de la transaction, racheter son ancienne compagne « en solde ». Si l'on écarte les
éléments comiques de cette anecdote, une Zoulou laide à faire peur
qui parvient à se marier trois fois de suite, détail cocasse dans une
Grande-Bretagne grouillante de célibataires, Lady Barker nous livre
une description absurde de la vie maritale d'une Africaine, une
fresque de la circulation d'un être-marchandise dans une société capitaliste de libre-échange gouvernée par la loi de l'offre et la demande.
En réalité, l'Africaine n'est pas du tout un objet que l'Africain
achète ou vend selon les circonstances économiques. « [L]obolo is no
more the price of a wife than is a dowry the price of a husband »,
commente Simons avant de préciser, « Commercial contracts were
unknown in the self-sufficient domestic economy of the pre-colonial
society. [...] The husband's rights and powers in relation to his wife are
46 / Ludmila Ommundsen
not at all like those which buyers acquire over the things they buy. He
does not 'own' his wife in any sense »(13).
Les ethnies qui peuplent l'Afrique du Sud sont essentiellement
pastorales. Même si elles pratiquent une économie mixte, elles accordent beaucoup moins d'importance à la culture des céréales qu'à
l'élevage. Source de lait, de viande et de cuir, le bétail assure, en
effet, leur survie. Extensions de cette fonction nourricière, les dimensions symboliques et religieuses qu'on prête à ces bêtes vitales et
qu'on retrouve dans la pratique de la Lobola, ce transfert de biens (du
bétail à cette époque) du groupe du futur époux à celui de la promise.
Seul l'abandon des animaux à la famille de la femme légitime l'union.
Il distingue le mariage du concubinage. En outre, les bovins cédés
incarnent l'esprit des ancêtres de la famille du prétendant. Dans son
étude des Pondos, l’anthropologue Hunter note :
There is also a religious aspect [to Ukulobola]. Cattle are very closely
linked to the ancestral spirits of the clan. [...] Cattle received as the Ikhasi of a daughter [cattle given by groom's group to bride's group on
the occasion of marriage] are of special ritual importance. [...]The passage of cattle puts the girl received in exchange for the cattle in close
relationship with the ancestral spirits of the family from which the cattle
came. (11)
Le portrait de la femme africaine, à la fois esclave et marchandise, être et objet, est d’ailleurs véhiculé par le discours scientifique.
En effet, dans la deuxième partie de Principles of Ethics, écrite en
1892, l'observation des indigènes d'Afrique du Sud permet à Spencer,
idéologue suprême de la période victorienne, de clarifier l'évolution de
la division sexuelle du travail:
we may see that in early stages the egoism of men, unqualified by the
altruism which amicable social intercourse generates, leads them to
devolve on women all exertions which, unaccompanied by the pleasures of achievement, are monotonous and wearisome [...] Here, again,
are testimonies given by travellers in Africa concerning the Hottentots,Bechuanas, Kaffirs [...]
L’image controversée des femme africaines… / 47
The wife “is doomed to all toil of getting and dressing provisions
for her husband, herself, and the children [...] and to all the care and
drudgery within doors, with a share of the fatigue of tending the cattle.”
“The WOMEN build the houses; plant and reap the corn; fetch
water and fuel; and cook the food. It is very rarely that the men are
seen helping the women, even in the most laborious work.”
“Besides her domestic duties, the woman has to perform all the
hard work; she is her husband's ox as a Kafir once said to men,– she
has been bought he argued, and must therefore labour.” [...]
We may safely infer that among barbarous peoples, the men did not
take to hard and monotonous labour until they were obliged (10)
L’« ethnologie industrielle » de Lady Barker fait également écho
aux interprétations des autorités politiques. Lors de son premier mandat, Sir Benjamin Pine, Gouverneur du Natal, pose le ménage africain
comme une menace économique: « How can an Englishman with one
pair of hands compete with a native man with five to twenty slave
wives? » (cité dans Simons 88).6 La situation avantageuse de l'heureux propriétaire d'épouses ne manque pas non plus d'attirer l'attention de Lady Barker:
I heard today [...] of an excellent Kafir nurse-maid, who was the daughter of a chief, and whose only drawback was the size of her family. She
was actually and truly one of eighty brothers and sisters, her father being a rich man, with twenty five wives. That simply means that he had
twenty-five devoted slaves, who worked morning, noon and night, in
field and mealy-patch, for him, without wages. (YH 67)
Et de tirer cette conclusion évidente deux cents pages plus loin :
« Kafir girls dread being married, for it is simply taking a hard place
without wages » (YH 256) !
De la même façon, Burman indique dans un article sur le statut des
femmes au Basutoland: « It is important to note that the payment of marriage cattle
was not regarded as payment for a purchase. The Basuto used a specific word to
denote the handing over of the marriage cattle, distinct from that used for the payment of goods. Neither were women regarded as objects: they could not be bought,
sold, exchanged or destroyed at will, nor given away » (59).
48 / Ludmila Ommundsen
Rares sont les récits qui confirment ce passage de Darwin dans
The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871) :
[I]t is manifest from many facts given by the Rev. Shooter* (*On The
Kaffir of Natal, 1857), that they [the Kaffir girls] have considerable
power of choice [in marriage]. […] So again, Mr. Leslie* (*Kaffir Character and Customs, 1871), who was intimately acquainted with the
Kaffirs says, « it is a mistake to imagine that a girl is sold by her father
in the same manner, and with the same authority, with which he would
dispose of a cow ». […] We thus see that with savages the women are
not in quite so abject a state in relation to marriage as often has been
supposed. They can tempt the men whom they prefer, and can sometimes reject those whom they dislike, either before or after marriage.
Par ailleurs, vue comme une manifestation de débauche, alliant
le mercantile au sexuel, la polygamie plonge ses racines dans un
terrain plus complexe que celui de la simple satisfaction physique
d’un homme soumis à la tyrannie de ses sens. Le phénomène doit
être relativisé : si, dans la société africaine, pour diverses raisons, la
polygynie forme l’ambition des hommes, tous n’ont pas les moyens de
s’unir à plusieurs femmes et d’entretenir autant de foyers.7 « When
the paramount chief of the Nyandeni from western Pondoland became a Christian there was considerable opposition from his nonChristian councillors on the grounds that Christianity entailed monogamy, and there could be no real chieftainship without polygyny »
(354) : l’incident que raconte l’anthropologue Hunter illustre la corrélation entre le nombre d’épouses et le rang tenu dans la société africaine. La polygynie distingue l’individu puissant de la créature commune. Dans une culture où chaque famille constitue une unité économique indépendante, et où la femme joue un rôle central dans la
production, le travail du sol lui étant dévolu, il est évident que le
nombre de ces cultivatrices détermine alors la richesse de leur
groupe, richesse qui stimule la générosité du polygame et lui confère,
7 « All men in the tribal society aspired to be polygynists, though many
did not possess the means to acquire more than one wife » (Simons 78).
L’image controversée des femme africaines… / 49
grâce à ses largesses, un pouvoir dans la communauté tribale où ses
mots exercent alors une influence considérable lors des conseils.
D’autre part, la polygynie peut être considérée comme un facteur
d’équilibre des forces masculines et féminines qui composent une
nation guerrière où seuls les hommes participent aux combats, et où
la proportion des femmes dépasse forcément celle des hommes. Une
société qui considère le groupe, plutôt que l’individu, comme valeur
suprême ne fait aucune place à l’épanouissement individuel. Absurde,
le célibat masculin ou féminin n’est pas une situation envisageable. Il
est inconcevable de vivre indépendamment d’une famille: à défaut
d’un mariage, une célibataire doit se résigner à rester sous la dépendance d’un père, d’un frère ou d’une autre autorité masculine. La
position sociale de la femme découlant de son rôle central dans la
procréation et le mariage, la polygynie évite ainsi cette marginalisation
liée au rapport quantitatif inégal entre les sexes.
En outre, cette institution permet en même temps qu’elle soulage
la femme du fardeau des grossesses successives,8 de combattre la
stérilité féminine, jugée comme une menace sérieuse à la perpétuation d’une tribu guerrière dépendante de ses activités agricoles et
pastorales, qui s’expose aux conflits mais encourt aussi, selon les
caprices du temps et les épidémies qui frappent le bétail, d’éventuelles périodes de disette.
Mais bien entendu, les justifications de la polygamie n’attestent
nullement de son acceptation dans la joie par la population féminine.
Si dans son analyse Simons déclare, à partir des comptes-rendus de
la Commission Gouvernementale sur les Lois et les Coutumes Indigènes : « Shepstone made the point which anthropologists have since
confirmed that ‘It is a matter of pride to native wives that they belong
to a large establishment; they have rank among themselves and they
prize very highly the privileges attached to their position’ »(82), le
témoignage de l’écrivain Olive Schreiner, au début de Woman and
Labour (1911), éclaire le problème sous une facette bien différente :
8 « A form of family planning operated in tribes whose customs prohibited intercourse during the period of lactation, which might extend over two or more
years » (Simons 82).
50 / Ludmila Ommundsen
I had always been strangely interested in watching the condition of the
native African women in their primitive society. When I was 18 1873,
I had a conversation with a black woman, still in her untouched primitive condition, she painted the condition of the women of her race: the
labour of women, the anguish of woman as she grew older, as the limitations of her life closed in about her and her sufferings under the condition of polygamy and subjection. (2)
Si dans le récit des voyageuses, la lumière mise sur l’Africaine
marchandise-bête-de-somme ne réfracte pas directement sur des
missionnaires qui disent leur volonté de libérer l’esclave et renverser
le pouvoir de l’oisif polygame, cette lumière provenant d’une littérature
qui jouit d’une grande popularité9 contribue à justifier l’œuvre évangélique. Cependant, le décor présente parfois quelques failles et des
notes discordantes se font entendre…
Convaincue des bienfaits que prodigue l’éducation des missionnaires sur la population indigène Lady Barker embauche une jeune
fille formée à l’école de l’évêque anglican Colenso du Natal. Fièrement habillée à l’européenne et adoptant des manières dignes de la
race supérieure qu’elle sert, Maria semble se sentir parfaitement à
l’aise dans son nouvel environnement et profondément heureuse
d’évoluer dans un monde qu’elle admire. Sous la plume de la narratrice, la fidélité de cette ancienne païenne aux valeurs chrétiennes
prend même une tournure excessive : alors que Lady Barker s’extasie
devant le spectacle d’un mariage zoulou traditionnel, sa domestique
n’y voit qu’une vulgaire cavalcade nuptiale : « It’s only a wild Kafir
wedding lady » (YH 254). Elle préfère le faste vestimentaire de la
cérémonie chrétienne que sa maîtresse vient de ridiculiser dans les
pages précédentes. Quelle surprise, donc, d’apprendre par le biais de
Fanny Barkly, belle-sœur de Lady Braker, auteur de Among Boers
and Basutos (1893), qui vient de rejoindre son époux magistrat dans
le Basutoland, le revirement qui s’opère chez celle dont les paroles ne
trahissaient pourtant aucun scepticisme et qui se trouve maintenant à
son service :
9« [B]ooks of travel and books inspired by travel have, probably, been
more read in Great Britain than any other books except novels » (Kirkpatrick 256).
L’image controversée des femme africaines… / 51
I found my husband quite settled, and tolerably comfortable, but Maria
would not stay there, […] so she left us […] and went back to savage
life entirely, dropped all her civilised ways (and clothes), attired herself
in skins again embroidered with blue beads, and smeared herself with
oil and red clay, as before. Finally she married a “headman,” and then
“settled down” in a Basuto village. (ABB 33)
Ainsi, embrasse-t-elle la condition qu’elle semblait tant abhorrer.
Ainsi, assume-t-elle le rôle animalier qu’elle prétendait fuir. Le départ
inopiné de Maria paraît souligner toute l’inutilité d’essayer de civiliser
des créatures supposées irrationnelles. Les raisons avancées par la
narratrice pour expliquer la décision de Maria sont assez ambiguës.
Une description des hostilités climatiques de la région précède le
passage cité : le comportement de Maria serait-il à l’image, troublante, des bizarreries saisonnières de son pays natal ? Naturel et
inexplicable ? Alors que le représentant du gouvernement britannique
et son épouse s’adaptent aux changements les plus brusques après
avoir traversé sans heurts la frontière qui sépare la civilisation de la
barbarie, le séjour dans la métropole britannique, où elle avait accompagné Lady Barker, suivi de cette descente dans les sphères
« primitives » du monde (l’extrait se trouve au début du récit), semble
avoir plongé l’esprit de Maria dans une certaine folie. Dans une obscurité originelle d’où elle n’était finalement pas tout à fait sortie ?
L’enseignement de l’évêque Colenso n’a-t-il pas chassé un naturel
indigène qui, en définitive, est revenu au galop ? Bref, la tentative
pédagogique n’est-elle pas trop idéaliste ?
D’après Flora Shaw, les cas de rechute spirituelle ne sont pas
rares : « It happens often enough that the distance which has been
placed by education between the School Kaffir and his fellows are
too great to be maintained, and by a not unnatural reaction he falls
back entirely to the level from which he started » (LSA 97). Dans son
ouvrage History of The Zulu War and Its Origin (1880), Frances Colenso cite justement le cas de jeunes fugitives auxquelles les nouvelles responsabilités inculquées dans le refuge chrétien font rapidement rebrousser chemin :
52 / Ludmila Ommundsen
In the early days of missionary work at Bishopstowe (between 186070), five girls took refuge at the station within a few days of each other,
in order to avoid marriages arranged for them by their parents and objected to by them. […] But the restraint of the civilised habits imposed
on them, however gently, and the obligation of learning to read, sew,
and sweep, etc., was too much for these wild damsels, accustomed at
home to a free and idle life. Within a few weeks they all elected to return home and marry the very men on whose account they had fled.
La narratrice interprète finalement la frasque des jeunes fugueuses, non pas comme une façon d’exposer une revendication,
mais surtout comme le résultat d’une certaine désinvolture. Attitude,
certes commandée par l’insouciance de la jeunesse, mais, derrière
laquelle se profile l’image du poste missionnaire dans la communauté
traditionnelle, lieu de tous les chantages.
Perdu au milieu des anecdotes ponctuant la vie d’Elizabeth Price
parmi les BaKwenas, cet événement de 1881: « This morning I had a
visit from Ope, |…] Bantsan – my old friend – was with Ope. I always
like to get her in my talks with the women, because she is not shy of
me at all and asks all sorts of questions and makes remarks that enable the other women to join too and thus aid me in my efforts to instruct them » (Long 458). Invitée clandestine de l’épouse de l’agent
de la London Missionary Society, Ope, princesse bechuana convertie
au christianisme qui brave l’interdiction de son époux Khosilintsi, frère
du célèbre chef baKwena, qui lui interdit de fréquenter les chrétiens,
arrive accompagnée d’une autre fille de Sechele pour participer à une
réunion déviée en tentative de prosélytisme. Dans un nouvel exemple
d’incitation à l’insubordination féminine, l’épouse du fameux agent de
la London Missionary Society creuse finement le fossé qui sépare la
fille chrétienne de Sechele de son époux athée : « Yesterday I had a
visit from Ope, of who I have told you before as forbidden by her husband to keep company with the Christians » (Long 491), grave-t-elle
en janvier 1882, sans rien trouver à redire à cette indigne escapade.
Sans franchement dresser Ope contre son mari, Elizabeth Lee Price
favorise la dérive du couple :
L’image controversée des femme africaines… / 53
For Christmas day, Roger Price invited her and her husband with all
due courtesy, but he refused for both himself and her. She begged of
him to allow her to come alone […] but he bade her so wrathfully
please herself in the matter and go, that she then settled to stay […] I
told her that she was a wise woman to submit herself thus whenever
she could do so to her husband – as it was sure to do more towards
winning him in the end. Yet I cannot but ever encourage her when she
is seeking instruction and light – even tho’ she offends him. (Long 49192)
Ainsi, la suite de la lettre montre que la conduite mensongère de
la princesse chrétienne, conduite pourtant condamnable dans la
conscience de l’auteur, qui professe la rectitude morale et prêche la
docilité féminine devant l’effervescente convertie, est encouragée
dans tout l’éclat du paradoxe.
Lieu aussi d’adaptation paradoxale à une coutume tant décriée.
Dans Lady Missionary in Foreign Lands (188?), Emma Pitman fournit
l’exemple d’une sanctification de la Lobola :
One interesting feature of mission-work in that country South Africa
seemed to be the rescue and purchase of young girls from their heathen and brutal owners, and the subsequent training of them in Christian knowledge and customs. This was the more easily done because
it was the habit of the Zulus to value each girl at so many cattle per
head – generally ten – and the transaction was successfully carried out
in the presence of witnesses. … Speaking of these ransomed converts Mrs. Wilkinson says: “We put no pressure upon the girls. But
sooner or later they are sure to come and ask us to prepare them for
baptism, and sooner or later some young Christian lad comes and
asks if he may make advances towards our adopted child so-and-so. If
we think the match eligible we consent, but the young Zulu lover is told
that since we gave ten head of cattle for his lady-love, we require the
same at his hands.” (LM 132-3)10
10 La pratique ne doit pas être si rare. Le révérend américain Josiah Tyler fait aussi mention d’une indemnité proposée au père des jeunes femmes que le
missionnaire veut attirer dans sa mission: « For a long time it was impossible to
54 / Ludmila Ommundsen
Violemment critiquée parce qu’elle est supposée assimiler la
femme à une bête marchandée entre deux groupes, cette coutume du
transfert de biens est, donc, non seulement respectée par l’équipe de
l’évêque Wilkinson, mais également appliquée par cette autorité ecclésiastique dans le cadre de l’officialisation du mariage de la prosélyte à un autre converti. Ironiquement, la jeune africaine se trouve
échangée deux fois contre du bétail. En outre, les propos adressés au
jeune soupirant tiennent franchement de la négociation : on lui demande de rembourser le coût de la transaction précédente. Ainsi, la
Lobola rebondit d’un système à un autre. Si le premier arrangement
peut s’interpréter comme une action diplomatique visant à distiller le
message du Christ dans la société africaine traditionnelle, la seconde
transaction, écho chrétien de la première, semble jeter un éclairage
plutôt ambigu sur l’ensemble des manœuvres. « This exercises a
most wholesome influence over the young gentleman » (LM 133),
reconnaît Mrs Wilkinson au début d’une longue justification de la réitération du geste commercial,11 longue justification qui ne serait peutêtre pas sans rapport avec l’ambiguïté suscitée: en effet, ne laisse-telle pas suggérer que la condition posée au fiancé de leur fille adoptive aurait pu être perçue différemment ? Ici la Lobola en vient même
à acquérir une odeur de sainteté : « Thus he serves for his Rachel »
(LM 133). Subtilement placé, l’exemple pris dans l’ancien testament,
celui de Rachel dont Jacob réussit à obtenir la main après quatorze
persuade the fathers at Esidumbini Zululand to allow their daughters to reside in
our family mission-house, although we offered good compensation » (Tyler 64).
11 « Mrs. Wilkinson says: “This exercises a most wholesome influence
over the young gentleman. He has to work hard and steadily for several years,
before he can earn so many cattle, all the while we have him under our thumb, and
if we see him tripping in his conduct, we have a string always at hand by which to
keep him in the right path. Thus he serves for his Rachel; and I daresay they seem
but a few days for the love he bears unto her. We generally relent when the ninth
beast is paid, and allow the other to come in after the marriage. However if the boy
has done well, and we like him, we generally give it in […]. Thus another little Christian household springs up in our midst, and so out of the very violence of the king
and chiefs towards their people, the Church and the kingdom of Christ grow” »
(Pitman 133).
L’image controversée des femme africaines… / 55
ans de labeur, purifie et sanctifie la perpétuation de cette coutume à
l’intérieur de la mission.
« To become Christian means adopting European costumes, giving up all but one wife, becoming a total abstainer, and such a severance from heathen associations » (147), tonne le révérend Cook dans
My Mission Tour in South Africa (1893). « The trails of broken homes
that followed the missionary can be plotted in the evidence given by a
son of King Moshweshwe before the Basutoland commission of
1873 », écrit Simons dans son ouvrage sur le statut de la femme africaine, pour rapporter ensuite le témoignage du fils du roi du Basutoland :
A woman who embraced Christianity, he said, would remain with her
husband if she was his first or an only wife. But the inferior wife of a
polygynist usually left him. The children were his, unless her people returned the Lobolo. If he refused to accept it, there was no way by
which she could get the children. … If the children were very young,
they remained with their mothers until they had nearly grown up, when
the father took them under his charge (63).
Or, selon Hyam: « The missionary demand for monogamy certainly had some unexpected and unwelcome results. The restriction to
one wife, together with the removal of restraints on the liberty of women which Christianity discouraged, led to the development of prostitution » (200). « That Christianity is in some measure a disintegrating
force in the tribal community cannot be denied » (355), observe Hunter au sujet des Pondos. En corrodant les rouages de la société africaine, en obstruant ses engrenages familiaux, l’œuvre missionnaire
prend aux pièges de la civilisation les victimes impuissantes qu’elle
prétend vouloir anoblir.
Si les voyageuses de cette étude tirent peu parti du contact avec
leurs domestiques autochtones et des rencontres avec des princesses africaines pour approfondir leurs connaissances sur la place
de la femme africaine dans la communauté traditionnelle, les fonctions de la Lobola et les motivations de la polygamie, il n’est peut-être
pas si surprenant qu’elles semblent ne pas remarquer le sort de la
56 / Ludmila Ommundsen
femme dans le démembrement de la société africaine par les forces
évangélisatrices. Néanmoins, des images aux teintes hybrides laissent peut-être percer le malaise d’une créature « hors-sa-place »,
coincées entre deux systèmes de définition.
Sur un territoire situé dans un coin isolé du Bechuanaland,
Frances Macnab assiste à un curieux rite féminin. Celui-ci évoque un
culte du Veau/Taureau d’Or12 où les danseuses sont prises d’une
sorte de folie hystérique :
The heathen Meroquaile women were having a dance, and a more evil
sight I never witnessed. They were apparently oblivious of everything,
and some were foaming at the mouth. […] The women's dance, part of
which I witnessed, sometimes lasts for several days, and concludes at
midnight, when a large clay ox is introduced. Round this idol they
dance and howl or sing, and the two oldest women produce assegais.
(VF 88-9)
Vers la fin de son séjour dans le Transvaal, le regard de Sarah
Heckford croise une jeune femme, reflet d’une divinité romaine associée à un espace chrétien, qui se distingue très nettement de son
groupe : « The next day brought us to a Kaffir kraal […]. This motley
crowd of men, women and children, literally besieged the waggon,
chattering and screaming like so many monkeys, and clambering up
on the wheels, and jumping backwards and forwards across the disselboom in an ape-like manner. […] One of the women was very
graceful and pretty, with a turn of the head and neck that reminded
me of the hunting Diana of the Vatican » (LTT 250). Faut-il y voir une
allusion à la « société de Diane », condamnée par les inquisiteurs du
Moyen Age, une croyance selon laquelle certaines femmes parcouraient la campagne de nuit à la suite de la déesse et se réunissaient
pour manger des animaux qu’elles ressuscitaient ensuite?
Notons que l’image de la divine chasseresse vouée au célibat et
aux sports sanguinaires comme celle des danseuses qui s’empres12 « Titre donné à un épisode de l’Exode […]. En hébreu le mot eghel
désigne un jeune taureau. Dans tout l’Orient ancien, le taureau, pour sa fécondité et
pour sa force, est souvent le symbole de la divinité » (Gérard 1357).
L’image controversée des femme africaines… / 57
sent autour d’un bœuf (castration) et non pas d’un jeune taureau (fécondité) renvoient à la destruction du principe masculin, et, suggèrent
par conséquent, la disparition des communautés…
Le tableau le plus ambigu reste celui de Mrs. Wyndham KnightBruce, épouse du premier évêque anglican de Rhodésie, dans The
Story of An African Chef. Being that of Khama (1893). « Christianity is
not a failure; and […] missions are not mere waste of time and money » (vi), écrit Edna Lyall dans la préface de ce livre, sorte de long
panégyrique sur le célèbre chef des Bamangwatos, peuple du nord du
Bechuanaland, qui contient tout de même des notes controversées à
propos de l’entourage du valeureux converti. « Would not this man
have been admitted with joy at Camelford into the brotherhood of
Arthur? », se demande l’auteur, illuminant soudain le monde africain
du chef chrétien des couleurs merveilleuses de l’univers héroïque et
chevaleresque de la quête du Graal, pour avouer aussitôt : « True,
the picture may not be so pretty; […] Mabisa Khama’s wife in her
cotton gown replaces a golden-haired princess; and the lookers-on
are not a brilliant court or the knights of a Round Table, but a few
scattered missionaries, or a passing traveller » (55-6). La vision médiévale fantastique s’évanouit dès son évocation car celle-ci, loin
d’anoblir ceux qu’elle prétend toucher, souligne, par confrontation, le
manque d’éclat des personnages et, surtout, l’absence de magnificence d’une scène qui finit par attirer la pitié, peut-être amusée, des
lecteurs. En comparaison de la princesse aux cheveux d’or, l’épouse
de Khama, transformée en une vilaine cendrillon à la mise plutôt médiocre et au teint implicitement brouillé, fait piètre figure. Et l’animation
glorieuse de la cour du roi Arthur ne rend que plus désolée l’ambiance
qui règne dans celle du chef tswana.
Comme le note Porter: « Christianity expansion as part of British
culture and activities overseas in the nineteenth century was unprecedented in scale » (223). Cette expansion du christianisme en Afrique
du Sud trouve son expression dans la littérature missionnaire et la
littérature viatique de la fin du XIXe siècle qui fonctionnent comme un
instrument de présentation et de connaissance des peuples de
l’empire britannique. L’étude de l’image des femmes africaines dans
58 / Ludmila Ommundsen
ces littératures, en particulier à travers le témoignage de femmes
missionnaires et de voyageuses, montre, comme l’écrit Perrot, que
« le voyage n’abolit pas toutes les frontières ; il met à nu, au contraire,
les contradictions » (495) et que l’écriture de ce voyage au bout des
contradictions se noue moins sur fond de conquête de territoires que
sur fond d’ajustement de territorialités.
Ludmila Ommundsen13
Ouvrages cités
ALLEN W.O. & MCCLURE E. 200 Years: The History of The Society for
Promoting Christian Knowledge 1698-1898. (1898). New York: B.
Franklin, 1970.
ARMITAGE, D. The Ideological Origins of the British Empire. (2000). Cambridge University Press, 2004.
BARKER Lady M. A. A Year's Housekeeping in South Africa. (1877). London: Macmillan & Co., 1894.
BARKLY F. Among Boers and Basutos, and with Barkly's Horse.The Story
of Our Life on The Frontier. (1893). London: Westminster Roxburgh
Press, 1896, extended and revised edition.
BURMAN S. “Fighting a Two-pronged Attack: The Changing Legal Status of
Women in Cape-ruled Basutoland, 1872-1884”. Walker C.. ed., Women and Gender in Southern Africa to 1945. Cape Town: David Philip
COLENSO F. E. History of The Zulu War and Its Origin. London: Chapman
& Hall Ltd., 1880.
COOK Reverend T. My Mission Tour in South Africa. London: Marshall
Brothers, 1893.
DARWIN C. The Descent of Man in Relation to Sex. (1871). London: Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., 1952.
GERARD A-M. Dictionnaire de la Bible. Paris : Robert Laffont 1989, p.1357.
13 Ludmila Ommundsen, Université du Havre, Faculté des Affaires Internationales, 25 rue Philippe Lebon, BP 420, 76057 Le Havre cedex, France.
[email protected]
L’image controversée des femme africaines… / 59
HECKFORD S. A Lady Trader in The Transvaal. London: Sampson Low,
Marston, Searle & Rivington, 1882.
HUNTER M. Reaction to Conquest: Effects of Contacts with Europeans on
The Pondo of South Africa. London: Published for The International
African Institute by The Oxford University Press, 1936.
HYAM R. Empire and Sexuality. Manchester University Press, 1990.
KIRKPATRICK F. A. “The Art of Travel 1700-1900”. Cambridge History of
English Literature, vol. 14, part 3, The Nineteenth Century. Cambridge
University Press.
LONG U. Ed. The Journals of Elizabeth Lees Price Written in Bechuanaland,
Southern Africa 1854-1883 With an Epilogue: 1889 and 1900. London:
Edward Arnold, 1956.
LOWNDES E.E.K., Every-Day Life in South Africa, London: S.W. Partridge
& Co., 2nd edition, 1900.
MACNAB F. On Veldt and Farm. London: Edward Arnold, 1897,
PORTER, A. “Religion, Missionary Enthusiasm and Empire”. A. Porter (ed.).
The Oxford History of the British Empire. The Nineteenth Century.
vol.3. Oxford University Press, 1999, 222-46.
PERROT, M. “Sortir”. Duby G & Perrot M. Eds. Histoire des Femmes. Le
XIXe Siècle. vol. 4. 5 vols. Paris: Plon, 1991, 467-94.
PITMAN E. R. Lady Missionaries in Foreign Lands. London: S.W. Partridge
& Co., 188?.
RANKIN, R. A Subaltern's Letters to His Wife. London: Longmans, Green &
Co., 1901.
Report of The Centenary Conferences on The Protestant Missions of The
World Held in Exeter Hall, June 9th-19th, London 1888. London:
James Nibet & Co., 1888.
Salvation Safari, A Brief History of Origins of The Salvation Army in Southern Africa 1883-1933. London: Salvation Army, 1983.
SCHREINER O. Woman and Labour. (1911). South Africa: Johannesburg
Cosmos Publication, Commemorative Edition, 1975.
SHAW Flora, Letters From South Africa by The Times Special Correspondent. Reprinted from the Times of July, August, September and October 1892. London: Macmillan & The Times office Printing House, 1893.
SIMONS H.J. African Women: Their Legal Status in South Africa. London:
Hurst, 1968.
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TYLER J. Forty Years Among The Zulus. Boston & Chicago: Congregational
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Life of Khama. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trüber & Co. Ltd, 1893.
The Concept of Place
in the Poetry of Dennis Brutus
The worldview of any artist is determined in a large measure by
that artist’s perception and responses to a recognizable landscape.
Bill Ashcroft et al. have observed that the concern with place is “a
major feature of post-colonial literatures” because in once colonized
territories, the “special post-colonial crisis of identity comes into being
the concern with the development or recovery of an effective identifying relationship between self and place” (1989: 8). The relationship
between self and place is even more crucial in contexts such as apartheid South Africa where the majority black population was systematically denied access to land and identity by a formidable machinery of
oppression rooted in apartheid ideology. The questions that readily
come to mind are: How will a sensitive poet like Brutus respond to a
South Africa operating on the ideology of apartheid? Will the poet
celebrate landscape features in pure romantic overtones or will these
same features constitute in themselves and in the poetry an artistic
statement against the politics of segregation? This paper seeks to
show that for Dennis Brutus the landscape of South Africa serves as a
multifaceted metaphor for the liberation of the black population. In
effect, natural spaces in the poetry hinge upon the desire to be liberated and the poet’s revolutionary posture promotes a special relationship between him and South Africa. A post-colonial reading underscores the fact that this relationship is shaped by the particular
dynamics between two colonized “others”: the poet-persona and the
land. But first things first, what is place?
Place is a concept that is so deeply entrenched in culture that a
straightforward definition of it is almost impossible. However, we will
consider some definitions as they relate to this paper. Edward Relph
in Place and Placelessness asserts that place has a physical form: a
landscape often understood as scenery perceived by seeing (9). The
62 / Eunice Ngongkum
Oxford Dictionary of Geography on its part, defines place as “a particular point on the earth’s surface; an identifiable location for a situation
imbued with human values” (327). For Martin Heidegger, “to-be-in” is
to belong to one’s environment, to identify with it, so to speak. It
equally means to be interested in the beings of one’s surrounding
(16). According to Yi-Fu Tuan, places presuppose rootedness in a
locality and an emotional commitment to it (151). These definitions
underscore the naturalistic (defining physical features) and existential
(responses to place) qualities of place. Place then, is not just a location but also a particular one imbued with “human values.”
As noted before, we adopt a multidisciplinary approach in our
analysis. This is simply because place is a concept that operates at
the crossroads of current social, political, economic and environmental issues. Geography situates humans in place and offers us an opportunity to see their contextual responses. In postcolonial theory,
place is set against the concept of space as territory. It transcends the
boundaries of land to encompass issues of identity, love and mobility
as Brutus’ poetry portrays. These two approaches delineate place as
a unit where human experience and physical form are fused together
in the vision of the poet of revolt to create a unitary concept.
Place as Nature and Existence in Brutus’s Poetry
Place as seen above is land, an identifiable geographical entity
which people have come to recognize as the foundation of their being.
Ngugi wa Thiong’o says:
Land is the basis of all national feelings. When a people’s land is taken away, the basis of their being is removed. That is why many countries are named by their lands […] At other times people are named after the language they speak. But it is impossible for a common language to develop without a common territory… (Writers 108)
In the poetry of Dennis Brutus, the point of departure is the land
of South Africa. The poet introduces us to the physical environment
equally delineating the land as a means of livelihood for the bulk of
the population. The poetry further speaks of the land as the place
The Concept of Place in the Poetry of Dennis Brutus / 63
where the flora and fauna flourish, where people have buried their
ancestors. In this case, land can be seen as relationship. We find the
poet displaying a deep attachment to his country, an attachment that
has informed and continues to inform his work. It is an attachment that
is almost spiritual, as Ngugi observes again in another context: “The
land, the soil has got a lot of effect on the people […] It is more than
the material; it is not just because of its economic possibilities, it is
almost akin to the spiritual” (quoted by Killam 123). This special relationship between the African people and the land might be the raisond’être of the different liberation wars fought on the continent. It also
enables us to understand why the issue of land or land use is given
prominence in many of the charters of liberation movements.
According to Ashcroft et al., place is also a palimpsest, a kind of
parchment, on which successive generations have inscribed and reinscribed the process of history (1995 326). African history and its
antecedents inform Brutus, with the specific historical experiences of
South Africa becoming the poetry. This lays the basis of the revolutionary posture of the poet. The knowledge of the history and culture of
the people thus enables the man of revolt to give “soul” to that specific
geographical entity. As Emmanuel Obiechina notes: “no-one gives
soul to something he does not understand, something he does not
fully appreciate and does not know, because soul is the ultimate affirmation of the reality that cannot die” (8).
In Brutus’ poetry, vivid pictures of the physical landscape are
painted and act as settings for a good number of the poems. The
physical beauty of the land is underlined for effect and equally delineates the contrast between what the land was, and what it is now as
a result of apartheid. The emotion of love for the country is easily
captured in the descriptions and can be said to fuel the zeal to see the
land liberated. It is a love that sustains the faith in the fight and eagerly anticipates the moment of freedom.
The first poem in the collection A Simple Lust (1973), entitled “A
Troubadour, I Traverse my Land,” is directly related to the poet’s desire to know more about his country and to bring this knowledge to his
countrymen in particular and others in general. In the poem, the troubadour image of the poet, “the stubborn and even foolish knight-errant
64 / Eunice Ngongkum
on a quest, in the service of a loved one” (cited by Wastberg 98), is
developed. This image of the poet confirms Brutus as a poet of the
“open road” – one who “traverse(s) all his land/exploring her wide
flung parts with zest.” The verb “traverse” immediately brings to mind
the idea of travelling the whole width and breadth of the country, “her
wide flung parts,” and at the same time underscores the arduousness
of the task, given that there are “those who have banned inquiry and
movement” in his country. Yet the poet’s delight to explore his land,
especially “her secret thickets” is revealed in the word “zest.” This
opening poem thus confirms the view that the poet is interested in his
land not only from a socio-political standpoint but also from an emotional one.
In “The Beauty of my Land Peers Warily,” the natural landscape
of South Africa is the focus. The speaker is on the road, observing the
scenery as he drives round the country. Brutus, in this poem as in
others of this nature, employs the persona of the privileged traveller to
give us vivid pictures of the South African landscape. The title of the
poem is evocative of a beauty that cannot be fully appreciated because of certain inhibitions: the restrictions under apartheid. Yet, “the
palisading trees,” “the hilly slopes,” “the tree-fenced roads,” “the rippling corn,” capture the eye of the traveller as he comes in full view of
them in the night-light. The exquisiteness of the terrain is further underlined through the use of sound devices of alliteration, assonance
and rhyme. The /I/ sound recurs in words like “land,” “warily,” “hilly,”
“palisading,” “slopes,” while the /p/ sound occurs in words like
“palisading,” “presence,” “pacing,” “pools” and “ripping” among others.
The /i/ and /u:/ sounds recur in words like “warily,” “palisades,” “hilly,”
“beauty” and “pools,” “soothing,” “aloofly,” respectively. The poem also
lends itself to a regular rhyme pattern of /abbacddceffe/. Such quatrain rhyming delineates the speaker’s perception of his land as a
place of perfect beauty. Moreover, the deep attachment to the place
is brought out in the line “I sense her presence pacing sinuously.”
The verb “sense” connotes an intimate spiritual attachment to the
land. It equally betrays a kind of male/female relationship developed
at length in other poems.
The Concept of Place in the Poetry of Dennis Brutus / 65
“On the Road” (SL 50) employs the persona of the traveller to
give us sights and sounds of a typical South African night. The speaker observes the rising moon and its effects on landscape features.
First, the formlessness caused by the darkness gradually gives way to
a perception of “trees detach[ing] / themselves from formless landscapes / to assume courtly grace.” The disappearing clouds are like
light-edged blades that cut across the stars sparsely spread in the
sky. The personification of the night in the line “The wide night sighs
its sensuous openness” captures the appealing effect that the night
has on the speaker, an effect which is evident in his response to the
natural phenomena around him “stirring my mind’s delight / to a transfiguring tenderness.” In the last two lines of the poem, Brutus uses
elements of nature to pass across a discreet political statement: “as
stars harden to spear-point brilliance and focus fierce demands for
peace” (50). Pathetic fallacy occurs in these lines, as the stars seem
to join forces with the speaker in the fight for peace. Brutus in typical
style manoeuvres sharp landscape and elemental imagery to suggest
a political fact – the black South African’s quest for peace, necessary
for one to be able to admire the landscape in all tranquility. The form
of the poem – two stanzas of equal length – suggests not only the
harmony of the moonlit night but also the consistency of the speaker’s
quest for peace in “a ravaged land.”
Another poem – “Zoo Lake: Johannesburg” – begins with a Marvell-esque meditation on a green restorative world, also distinctly
South Africa,
Light, green-yellow luminescent, tender,
seeps through these deep foliaged weeping willows to
filter streams and runnels of soft glow
suffusing enclaves of green and sombre gloom (SL 39).
The sunlight, “seeping” through the green foliage surrounding the
lake reflects different shades of colour on the landscape; “light,”
“green,” “yellow,” “luminescent.” These visual images, in conjunction
with the preceeding colour terms, conjure up the magnificence of the
natural environment made more beautiful by the falling light. Such
66 / Eunice Ngongkum
captivating beauty drains away the speaker’s “frantic and frustrated
sorrow” especially with the awareness that there is a certain “charm /
that graces this [otherwise] distraught and mourning land.” The loveliness of the lake, and its surrounding greenery “pulps out anger’s rancid ooze” from the speaker’s heart and further acts as a balm that
“eases and erases all-hurts.” This poem, in the tradition of the baroque, expresses a desire for the hermetic retreat of the pastoral tradition, especially as the green world of the poem offers warmth and acts
as healing unction to a soul conscious of the reality of South African
strife and despair, as we find in the exclamatory line “Oh! Lacerating
land.” The land is being torn to pieces by the forces of occupation, yet
there is intimation of a deep and consistent relationship existing between her and the speaker. This consistency is emphasized by the
long vowel sounds giving a drawn out, almost breath-taking melody to
the poem, in words like “green,” “seeps,” “deep,” “weeping,” “streams,”
“charms,” “graces,” “oozes,” “erases,” “eases.” Even the poem’s intricately designed structure of four lines per stanza suggests a certain
perfection that is observable in the physical environment described in
the poem.
“Landscape of my Young World” (SL 131), reminisces in Browningesque tradition about the beginnings of the poet-speaker’s life as
a child. The poem captures the first point of that entry into the world in
its immediacy and total situation. The location is Port Elizabeth, in
South Africa, with its poignant physical features of “heart-breaking hillsides” and “green slopes.” Its flora of “aloes” and “grey-greening
dreaming firs” is quite inescapable. The adjective, “heart-breaking” is
used positively to emphasize a fascination with this delightful background. The word “dreaming” equally conjures up the Elysian nature
of these physical features. These carefully selected qualifiers create
an inescapable atmosphere of alluring charm and tenderness. It is an
atmosphere further reinforced by the rhythmic nature of the lines in
the long vowelled /i:/ in “greening Eunice Ngongkum” “dreaming” and
the alliterative /I/ and /h/ in words like “landscape,” “world,” “land,”
“hills,” “huts,” “heart-breaking,” “hillsides” and “slopes.” This constant
image of a lovely and appealing countryside has built up in the poetspeaker, “a rebellious walling of reserve” against the forces that “lace-
The Concept of Place in the Poetry of Dennis Brutus / 67
rate” this otherwise splendid land. Many of the poems that describe
the environment of South Africa demonstrate the naturalness and
beauty of the surrounding in spite of the factors inimical to the welfare
of the people and by extension, of the milieu. John Lent has observed
that in Brutus’ poetry that describes the landscape of South Africa, the
idea is to use landscape imagery to transmute emotional reality (qtd.
in McLuckie 107). Lent seems to be suggesting that landscape is
relationship in the sense in which the elemental landscape images
used in the poems serve to emphasize the connectedness of human
beings and the landscape they are born to.
One can from these examples draw the following conclusions:
Brutus, in poems describing the physical environment of South Africa,
consistently employs sound devices of alliteration, assonance, rhyming patterns, repetitions and fairly regular stanza patterns in conjunction with visual imagery. These devices do not only delineate a thorough knowledge of its topography but also show a particular attachment to this land, which takes “precedence over his other loves” (2).
At the same time, the painting of such vivid landscapes evokes a corresponding psychological landscape; the frustration, anger and sorrow
at seeing this beautiful country, in the hands of racist usurpers.
Obiechina notes that the committed writer “should know the history and geography of [his country] so well that he could without too
great effort, celebrate it in his songs, poeticize, describe, and integrate
within the human experience of the people.” (9) The history and geography of South Africa is discernible in the poetry of Dennis Brutus. In
“In the sunlight,” (SL 139), the evocation of South African place
names is both for incantatory effects and an indication of profound
knowledge of place:
In the sunlight
in the roads along the sea
they sell the pale-green streaked and patterned watermelon
with its smooth and tepid skin;
blue Algerian sky and blue Mediterranean
and by Clifton, Sea Point and the Cape. (139)
68 / Eunice Ngongkum
Clifton, Sea Point and the Cape are place names in South Africa
and we find them evoked here and integrated into the temporal and
spatial experiences of the poet. This same pattern of associating the
landscape with the poet’s feelings occurs in Part 7 of “For Chief.”
Here, we are expressively told that the mere mention of place names
like “Fietas or Woodstock or Gelvandale” brings anxiety to many
South African activists reminding them of their responsibility and
Elements of South African history are discernible in the poetry of
Dennis Brutus. The politics of apartheid, its constraints on the oppressed blacks with whom the poet identifies, come under his critical
lens as poet of revolt. An awareness of the history and development
of this racial policy gives the poet the ground to distance himself from
it. In the poem titled “Blood River Day,” techniques of deflation –
which consists of reducing the subject by employing negative diction
and imagery to achieve the desired effect – are employed to condemn
the bestiality of the apartheid regime. The whites in the poem are
celebrating a victory construed in negative terms:
Each year on this day
they drum the earth with their boots
and growl incantations
to evoke the smell of blood
for which they hungrily sniff the air. (SL 77)
Dancing as a way of celebration is supposed to be graceful and
appealing, but we are told that these characters “drum the earth with
their boots.” The word “boots” connotes the ubiquitous police force
terrorizing the blacks. The images “growl” and “sniff” demonstrate the
bestiality of the apartheid system. In effect, the poem suggests that
apartheid is inhuman because it thrives on the destruction of lives. A
celebration of victory by the whites is reduced by the poet to a mere
exhibition of the “primitiveness and ferocity” of an oppressive system.
Another way in which Brutus distances himself from the system in the
poem is by the use of pronouns: it is “they,” “they” and “theirs” as
against “us” and “ours.” The “us” refers to the downtrodden, the group
The Concept of Place in the Poetry of Dennis Brutus / 69
with which the poet identifies. Such identification enables him to explore and explain the historical and social background of this suffering
group. Their struggle is his and the images of that struggle become
his poetry. Hence in “A Troubadour…,” the “unarmed thumb” as symbol is “deliberately drawn from the salute of the African Congress,
which at one stage was a thumbs-up signal” (cited in Pieterse 103). In
the poem “At a Funeral,” the colours “black, green and gold” at the
beginning of the poem, are colours of the African National Congress
flag, the main resistance movement against racism in South Africa.
The anthem of the ANC becomes the music of the poem, “In my part
of the world.” The word “Africa” repeated in this poem identifies the
dispossessed as a united people, fighting against an odious system. It
equally depicts their love for their land and signals their determination
to see it totally liberated.The technique used here as in many of the
poems in the volume Stubborn Hope (1978), produces a deceptive
sense of simplicity of the poetic statement. In the poem cited above,
the reader is led to focus his attention on the connotations of the
word, “Africa” and not unto the poem as artifice. The importance of
what “Africa” is to the poet and his group is what is paramount.
Brutus authenticates ideas in his poetry through allusion to
South African history. The footnotes accompanying some occasional
poetry testify to this. For instance, “At a Funeral” is in memory of Velencia Majombozi who died shortly after qualifying as a doctor. “For a
Dead African” is about John Nangoza Jebe shot by the police in a
Good Friday procession in Port Elizabeth, 1956. “For Chief” is a tribute to Chief Albert John Luthuli, winner of the Nobel Prize for peace.
In Salutes and Censures (1982), documentary techniques such as
maps, photographs, newspaper cuttings and montage techniques are
used to authenticate themes.
Important historical events also act as metaphors in the poetry.
Janet MacArthur observes: “Brutus experiments with art as a means
of transcending the nightmare of colonial history […] [His] beautiful,
self-contained poetic icons are never historyless; history oozes, seeps
into them” (qtd. in McLuckie 82). The Sharpeville and Soweto massacres of the sixties and seventies in South Africa for instance, constitute poetic icons in some of the poems. In “The Sun on this Rubble
70 / Eunice Ngongkum
after Rain,” Sharpeville – (the town where on March 21, 1967, sixtyseven black and coloured people, protesting against the pass laws,
were shot dead by the South African police, and several others
wounded) – becomes a verb, functioning at the initial position in the
line, “Sharpevilled to spear points for revenging.” Formed from the
name of the town, the verb becomes an expression of the revolt of the
oppressed. In the poem “Sharpeville,” the latter symbolizes the reality
of oppression in the South Africa: “it epitomized oppression / and the
nature of a society / more clear than anything else.” But for the
Blacks, “Sharpeville” delineates the determination to fight for freedom:
“And remember the unquenchable will for freedom / Remember the
dead / and be glad” (SH 63).
The death of the sixty-seven in the Soweto massacres is not a
waste but a part of the struggle for freedom as the poem, “The Dark
Lanes of Soweto” portrays. Brutus elevates the dead here by the
technique of extrapolation – the blacks are not only people dying but
are people dying for a cause. In this sense then, the people are not
cowered into silence but we are told that “[t]he lust of freedom stubbornly survives / like a smouldering defiant flame – / And the spirit of
Steve Biko moves easily” (SC 10). Steve Biko, a hero of black resistance was a victim of racist violence. Like the children of Soweto, his
death will “not be forgotten / their lives will purchase our freedom.”
Such thorough acquaintance with the land, with its people and its
history enables the poet to easily delineate what the country has become as a result of the presence of the forces of occupation. In his
first collection, A Simple Lust, Brutus, in many poems is quick to point
out that the once beautiful country has become “a sickly state / where
loveliness has been tainted by disease” and her “best image ravaged”
(SL 34). There is a consistent use of images of disease and violent
destruction to highlight the extent to which apartheid has destroyed
the land and rendered it “unlovely and unlovable.” The brutal destruction is captured in the words “trafficked,” “raddled,” “undiscerning occupying feet.” The word “trafficked” connotes economic exploitation of
an illegal and disreputable kind. Again the technique of deflation
works well here. The Whites, who illegally exploit the resources of the
land according to the poet, have no moral basis to do so. The words
The Concept of Place in the Poetry of Dennis Brutus / 71
“raddled” and “undiscerning” point to insensitive policies, characteristic of apartheid South Africa.
The effects of this wanton destruction of the land is beautifully
captured in “Erosion: Transkei” (SL 16). The title of this poem lends
itself to a double interpretation: erosion as a simple issue of geological
destruction, and erosion as the topography of politics. The inimical
development policies of apartheid have eroded the lives of the people.
In effect, the Group Areas Act, enacted by the South African regime in
which blacks were forced into Bantustans to encourage separate ethnic development, informs the poem. Transkei was one of those homelands reserved for the largely Xhosa speaking population. Its natural environment is near desert but erosion of the natural landscape
has been reinforced by overpopulation: “Under green drapes the
scars scream, / red wounds wail soundlessly / Beg for assuaging,
satiation (SL 16). Evidence of the ravages suffered by the land comes
across in the images of “scars scream.” The phrase “under green
drapes” refers to the usual impression given by the racist government
to the world that separate development is good but the poet notes that
under this deceptive “greenness,” “scars scream” and “red wounds
wail.” Brutus here succeeds in making a symbol out of landscape to
buttress the destructive nature of apartheid. The personification used
together, with the hard consonants /sk/ in “scars scream” highlight
devastation and a disfigurement that is unnatural because caused by
The country is now complete desert, a sterile plain as we find in
“For us, Only the Bareness of Existence” (SH 2). The poem is a terse
comment on the predicament of the oppressed group, meant to eke
out a living in an otherwise rich nation of possibilities and alternatives,
“one hillock on the fertile plain.” The use of the pause in the first line is
effective in drawing attention onto the group being talked about. The
phrase “For us,” which occurs at the initial position of the first line of
the poem, is set off from the rest of the line by a comma. The “us”
refers to those with whom the speaker identifies and for whom, ironically, a country of wealth is nothing but “a Siberia of avarice.” Siberia,
a stretch of desert land in Russia, symbolically captures the country
from the perspective of the oppressed group (Blacks) for whom an
72 / Eunice Ngongkum
otherwise rich country breeds nothing but poverty, consequent upon
apartheid. The juxtaposition in the poem effectively underlines the
economic gap existing between the downtrodden and the Whites –
“festivities” is balanced against “barrenest,” while “hillock” is contrasted with “sterile plain.” The briefness of the poem, written in unrhymed couplets, further suggests the inequalities existing between
the haves and the have-nots.
Through vivid and concrete landscape images, Brutus succeeds in manipulating the reader into the psychological reality of a
menacing and potentially dangerous environment. According to John
Lent, Brutus forces “the horror in his home land out into the relief of
our consciousness and this, more than simplicity or rhetoric, is the
real political achievement” (qtd. in McLuckie 110). Our argument here
is that place as a kind of metaphor, becomes a vehicle of communicating an idea of revolt for the poet. Furthermore, poetic devices of
alliteration, allusions and balanced sentences reinforce the theme –
the asperity and hardness of the poet’s world. In “A Tribute for Steve
Biko” (SC 10), Brutus evokes the picture of a very desolate landscape
characterized by “dust,” “silt,” “arid air,” “harsh in the throat / hurtful to
the eyes.” The speaker notes that the landscape is studded with
“crude Teutonic towns / with their ominous echoes” like “– Hamburg,
Berlin, Hanover –.” The word “Teutonic” refers to the English, German
and Dutch races that came to South Africa, bringing along with them
their original ethnic names now imposed on the South African landscape. Therefore, just as the geographical landscape of this country is
eroded and rendered arid, the history is also distorted by the imposition of Teutonic names. But Steve Biko, the man to whom this poem
is dedicated, knew, and was deeply affected by all of these alien impositions because “their roads he traversed / they fired him with resolve / and smouldering anger”. Biko’s anger is at the deliberate apartheid policy of eroding not only the physical but also the historical
landscape of South Africa. As we have observed before, Dennis Brutus, like Steve Biko, is at pains to accept the systematic destruction of
his country by apartheid as these words portray it: “It is a suffering
people, and a suffering land, assaulted, violated, raped, whatever you
will, tremendously beautiful and I feel a great tenderness for it”
The Concept of Place in the Poetry of Dennis Brutus / 73
(Thompson 28). South Africa is viewed as a woman whom Brutus
loves but who for the moment is “sexually violated” by the racist government in that country.
Many critics have been concerned about Brutus’ use of “tenderness” as poetic focus as quoted above. R. N. Egudu, commenting on
the use of the word “tenderness” in the poem “Somehow We Survive,”
has this to say: “tenderness is used as a weapon to fight against apartheid [but this] does not mean that Brutus is not appreciative of the
ugliness of the situation that prevails in South Africa. The kind of action Brutus is concerned with is more psychological than physical”
John F. Povey has also observed that in the poetry of Brutus,
“the reality of apartheid is made all the more evident through the contrast with the emotional assurance of the poet, rising above the threat
of constant harassment” (44) in the lines:
Patrols uncoil along the asphalt dark
hissing their menace to our lives
somehow we survive
and tenderness, frustrated, does not wither (SL 4).
To my mind, tenderness is used in this poem and in most of Brutus’ poetry firstly, as an indication of the poet’s attachment to his
country for, as L. Castello notes, “everyone has a place to love” (62).
Secondly, it functions as a strategy of psychological survival against
the formidable machinery of apartheid, sustaining the poet’s faith in
the success of the revolution. Brutus needs the emotions of tenderness, of love, so that he can better appreciate the land he is fighting to
liberate. This love for his country comes across as love for a woman,
a mistress. In fact the poet has achieved a kind of symbiosis in talking
of the human mistress and the country. This is what he says: “I
achieved magically the simultaneous writing for South Africa and a
particular woman […] It was in the process of writing that I discovered
one could do the simultaneous statement; which I have done ever
since” (Lindfors 1974: 49).
74 / Eunice Ngongkum
In Brutus’ poetry, South Africa is raised to the level of woman.
She is depicted as a beautiful, cold-hearted individual, whom the male
loves very much, but whose love is not requited. Brutus makes no
secret of his love for his country. A Simple Lust, the title of one of the
collections of his poetry, illuminates this love relationship. His love for
his country is a simple lust; an image emphasizing the relationship
between poetry and the poet’s “cause,” that of seeking freedom, as
“basic a need as making love” (Thompson 76). The consistent personification of the land, the use of sexual imagery and the lyricism characteristic of love poetry can thus be understood as devolving from
this attitude. The poem, “A Troubadour…” depicts the poet as the
medieval troubadour, who explores and investigates the land, knighterrant on a quest in the service of a loved one. The beloved in this
case is none other than the country. The troubadour image is therefore central to our understanding of the relationship between the persona in the poem and the land.
Jacques Alvarez-Pereyre says that in the troubadour image, Brutus expresses his devotion to a suffering land (286), while Arthur Ravenscroft notes that Brutus is able to convey “the general conditions
of apartheid experience […] through the conceit of the troubadour,
celebrating his passionate love of his country as a woman whose
body and spirit he tries to make himself one with, despite the violation
they both suffer” (qtd. in McLuckie 40). In effect, the medieval troubadour was a knight who offered his life for the sake of and to the service of a love one – a lady-mistress, whose unattainable love was
often praised in poetry. This image from its medieval setting has been
appropriated to represent Brutus’ position as a non-white poet in apartheid South Africa. As he explains: “This is an image I use in my work,
because it seems to me a true kind of shorthand for something which
is part of my life and my pursuit of justice in a menacing South Africa”
(Wastberg: 98). The poet justifies the oft-noted ambivalence in the
troubadour image in his poetry:
He [the troubadour] was first of all a soldier, he was a knight, he went
to battle; secondly, he made up music, poetry – he fought and he
sang. His third element was that he tended to have a reputation as a
The Concept of Place in the Poetry of Dennis Brutus / 75
lover. And these are three elements that merge in my own poetry […].
It’s poetry […] about a permanent love affair, a relationship between
me and my country described in male-female terms. (qtd. in AlvarezPereyre 289)
The relationship between country and poet is henceforth defined
and analyzed in lover-beloved terms and the beloved is such a powerful ideal that the thought of her can make him sing and produce beautiful poetry. She inspires him to act and his love and devotion are so
strong that he is willing to lay down his life for her.
In “A Troubadour, I Traverse my Land,” love/sex imagery abounds. The speaker as lover delights in “exploring,” and “probing” the
“secret thickets” of the country-mistress “with an amorous hand.” The
gerunds “exploring” and “probing” occurring at an initial position in
their respective lines signal the speaker’s ultimate loving desire to
“know” and “plunder” the mistress’ body as in an act of sexual assault.
The intimacy the speaker will like to see existing between them is
vividly captured in the line “I sing and fare, person to loved-one
pressed.” The speaker seems to be consoled just by being “pressed”
to his loved one, even with the realization that his love yet to earn him
a “mistress-favour.” As in many other poems of this nature, the use of
the possessive “my” emphasizes not only the intimate relationship but
actually anticipates the problems the speaker would encounter once
he understands that the land is no longer his.
In “Erosion: Transkei,” the land-mistress is willing and ready to
succumb to the sexual possession of the lover – “Dear my land, open
for my possessing.” This response from the mistress increases the
lover’s “sensual delight” which mounts in anticipation of the moment of
“possessing.” In the phrase “Dear my land,” the affective “dear” occurring at the initial position emphasizes the intimacy between the lover
and his loved one. Yet, the juxtaposition one finds in the poem such
as “sensual delight/fury,” “love/pain” calls attention to the fact that the
mistress is not yet totally his because another ravages her. These
tensions in the verse qualify the tensions existing in the apartheid
context. The speaker is unable to enjoy his love because of the presence of intimidating forces. Poetic form adds meaning with the fairly
76 / Eunice Ngongkum
regular rhyme scheme and the alliterative /m/ in the line “mounts, and
mixed with fury is amassing,” bringing to mind the desired harmony
between poet and country.
The phenomenon of displacement is crucial in our understanding
of a sense of place in Brutus’ poetry. Displacement is a condition that
befalls the writer of revolt. Dennis Brutus, in the years before the dismantling of apartheid, was exiled from his country. The question that
comes to mind is the following: how does the artist whose work shows
a marked attachment to his place of origin respond to the issue of
displacement? Will his absence from his country not influence his
commitment to the “cause”? Janet MacArthur says this about Brutus:
“Exile from South Africa is often presented as a prison-house of the
spirit […] Relief comes only in the attempt to reconstitute and express
devotion to South Africa in poetry, his poetry thereby becoming a
response to a new uncertain life and identity induced by exile” (qtd. in
McLuckie 71).
Some of the “After Exile” poems in A Simple Lust and in the other volumes of poetry written after exile reveal the poet’s nostalgia for
his homeland and a systematic refusal to be “lured” by the “charms” of
his countries of exile. In “Country and Continent” (SL 167), the possessive hold South Africa has on the speaker is described through a
mythological allusion – the succubus. In effect, the succubus was
believed to be a devil assuming a female body so as to possess men
in their sleep.
This mythological reference, the use of images of violent sexual
possession, along with structural repetitions and repetition of ideas in
the poem, heighten the effect of the all-embracing hold that his country has on him. It is a “consuming fire,” driving the speaker to quest for
freedom, it also reminds him that in the midst of “charms” and other
“allurements,” the final destination is South Africa: “Love whose uninterrupted urge / drags on the now / sucks on my energies / and steers
me homeward to the familiar nest” (168). Because the landscape of
South Africa has remained familiar to him, the speaker in “I am an
alien…3 (SL 121), cannot consider himself at home in any context
other than South Africa. Bernth Lindfors observes that “[t]he exile poet
The Concept of Place in the Poetry of Dennis Brutus / 77
was now at liberty to wander the world, but no matter where he went,
his thoughts kept returning to his native land” (1974: 169).
The general observation, one can make regarding Brutus’ poetry
of exile is that, the principal mood is one of nostalgia as the poet looks
back to a time past when he had a direct touch with his homeland.
The evocation of a closeness with his country is evident and as he
roams from country to country, the separation is a wound in his soul,
“the wound of knowledge / knowledge of my powerlessness” (AT 3),
and becomes more depressing when he considers his inability to effect quick and positive changes from the distance of exile, “as the
dyings continue.”
Poetry of revolt then becomes the medium of presenting, through
elemental landscape images, different facets of the landscape as well
as the poet’s response to these. The sense of a dislocation from a
physical “homeland” has not only generated feelings of nostalgia but
has also brought about a creative tension in the poetry evident in the
contrastive portrayal of the country of exile and the poet’s home country. In poems dealing with the theme of exile, place becomes the concomitant of difference, the continual reminder of the separation, as
well as signalling the urgency of the task of the exile.
In this paper, we looked at place in Dennis Brutus’ poetry. A
sense of place is evident in knowledge of and response to the particular locality of South Africa, which identifies the poetry. The poet,
whether in his country or abroad, continues to display an intimacy with
the land as we have seen. In this way he seems to agree with Ben
Okri that a definite “relation exists between environment and what it
does to you inside” (qtd. in Wilkinson 81). Indeed, it is this special
attachment that fuels the determination to see the land liberated from
the throes of apartheid.
Eunice Ngongkum 1
Eunice Ngongkum (PhD), Department of African Literature, University
of Yaounde 1, Cameroon.
78 / Eunice Ngongkum
Alvarez-Pereyre, Jacques. Les Guetteurs de l’Aube: Poésie et Apartheid.
Grenoble: Presses Universitaires de Grenoble, 1979.
Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffith and Helen Triffin, eds. The Empire Writes
Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures. London: Routledge, 1989.
-----------------------------------------------------------------. The Post-Colonial Studies
Reader. New York and London: Routledge, 1995.
Brutus, Dennis. A Simple Lust. London: Heinemann, 1973.
-----------------. Stubborn Hope. London: Heinemann, 1978.
-----------------. Salutes and Censures. Enugu: Nigeria: Fourth Dimension Co.,
-----------------. Airs and Tributes. Ed. by Gil Otto. Introd. by Samuel Allen.
Camden, New Jersey: Whirlwind Press, 1989.
Castello, L. “City and Time and Places: Bridging The Concept of Place to
Urban Conservation Planning.” City and Time 2(1): 5. [Online] URL:
Egudu, Romanus N. African Poetry and The African Predicament. London:
Macmillan, 1979.
Killam, G.D. African Writers on African Writing. London: Heinemann, 1973.
Lindfors, Bernth. “Somehow Tenderness Survives: Dennis Brutus Talks
About His Life and Poetry.” The Benin Review, 1, 1, 1974: 44-55.
-------------------. et al., eds. Palaver: Interviews With Five African Writers in
Texas. The University of Texas at Austin: African and Afro-American
Research Institute, 1972.
McLuckie, Craig W. and Patrick J. Colbert, eds. Critical Perspectives on
Dennis Brutus. Colorado Springs: Three Continents Press, 1995.
Obiechina, Emmanuel. “The Writer and his Commitment in Contemporary
Nigerian Society.” Okike. 27/28 March 1988: 1-18.
Pieterse, Cosmo. Present Lives, Future Beginnings. N.P. Hickey Press,
Povey, John. “Dennis Brutus: Poetry and Politics.” Ba Shiru. 4, 2, (1973),
Relph, Edward. Place and Placeless ness. Paris: Pion, 1956.
Thompson, William E. “Dennis Brutus: An Interview.” Ufahamu. 12, 2,183,
The Concept of Place in the Poetry of Dennis Brutus / 79
Tuan, Yi-Fu. “Place: An Experiential Perspective.” The Geographic Review,
65, 2, 151-65.
Wästberg, Per, ed. The Writer in Modern Africa. Uppsala: Scandinavian
Institute of African Studies, 1968.
wa Thong’o, Ngugi. Writers in Politics. A Re-engagement With Issues of
Literature and Society. Oxford, Nairobi and Portsmouth: James Currey, EAPH, Heinemann, 1997.
Wilkinson, Jane, ed. Talking With African Writers. London: James Currey,
Contemporary Cameroon English:
Just Another Fad?
The English language is a sort of living organism that changes in
time and in space. A diachronic survey of this language shows that it
never was the most dominant (in terms of users’ status or population)
but by a combination of forces has become the most widely spoken
language today. Still from this diachronic perspective, it has grown
from Old English, through Middle English to Modern English and today, World Englishes, of which efforts are being made to isolate the
Cameroonian, Nigerian, West African, and Kenyan, etc. varieties.
These new Englishes are the result of the English language migrating
to new settlements and colonies, where there began to emerge such
different dialects as American English, Australian English, Canadian
English, New Zealand English, West African, East African, and South
African English among others. Indeed, there is not a single language
that has spread over most parts of the world as English has done,
through the migration of its speakers.
The present form of the English language in Cameroon – hereafter CamE – is the upshot of several factors briefly discussed (Koenig
et al. 1983; Kouega 2003; Wolf 2001; and Anchimbe 2006). CamE’s
vitality is seen as the consequence of its being in contact with over
two hundred and forty (240) indigenous languages, (Breton et al.
1991), and French, the other official language in Cameroon. Nguefac
and Sala (2006) show CamE’s relationship with Cameroon Pidgin
English, (CPE), Kouega (2003) sees Camfranglais resulting from English and French interference, while Mforteh (2007) discusses the creation of new identities through the use of the official as well as national
languages. Even though English has been used in Cameroon since
Contemporary Cameroon English… / 81
the 17th century (initially introduced through trade, then entrenched
through colonialism, and finally adopted as official language) it has not
attained the status of an indigenous language, as some of its users
still aspire for the British and American standards, judging CamE as
an inferior or deviant form. However, there are strong arguments in
favor of considering English and French (the actual official languages)
as national languages in Cameroon (Alobwede and Kouega: 2006)
rather than replicas of their European models. It however brings to
mind one key consideration: the fact that two provinces of Cameroon
are identified as Anglophone because they have English as a distinctive linguistic marker and are considered as de facto original owners/users of CamE. In the view of this paper, CamE is a domesticated,
indigenized, or nativized variety of English which reflects the Cameroonian socio-cultural, economic, political and intellectual context in
which it is used.
The Evolution of CamE
Considering the historical/political events that since 1960 have
caused some inhabitants of the North West (NW) and South West
Provinces (SW) of Cameroon (these original owners/users of the language) to adulterate, cohabit or replace it with French, and the recent
upsurge in the world value of English which has forced hitherto
speakers of French to want to wrench/grab English, it is now doubtful
whether English can still be considered the “distinctive marker and
property” of these provinces. This doubt is accentuated by the new
identities that are being built around the use of English in Cameroon,
(Mforteh: 2006), to the extent that “anglophonism” and “francophonism” hitherto established categories of identification in Cameroon,
(Anchimbe: 2005), are progressively being called into question. Preliminary studies on CamE are geared towards establishing its phonology (Simo and Mbangwana: 2000); CamE’s evolution Wolf (2001), its
authenticity (Anchimbe: 2006) and its syntax (Sala: 2005), and basically its lexicon. At this level, discussions related to whether English
has been domesticated, or indigenized, or nativized in Cameroon like
82 / Stephen Ambe Mforteh
elsewhere on the continent (Bamgbose: 1982, 1995; Adegbija: 1998,
2004; Wolf: 2001) no longer attract intense scholarly discussion. It is
rather the extent to which such nativization has reached that seems a
challenge to us. My focus in this paper is on two major questions:
What is the multicultural influence on English as it is used in
What thirst is the hitherto linguistically comfortable Francophone trying to quench when he diverts his children towards an
English medium educational system?
I assume that these Francophone Cameroonians have not gone
beyond the precinct of seeing English merely as one of the two official
languages in Cameroon and consequently not taken time to understand the culture into which they are sending their progeny. This paper seeks to answer these questions, considering that a few years
ago, English was considered inadequate for survival in Cameroon; but
today this very medium of instruction seems to bear a magic wand for
successful academic pursuits. I also intend to explicate what advantages and disadvantages can be gained if the current trend in the
domestication of English by the Anglophone and use of English by the
Francophone persists.
From English to New (World) Englishes and Cameroon English
To illustrate the point pertaining to the vitality and change of
English, I will take the case of the NW and SW provinces of Cameroon, identified as Anglophone because they have English as a distinctive linguistic marker and are the de facto original “owners” of it. At
its inception, i.e. when the British used it as a medium of instruction in
the colony, the number of speakers was small, and although the
population grew numerically, it did not alter the character of an essentially single and homogeneous community. However, in the words of
Adamo (2007), any such homogeneity in the English language today
“belongs to the womb of history” because as this linguistic community
has not stopped expanding spatially, English has become greatly
Contemporary Cameroon English… / 83
diversified. However, in the two provinces cited above, considered the
bedrock of English in Cameroon, a form of nativization has been in
progress since its institutionalization as an official language. This
means that in this new environment, the language underwent the
process of nativization, whereby the language was and continues to
be enriched with socio-cultural elements which reflect the worldview of
the respective users. Over the years, the so-called CamE becomes
increasingly identifiable and distinguishable from the traditional native
varieties, yet entirely legitimate in its own right. In contemporary discussions therefore, the new Englishes (Indian English, Ghanaian English, Nigerian English, etc.) are neither inferior nor entirely independent varieties.
It is within such a framework that I want to discuss English and
its transformation in the Cameroonian sociolinguistic and sociocultural environments. It is the new usage resulting from the interaction between English and French, English and Pidgin English, and
English and the Home languages in a distinctively Cameroonian environment, that is the basis on which scholars argue for the existence of
a variety of world Englishes that helps her Cameroonian users fulfill
certain functions (cf. leadership discourse in Mforteh: 2006), hedging
as a leadership tool (Mforteh 2006); lexical repetition in literary works
(Fomukong and Mforteh, forthcoming).
Cameroonization of English
CamE, although sometimes pejoratively considered as a “deviation” from native-speaker norms and the creation of new norms, however attempts to reflect the socio-cultural requirements of the new
environment. This reflection of the socio-cultural elements found in the
users’ environment in the English language is the foundation of nativization, where the French-English, English-Home Language, or English-Pidgin and English bilingual Cameroonian make efforts to express
cultural artefacts in this all embracing language, (see the use of na,
isn’t it, brother, etc. in Anchimbe: 2007). As Peter had earlier noted,
“in order for the non-native culture to make the new language a part of
the culture, it must nativize it” (1998 389). This means that if we take
84 / Stephen Ambe Mforteh
the aboriginal Anglophones of the NW and SW provinces of Cameroon, they first of all nativized the English language, i.e., adapted it to
depict and talk about themselves while still retaining many of the
original features, as used by its native speakers. As this Anglophone
community spread out/opened to the other eight provinces, there was
an intensification of the process of integrating English into the cultures
of the wider community, or integrating the culture of the wider community into English for the expression of the experience and worldview of the expanding community.
This implicitly suggests that the variety in vogue has features
(see treatment of camfranglais by Echu: 2001; Kouega: 2003) that
could not be traced in earlier versions of CamE – and are easily distinguishable from both the native variety and all other varieties. This
results from the fact that language and culture are closely intertwined
and, since the languages and cultures of Cameroon are different from
others in the world, it is hardly out of place to say that Cameroonians
have created their own variety of the language to express their values,
their worldview, and their distinctive orientation and experience. In this
process, the influence of French, the second official language, and the
indigenous languages and cultures on English have been profound,
as very many innovations in language form and use have emerged.
These tokens of nativization will be illustrated and described in this
paper only in terms of their lexico-semantic and pragmatic trends. I
may just hasten to add that these are more susceptible to cultural
influence than other linguistic elements.
Some of the lexical items that will be used to illustrate the domestication of English are partly culled from earlier authors (Mbangwana: 2002 and Anchimbe: 2007) as the rest comes from recent surveys aimed at establishing lexes that set aside this variety of world
Englishes. These illustrations will shed light on trends in the CamE
variety, and help build up the latter part of this paper which seeks to
probe into the advantages and disadvantages of the current trend.
Contemporary Cameroon English… / 85
Cultural Influence at the Lexico-semantic Level
The use of certain lexical items with meanings that are understood within the Cameroonian context has been identified as characterizing CamE, and generally, such usage is a hallmark of nativization
where the user allows the language to seep into his intellectual, social, political, and economic life. Put differently, these aspects are
brought to bear on English as medium of communication and as a
warehouse of cultural, ideological and intellectual property. Here I
shall consider three sources of the register of CamE: loanwords, coinages, and semantic shifts.
Loaning/Borrowing Words
In our context, this phenomenon involves the indiscriminate
transfer (or borrowing) of lexical items from other languages, (French,
Home languages, etc.) with which the user of English is in contact.
Some samples isolated elsewhere (Adamo: 2007) include:
agbada: a kind of flowing dress for men, especially among the
Yoruba: “Chief Ogini wore agbada to the wedding ceremony.”
Akara: an item of food also referred to as “bean cake.” In Cameroon,
akara is also made from manioc (cassava).
Okada: a mode of transportation by motor bike: “You either go by
danfo or you take an okada.”
Other tokens found in current use within CamE:
Chef de bloc: this is the head of an administrative unit in a residential
Fufu and Eru. Fufu is a paste from manioc or corn served and eaten
with the latter, a vegetable.
Fufu and Jama jama. Jama jama: is another vegetable that is served
with fufu.
Matricule: registration number given to students as they register into
the university: “My matricule number, 07F111 is easy to retain.”
86 / Stephen Ambe Mforteh
Module: a group of related teaching units wherein compensation can
be done.
Ordonnance: medical prescription: “I was given a long ordonnance by
the doctor. Some of these medical doctors think we pick money from
the dustbins.”
Procès verbal: proceedings of a meeting, report or details of results
or of an interview.
Unité de valeur: a teaching unit (credit course) within the module
Validate: to obtain a pass mark in a credit course: “I had 11 on 20. I
have validated that module.”
Although communities of users of English everywhere have their
distinctive vocabularies, the above selected tokens have been upgraded or transferred into CamE which now has the status of a national variety. These borrowed words and expressions bridge a gap
that English could not easily handle without such a straightforward
process of absorption, a process which has enlarged and enriched the
lexicon of English for centuries, irrespective of their being (eventually)
internationalized, as with le week-end from English to French. All such
borrowed words serve to fill inevitable gaps in all languages, particularly CamE. As seen in this instance, where English is originally unable to handle distinctively Cameroonian, and related phenomena or
concepts, the user domesticates the language, thus rendering it capable of doing so. In this domestication process, English becomes a
language of Cameroon, Africa and of the world.
Lexical items are often coined to suit the context, and their use
signals certain peculiarities of Cameroon’s multilingual setting and the
worldview of the users. Often, however, local words are not adopted
but the forms and meanings of everyday English words are extended,
and perhaps adapted, to cover particular local phenomena and situations. This means that with a few exceptions, the Home Language
(HL) equivalent is often not the preferred form because it may not go
beyond the ethnic precinct. Some of these have been isolated else-
Contemporary Cameroon English… / 87
where (Adamo: 2007) and I will like to replicate these here before
making additions:
Been-to: a person who has returned to Cameroon after a long stay
overseas: “The way he speaks, everybody knows that he is a beento.”
Chewing-stick: a piece of wood which can be softened by chewing
and moistening and which serves the purpose of teeth-cleaning:
“Give me a chewing stick. I need to clean my teeth.”
Ghana-must-go: a bribe, as in: “Ghana-must-go bags exchanged
Overload: an excess number of passengers or goods carried by a
vehicle: “The lorry has bad tyres, yet it is carrying overload.”
Scale through: move easily through the solving of a problem: “At
last, I have scaled through the hurdles of exams.”
Tokens found in CamE
Bitter cola: a nut from the kola nut family, this one is yellowish and
really bitter as the name indicates. It is said to go well with beer
and/or palm wine.
Born house: from indigenous Cameroonian cultures where the birth
of a baby into a family calls for feasting, and in some cases, naming of the baby: “My grandson’s born house is slated for Saturday.
You better come round if you want to have a good time and meet
my family and friends.”
Bush faller: someone who, after some months/years abroad returns
home with a huge fortune and is ready to spend it lavishly: “Let’s go
and have some free drinks, don’t you know he is a bush faller?”
Cassava farm: part-time job. Generally, people who have regular
employment do look for part-time jobs. Since these often violate the
contract of the full-time job, people disguise this, saying, “I am in
my cassava farm” suggesting it is a non-profit hobby or exercise
with little material gain.
Cry die: like born house, the dead are remembered sometime after
they have been buried. This calls for a celebration, hence the other
word closely related to this, death celebration, when the family and
friends reunite in the home of the deceased to pay their last respects to the memory of the departed. Characterized by expensive
88 / Stephen Ambe Mforteh
and heavy feasting, the cry die is often accompanied by all night
rituals and dancing: “I can now rest and do other things because I
have done the cry die/death celebrations of my parents.”
Faroteur: faroter (from the French, someone who throws his money
out for fame: “Eto’o threw out large sums of money to the crowds
that thronged the streets through which he passed.”
Great man/wise man: swindler; crook who deceives people saying
he can manufacture new bank notes from existing ones, and once
he lays hands on the original notes, he disappears.
Maguida: pejorative reference to someone from the Moslem,
Northern Cameroon.
Small thing: from CPE, a mistress: “I am taking my small thing out
of town next week.”
Meat or chicken soya: a form of barbecue done for commercial
purposes. It is served hot and consumed with a lot of pepper. “To
have received soya” could be an insinuation that one has received
a bribe or has been bought over by the opponent.
Semantic shifts or extensions
Some lexical items have had their conceptual meanings shifted,
restricted, or extended. This is a common word forming process, not
only with CamE but with other varieties and other languages. Discussing similar phenomena on Nigerian English, Adamo (2007) brings out
the following tokens:
Trek: walk a short distance: “Are you going to trek to your house?”
Machine: a motor cycle: “I will climb machine to the junction. I cannot trek.”
Station: the place where one works: “I will go back to my station on
Monday morning.”
Settle: offer gratification of one form or another in order to win favor; bribe: “I have settled all the members of the House of Representatives.”
Big/senior boys: men who are rich and influential: “That hotel is for
big boys only.”
Four-one-nine (“419”): a fraudster or cheat: “Jerry is a four-onenine. He has duped me!”
Contemporary Cameroon English… / 89
Father, mother/mummy, sister, brother, and uncle are being extended to cover someone with no biological relationship to the person concerned. The term brother may have an extended meaning
that includes a man of the same tribe or denomination, and uncle
may be used to refer not only to one’s mother’s or father’s brother
(or even one’s sister’s husband), but also to any man much older
than the user or a man whose name is not known.
From CamE, the following can be added:
Ashia: A lexical item whose semantic extension results in the confused use of ashia on occasions requiring sympathy as well as those
necessitating appreciation.
Ashia: for “thank you” like in “I have received the parcel you sent to
me, ashia;”
Ashia: for “well done/ congratulations” like in “Your results are excellent, ashia.”
Ashia: for “accept my sympathy” like in “I hear your father is no more,
Feynman (see great man/ wise man above): swindler.
God-father: a patron, benefactor who enables you to pick up undue
advantages like appointments, and bailing you out of trouble: “This
rector will remain in office for as long his godfather, the Minister of
Higher Education, is not changed.” “Just look at the way he squanders money, if you have a godfather as his, you can give yourself
such liberties.”
Masa/sar: from the perspective of master-servant relationship, we
have “Masa Paul” and when called, some women answer sar “sir” to
their husbands. It is however more common for apprentices and servants to answer “masa/sar” or “madam” when summoned or ordered
by their masters.
Patron: boss, employer: “I’ve lost my job. My patron has been relieved of his ministerial seat.” or “Work has stopped because our patron has travelled.”
Umbrella: patron or benefactor: “Nothing can happen to him in that
service. The GM is his umbrella”.
Wife: a new acquisition especially a car: “This/your* new wife is wonderful. Is it a Toyota or did you say, a Mazda?”
90 / Stephen Ambe Mforteh
Wife/Woman: one’s sister-in-law. In most cultures, the family of the
husband receives enormous respect from the family of the wife. To
show some intimacy, the husband’s family refers to the lady as “their
wife.” Wife/woman has the connotation of servant, weaker member
where the man is considered the superior partner in the relationship:
“Cameroon is France’s wife. Whatever we do is decided by the
Cultural Influence on CamE at the Pragmatic Level
At the more complex level where English is expected to function
as a link among multilingual communities, some distinctive pragmatic
usages characterize CamE. As a result, Cameroonians have modified
many norms of greeting in a manner that corresponds to their culture,
where the status of an interlocutor influences the other. Mforteh
(2000) sees the cupping of hands to greet the local traditional leader,
fon, as a non-verbal act which shows respect. Sometimes, it corresponds to the culture prevalent in the locality where the interlocutors
are found, irrespective of whether that is the norm in their own languages.
Handshakes seem to accompany all greetings in Cameroon. We
find people who do not hesitate to shake hands even with strangers
who may be inquiring for things as trivial as the time of the day, or the
way to a building. Especially among the Ngemba of the NW Province,
there is a tendency for the lower in status person, here considered the
subordinate, to support his right hand with the left when he receives
the hand of his superior in a handshake (whether as a greeting, or
Another significant area of cultural influence on CamE usage relates to honorifics and politeness markers. Cultural titles inscribed in
the home or national languages occasionally interfere with those
found in the English language. English does not have all the various
gradations that the cultures of the CamE users carry. Age is respected, and despite the intimacy, some cultures do not allow a “subordinate” to call the “superior” by name as one finds with the English.
The junior or subordinate will obligatorily attach “ni, ndia, ba, ma, tah,
Contemporary Cameroon English… / 91
etc.” before calling out the name of a senior person: “Ni John Fru Ndi.”
Where the addressee is a title holder, this often comes before the
honorific in English as in the following combinations:
Ni/ba/ndia: male elder/senior as in “Ni John Fru Ndi.”
Ma/ndia: female elder/senior.
Tah: father/papa.
Ma/ndia: mother/mama.
Chief Doctor …; Chief Professor Abangma; Chief Honourable
Ambe; Reverend Pastor Ezekiel; Reverend Professor Anyambod;
Reverend Doctor Tasa, etc.
In some cases, the title is used for the person, as shown in the
following examples from Adamo (2007): “Good morning, chief ”;
“Good morning, Professor.” As mentioned above, and confirmed by
the data from Nigerian English (Adamo 2007), “it is considered rude or
impolite to address people in positions of authority, or people who are
older than oneself, by their actual names.” As the discussion shows,
the problem is not inherent in the language but it is one of social acceptability. As Anchimbe (2006: 184) has pointed out, the use of
daddy, mummy, uncle, and auntie goes beyond family ties. It essentially borders on politeness and intimacy phenomena (Adamo: 2007).
In a recent TV broadcast, there was the case where an approximately
60 year-old militant of the ruling party, the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) addressed the head of state’s approximately 30-year-old wife as “Mama Chantal Biya,” technically referring
to the latter as the “mother of the nation.”
The Domestication of English: Filling a Socio-cultural and
Linguistic Vacuum in Cameroon?
In the preceding pages, I have tried to bring out elements which
support the role of language in the culture of the user and the cultural
elements which get co-opted into the language. From the few tokens
cited above, it is evident that one of the cardinal roles of language is
seen in its portrayal of the culture of any given people, although there
92 / Stephen Ambe Mforteh
are varied views about culture itself. I will mention just three of these
views, in order to answer the question pertaining to CamE filling a
vacuum. From Bodley’s (1994) contemporary anthropological view,
culture relates to “socially patterned human thought and behaviour.”
Secondly, the UNESCO Declaration (2002) in Mexico considers culture in its entirety as the sum total of distinctive traits, be they spiritual
and material, intellectual or affectionate which characterize a society
or a social group.
Culture does not only relate to arts and letters, but also to life
styles, fundamental human rights, a system of values, and tradition
and beliefs. Lastly, in a kind of forerunner to the UNESCO point of
view, Ngugi wa Thiongo (1968 14) considered culture as “a way of life
fashioned by a people in their collective endeavour to live and come
to terms with their total environment. It [culture] is the sum of their art,
their science and all their social institutes including their system of
beliefs and rituals.”
All the above views point to the fact that culture is shared,
learned, symbolic, transmitted across generations, adaptive and integrated. Culture is most visible through verbal or non-verbal language.
The features highlighted in this paper are indelible markers of a cultural domestication of English. Given the lexical, cultural and syntactic
loans, and coinages that English freely receives, it is obvious that
CamE may soon be considered as one of the national languages,
(Alobwede and Kouega: 2006) given the rate at which it is being nativized at the lexical, semantic, and pragmatic levels. It is however,
unlikely that CamE will become an indigenous language in the near
future wherein one may see it as helping the users in the seminal
exploration, documentation, and exposition of their “art, their science
and all their social institutes including their system of beliefs and rituals.” Language encompasses several things about the user: his
thoughts, actions, and visions. This makes language a warehouse of
achievements and failures, a tool for leadership and discipleship, a
medium through which subtle things like love and hatred are negotiated and concretized, and the identity of the user revealed.
Returning to the assertion made at the beginning of this section,
i.e. does CamE fill a gap? The answer is yes, particularly for the An-
Contemporary Cameroon English… / 93
glophone who sees this language as the unifying element for the two
provinces, over and above the several national languages that make
Cameroon distinct. For the Francophone, the answer is not obviously
in the affirmative. This is couched in several considerations. Firstly,
the invasion of the Anglophone academic culture by Francophone
Cameroonians is motivated by both ignorance and foresight. Ignorance in the sense that most francophone Cameroonians believe(d)
that the Anglo-Saxon academic ladder is less stiff, i.e. Anglophone
(Bachelor-Masters-PhD) versus Francophone (Licence-MaîtriseDiplôme d’Etudes Approfondies-Doctorat de 3eme Cycle-Doctorat
d’Etat). Foresight is perceived in Francophone exploiting to his advantage the higher propensity to employ a bilingual than a monolingual in
Cameroon. This means that if they can succeed in obtaining English
medium certificates while retaining their francophone identity, they
would not only compete with the Anglophone in scholarships and
appointments but equally retain the Francophonie openings to which
the Anglophone is linguistically handicapped.
Simple statistics pertaining to the teaching staff of the Departments of English and French of the Higher Teachers’ Training School
(HTTS), i.e. Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS), and the Faculty of Arts,
University of Yaoundé can support this argument.
Faculty of
Anglo= 0
Franco= 18
Anglo= 1
Franco= 18
1 Anglo and
36 Francos
Anglo= 8
Franco =2
Anglo =13
Franco= 3
21 Anglos and
5 Francos
8 to 20
14 to 21
22 to 41
Source: Annuaire statistique de l’Université de Yaoundé 1, 2006.
These two elements serve as a basis to assert that while the Anglophone domesticates English because he sees it as an integral part
of his culture and identity, the Francophone who adopts English
purely for instrumental motives does not need to domesticate it. For
the Francophone, he rather seeks the BrE or AmE varieties that can
94 / Stephen Ambe Mforteh
open a window not only to facilities in Cameroon but also beyond
Cameroon. Furthermore, as time goes on, it is more evident that English as a cultural trait of the two Anglophone provinces of Cameroon,
is politically no longer a very dependable bargaining factor because
“anglophone” no longer refers exclusively to these provinces.
In spite of the aforementioned, the domestication of English remains a strong signal not only of the users’ desire to give outward
expression to their emotions, experiences, creativity, but also of
euphemism and invective. CamE therefore enables its users to
transmit what they capture, by putting it into verbal and non-verbal
symbols. CamE speakers tend to identify with one another, suggesting that through language, one can build up and enhance a sociocultural identity (Mforteh: 2006). This is in line with the view upheld by
Tadadjeu (2006), essentially that development can be easily enhanced through the national languages because every user will feel
concerned. Unfortunately for Cameroonians, it has not been possible
for them to develop one or more of the national languages (as it has
been the case elsewhere, for instance in Nigeria) to fulfil – even partially – the role that CamE now plays. Rather, since independence,
the HLs are relegated to the background, while English and French
were developed to replace these indigenous languages. The domestication of English may be a long-term solution to it.
This paper has sought to show how at the lexico-semantic level,
Cameroonians have over years tried to nativize English, making it
flexible and adaptable to their needs by enriching the English language with such cultural elements through coinages, borrowings from
indigenous languages, and extensions of meaning, in a bid to fill the
gap or vacuum created by the lack of an indigenous language in spite
of the 240 identified (Breton: 1991). While upholding the advantages
that adopting official languages have brought to Cameroonians, one
may still signal here that these have shown their limitations because,
as mentioned elsewhere (Mforteh, forthcoming), the adoption of Eng-
Contemporary Cameroon English… / 95
lish and French as languages of education have impeded the development of phenomena available in the indigenous languages.
The domestication of English has been influenced by linguistic
and cultural elements found not only in the indigenous/home or national languages and cultures but also the foreign ones that English
has come into contact with in Cameroon. Since learning and using
English is mandatory, users have made the best they could with it, the
Anglophone domesticating it for use in all domains of national life,
while the Francophone sees beyond it, aiming at international openings. The English identity sought for by the Francophone is not the
same as the one desired by the Anglophone who domesticates in an
effort to vent his social, cultural and regional identity. In fact, for the
Anglophone, the endeavour seems to enhance the efforts towards
official recognition of Cameroon Pidgin English as a national medium,
although this can only come close but not replace the indigenous
languages considered as icons of our identity, national pride, and selfreliance (Tadadjeu: 2006). Some negative effects of empowering the
national languages have been observed, notably where empire building based on ethnicity has been perpetuated to the detriment of other
nationals. While the adoption of the colonial languages as official languages seems to have been influenced by this consideration, the
domestication of English is an unconscious, natural response of the
users to staying on the burning rig or jumping into the open sea.
Pending the completion of a constitutional/linguistic framework that
will enable Cameroonians to use the HLs with pride and ease, CamE
will continue to flourish and assert itself.
Mforteh Stephen Ambe 1
1 MFORTEH Stephen Ambe, PhD, University of Yaoundé 1- Cameroon,
[email protected]
96 / Stephen Ambe Mforteh
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La Délocalisation de l’industrie du jute de
Dundee à Calcutta : 1855-1947
En 1825, Thomas Neish, marchand de tissus installé à Dundee,
persuada les filatures Bell and Balfour de cette ville, d’essayer
d’utiliser le jute1, pour diversifier leur production axée jusque-là uniquement sur le chanvre et le lin (Lennan, Lythe & Gauldie 10-11), car un
ingénieur écossais avait découvert qu’en ajoutant de la graisse de
baleine à la fibre de jute, jusqu’ici trop friable, on pouvait se lancer
dans une production industrielle. L’entreprise Bell et Balfour créa le
marché des grosses toiles et, par conséquent, un nouveau débouché
qui prit une ampleur considérable. En effet, le jute allait devenir
l’unique matériau d’emballage des denrées alimentaires en vrac et de
tous les autres objets, y compris les matériels d’armement et les munitions, pendant plus de quatre-vingts ans. Dundee put à juste titre
s’enorgueillir d’avoir apporté au commerce international un élément
de poids. Les producteurs de jute allaient, d’abord en Ecosse puis en
Inde, contribuer très largement à la richesse de l’empire. Après
quelques tentatives infructueuses2, ce fut le succès et Dundee fut
considérée comme la capitale mondiale de la grosse toile de jute.
Bientôt les ateliers se lancèrent dans plusieurs types de toile
pour répondre à la demande grandissante des transporteurs de denrées et d’objets à emballer. Une conséquence positive de la guerre de
Crimée fut d’ouvrir un nouveau marché en créant une demande pour
les sacs de sable et les emballages des munitions. Les guerres successives, en Amérique puis en Europe, générèrent par la suite des
marchés colossaux. Très vite, au Royaume-Uni même, Dundee fut en
bute à la concurrence directe des ateliers d’Inverness et de ceux de
Le mot « jute » semblerait provenir, d’après le Dr Roxburgh, directeur
du jardin botanique de l’East India Company, en 1790, d’une anglicisation du mot
« jhot » en Orisssa et de « jhat » en sanskrit ancien. D’autres historiens estiment
que le jute ou « patta » en manu, datant de 800 ans avant Jésus Christ, aurait été
importé autrefois des rives de la Méditerranée.
2 Le premier métrage de jute fut mis en vente en 1835 (Rakibuddin 31).
100 / Joëlle Harel
Belfast et de Leeds ; mais à la fin du siècle, pour lutter contre les nouveaux producteurs, des investisseurs écossais partirent à la recherche d’une main d’œuvre 5% à 10% (Chakrabarty 104) moins
chère que la main-d‘œuvre habituelle, composée de femmes et
d’enfants majoritairement irlandais3 qui travaillaient dans les ateliers
de Dundee.
Dès la fin du XIXème siècle, certains pays européens, tels que
la France ou l’Allemagne4, décidèrent à leur tour de fabriquer des
toiles de jute, essentiellement, d’ailleurs, pour leurs besoins militaires.
Cette concurrence, bien faible pourtant, donna l’idée aux Ecossais de
trouver un moyen de faire baisser les prix de leur production. Ils se
lancèrent dans la réduction des coûts salariaux sur place, aggravant
la misère des employés. La France créa son premier atelier en 1843,
à Ailly sur Somme (Ahmed 196), puis imposa des droits de douane
sur le jute. Dans les années 1920, la concurrence étrangère
s’accentua, les ateliers français produisirent 357 000 balles de jute en
1923 et 613 000 en 1928. Des productions semblables apparurent en
Amérique, et, plus tard, en Australie. Or, le jute était essentiellement
produit dans une plaine proche de Calcutta, capitale de l’Inde impériale.
Des Ecossais décidèrent alors, en 1850, de rapprocher les ateliers du lieu de culture au Bengale afin de faire tisser à bas prix les
toiles qu’ils pourraient vendre sur les marchés internationaux. La situation géographique était idéale : une région unique de culture : la
plaine de l’Houghly (Bose 12), une main d’œuvre paysanne et ouvrière très peu chère, proche des ateliers de fabrication, eux-mêmes
bâtis dans une ville portuaire placée sous contrôle britannique. La
meilleure zone agricole pour le jute se situe dans la région du delta du
Gange, entre Mymensingh, Dhaka, Faridpur et Tiperera. En 1880, la
région située au nord de Calcutta n’était qu’une étendue de marais
« Whenever there was a want of hands, they informed their friends
over the [Irish] Channel and a new importation occurred. Thus there was always an
abundant supply of that class and the wages of the preparing hands never rose in
proportion to that of the spinners » (Gauldie 122).
4 L’Allemagne puis la Belgique et l’Autriche dans les années 1860 furent suivies par l’Italie en 1885 (Ahmed 185-86, 191, 195, 202, 220).
La Délocalisation de l’industrie du jute…. / 101
avec quelques villages épars, qu’une multitude d’ateliers transformèrent bientôt en zone de fabrication industrielle, avec ses inévitables
taudis où logeait la population ouvrière (De Haan 15), et ses quelques
résidences luxueuses. Toute une ville se développa en quelques dizaines d’années, grâce à l’arrivée d’une poignée d’Ecossais. Le jute
fut, grâce à eux, la grande production coloniale au Bengale après
l’effondrement du marché de l’indigo.
Les Britanniques ne cherchèrent pas à recourir au système des
travaux forcés ou de serviteurs « engagés » (indentured servants) du
siècle précédent. Ils ne se soucièrent pas non plus de contrôler la
production agricole qui resta l’apanage d’exploitations vivrières familiales (Bose). Ceci offrit un nouveau débouché aux paysans qui vendaient leur récolte entre 29% et 33% plus cher aux ateliers de Calcutta qu’aux artisans des villages environnants (Goswani 49-50). Jusqu’en 1937, 80% des familles récoltaient 125 kg. de jute en moyenne
par an (Bose 55), ce qui représentait le rendement de 2 acres de
terre. Ni les Européens, ni les investisseurs indiens, ne cherchèrent à
s’approprier ces petites exploitations. Mais, la terre appartenait à de
riches propriétaires et les tenanciers étaient le plus souvent lourdement endettés auprès de trop nombreux intermédiaires5.
1. Les bases théoriques du commerce international
face aux délocalisations
Adam Smith, l’un des économistes les plus cités de nos jours,
avait exposé en 1776 dans son œuvre majeure, The Wealth of Nations, la théorie selon laquelle un pays tirait un « avantage absolu »
lorsqu’il se spécialisait dans les productions où il bénéficiait d’abondantes matières premières et d’une main-d’œuvre de qualité, afin de
devenir le seul producteur mondial de ce produit6. Ainsi, grâce à la
83% d’entre eux avaient des dettes (Bose).
« Such manufactures must be sold as cheap abroad as any other foreign goods of the same quality and kind, and consequently must be sold cheaper at
home. They would still, therefore, keep possession of the home market, and though
a capricious man of fashion might sometimes prefer foreign wares, merely because
they were foreign, to cheaper and better goods of the same kind that they were at
102 / Joëlle Harel
qualité des produits manufacturés anglais et à l’obligation d’achat des
marchandises anglaises dans l’empire, la Grande-Bretagne devintelle au XIXème siècle, « l’atelier du monde ».
a) Smith, Malthus et Ricardo
Les dirigeants anglais s’appuyèrent tout d’abord sur la doctrine
libérale d’Adam Smith parce qu’elle servait magnifiquement leur politique d’exportations impériales et étrangères. Il est important de noter
qu’Adam Smith avait souligné que cette répartition internationale des
marchés ne devait provoquer aucun chômage en Grande-Bretagne,
puisque le libre-échange7 ne pouvait être appliqué dans un secteur
donné que si les conditions de conversions économiques avaient été
mises en place8 ; de toutes manières les prix intérieurs devant être
moins élevés que ceux des importations, il allait de soi que les produits britanniques garderaient leur part de marché.
En outre, il rejetait la possibilité de faire du commerce avec des
pays pauvres, dont le seul atout aurait été une main d’œuvre à bas
prix, car il désirait avant tout développer les exportations britanniques ; or, les pays pauvres ne pouvaient se permettre d’importer
des produits britanniques en quantité suffisante. A cette époque, il
n’était pas question de vendre à crédit ni même de donner des marchandises aux pays pauvres, seule comptait l’Angleterre.
Mais l’idée à retenir avant tout ici des théories d’Adam Smith est
sa vision optimiste de l’économie, fondée sur le développement individuel et collectif. En effet, un autre passage, fort célèbre, de l’œuvre
d’Adam Smith concerne la théorie de « la main invisible » : celle-ci
home, this folly could, from the nature of things, extend to so few that it could make
no sensible impression upon the general employment of the people » (Smith 6).
7 De plus, à bien le lire, on constate qu’Adam Smith n’était pas opposé
par principe aux droits de douane, mais qu’il préconisait leur allégement à chaque
fois que cela favorisait les exportations britanniques. Pour l’anecdote, rappelons
qu’il a fini sa carrière en tant qu’officier des douanes en Ecosse, tout comme son
père, après avoir enseigné dans plusieurs universités.
8 « Changes of this kind should never be introduced suddenly, but
slowly, gradually, and after a very long warning » (Smith 49).
La Délocalisation de l’industrie du jute…. / 103
suppose que la croissance économique du pays provienne de la
combinaison des multiples intérêts personnels des agents économiques qui s’efforcent de travailler de mieux en mieux pour percevoir
le fruit de leurs efforts. Mais d’autres économistes, tel que Malthus
auteur du Principe de population9, et Ricardo, qui publia On Wages,
présentèrent, au contraire d’Adam Smith, une vision pessimiste de
l’évolution de la société, fondée sur la théorie de la loi d’airain des
En effet, à la fin du XVIIIème siècle, les Britanniques découvrirent avec une grande appréhension un phénomène nouveau : celui
d’un soudain essor démographique10, dû naturellement à de meilleures conditions de vie. La loi de l’offre et de la demande joua donc
en faveur des employeurs qui n’eurent pas à encourager le travail par
des rémunérations de plus en plus élevées. Ils pouvaient se contenter
de mettre en concurrence les demandeurs d’emploi et de maintenir
les salaires au simple niveau de subsistance, comme les y encourageaient ces deux économistes.
Ricardo s’intéressa également aux commerce international et
radicalisa la théorie des « avantages absolus » de son prédécesseur
en élaborant celle des « avantages comparatifs » qui renforce la
division du travail à l’échelle mondiale et engage les pays à ne fabriquer que les produits où ils sont les plus performants, et même à
abandonner la production d’articles où ils restent les meilleurs, mais
« But we should be led into an error if we were thence to suppose that
population and food ever really increase in the same ration. The one is still a geometrical and the other an arithmetical ration » (Malthus 106). « The period when the
number of men surpass their means of subsistence has long since arrived, […]
unless some decided change take place in the physical constitution of our nature »
10 L’existence d’un grand nombre d’oisifs n’était pas nouvelle et les Poor
Laws avaient tenté de résorber la pauvreté et l’oisiveté d’un nombre toujours croissant de malheureux. Les enclosures avaient également joué un rôle dans le développement de ces masses sans travail, en particulier au XVIème siècle, en rejetant
vers les villes les paysans sans terre. Malthus avait montré que la population croit
exponentiellement et que les rendements agricoles n’augmentent que géométriquement : il avait résumé son propos en disant que les pauvres ne pouvaient être
admis à la table des riches sous prétexte de voir se réduire la part de chacun.
104 / Joëlle Harel
qui génèrent moins de profits que d’autres plus rentables. Cette vision
particulière de la concurrence fut donc mise en application dans le
secteur du jute par le gouvernement de Londres qui considéra que les
immenses recettes fiscales de Calcutta étaient plus importantes pour
la couronne que celles dégagées par Dundee. Ricardo ne se préoccupait guère du chômage ainsi créé dans une économie ou une autre,
car il s’intéressait davantage à la rentabilité des entreprises concernées et à l’application stricte du libre-échange. Il considérait même
qu’augmenter les salaires des pauvres avait un résultat négatif
puisque la population risquait de s’accroître et donc d’augmenter la
concurrence entre les pauvres pour la nourriture et pour le travail. Il
se défendait d’être un homme cruel, mais il acceptait le chômage et
la pauvreté comme étant des moyens de réduction naturels de la
Les théories malthusiennes11 et ricardienne furent très bien accueillies par les classes dirigeantes britanniques, car elles offraient
une justification au déterminisme social et à la séparation des classes
de la société. Si faire la charité ou augmenter les salaires, c’était concourir à moyen terme à la misère12, mieux valait choisir le moindre
des maux et supporter stoïquement l’existence des masses affamées
et laborieuses. En réalité, ainsi que son ouvrage, On Wages, le
« It may appear to be the interest of the rulers, and the rich of a state,
to force population, and thereby lower the price of labour, and consequently the
expense of the fleets and armies, and the cost of manufactures for foreign sale, but
every attempt of the kind should be carefully watched and strenuously resisted by
the friends of the poor, particularly when it comes under the deceitful garb of benevolence, and is likely, on that account , to be cheerfully and cordially received by
the common people » (Malthus 116-17).
12 Selon David Ricardo: « the clear tendency of the Poor Laws is in direct opposition to these principles: it is not, as the legislature benevolently intended,
to amend the condition of the poor, but to deteriorate the condition of both poor and
rich; instead of making the poor rich, they are calculated to make the rich poor; and
whilst the present laws are in force, it is quite in the natural order of things that the
fund for the maintenance of the poor should progressively increase till it has absorbed all the net revenue of the country, or at least so much of it as the state shall
leave to us, after satisfying its own never-falling demands for the public expenditure » (McCulloch 58).
La Délocalisation de l’industrie du jute…. / 105
prouve, Ricardo tenait à maintenir un niveau très faible des salaires
pour ne pas risquer de faire baisser celui des profits 13.
b) Les délocalisations, perversions des théories des
avantages comparatifs
Si Smith et Ricardo étudièrent tous deux les avantages respectifs des économies nationales, ils n’imaginèrent pas le phénomène
des délocalisations qui pervertit grandement le jeu de la concurrence.
En effet, chaque économie devait se battre avec ses propres atouts :
ses matières premières, sa technologie, ses réseaux commerciaux,
sa main d’œuvre et ses salaires, et il n’était pas question de transférer
les points forts d’une économie vers une autre pour donner ainsi tous
les avantages à un seul des deux pays en balance. Ce fut pourtant le
cas avec l’industrie du jute dont le centre se déplaça de Dundee à
Calcutta (Chapman). Ainsi, la capitale du Bengale produisit-elle,
entre 1922 et 1931, 88% du jute mondial (Chakrabarty 8), quelques
décennies à peine après le début de ses activités textiles.
Le système de la main invisible et des avantages absolus de
Smith fut donc mis à mal par la volonté de quelques entrepreneurs
écossais qui décidèrent de transférer leur savoir-faire sous d’autres
cieux. En amenant leur technologie, leur expertise, leurs capitaux et
leurs réseaux commerciaux dans la vallée de l’Hooghly, ils ont artificiellement créé des avantages absolus à Calcutta qui bénéficiait déjà
du quasi-monopole de la production de la matière première indispen13 Ricardo affirme : « a rise of wages, from the circumstances of the labourer being more liberally rewarded, or from a difficulty of procuring the necessaries on which wages are expended, does not, except in some instances, produce
the effect of raising price, but has a great effect in lowering profits. […] The power of
the labourer to support himself, and the family, which may be necessary to keep up
the number of labourers, does not depend on the quantity of money which he may
receive for wages, but on the quantity of food, necessaries, and conveniences
become essential to him from habit, which that money will purchase. […] With a rise
in the price of food and necessaries, the natural price of labour will rise, with the fall
in their price, the natural price of labour will fall. […] Like all other contracts, wages
should be left to the fair and free competition of the market, and should never be
controlled by the interference of the legislature » (McCulloch 31, 50).
106 / Joëlle Harel
sable à l’industrie, celle de la plante de jute, et du niveau de salaire le
plus bas du monde. De plus, l’Ecosse fournit pendant la durée de
l’exploitation britannique des ateliers de Calcutta la totalité du personnel comptable, technique et directorial nécessaire aux entreprises 14.
Plus tard, les ateliers envoyèrent même leurs cadres indiens en formation à Dundee15, continuant d’exploiter les liens que la région mère
avait tissé avec Calcutta, sans se soucier des conséquences commerciales et financières de cette relation unilatérale pour les ateliers
de filature écossais. Au début du XXème siècle, Calcutta avait élargi
sa clientèle jusqu’aux clients traditionnels de Dundee tels que les
Etats-Unis16, l’Australie17, et même l’Amérique Latine. En 1855, Calcutta qui exportait déjà 55 millions de sacs de jute18 s’attaqua aux
grands marchés exportateurs britanniques.
Dès l’origine, en 1855, les investissements écossais n’eurent
pour but que l’exploitation financière immédiate d’entreprises situées
au Bengale ; beaucoup furent donc revendues très vite lorsque les
rendements escomptés ne se concrétisaient pas, laissant la place à
des investisseurs britanniques installés en Inde, puis dans les années
1930 à des Indiens, les Marwaris19. L’esprit qui animait ces entrepreneurs écossais étant le goût du lucre, ils ne se sentirent en aucun
cas investis d’une mission colonisatrice20. On assista, donc, à une
14 « The overseers, managers and mechanics in the Indian jute mills
[were] almost wholly recruited from Dundee » (Handbook, Dundee, 1912: 118).
15 En 1926, 900 techniciens écossais de Dundee s’installèrent à Calcutta, mais dans les années 1930 les Marwaris n’hésitaient pas à envoyer en Ecosse
leurs cadres pour être formés par les Ecossais.
16 L’exportation de toile vers les Etats-Unis représenta 60% de la production de ce type d’article, mais la construction de silos changera le marché (Agricultural Gazette of New South Wales July 1914).
17 En 1913, par exemple, les exportations vers l’Australie représentaient
30% de la production du Bengale.
18 Graham Clark était le consul général américain en Grande-Bretagne
en 1913 (Clark 156-72).
19 Les Marwaris représentaient 67% des investisseurs en 1937 (Baghi
192). Les Marwaris, qui appartenaient à la secte des Jaïn, étaient également de
grands capitalistes.
20 « Jute men were in Calcutta to make money, not to build empires; profits are the only motive force which make the world go round », déclara
La Délocalisation de l’industrie du jute…. / 107
séparation rapide des investissements britanniques des directions des
entreprises, qui restèrent pourtant jusque dans les années 1920 21
principalement entre les mains des Ecossais installés en Inde. En
effet, obéissant à leur logique comptable, les financiers restés en
Grande-Bretagne se désengagèrent du secteur et ne défendirent pas
leurs positions : en 1927, seuls 9 ateliers sur les 84 que dirigeaient
des Européens étaient encore détenus par des investisseurs habitant
l’Ecosse (Stewart 21).
2. Le soutien de la politique impériale à Calcutta contre Dundee
Dès 1885, les protestations des hommes politiques jalonnèrent
les étapes du déclin de la région. En 1890, les exportations de jute
de Calcutta atteignaient déjà 109 millions de sacs, après une quinzaine d’années d’exploitation seulement (Clark 156-72). Le député
Tom Johnston estima qu’entre 1928 et 1936 les exportations de toiles
de jute de Calcutta vers l’Angleterre augmentèrent de 375%
(Johnston, July 1937 : cols. 1069-70). Les députés furent les témoins
impuissants et horrifiés de la destruction de l’activité principale de leur
région, et leur incompréhension fut grande à la lecture des chiffres
annoncés par Calcutta qui ne cessait d’accroître sa production pour
dépasser de 43% la demande mondiale en 1935 (Horsbrugh cols.
2168-69), dans le but de faire baisser les prix et d’anéantir les compagnies rivales !
Les parlementaires écossais se plaignaient22 à juste raison de
l’impossibilité d’entrer en concurrence avec une région qui avait tous
sans ambage J.S. Sime, le président de l’IJMA en 1930 (IJMA, Report of the Committee 1930, Calcutta 1931: 9).
21 Aussi Calcutta atteignit-elle une position monopolistique qui permit
aux Indiens de détenir 95% des métiers à tisser en 1940. (Tulsi Ram Sharma 89).
22 Selon Mr. Dingle Foot, M.P : « India holds all the cards, so that it will
be extremely difficult to get agreement. They have the advantage first in regard to
wages; secondly in regard to their hours of working; thirdly they hold the raw material; there is an export tax imposed in India on the export of raw material to Dundee »,[331, H.C. Deb, 5s, 278]. « Dundee will be faced with the complete extinction
of its industry unless […] something can be done to regulate the expansion, hitherto
108 / Joëlle Harel
les atouts ; mais ce constat se teintait d’une vive amertume car les
députés savaient que cette situation était le fruit d’une trahison économique23 de quelques fils de l’Ecosse qui n’avaient pensé qu’à se
créer des parts de marché, sans se soucier des désastres induits
dans leurs propres pays. Une telle attitude était incompréhensible à
une époque où les esprits progressistes avaient cru à la promesse
d’une prospérité reposant sur un travail acharné, qu’Adam Smith avait
faite dans sa Richesse des Nations.
Pourtant, le gouvernement savait défendre les intérêts britanniques face à la concurrence étrangère. En effet, le jute avait fait partie intégrante du Traité Commercial entre la France et l’Angleterre de
186024, et le gouvernement de l’époque avait obtenu que les toiles de
jute ne soient taxées qu’en tant que matières premières, car elles
servaient à l’emballage de produits agricoles en vrac. Dundee se
réclamant de cette jurisprudence trouvait intolérable l’abandon de
l’industrie écossaise par Londres au profit de la production de jute du
Bengale, qui n’était qu’une parcelle de l’Empire (Cain & Hopkins,
Dundee réclama à plusieurs reprises la mise en place de quotas
et de droits de douane pour protéger les marchés britanniques de la
concurrence « déloyale » de Calcutta. Beaucoup ne comprenaient
unchecked, of Indian competition » (Board of trade, UK-Indian Trade Negotiation,
Comments on Indian Desiderata, 15 July 1937).
23 See William Mclean Watson, the Labour MP for Dunferline Burghs
from 1922 to 1931 and from 1935 to 1950 : « Not only was there British capital but
there were managers from Dundee, technicians, from Dundee, workers from Dundee, teaching the Indians how to operate these jute machines. That was the beginning of the trouble in Dundee […] Other British interests with respect to India were
so important that Watson had no doubt that before sacrificing those interests, the
British government will allow the jute industry to die. […] Watson [wanted] an international conference and the use […] of the League of Nations to address the issues
of long hours and low wages » (Speech by Watson, cols. 258-59, 261-62, 236-34).
24 « It will be for the interests of all the different trades in France and for
the interests of French agriculture, as well as for the interests of this country that
duties on the importation of jute manufactures should be nominal » (Memorial by Mr
William Small, Chairman and Director of Dundee Chamber of Commerce, for Sir
John Ogilvy, Bart, MP for Dundee, Dundee, 16 Jan 1860).
La Délocalisation de l’industrie du jute…. / 109
pas pourquoi le jute de Calcutta n’était pas taxé en Angleterre, alors
que les cotonnades du Lancashire l’étaient en Inde25.
a) L’abandon du jute de Dundee n’a pas sauvé les
cotonnades du Lancashire
Les traités commerciaux furent très défavorables au jute écossais : en 1932, le Pacte d’Ottawa offrait déjà un traitement préférentiel
à Calcutta face à Dundee, mais celui de 1937 entre l’Inde et la
Grande-Bretagne ne mentionna même pas le jute alors qu’il faisait
une large part à la production de cotonnades. Les ateliers de Calcutta
furent donc aidés, dès 1880, par le gouvernement de Londres qui
chercha à consolider les entreprises en Inde et leur passa des commandes considérables dès les années 1880. Le jute et le coton
étaient alors les deux piliers de la prospérité du commerce impérial en
Inde (Roy : 1933).
Le combat que livrèrent, en vain, les députés écossais dura une
quarantaine d’années : ainsi le député conservateur de North Kensington, J.A.L. Duncan26, déplorait que le pays dût souffrir de la concurrence sur les marchés anglais de produits manufacturés fabriqués
dans les colonies. De 1895 à 1937, des députés se battirent avec
détermination, mais ils durent se résoudre à accepter la dure réalité.
Les parlementaires réclamèrent que les intérêts de la métropole
soient préservés ; ils se résignèrent à demander, mais en vain, que
des droits de douane protègent les productions nationales de ces
25 « Those who come into touch with people in the jute trade are continually being asked why it is that if cotton textile goods to India [from Lancashire]
are taxed jute textiles are allowed to come into this country free. […] Jute manufactured goods are taxed in every other country of the world because of this rush of
imports from India, but this country alone has its market flooded with competition
that it is impossible to stand up against » (Horsbrugh cols. 2169-70).
26 « Our old conception of the dominions and colonies was that they
were mainly raw producers, and that we and other continental countries, were the
manufacturing nations. But this is one of the few cases where a dominion product
competes with European products […] it brings the whole question of Asiatic competition with European standards » (Speech by J.A.L. Duncan, cols. 285-7).
110 / Joëlle Harel
invasions de toiles à bon marché, puis que des quotas soient mis en
place. Le gouvernement resta sourd à leurs suppliques.
Les parlementaires tentèrent d’expliquer aux autorités britanniques que l’abandon des ateliers de Dundee par le gouvernement
conduisait à la ruine toute la région : le port de Dundee et les entreprises locales furent profondément déstabilisés par l’anéantissement
de leur principale activité économique : 170.000 personnes étaient
directement concernées par cette politique, aussi les recettes fiscales
locales baissèrent-elles fortement et la classe ouvrière, de productive
qu’elle était, devint une charge pour le budget social du pays.
Pour justifier sa politique, le gouvernement fit courir la rumeur
qu’il fallait sacrifier le jute au commerce du coton, et donc perdre
l’Ecosse pour sauver le Lancashire, face à la concurrence de Bombay. Attiser les antagonismes d’une région à l’autre fit un temps diversion, mais ne résolut pas les difficultés. De plus, comme l’indiqua le
député du Lancashire, Sir Nairne Stewart Sandeman27, la production
de coton du Lancashire ne fut pas sauvée grâce à la politique de
Londres, puisque des quantités toujours plus grandes de cotonnades
indiennes entraient en Grande-Bretagne, tandis que les tissus anglais
étaient, eux, frappés de droits de douane de 25% à leur arrivée en
Les règles du libre-échange étaient non seulement contournées
en faveur de la colonie indienne dans le domaine du coton, mais des
taux prohibitifs frappaient les exportations de fibres de jute de
l’Ecosse pour gagner les faveurs politiques des élites indiennes.
En un curieux retour des choses, les entreprises britanniques au
Bengale, réunies en consortium (l’IJMA), qui firent des profits colossaux au détriment de l’Ecosse, durent, par la suite, subir la même
concurrence déloyale de la part des ateliers Marwaris et connurent
alors de graves difficultés commerciales. En effet, les ateliers indiens
eurent recours à tous les moyens possibles pour élargir leurs parts de
27 « Since 1922 their export of cotton yarn to India has gone down from
35 million pounds to 8 million pounds […] caused by the increase [in duties] which
India put on » (Sir Nairne Stewart Sandeman: Parliamentary Debates, 331 H.C. Deb
5 s, 271).
La Délocalisation de l’industrie du jute…. / 111
marché : baisse des salaires, doublement des heures de travail de 54
heures à 108 heures hebdomadaires, guerre des prix, fort accroissement de la production…
Cette fois encore, le gouvernement impérial de l’Inde28 préféra
se solidariser avec les intérêts indiens, et déclara en 1922 à l’IJMA
que les autorités britanniques n’interviendraient pas pour régler de
simples différends commerciaux. En 1935, l’Angleterre importa
71 millions de mètres carrés de toiles de jute, en 1936, ce furent 140
millions, et en 1937, 177 millions, plaida ainsi la députée Florence
Horsbrugh, en réclamant la taxation des importations venues de Calcutta (Parliamentary Debates, 1937-1938 : 251); or ces quantités
énormes ne représentaient que 8% de la production indienne mais
équivalaient à 34% de la production écossaise. Imposer des droits de
douane sur ces marchandises ne pouvait donc guère porter préjudice
à Calcutta, mais aurait pu sauver Dundee (253).
b) Le jute de Calcutta, source de financement public
Londres tenait à témoigner à l’Inde sa reconnaissance à cause
de son engagement pendant la Première Guerre Mondiale29, et cherchait à éviter de provoquer les indépendantistes en changeant de
politique commerciale. D’un côté, Londres souhaitait prouver aux
Indiens que leur maintien dans le giron britannique leur assurait une
prospérité et des débouchés commerciaux qu’ils n’auraient pas en
dehors de l’empire. D’autre part, Londres avançait l’argument politique de la raison d’Etat pour convaincre les Ecossais de la nécessité
d’accepter la destruction de leurs entreprises textiles : il fallait favori-
« The imperial authorities in Delhi would never intervene simply because of ‘mere losses to manufacturers’ » (Simla India Foreign Office to Darjeeling,
Government of Bengal, in Stewart, 22).
29 « The Indian Office representative exposed his opinion against prohibition of imports on the grounds that India had put all her strength behind Great
Britain and her allies during the war, and that such an act against her biggest industry would be a peculiar way of repaying India for her services » (Report of a Deputation to London, 7 Feb. 1919, AJSM Minutes, 1918-28).
112 / Joëlle Harel
ser les intérêts indiens pour pouvoir contrebalancer l’influence des
nationalistes qui réclamaient l’indépendance30 !
En outre, les excédents commerciaux dégagés par les tisserands en Inde permettaient de régler les coûts de l’Armée des Indes
et de l’administration coloniale, ainsi que tous les coûts afférents à
l’Inde, tels que l’Indian Office à Londres, le remboursement des emprunts publics nécessaires à la création de l’infrastructure économique du sous-continent, les salaires et les retraites des fonctionnaires et des militaires, etc. (Noyce 165). En fait, de 1870 à 1914,
l’Inde finança 40% du déficit de la balance de paiements de la
Grande-Bretagne par rapport à l’Europe et à l’Amérique du Nord,
comme le démontre B. R. Tomlinson (149-56). Le secteur du jute
illustre donc parfaitement la thèse, défendue d’abord par Hobson
(1902), puis reprise par les historiens P. J. Cain et A. G. Hopkins
(1993a ; 1993b), d’un impérialisme de « gentlemen » qui vit en les
banquiers, les financiers, les assureurs, et les armateurs les véritables forces organisatrices du commerce impérial, au détriment du
budget de l’Etat. En effet, les exportations de l’Inde évoluèrent favorablement en ce qui concerne le jute : si en 1878, l’opium représentait
24,4% du total des exportations, (les céréales 18,3%, le coton 14,8%,
les oléagineux 8,7%) et le jute seulement 7%, en 1921 les proportions
étaient inversées puisque le jute se hissa à la première place pour
atteindre 26,5% du total des exportations.
L’acte final de l’abandon de l’industrie de Dundee fut le Traité
d’Ottawa de 193731 où le jute ne fut même pas mentionné. Ce traité
permit une entrée massive des toiles de jute indienne sur le marché
britannique alors complètement ouvert aux importations de ce type
pour stimuler le commerce des dominions. De nouveau les parlemen« In dismissing the Dundee case the British Chamber of Commerce
warned of ‘the danger of intermeddling with the interests of the largest population
subject to the British crown’ […] ‘the policy which inspired the Dundee resolutions
was the same policy that lost England the North American colonies’ » (S.E.J. Clark,
Secretary of the IJMA to C.E. Buckland, Secretary to the Government of Bengal,
General Department, Miscellaneous Branch, Calcutta, 28 June 1895, 60-61).
31 Le traité indo-britannique du 22 mars 1939 ne mentionna pas non plus
le jute, devenu pourtant la première exportation de l’Inde.
La Délocalisation de l’industrie du jute…. / 113
taires écossais demandèrent l’instauration de quotas32, mais en vain.
En 1933, si le jute était devenu une source indispensable de revenus
extérieurs pour Londres, 70% des ateliers étaient désormais indiens
(Roy 2).
En outre, le gouvernement de l’Inde prétendit fonder sa diplomatie sur une politique libérale qui encourageait la disparition des entreprises les plus faibles33. Si la deuxième guerre mondiale accorda un
répit aux entreprises écossaises et indiennes, en provoquant de
larges commandes pour des toiles de sacs de sable, la cause était
entendue. L’opération commerciale de la délocalisation de l’industrie
du jute fut donc un succès indien éclatant ; mais quelles en furent les
conséquences pour les travailleurs de Dundee et de Calcutta ?
3. La concurrence des salaires les plus bas
L’IJMA souligna qu’en 1895, les prix des marchandises à Calcutta avait baissé en raison de la dévaluation de la roupie d’argent face à
la livre sterling. La loi de Gresham34, ou plutôt celle d’Aristophane, se
vérifiait : une mauvaise monnaie chasse toujours la bonne, mais les
industriels prétendirent y voir le succès de leur monnaie et refusèrent
de voir que la monnaie stable avait perdu de sa valeur. De même, le
faible niveau des salaires indiens fit-il chuter celui déjà très bas des
rémunérations écossaises. Et les Britanniques de la fin du XIXème
« Jute manufactured goods are taxed in every other country of the
world because of this rush of imports from India, but this country aloe has its markets flooded with competition that it is impossible to stand up against » (Parliamentary Debates, 15 July 1936: cols. 2169-70).
33 « The industry should stabilize itself by cut-throat competition which
will eliminate the weaker mills, keep the industry more efficient, keep the price at a
fair level and reduce costs of production » (Suhrawardy to J.D. Tyson, Secretary to
the Government of Bengal, Darjeeling, 16 Oct 1938, enclosed in Reid to Brahourrne, 17 Oct. 1938, in Reid-Brahourne Correspondence, MSS-EUR.F 125/38, IOC).
34 « Where legal tender laws exist, bad money drives out good money »
(Gresham’s Law) : cette loi monétaire trouva sa première expression dans une
pièce d’Aristophane : « Les grenouilles » écrite en 405 av J.C. qui compare la mauvaise monnaie de cuivre qui chasse l’or, comme les hommes mauvais chassent les
hommes de bien.
114 / Joëlle Harel
siècle découvrirent un processus que les habitants des siècles suivants continuent d’observer : celui de la spirale négative des rémunérations en raison de la concurrence des pays à bas salaires. La loi
ricardienne de la concurrence entre les plus pauvres s’étendait désormais à l’ensemble de la planète ; or, les économistes de l’Ecole de
Manchester avaient reconnu l’existence des pays pauvres, et s’étaient
pourtant gardés d’encourager l’exportation des emplois vers les contrées lointaines. Ils étaient conscients du coût économique et politique
qu’aurait représenté une multitude d’hommes désœuvrés et affamés.
Dans les années 1890, les salaires représentaient 65% des coûts de
production en Ecosse ; or, les ateliers de Dundee qui commençaient à
ressentir, sur les marchés internationaux, le poids de leurs concurrents installés à Calcutta, décidèrent de réduire davantage les dépenses dues à la masse salariale pour baisser leurs prix.
a) La loi de Gresham s’applique aux salaires écossais
Les salaires ne cessaient de baisser, sous prétexte de lutter
contre la production indienne, alors que les profits se faisaient surtout
sur les marchés à termes, ce qui permettait aux spéculateurs
d’engager des fonds sur les récoltes encore sur pied et d’engranger
ainsi de vastes bénéfices (Das Gupta 264). Une autre source de profits provenait de la baisse continue des salaires, conséquence de la
guerre des prix à laquelle se livraient les industriels ; pourtant, les
retours sur investissements en Ecosse, dans les années 1880, atteignaient 30 à 40%, ce qui était déjà considérable ; mais à Calcutta, ils
s’élevaient à 58% en 1915, 75% en 1916 et 78% en 1918 ! « Vendre
le moins cher possible », telle était la politique de chacun des ateliers.
En Ecosse, la main d’œuvre bon marché était constituée essentiellement de femmes et d’enfants irlandais (Gauldie 122). La situation
de l’emploi empira tellement qu’en 1905, les autorités religieuses
s’émurent du niveau de dégradation de la santé des employées :
certaines, en effet, ne pouvaient plus avoir d’enfant car elles souffraient de dénutrition. La main-d’œuvre était composée à 51% de
femmes de plus de 20 ans, 22% étaient des jeunes filles de moins de
20 ans et 11% étaient des garçons de moins de 20 ans, les hommes
La Délocalisation de l’industrie du jute…. / 115
ne représentant que 16%. Ainsi, Dundee devint-elle une ville habitée
surtout par des femmes, car les hommes ne pouvaient y trouver du
travail et allaient s’embaucher ailleurs. De plus, les Irlandaises étaient
très peu qualifiées ; illettrées et honnêtes, elles dépensaient toute
leur énergie à survivre dignement avec leurs enfants. Elles ne pensaient guère à s’unir pour obtenir quelque amélioration de leurs effroyables conditions de travail, ce qui était tout à l’avantage des entreprises qui les exploitaient.
Le travail féminin et des enfants était considéré par tous comme
la norme, au point que le Révérend Henry Williamson, Président du
Operative Union dans les années 1890 expliqua que le travail des
enfants était une bonne chose car ainsi ils n’étaient pas désœuvrés ;
il approuvait ainsi les lois sur l’éducation de 1883 et de 1901 qui
« autorisaient » un enfant à travailler à mi-temps. Il fonda même la
Parent’s League en 1904 pour s’opposer aux restrictions portant sur
le travail des enfants prévues par le gouvernement anglais (Stewart
70). Mais si les travailleurs écossais survivaient misérablement, il en
était de même pour ceux du Bengale.
b) La triste condition de la main d’œuvre indienne
La population ouvrière évolua pourtant. En 1895, les ateliers attiraient les Bengalis, mais ils abandonnèrent rapidement le travail pénible pour devenir des intermédiaires et laissèrent la place à plus
pauvre qu’eux : les montagnards du nord35, ceux des régions de Bihar
et d’Utar Pradesh, qui quittaient leurs villages pendant une saison,
pour retourner à leurs champs au moment de leur récolte (Das Gupta
Les Anglais avaient certes apporté quelques améliorations aux
lamentables conditions de vie de ces ouvriers qui se pressaient si
nombreux dans leurs ateliers : ils avaient creusé des égouts et des
routes, distribuaient les salaires ponctuellement et prêtaient de
l’argent à des taux raisonnables. En outre, les renvois sans cause
barty 102).
En 1905, les deux tiers étaient des paysans venus du nord (Chakra-
116 / Joëlle Harel
valable étaient interdits par le gouvernement (de Haan 25). Cette
dernière clause était largement détournée à cause du pouvoir
qu’exerçaient les sardars36 sur le recrutement37 des ouvriers. D’après
une étude faite en 1929, dans les ateliers britanniques, la main
d’œuvre était mélangée : on y comptait 69% d’Hindous (Das Gupta
315), les Madrasis filaient les fibres, les Oryas étaient porteurs tandis
que des hommes venus d’Oryssa s’occupaient de faire des balles de
toiles de jute ; les 29% de Musulmans s’occupaient du tissage
(W.B.S.A. Com. Dept. Com. Brit., April 1930, 19-20). Cette division
ethnique et religieuse s’expliquait par la diversité des langues employées et par le rôle des contremaîtres recruteurs qui classaient ainsi
les nouveaux arrivants.
Dans le cadre de l’Indian Factory Act en 1890, les ouvriers travaillaient en équipes reparties selon 22 horaires différents, ce qui
permettait aux sardars38 de contrôler totalement la main d’œuvre, loin
des regards des Britanniques, et de réclamer des pots de vin supplémentaires à ceux qui désiraient travailler dans plusieurs équipes et
accroître ainsi leurs maigres gains (Despande 28). L’introduction de
l’électricité39, en 1901, permit de faire tourner les ateliers de 5 heures
du matin à 8 heures du soir : les tisserands bénéficiaient d’une pause
d’une demi-heure pour manger.
Les ouvriers étaient très mal payés : un tiers de moins que les
travailleurs de coton, par point de comparaison. Le salaire moyen
Les sardars étaient d’anciens ouvriers qui avaient su s’élever dans la
hiérarchie et qui servaient d’intermédiaires et d’interprètes aux cadres écossais. Ils
étaient donc indispensables au fonctionnement des ateliers.
37 Les ouvriers s’adonnaient à un maître encore plus exigeant : l’opium.
Les marchands d’opium sillonnaient donc les ruelles à la recherche de proies consentantes (de Haan 25).
38 Ces ouvriers, qui arrivaient complètement démunis de leurs villages
pour gagner quelques sous, devaient s’endetter auprès d’usuriers locaux afin de
verser leur dîme à leur futur chef d’équipe. Le taux d’intérêt était fixé entre 72% et
150%, et dans certains cas atteignait 325% ! Les ouvriers indiens vivaient dans
l’angoisse perpétuelle des remboursements à assurer régulièrement. En 1940, une
loi sur les prêteurs, le Moneylender’s Act, limita officiellement le taux d’intérêt à
10%, mais elle ne fut pas suivie d’effets. (RCLI, 1931, vol. 5, pt.1, 49).
39 En Ecosse, l’éclairage au gaz rendit les mêmes services.
La Délocalisation de l’industrie du jute…. / 117
mensuel entre 1900 et 1939 était de 15,61 roupies, alors que dans le
secteur du coton, il s’élevait à 23,71 roupies à Bombay (Morris) et à
23,21 roupies à Ahmedabad (Baghi 126). Ces chiffres convertis en
livres sterling montraient que les ouvriers touchaient un salaire annuel
moyen de 150 livres et permettaient à leurs employeurs de réaliser un
profit de 100 livres annuelles.
Dans la même période, on comptait environ 340 000 ouvriers
dans les ateliers. Les profits étaient donc considérables, tandis que la
faiblesse des salaires contraignait les ouvriers à vivre dans des taudis
insalubres et exigus. Dans les premières décennies, les ouvriers ne
bénéficiaient pas d’allocations retraite ni d’aucun accès à l’éducation ;
ils étaient formés sur le tas. Progressivement, sous la poussée de
groupes de pression anglais, des immeubles d’habitation remplacèrent les cabanes sordides, des jardins furent dessinés pour accroître la ventilation entre les maisons, des écoles furent ouvertes
pour les enfants et un accès aux soins fut mis en place à partir des
années 1920.
Le Rapport Balfour, en 1931, recensait dans ce secteur un total
de 40 556 femmes40 : la moitié de ces femmes étaient hindoues des
provinces du nord, issues des basses castes et souvent « intouchables », d’autres venaient de Madras, 18% étaient musulmanes et
4% bengalies ; elles travaillaient en général dans les services de couture et d’affinement des fibres. La mortalité des femmes était le
double de celle des hommes à cause des problèmes liés à la grossesse, car aucune aide pour cause de maternité ne fut distribuée
avant 1939, à l’exception de quelques tentatives, notamment en 1927,
à Titigahur. Plus tard en 1939, le Maternity Benefit Act de 1939 alloua
des aides à 23 800 femmes sur les 50 000 femmes41 qui travaillaient
dans ce secteur.
Report Working Indian Factory Act, 1931; cette loi eut un effet négatif
car les employeurs renvoyèrent très rapidement les femmes.
41 Les ouvrières étaient rarement mariées, car les traditions leur interdisaient de se rendre là où travaillaient des hommes ; pourtant, la grande majorité
d’entre elles, considérées comme des femmes perdues, vivaient avec des hommes
qui les abandonnaient à la fin de leurs contrats pour retourner vers leur villages la
saison venue. D’autres Indiennes subsistaient en mêlant prostitution et travail sala40
118 / Joëlle Harel
Les enfants, souvent venus d’Andra Pradesh, travaillaient dans
les services de filature ; leurs journées de travail étaient de 9 heures !
En 1912, on comptait officiellement 23 000 enfants de moins de 12
ans, ce qui représentait 11,5% de l’ensemble, mais la loi de 1922
interdit le travail à temps plein aux enfants de moins de 12 ans ; celle
de 1934 réduisit la journée de travail des enfants de moins de 15 ans
à 6 heures, ce qui fit passer le nombre d’enfants engagés dans les
ateliers à 34.
4. Grandeur et décadence de l’industrie écossaise du jute au Bengale
Les employeurs, qui n’eurent jamais à affronter une pénurie de
main-d’œuvre, ne voyaient pas pourquoi ils auraient dû offrir une politique sociale à leurs ouvriers. De leur côté, les ouvriers ne revendiquaient pas pour obtenir de meilleures conditions de vie, ils ne créèrent pas non plus de mutuelles en cas d’accidents, comme cela existait en Ecosse. Face aux Ecossais et à l’IJMA, les Marwaris se lancèrent dans la bataille en ayant recours à des méthodes de surexploitation (Chakrabarby 119 et sq.) afin de vendre moins cher que les maisons dirigées par les Européens. Des mesures pour peser sur l’offre
poussèrent les entreprises à geler des métiers à tisser en grand
nombre, entre avril 1920 et décembre 1921, provoquant du coup un
fort chômage conjoncturel.
Mais en 1923, l’IJMA passa à la journée de huit heures 42 pour
réduire la quantité fort excédentaire de toiles et maintenir les prix. Ce
passage à un horaire unique bouleversa les habitudes, contraignit
quelques 2 000 ouvriers au départ et priva de ressources considérables les sardars qui, d’ailleurs, tentèrent de s’opposer à cette réforme en fomentant des grèves.
La crise des années 30 fit, elle aussi, baisser fortement l’activité
des ateliers qui licencièrent brutalement 60 000 ouvriers. Le plus sourié. Comme toujours, les femmes gagnaient moins que les hommes, mais davantage que les enfants ; de plus, leur présence permettait aux hommes de trouver un
certain exutoire à leurs frustrations et contribuait ainsi involontairement à la paix
sociale (LCI, Annual Report Factories Act, 1940).
42 The Reliance Jute Mill.
La Délocalisation de l’industrie du jute…. / 119
vent, les grèves43 éclataient en raison de revendications salariales,
comme ce fut le cas dans les années 193044, mais certaines étaient
surtout des manifestations de révolte contre les abus de pouvoirs
commis par les sardars. D’autres encore étaient organisées par les
chefs des entreprises indiennes appartenant au groupe des Marwaris
pour créer des difficultés chez leurs concurrents britanniques
(W.B.S.A., Home Poll. Confdl. n° 150/1931), alors qu’ils payaient
encore moins leurs propres ouvriers afin d’accroître leurs parts de
marchés. Certaines émeutes étaient le fait de conflits ethniques ou
religieux45, principalement entre musulmans et hindous. Le gouvernement de Calcutta remarqua, à partir de 1934, que des communistes
essayaient d’organiser les mouvements syndicaux : le résultat fut la
grande grève de 193746 qui rassembla 77% de la main d’œuvre (Das
Gupta 45), mais très vite les ouvriers abandonnèrent ces mouvements qui ne correspondaient pas à leurs traditions. En fait, sitôt
l’argent du syndicat dépensé, ils retournèrent à leurs ateliers.
a) L’IJMA face aux Marwaris
Les Marwaris, hommes d’affaires et orfèvres, qui n’étaient pas
originaires du Bengale mais du Rajasthan, faisaient travailler les pay43 « Between 1921 and 30 June 1929, there were 201 recorded strikes
in the jute industry » (Chakrabarty 118).
44 D’après Sir Edward Benthall : « the best paid labour struck as easily
as the well well paid » (C.S.A.S., BP. Box 7, diary for 1929-1933, 10 Sept 1929). Sir
Edward Benthall était associé de la Bird and Co. qui contrôlait 11 ateliers, il était
également banquier et avait servi dans le conseil d’administration de la Imperial
Bank of India dans les années 1920 et dans celui de la Reserve Bank of India dans
les années 1930 (Stewart 7).
45 Zaman, chef des musulmans, refusait que les dallas mettent le pied à
Champdany et encourageait ses partisans dans ce sens (W.B.S.A., Home Poll.
Confdl n°136/1937).
46 1937 fut l’année d’une guerre commerciale accrue entre les ateliers
de l’IJMA et les entreprises des Marwaris ; les Britanniques décidèrent de produire
de grandes quantités de toiles de jute pour inonder le marché et faire chuter les
prix ; les Marwaris augmentèrent, eux aussi, leur production, les salaires chutèrent
partout à cause de la baisse des bénéfices qu’entraînait la surproduction et des
grèves massives furent déclenchées en raison de revendications salariales.
120 / Joëlle Harel
sans au moins aussi durement que les Anglais. Les tenanciers devaient en plus leur payer des pots de vin pour écouler leurs récoltes,
ou s’endetter pour payer les semences47… Ainsi, la récolte était très
souvent hypothéquée sur pied, mettant le paysan à la merci de mauvaises conditions climatiques ou commerciales.
Cette situation financière désastreuse se constatait aussi parmi
les ouvriers qui, eux aussi, étaient pris dans l’engrenage des pots de
vin et des dettes ; pourtant, il se trouvait toujours de plus pauvres
qu’eux qui accouraient vers les ateliers pour tenter d’y trouver un
emploi. L’IJMA pouvait donc arguer que les conditions faites aux Indiens dans les ateliers étaient bien meilleures qu’ailleurs, et représentaient un sort enviable aux yeux des déshérités.
Au début, les entreprises ne furent pas établies sur un mode
ethnique (Goswani 179) puisque les Indiens commencèrent à travailler pour les Britanniques et, peu à peu, prirent le contrôle de la plupart de leurs compagnies. Si les Britanniques avaient apporté leurs
savoir-faire et leurs connections financières et commerciales, les Indiens avaient fourni leurs propres réseaux financiers et bancaires
(Cambridge Economic History of India) et leurs connaissances de
l’agriculture familiale du jute. En fait, ces deux groupes d’industriels
n’étaient pas clairement définis et des alliances ponctuelles d’intérêt
réunissaient maintes entreprises sans tenir compte des clivages ethniques et culturels ; néanmoins l’observateur constatait peu à peu
l’éviction des Ecossais au bénéfice des Indiens qui pratiquèrent une
surproduction en plein désaccord avec la politique de l’IJMA qui, elle,
cherchait à maintenir les cours en réduisant le temps de travail dans
les ateliers du consortium. Si en 1914, 97% des postes d’administrateurs étaient occupés par des Britanniques, en 1930, dans 59%
des conseils d’administration des entreprises de l’IJMA siégeait au
moins un Marwari (Goswani 179).
Imitant les directives initiales des entreprises dirigées par les Britanniques, qui avaient augmenté démesurément les capacités de
En outre ils empruntaient pour les cérémonies de mariage (Goswani).
La Délocalisation de l’industrie du jute…. / 121
production d’ateliers48 pour lutter contre Dundee, les Marwaris ne
cessèrent d’augmenter le nombre des métiers à tisser, y compris lors
des retournements de conjoncture, afin de concurrencer leurs rivaux.
Puisque les ateliers de l’IJMA tournaient 40 heures par semaine et
n’avaient qu’une seule équipe, les Marwaris faisaient travailler leurs
ateliers pendant 81 heures par semaine, tandis que les ouvriers pouvaient participer à plusieurs équipes sous le contrôle de leurs contremaîtres indiens. Une surproduction chronique s’ensuivit qui affecta
toutes les entreprises, et bien sûr le niveau des rémunérations des
Le 10 novembre 1884, un consortium, The Indian Jute Manufacturers Association, fut créé afin de peser sur les cours du marché en
modulant la production. Les remarquables succès financiers des fabricants durèrent plusieurs décennies et les confortèrent dans la justesse de leurs points de vue. Ils étaient devenus immensément
riches, tout comme leurs actionnaires, en obéissant à une seule devise : « Toujours moins cher ». Fiers de leur réussite commerciale,
ces industriels écossais, limitèrent donc leurs actions à des politiques
de prix de vente, à des directives de durée de temps de travail, et à
des réductions salariales, dans le but de maximiser les bénéfices50.
De 1884 à 1947, apparurent 42 accords différents sur la durée du
temps de travail, témoignant de l’ajustement incessant au marché de
l’IJMA qui ne faisait jouer que ce paramètre51. Ces réductions
De 1879 à 1917 la capacité de tissage avait augmenté de 500% alors
que le volume des exportations n’avait fait que doubler. « In 1917, Sir Alexander
Murray, chairman of the IJMA said: ‘the latest returns show that 39,000 looms and
812,421 spindles at work in India giving employment to 254,000 hands.’ Besides the
export of gunny bags had increased over 500% and that of gunny cloth by an unbelievable 22,000% » (Chakrabarty 34).
49 « The reaction of IJMA, in 1929, to the news of competition was to
adopt the policy of increasing production in order to ‘kill’ the rivals through a glut in
the market » (Chakrabarty 45).
50 « Jute [was] only grown and harvested in Bengal and 60% of it [was]
manufactured (in 1930) within a radius of 30 miles » (IJMA, Report 1930, Calcutta:
1931, 5).
51 Government of India, 1955, Jute Inquiry Commisssion, 1954, Delhi,
122 / Joëlle Harel
d’horaires conduisaient à des réductions salariales, car les ouvriers
n’étaient payés que pour les heures travaillées.
Pourtant, l’IJMA ne sut pas faire face aux évolutions du marché
à partir des années 1920. Après les déconvenues de la crise de 1929,
une seconde embellie commerciale renforça l’attrait du jute auprès
des investisseurs dès 1935. Cette année-là, la production du jute
augmenta de 60% par rapport aux années d’avant-guerre, et le
nombre des ateliers de tissage augmenta de 90% 52.
Les Marwaris fondèrent leur propre association, en 1926, The
Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, puis
l’année suivante The East India Jute Association pour contrebalancer
le pouvoir (Kay 306-09), pourtant déclinant, de l’IJMA. La concurrence
des ateliers marwaris qui ne respectaient pas les règles de l’IJMA et
qui produisaient à des coûts toujours plus bas, en exploitant toujours
plus les ouvriers indiens, affaiblit considérablement les fabricants
britanniques durant ces crises, mais tous souffrirent d’excédents considérables.
b) Les difficultés industrielles de l’IJMA
Le jute souffrit à plusieurs reprises de la baisse de la demande,
en particulier lors des crises financières des années 1920 et des années 1930 ; mais l’apparition de produits de substitution et l’usage de
nouvelles méthodes de transport réduiront beaucoup la demande
(Brooks). La recherche allemande, dès 1917, se lança sur la piste des
fibres synthétiques ; l’Allemagne fut imitée par les autres grands pays
industrialisés : très vite, des sacs seront fabriqués à partir du coton,
pour transporter le coton ou d’autres produits agricoles, ou seront en
papier pour le ciment… En outre, de nouvelles méthodes de transports en vrac permettront aux céréaliers de ne plus recourir aux sacs.
Dans ce contexte, l’IJMA ne sut s’adapter à la nouvelle donne se
contentant de baisser encore davantage les prix, donc les salaires
des ouvriers et des cultivateurs, sans chercher à diversifier son offre.
52 CSAS, B.P. Box X « Memorandum Relating to the Question of Controlling the Output of Manufactured Jute in Bengal », 1935 (Chakrabarty 63).
La Délocalisation de l’industrie du jute…. / 123
En effet, l’industrie du jute ne produisait que quatre sortes de tissus, plus ou moins grossiers et donc fortement résistants, aptes aux
transports de denrées. Elle aurait pu innover et trouver des réponses
techniques et scientifiques à des problèmes qu’une nouvelle politique
des prix ne pouvait résoudre53.
Plus extraordinaires encore que cette incompréhension de la
réalité industrielle sont les graves manquements de la politique commerciale de l’IJMA, car jusqu’en 1934, elle n’avait organisé aucun
suivi de sa clientèle. La demande était si forte que les fabricants ne
faisaient aucun effort de démarchage auprès des clients potentiels
(Brooks 539). Ils ne se souciaient guère d’adapter leur production à la
demande, se contentant de mettre sur le marché de grosses quantités
de produits d’emballage bas de gamme et à bas prix.
L’évolution spectaculaire du marché qui se tourna vers des solutions de rechange après la deuxième guerre mondiale et l’indépendance de l’Inde, survenue en 1947, porteront un coup fatal au
consortium écossais.
De leur côté, les Marwaris se contentèrent d’imiter les Britanniques et malgré les retournements de tendance, de produire toujours
plus de toiles. Les entreprises marwaries ne suivirent donc pas les
restrictions de volume préconisées par l’IJMA, et les ouvriers devaient
assurer plusieurs rotations horaires afin de gagner quelques sous
supplémentaires. Naturellement, un tel aveuglement augmenta la
surproduction des ateliers des Marwaris et ne parvint qu’à faire chuter
davantage le cours du jute et donc les salaires de leurs ouvriers, selon une règle bien connue. En dépit de leurs premiers succès commerciaux, les Marwaris s’engageaient eux aussi dans une inexorable
spirale négative et démontrèrent qu’ils n’avaient pas mieux compris
les évolutions à moyen-terme du marché.
53 « The jute mills of Bengal were not built to satisfy any economic conditions, they were built to pay dividends to their owners […] and no bogey of foreign
competition will make us renounce our faith » (Report 1930, 98).
124 / Joëlle Harel
La politique de soutien au développement local de l’Inde nécessaire pour apaiser les Indiens nationalistes valait la peine, en jugea à
tort le gouvernement anglais, de sacrifier les intérêts de sujets britanniques qui, eux, ne présentaient aucun danger politique de sécession.
Le gouvernement pensait aussi tirer un avantage financier immédiat
grâce aux taxes payées par les compagnies de transport maritime 54
qui acheminaient les toiles de jute, mais, il avait négligé le fait que les
empires ne sont pas éternels, malgré les relectures contemporaines
des causes du déclin de l’empire romain. La délocalisation de
l’industrie du jute ne servit donc pas les intérêts diplomatiques britanniques, puisqu’elle n’empêcha pas l’indépendance de l’Inde. Elle ne
créa pas les retombées commerciales à long terme attendues en
Grande-Bretagne, une fois l’obligation du commerce triangulaire maritime supprimée, et elle fut à la base d’un chômage structurel que rien
ne put endiguer.
De plus, l’indépendance de l’Inde et la création du Pakistan, en
1947, provoquèrent une rupture fondamentale dans le marché du jute
car les plaines de production de la plante furent attribuées au Pakistan, tandis que la région de Calcutta avec ses ateliers de tissage restèrent en Inde ; ceci amena une crise sans précédent dans ce secteur
en Inde, tandis que les produits d’emballage de substitution comme le
coton, le papier et, plus tard, le plastic et les nouvelles méthodes de
transport portèrent un coup fatal à une industrie autrefois florissante.
Joëlle Harel 55
54 Le gouvernement voulait aussi défendre sa politique en faveur de la
clause des pays les plus favorisés (The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of
Trade, Captain Evan Wallace. 331, H.C. Deb 5s, 299).
55 Joëlle Harel, Université Paris XII-Val de Marne, France.
La Délocalisation de l’industrie du jute…. / 125
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Knight’s Gambit (1949) de William Faulkner:
dilemmes diégétique et auctorial
William Faulkner a su diversement renouveler le genre romanesque, et rares sont ses fictions longues qui ne témoignent pas de
son exceptionnelle créativité dans cette « pure aventure d’écrire, hors
de tout soucis d’œuvre » (Bleikasten 1982 : 54). De The Sound and
the Fury (1929) à Requiem for a Nun (1951) en passant par Absalom,
Absalom ! (1936), l’auteur réinvente le roman en usant de procédés
souvent inédits, voire non-conformistes : s’il devient Faulkner, romancier déviant et inspiré, après avoir raconté l’histoire écartelée des
Compsons, ce « livre unique, infini, qui ne cesse pas de s’écrire »
(Pitavy 168), il persiste à s’écarter des règles classiques de composition, morcelant le récit de As I Lay Dying (1930), mêlant les genres
dans Requiem, ou imposant une déroutante structure « en canon »1 à
The Wild Palms (1939). Ainsi, il faut reconnaître que tout en tissant
des « liens organiques […] d’un roman à l’autre » (Rouberol 29),
Faulkner n’a jamais cédé à la facilité de suivre une tradition, celle de
ses prédécesseurs ou celle qui marquerait la composition de ses
livres d’une griffe commune. De sa vision de lui-même en poète raté à
ce qu’il prétend être « son plus bel échec » (The Sound and the Fury),
on sent que l’impuissance toute relative qu’il revendique pour son
écriture est en fait fondatrice et qu’elle stimule sa créativité :
Faulkner’s career, not unlike Picasso’s in painting, was — at least from
The Sound and the Fury to Go Down, Moses — an unpredictable series of fresh starts, an amazing succession of new challenges, new
risks, and new ventures. [… He was] a prodigiously inventive novelist,
a writer of many births and rebirths. (Bleikasten 2000 : 10)
Canon cancrizans, pour être précis (Geoffroy, 1988 : 121).
Knight’s Gambit de William Faulkner…. / 129
Parmi les structurations expérimentales de ses romans, il en est
une, sans doute la moins révolutionnaire, qui donnera pourtant naissance à l’un de ses écrits les plus poignants : publié en 1942, Go
Down, Moses raconte l’histoire des McCaslin à partir de nouvelles
publiées antérieurement mais réécrites, notamment pour assurer
l’unité diégétique de l’œuvre. Faulkner avait déjà procédé ainsi pour la
composition de The Unvanquished (1938), autre roman à épisodes,
sur fond de guerre civile. Cette répétition, insolite chez un auteur insatisfait et soucieux d’innover, invite à reconsidérer un ouvrage plus
tardif qui réunit lui aussi des nouvelles écrites et pour la plupart publiées antérieurement, sans toutefois offrir la même impression
d’harmonie et d’équilibre que les deux autres : dévoilé en novembre
1949, Knight’s Gambit propose six histoires policières d’ampleur et de
qualité inégales : « Smoke », « Monk », « Hand Upon the Waters »,
« Tomorrow », « An Error in Chemistry », et « Knight’s Gambit » dont
la longueur équivaut à celle des cinq autres récits réunis, tous mettant
en scène l’avocat Gavin Stevens dans sa quête opiniâtre de vérité et
de justice. Bien qu’il ait toujours été lu comme un recueil de nouvelles,
on peut se demander à quel genre appartient un ouvrage plutôt ambigu, tant dans sa composition que dans la manière dont les différents
thèmes majeurs y sont agencés. Cet article se propose d’interroger la
genèse, la forme et les thématiques de Knight’s Gambit afin de tenter
d’en déterminer l’appartenance générique, question souvent éclipsée
par la critique qui rechigne à examiner l’ensemble du livre, préférant
se concentrer sur l’une de ses parties, notamment la dernière, la plus
substantielle, qu’elle lit comme une novella à part entière2, ce qui
règle d’office la question du genre3.
Rappelons d’emblée que l’ouvrage a souvent suscité les appréciations les plus tièdes : Joseph Blotner n’y voit qu’un « exercice mineur » (1286) ; plus tard, James Ferguson n’est guère plus laudatif :
Le terme est avancé par l’auteur en personne (lettres à Saxe Commins, 19 janv. 1949 et mi-juin 1949, Selected Letters, 283 ; 291) et par son éditeur
(Lettre à Harold Ober, 19 fév. 1949, Selected Letters, 285).
3 Cet article reprend une partie de l’argumentation proposée dans la notice accompagnant la traduction française de l’œuvre dans la collection « La
Pléiade » (Geoffroy 2007 : 1215-32).
130 / Alain Geoffroy
« Knight’s Gambit […] probably has less merit than any other volume
of fiction Faulkner ever published […] The best of the stories, ‘Tomorrow’, is a rather moving piece, but the other works have little to recommend them » (45). Michael Millgate, pour sa part, regrette
l’hétérogénéité de l’écriture d’une nouvelle à l’autre : « ‘Smoke’ […],
the weakest of the six, […] so undistinguished a work […] by no
means typical of the stories which follow, […] strikes a false note »
(265). Les récits qui suivent sont à peine plus appréciés :
« ‘Monk’ [and] ‘Tomorrow,’ [which] are not good stories, are sometimes moving ones » (266). Millgate suggère néanmoins que le volume n’est pas aussi hétéroclite qu’il y paraît : « It has perhaps been
too readily dismissed as simply a miscellaneous collection of not especially distinguished detective stories [and] the volume has a certain
thematic unity » (265). Néanmoins, nous suggérerons qu’au-delà des
défauts et des qualités intrinsèques de l’ouvrage, la perplexité des
critiques est peut-être due aux conditions singulières de sa production
et à leur retentissement sur l’écriture de cette œuvre.
L’ouvrage paraît au terme d’une période peu féconde pour
l’écrivain qui n’a rien publié pendant six ans à l’exception de son anthologie, The Portable Faulkner (1946), à laquelle il a travaillé avec
Malcom Cowley entre ses séjours « alimentaires » à Hollywood. Tenaillé par ses éternels soucis pécuniaires, il s’efforce de poursuivre
l’écriture de ce qui deviendra A Fable (1954) dont il soumet dès 1947
un extrait (Notes on a Horsethief) à la Partisan Review qui en refuse
la publication. Affecté par cet échec, il se consacre alors à la rédaction d’un court roman policier qu’il achève en quelques mois : Intruder
in the Dust (1948) raconte l’histoire d’un homme de couleur, Lucas
Beauchamp, injustement condamné à mort pour le meurtre d’un Blanc
et sauvé in extremis par Gavin Stevens et son neveu Charles Mallison, protagonistes qui, réapparaîtrons ensemble dans Knight’s Gambit. Les choses s’arrangent alors pour Faulkner : l’ouvrage est un
succès commercial et son auteur est élu, le 23 novembre 1948, à
l’Académie Américaine des Arts et des Lettres. Depuis quelque
temps, il envisage de regrouper ses nouvelles dans un volume organisé par cycles (Collected Stories : 1950). Cette perspective, ajoutée
au succès de Intruder in the Dust, stimule son désir de publier une
Knight’s Gambit de William Faulkner…. / 131
série de récits d’enquêtes menées par Gavin Stevens à partir de nouvelles déjà parues auxquelles s’ajouterait un texte inédit, « Knight’s
Gambit », dont la première version, une courte nouvelle, remonte à
1942. A l’automne 1948, il annonce déjà à son éditeur : « If you want
to include the Gavin Stevens pieces, they could be in a section to
themselves and if I add to them, they could still be included again in
another volume » (Lettre à Robert Haas, sept./oct. 1948 Selected
Letters 275). En mars 1949, il se faisait déjà une idée très précise de
la composition du futur volume quand il écrivit à Saxe Commins, son
agent littéraire chez Random House :
I am at work on the long Stevens story. The volume will be: MONK,
TOMORROW, and the new unpublished one, KNIGHT’S GAMBIT —
that’s correct, isn’t it?
I don’t remember MONK too well, though I think it is told from the outside, isn’t it? In the 3rd person. Or does the nephew-protagonist tell it?
In either case, I say, lead off-with SMOKE, which is 3rd person, the boy
not in it at all; also SMOKE is the first one I wrote. Then MONK, then
HAND UPON THE WATERS, which is in its chronological order, also
contains a murder, then TOMORROW, still in chronology but only incidentally concerned with a death, then ERROR IN CHEMISTRY, which
is a murder, then KNIGHT’S GAMBIT, the long one, not published yet,
in chronology, a long, the longest, piece, also marking the end of a
phase of Steven’s life, since he gets married. (5 mars 1949, Selected
Letters 287)
Attentif à respecter une chronologie qui respecte davantage
l’ordre de publication qu’une véritable cohérence diégétique, Faulkner
souhaite trouver un titre qui reflète l’unité thématique du recueil : « I
haven’t got a title yet. I think of something legal, perhaps in workaday
legal Latin, some play on the word res, like res in justicii, or Ad Justicii » (ibid.). Mais absorbé par la réécriture du dernier des textes qu’il
étoffe et remanie radicalement, il choisit d’en donner le titre au futur
ouvrage, ce qui témoigne de son investissement particulier dans cette
dernière histoire :
132 / Alain Geoffroy
I cant remember if I wrote or not about a title and make-up.
What do you think about
KNIGHT’S GAMBIT (title for book)
Then the stories in this order, each with its own title as you did
Go Down, Moses, but if you like, set these titles in smaller
type, more like chapters headings, except for chapter numbers, which we don’t need.
Hand Upon the Waters
Error in Chemistry
Knight’s Gambit (ibid.)
Pourtant, Faulkner n’est apparemment pas satisfait. S’il poursuit
avec acharnement ses révisions du dernier récit4 afin de le rendre
plus clair (lettre à Saxe Commins, 18 Mai 1949, Selected Letters 291),
c’est parce qu’au cours de l’avancement de son travail, il nourrit de
plus en plus d’ambition pour cet ouvrage qu’il voudrait inscrire, du
point de vue de la composition, dans la lignée de Go Down, Moses,
mais aussi, ce qu’il projetait dès le départ, du point de vue du thème
et du format, dans celle de son dernier roman :
I am thinking of a “Gavin Stevens” volume, more or less detective stories. I have four or five short pieces, averaging 20 pages, in which Stevens solves or prevents crime to protect the weak, right injustice, or
punish evil. There is one more which no one has bought [“Knight’s
Gambit”]. The reason is, it is a novel which I tried to compress into
short story length. […] I will probably run about 150 pages, which
should make a volume as big as INTRUDER. (Lettre à Saxe Commins,
24 nov. 1948, Selected Letters 280)
4 En témoignent quatre tapuscrits différents provenant de la collection
déposée par Faulkner en 1957 à la bibliothèque de l’université de Princeton et
transférée deux ans plus tard à la bibliothèque de l’université de Virginie, ainsi que
la première version courte consultable à la bibliothèque de l’université d’Austin, au
Knight’s Gambit de William Faulkner…. / 133
Si l’on reconsidère les suggestions faites par l’auteur, on comprend que, quel que soit le résultat, le statut de l’ouvrage n’a pas toujours été clair pour lui. S’il imaginait au départ un simple recueil
d’histoires « plus ou moins policières » — « forensic fictions » (Watson) — centrées sur Gavin Stevens (lettre à Saxe Commins, 24 nov.
1948, Selected Letters 280), il semble que sa stratégie d’écriture ait
sensiblement évolué en cours de route.
Tout d’abord, Faulkner réunit des textes pour lesquels il semble
n’avoir guère d’affection ; de « Monk », il n’a qu’une piètre opinion :
« Not too good, but will be included nowhere else », écrit-il à Robert
Haas en septembre 1948 (Selected Letters 274) ; et en évoquant la
republication de « Tomorrow » dans le même volume anthologique, il
déclare, fataliste : « Don’t remember it, but include (ibid.). Faulkner
devait tenir à « Smoke », parue à deux reprises déjà — Harper’s
(1932) ; Doctor Martino and Other Stories (1934). « Monk » fut publié
en 1937 (Scribner’s), « Hand Upon the Waters » et « Tomorrow »
dans le Saturday Evening Post, respectivement en 1939 et 1940.
Toutefois, seule « An Error in Chemistry », parue en 1946 dans le
Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, eut un réel succès qui valut à son
auteur le deuxième prix d’un concours de nouvelles policières organisé par cette revue. Mais cette fois, la stratégie de Faulkner diffère de
celle qu’il suivit pour composer Intruder et Go Down, Moses : il ne
modifie pas une ligne des histoires déjà parues, et c’est sur le dernier
texte, inédit jusque-là, qu’il mise pour donner à l’ensemble la cohérence qu’il exige pour un tel projet5.
Si Faulkner propose d’étoffer le dernier récit, ce n’est pas parce
que l’ouvrage manque de pages pour être publié : c’est que la révision de ce texte lui permet d’embrasser les cinq autres sans avoir à
les modifier, ce qui eût été difficile pour des pièces qu’il n’affectionnait
pas particulièrement ou qu’il avait oubliées. C’est là faire porter à
« Knight’s Gambit » toute la responsabilité de la cohérence de
5 A Robert Haas qui lui proposait de publier un recueil de nouvelles,
Faulkner exposait déjà sa conception du futur ouvrage : « I would like to mull it over,
try to give this volume an integrated form of its own, like the Moses book if possible,
or at least These 13 » (18 sept. 1948 Selected Letters 273).
134 / Alain Geoffroy
l’ouvrage, et l’on comprend pourquoi, alors que son projet prend
forme, il déclare à Saxe Commins : « This is the story I seem to be
hottest to write now » (Selected Letters nov. 1948 280).
Faulkner met sept ans à réécrire « Knight’s Gambit ». Il part d’un
texte court (23 pages), qui évoque la préméditation d’un crime passionnel : « a man who planed to commit a murder by means of an
untamable stallion » (Lettre à Malcolm Cowley, 5 oct. 1945, Selected
Letters 203). L’intrigue est déjà largement suggérée, mais le scénario
diffère quelque peu de celui du texte publié. L’histoire d’amour de
Stevens est à peine esquissée, tout comme les développements sur
la guerre, la période faste de Harriss et sa personnalité trouble. Mrs
Harriss ne se rend en Europe qu’après la mort de son père et de son
mari ; Max Harriss n’est pas invité à partir pour l’armée, mais il est
déjà conscrit et doit quitter la ville le surlendemain. Tout repose sur
une dette de jeu qu’il a contractée ; pour la rembourser, il a réclamé
prématurément la part d’héritage de sa sœur qui a commis un faux en
écriture en trichant sur son âge. L’entrée probable du capitaine
Gualdes (sic) dans la famille fait craindre au frère que l’affaire soit
éventée, ce qui l’incite à se débarrasser de lui. A la propriété des
Harriss, Chuck, narrateur de l’histoire, ne saisit rien de la conversation
car il ne comprend pas l’espagnol, et c’est son oncle qui la lui rapporte ultérieurement. Mais c’est lui qui ouvre la porte de l’écurie où est
enfermé le cheval indompté, et c’est Gualdes, prévenu du danger par
Stevens, qui matte l’animal à coups de cravache. L’épilogue annonce
celui de la version publiée.
En quatre mois, l’histoire s’étoffe considérablement : « it is much
longer, will run 60-70 pages, more complete and very plottified and,
except for the first chapter of induction and explanation, mostly simple
dialogue » (Lettre à Harrold Ober, 22 juin 1942, Selected Letters 153).
Mais il faudra plus de six ans encore pour que « Knight’s Gambit »
soit plus qu’une simple nouvelle : « I found what was wrong with the
KNIGHT’S GAMBIT piece. It’s not a short story, but a novella. I am
rewriting it into a 100 plus page novella to be included in a collected
volume of the Gavin Stevens detective stories » (Lettre à Harold Ober, 19 fév. 1949, Selected Letters 285-86). Trois mois plus tard,
Faulkner cherche encore à enrichir son récit : « I am near the end of
Knight’s Gambit de William Faulkner…. / 135
the rewritten piece, will send it in as soon as finished. It is running
around 150 pages mss. » (Lettre à Saxe Commins, 1er mai 1949,
Selected Letters 289). Faulkner remanie l’intrigue dans le fond mais
aussi dans la forme : Chuck, qui devient Chick, puis Charles Weddel,
et enfin Charles Mallison, qui vieillit au fil des différentes versions 6,
n’est plus le narrateur, qui reste extra diégétique ; les amours de jeunesse de Stevens prennent toute leur importance pour devenir, audelà de ses préoccupations morales, le ressort secret de ses motivations et de ses tergiversations. Mc Callum, le propriétaire du cheval
fou, participe au dénouement, et les frasques pécuniaires des enfants
Harriss laissent place à des questions d’honneur et de rivalité entre
Max et Gualdres. Si en s’étoffant le récit perd parfois en clarté, Stevens y gagne la substance qui lui faisait défaut, tant par son rôle de
substitut paternel (tantôt pontifiant, presque suffisant, tantôt dépassé
par son neveu), que par celui d’amoureux maladroit et équivoque,
timoré mais tenace, qui triomphe sur le tard de ses insuffisances de
jeunesse, notamment dans la partie V qui n’apparaît que dans les
derniers tapuscrits, proches de la version publiée.
De la première version à la dernière, on mesure le chemin parcouru ; de l’aveu même de l’auteur, « Knight’s Gambit » passe du
statut d’histoire policière à celui d’histoire passionnelle : « a long, the
longest, piece, also marking the end of a phase of Stevens’ life, since
he gets married ; that is, he prevents a murder not for the sake of
justice, etc., but to gain his childhood sweetheart whom he had lost »
(Lettre à Saxe Commins, 5 mars 1949, Selected Letters 287). Cette
évolution ne se limite pas au dernier récit : elle affecte l’ensemble de
l’ouvrage en modifiant le statut des cinq premières histoires qui, de
par l’importance prise par la dernière, préparent le lecteur au « dénouement final » à la manière de chapitres. On sait que Faulkner eut
très tôt le souci d’aménager une progression de son volume dans la
forme, notamment en accordant une place de plus en plus significative à la fonction narratrice (lettre à Saxe Commins, 5 mars 1949,
Selected Letters 287). C’est qu’il tenait à peaufiner ce recueil comme
6 « I was only sixteen then », précise-t-il dans une version proche de
celle qui sera publiée où il en a presque dix-huit.
136 / Alain Geoffroy
il le faisait pour ses Collected Stories : « even to a collection of short
stories, form, integration, is as important as to a novel — an entity of
its own, single, set for one pitch, contrapuntal in integration, toward
one end, one finale” (Lettre à Malcolm Cowley, 1 er Novembre 1948,
Selected Letters 277). Mais si Knight’s Gambit est plus qu’un simple
assemblage de nouvelles, écrites « dans la tradition de Poe et de
Conan Doyle » (Millgate 265), sur un distingué « Sherlock
Holmes amateur » (Faulkner 1964 : 148) qui se prendrait pour Dupin7,
c’est que la cohérence thématique des six textes met également en
question une conception de l’ouvrage qui le limiterait à un simple recueil de nouvelles.
La critique s’est souvent contentée de voir dans ces six récits
centrés sur Stevens un moyen pour Faulkner d’étoffer son personnage : « the stories in Knight’s Gambit must be seen primarily as a
series of more or less deliberate exercises on the way to his final conception and characterization of Gavin Stevens » (Millgate 267). Mais
l’unité thématique du volume a suscité d’autres interprétations dépassant le caractère artificiel de sa composition : « Faulkner had more
artistic reasons for collecting [the stories] than furnishing for scholars
a systematic record of his experiments with the character of Gavin
Stevens » (Klinkowitz 151). Négligeant le personnage central, Klinkowitz insiste sur la récurrence d’une dialectique, faite de regards croisés et d’interactions parfois brutales, de la communauté du Yoknapatawpha et des étrangers au comté : « the real theme of these stories
is carried by the various outsiders to that community and the community’s relation to them » (ibid.). Ils sont en effet légion : de Anse Holland, profanateur de tombes surgi de nulle part, à Harriss, dont les
affaires à La Nouvelle Orléans intriguent, et Gualdres, séducteur argentin coureur de dot, sans oublier Monk, attardé mental pathétique
venu de l’arrière pays, et la femme bigame de Fentry tout juste arrivée
de plus au sud, ou encore Flint, l’illusionniste yankee dont le double
crime est révélé par son ignorance de la préparation du traditionnel
7 Dans Faulkner and the Short Story, Irving compare Stevens dans « An
Error in Chemistry » au détective de Poe de « The Murders in the Rue Morgue »
(1841) et « The Purloined Letter » (1845).
Knight’s Gambit de William Faulkner…. / 137
toddy, tous sèment le trouble dans une communauté dont ils négligent
les codes. Et comme pour Christmas dans Light in August (1932), le
dénouement quasi girardien se nourrit du sacrifice, même symbolique8, de l’intrus : c’est alors toute la société du comté qui « joue
gambit » pour retrouver la paix.
D’autres thématiques faulknériennes se font écho d’un texte à
l’autre jusqu’au récit final, tissant un réseau symbolique qui contribue
à conférer à l’ensemble l’harmonie d’un roman. Ainsi en va-t-il du
mariage : si celui de Stevens semble conclure heureusement
l’ouvrage, il n’en va pas de même pour tous, en particulier pour ceux
qui ne sont pas originaires du comté et qui cherchent à s’y implanter.
Comme Sutpen dans Absalom, Absalom !, ils doivent en passer par
des épousailles souvent désespérantes pour établir le seul lien qui
vaille pour s’intégrer à la vie du comté, celui qui rattache à la terre,
même s’ils y demeurent étrangers : c’est la mort de son beau-père et
le veuvage prématuré d’Anse Holland, débrouillard et brutal, qui fait
de lui un propriétaire terrien : « within three years he had married the
only daughter of a man who owned two thousand acres of some of
the best land in the country [...] [and] a few years later the father-inlaw died and [...] when his wife died, too [...] we believed [...] that her
life had been worn out by the crass violence of an underbred outlander » (3). Monk, meurtrier naïf et manipulé qui rêve de travailler la
terre, est le fruit d’une union dont rien de bon ne pouvait sortir : « a
son who had been too much even for that country and people [...] one
day returned with a woman [...] with hard, bright, metallic city hair and
a hard, blonde city face » (41). Dans « Tomorrow », un père de famille, tue de sang froid un homme dont l’épouse ne surgit du comté
voisin que pour récupérer son héritage, et Fentry épouse une femme
déjà mariée enceinte d’un autre ; la transgression coûte cher : la
femme meurt en couches et l’enfant est ramené à sa famille par ses
oncles maternels, dans le comté voisin. Devenu adulte et de retour au
pays, il meurt assassiné par le père de la fille qu’il a enlevée. Bien
8 Dans « Knight’s Gambit », si Stevens parvient à prévenir le crime, le
mariage qui s’en suit a valeur de sacrifice, comme le souligne Gualdress : « In my
country, the campo, there is a saying : Married ; dead » (227).
138 / Alain Geoffroy
que né dans le comté, il y reste un intrus : le droit du sang l’emporte
sur le droit du sol.
Convoitant une terre destinée à prendre de la valeur, Flint a tôt
fait de trouver la perle rare : « two months later [he] was married to
Pritchel’s only living child : the dim-witted spinster of almost forty who
until then had shared her irascible and violent-tempered father’s almost hermit-existence » (109). Il n’hésitera pas ensuite à se débarrasser de son beau-père et de sa femme pour s’approprier la terre.
Mariage, propriété foncière et légitimité se conjuguent encore dans
« Knight’s Gambit » où Harriss, ayant épousé une fille du pays et pris
en mains la terre qu’elle hérite à la mort de son père, meurt prématurément, laissant le champ libre à un séducteur latino-américain qui
courtise la fille pour mieux séduire la veuve : « the older woman, the
mother, who already controlled the money » (166). Cette sinistre succession de mésalliances trouve pourtant un terme dans le mariage de
Stevens et de la veuve Harriss : l’union légitime de deux enfants du
pays met un terme non seulement au désert sentimental de l’homme
de loi9 mais surtout au scandale en puissance — incarné par un fils
vengeur et jaloux, en proie au même dilemme que Quentin Compson
et Henry Sutpen — qui menaçait la famille Harriss.
Si, comme en témoigne la faillite du mariage, la structure familiale est souvent si malsaine qu’elle fait systématiquement question,
c’est parce que les parents sont des êtres falots, violents ou instables.
Ainsi, dans chacun des six récits, les femmes et les mères sont
faibles ou affectées de caractéristiques négatives. La mère des jumeaux Holland meurt quand ils sont encore en bas âge, et de celle de
Monk, on retiendra le regard violent, tel celui de sa mère adoptive qui
disparaît elle aussi quand Monk n’est encore qu’un enfant. La seule
présence féminine dans « Hand Upon the Waters » est une voix qui
refuse son aide à Stevens. La jeune fille enlevée par Thorpe dans
« Tomorrow » se montre trop naïve et la femme « illégitime » de Fentry, malade, meurt en couches. Quant à celle de Flint, c’est une vieille
fille bornée aux capacités limitées. Dans « Knight’s Gambit », la fille
9 Dans The Town (1957), Stevens refuse les avances d’Eula Varner qu’il
désire ardemment.
Knight’s Gambit de William Faulkner…. / 139
Harriss, terrorisée, a du mal à rester sincère sous l’emprise d’un frère
abusif : « the boy held his sister […] like […] the policeman with his
cringing captive or the victory-flushed soldier with his shrinking Sabine
prey » (136). Mais c’est surtout Mrs Harriss10, créature éthérée jamais
tout à fait vraisemblable, qui incarne cette fragilité féminine. Fille d’un
veuf qui voyait en elle une servante, elle épouse un homme qui a
deux fois son âge, arborant, adulte, les restes d’une enfance jamais
achevée, hantant le récit passivement sans jamais acquérir le statut
de femme accomplie : « a slight, dark-haired, dark-eyed girl who didn’t
look much bigger than a child […] still looking like a girl even at thirtyfive, not looking very much older in fact than her own children […] like
a little girl playing grown-up » (149 ; 161 ; 233). Privée de substance,
elle demeure une image, une résurgence du passé, plus qu’un personnage de chair et d’os : « she could resemble an archaic miniature,
sober and sedate and demure ten years beyond her age and fifty
years beyond her time […] like an old valentine or a 1904 candy-box »
Mais les pères n’ont pas plus le beau rôle. Anse Holland, violent
et obtus, sème la discorde entre les jumeaux qu’il a élevés seul, jusqu’à ce que Stevens rétablisse la vérité sur sa mort. Monk, fils d’un
voyou, est adopté par un homme qui ne lui apprend qu’une chose,
d’ailleurs illégale : fabriquer du whisky. Accusé de meurtre, il est victime d’un juge véreux, autre figure de père indigne. Pritchel, comme le
vieux Backus, traite sa fille en domestique. Le père est parfois même
radicalement absent : Lonnie Grinnup est orphelin, comme Stevens,
et comme l’orphelin sourd-muet qu’il a recueilli. Le mari de la compagne de Fentry l’a abandonnée enceinte, et Harriss, accaparé par
ses affaires, ne s’occupe guère de ses enfants. Les choses empirent
après sa mort, quand Gualdres défie la structure familiale en courtisant en même temps la mère et la fille, ce qui incite le fils à envisager
de recourir au meurtre.
10 Toujours désignée par le nom qu’elle acquiert en se mariant, comme
si elle n’en avait pas elle-même ; ce n’est que dans La Ville qu’on apprend qu’elle
s’appelle Melisandre Backus.
140 / Alain Geoffroy
Et c’est bien la faillite de ces pères successifs et les dilemmes
cruels et parfois monstrueux qui s’en suivent qui contribuent le plus à
l’unité de l’œuvre, contraignant Stevens à se comporter en père symbolique qui rétablit l’ordre selon la loi, même s’il lui arrive d’échouer
devant l’amoralité d’un juge (« Monk »). C’est donc logiquement dans
la dernière histoire que Stevens apparaît comme une figure de père
achevée, après qu’il eut avoué qu’il a enfin mûri : en épousant Mrs
Harriss, il s’affirme comme père qui assume son désir ; il applique la
loi en éloignant le frère de la sœur et de la mère, et restaure la hiérarchie des générations en faisant de Gualdres son (beau)-fils (Geoffroy
2005 : 182). Voilà bien selon nous le thème central de l’œuvre : là où
règnent désordre et dilemmes, c’est au père de répondre en rétablissant la loi.
Soucieux de produire un ouvrage d’un volume comparable à Intruder in the Dust et composé de récits arrangés comme les chapitres
de Go Down, Moses, Faulkner a pu hésiter sur le statut de Knight’s
Gambit, d’autant que les six récits réunis révèlent une homogénéité
thématique indiscutable convergeant vers une fin logique et émotionnellement pertinente. De toute évidence, le tout est supérieur à la
somme des parties et l’on peut se demander pourquoi Faulkner n’a
pas tenu in fine à ce que cet ouvrage soit lu comme un roman.
Certes, le style est inégal et les interminables passages sur la guerre
ne servent pas toujours l’intrigue, même si l’on y pressent le souffle
d’un œuvre beaucoup plus ambitieuse : « in the fabric of the prose
itself was something of that work that had been hanging over him now
for six years : A Fable » (Blotner 1286). Sans doute est-ce la raison
pour laquelle Faulkner a hésité à faire « officiellement » de Knight’s
Gambit un roman: son ambition était ailleurs et le projet souffrait de la
comparaison avec l’œuvre dans laquelle il s’était déjà tant investi, qu’il
considérait comme son chef d’œuvre, et qui l’obsédait au point qu’il
en inscrivit le plan sur les murs de son bureau de Rowan Oak. Si A
Fable reçut les honneurs des prix littéraires11, Knight’s Gambit ne
dépassa peut-être jamais dans l’esprit de son auteur le statut de potboiler, et, à la différence de Sanctuary (1931), ne fut jamais considé11
Le Prix Pulitzer et le National Book Award.
Knight’s Gambit de William Faulkner…. / 141
ré comme une œuvre accomplie. Pourtant, les arguments ne manquent pas pour qu’on y voie aujourd’hui l’une de ces créations expérimentales dont Faulkner a le secret et qu’il nous invite à lire sans
jamais le dire – peut-être n’a-t-il jamais tranché la question du statut
de l’œuvre – comme un roman.
Alain Geoffroy12
Ouvrages cités
Bleikasten, André. Parcours de Faulkner, Paris : Ophrys, 1982.
Bleikasten, André. « Introduction » à Etudes Faulknériennes, vol. 2, « Naissance de Faulkner », Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2000, 7-12.
Blotner, Joseph. Faulkner : A Biography, New York: Random House, 1974.
Faulkner, William. Faulkner à l’Université, Cours et conférences prononcés
à l’université de Virginie (1957-1958), Paris : Gallimard, 1964.
Faulkner, William. Knight’s Gambit, New York: Vintage Books, 1978.
Faulkner, William. Selected Letters of William Faulkner, Joseph Blotner ed.,
New York: Vintage Books, 1978.
Ferguson, James. Faulkner’s Short Fictions, Knoxville : The University
Press, 1991.
Geoffroy, Alain. « Le temps fluide, effet d'une structure temporelle dans The
Wild Palms », in Americana N° 1, Paris : Presses de l'Université de
Paris IV-Sorbonne, 1988, 109-26.
Geoffroy, Alain. « Defaulting Fathers in Faulkner’s Knight’s Gambit » Alizés
n° 25, Juin 2005, 172-84.
Geoffroy, Alain. « Notice du Gambit du cavalier », in Faulkner, Œuvres romanesques, La Pléiade, Paris : Gallimard, 2007, 1215-32.
Irving, John T. « Knight’Gambit: Poe, Faulkner, and the Tradition of the
Detective Story », in Faulkner and the Short Story, Evans Harrington &
Ann J. Abadie ed., Jackson & London: University Press of Mississippi,
1992, 149-73.
Klinkowitz, Jerome F. « The Thematic Unity of Knight’s Gambit », Critique
II.2, 1969, 151-66.
Millgate, Michael. The Achievement of William Faulkner, Lincoln: University
of Nebraska Press, 1978.
Alain Geoffroy, Université de La Réunion (France).
142 / Alain Geoffroy
Pitavy, François. Le Bruit et la Fureur de William Faulkner, Paris : Gallimard,
Rouberol, Jean. L’Esprit du Sud dans l’œuvre de Faulkner, Paris : Didier
Erudition, 1982.
Watson, Jay. « Faulkner’s Forensic Fiction and the Question of Authorial
Neurosis », in Faulkner and Psychology, Donald Kartiganer & Ann
Abadie ed., Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1994, 165-88.
La création dans Tristram Shandy (1760-67)
de Laurence Sterne
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange
William Shakespeare, The Tempest (1.2, 399-401).
Terme polysémique, la création est d’abord l’« action de donner l’existence, de tirer du néant », puis l’« ensemble des choses
créées ».1 Elle est aussi l’« action de faire, d’organiser une chose qui
n’existe pas encore » (les synonymes sont l’« élaboration »,
l’« invention », l’« enfantement »). Correspondant enfin à « ce qui est
créé », elle est liée à l’« imagination ». Ses antonymes sont la « destruction », la « contrefaçon », le « plagiat », l’« imitation », le
« néant ». La création est ainsi une notion double, qui signifie le processus et le résultat de ce processus. Tout ouvrage, au sens d’œuvre
écrite ou sous toute autre forme artistique, avec ses propres règles et
conventions, qui suivent ou non les règles et les conventions préexistantes, est création.
À partir de ces définitions liminaires, plusieurs questions se posent, qui permettent d’étudier cette notion dans Tristram Shandy. L’on
verra d’abord que, dans ce roman, la création ne va pas sans la destruction. Puis, l’on se demandera si le roman est le résultat d’un acte
de création originale (ex nihilo), avec des modalités et des procédés
inédits, ou bien s’il n’est pas plutôt une œuvre qui serait le résultat
d’une dialectique entre création et recréation, et qui poserait la question de la reconstruction à partir du réel, et celle des rapports entre le
1 Dictionnaire alphabétique et analogique de la langue française Robert
(Paris, 1959) article « création ».
144 / Hélène Dachez
roman de Sterne et les ouvrages dont il s’inspire.2 Grâce à son caractère ludique original, enfin, cette création se présente comme une
récréation, élaborée par Sterne à l’attention de son lecteur.3
Le titre complet du roman, The Life and Opinions of Tristram
Shandy, Gentleman, suggère que l’intérêt du narrateur se porte à la
fois sur le déroulement de la vie du personnage et sur le sens physiologique de la création : la procréation. Les premières pages s’attachent à décrire le moment précis de la conception du personnage, et
expliquent au lecteur l’itinéraire que suit l’homoncule (1.2, 2). Sterne
reprend (et confond, ou fait semblant de confondre) les deux courants
principaux de l’époque au sujet de la génération des êtres, mis en
avant par les préformatistes, pour qui la créature est déjà formée, soit
dans la semence, soit dans l’œuf, et n’a plus qu’à se développer au
cours de la grossesse. Selon la théorie animalculiste ou spermatiste,
l’être est déjà présent en miniature dans le sperme, alors que, d’après
la théorie oviste, il l’est déjà dans l’œuf.4 Tout en parlant d’homoncule,
Tristram dit sa volonté de créer un texte « ab Ovo » (1.4, 4), et une
partie du roman se déroule pendant la grossesse de Mrs Shandy,
puisque le héros naît dans le troisième volume.
Or, dans Tristram Shandy, la vie est constamment menacée de
destruction. Lors de la conception, déjà, Tristram retrace le cheminement périlleux de l’homoncule et décrit les conséquences atroces de
la question inopportune posée par sa mère à un moment si crucial. Le
petit être est « miserably spent;–––his muscular strength and virility
2 Le Dictionnaire Robert précise que « recréer » signifie « créer de nouveau, reconstituer ce qui a […] disparu », « régénérer », « reconstruire artificiellement », « réinventer […] ce qui est donné par la réalité ».
3 Selon le Dictionnaire Robert, récréer (du latin « recreare ») signifie :
« ragaillardir, ranimer ». La récréation instaure dans un premier temps un rapport à
l’âme, et signifie aussi « délasser quelqu’un par […] le jeu, le distraire ». L’adjectif
récréatif veut dire « qui est amusant, qui a pour objet de divertir ».
4 Les préformatistes s’opposent aux épigénistes, pour qui l’être se développe peu à peu, au fil des neuf mois de grossesse.
La création dans Tristam Shandy…. / 145
worn down to a thread » (1.2, 2).5 Peu après, Tristram retranscrit les
lamentations de son père, qui aurait souhaité qu’il bénéficie de plus
de calme pendant la gestation.6 La création est encore menacée à
l’étape suivante, et de nombreuses pages sont consacrées à la naissance très difficile du héros. Cyanosé, il se voit privé du souffle vital
(4.14, 207), si bien que Walter hésite à utiliser un nom aussi prestigieux que Trismegistus, pour le cas où l’enfant ne survivrait pas (4.14,
208). De manière symptomatique, à l’exception du forceps, tous les
instruments que possède le Dr Slop (« tire tête – […] crotchet, – […]
squirt » [2.11, 78]) entraînent le décès de l’enfant ou sont utilisés sur
des enfants mort-nés. La menace de destruction devient encore plus
patente si l’accoucheur confond, avec son forceps, la tête et l’aine
d’un enfant mâle, qui sera alors incapable de procréer (3.17, 137).
Chez Tristram, la mutilation du nez annonce l’accident de fenêtre,
cinq ans plus tard, que Susannah appelle « the murder of me » (5.17,
264), suggérant ainsi que les descendants potentiels du héros ne
naîtront pas.
En disant que son fils est créé et né sous une mauvaise étoile,
Walter souligne combien cette création correspond à la destruction de
ses espoirs (3.23, 150). L’annihilation gangrène le processus même
de création, comme l’illustrent ses lamentations au sujet de son fils :
Unhappy Tristram! […] child of decrepitude! interruption! mistake! […]
What one misfortune or disaster in the book of embryotic evils, that
could unmechanize thy frame![…] Which has not fallen upon thy head
[…] – what evils in thy passage into it! What evils since!– produced into being, in the decline of thy father’s days – […] nothing left to found
thy stamina in, but negations. (4.19, 215)
5 Tristram ajoute: « I tremble to think what a foundation had been laid for
a thousand weaknesses both of body and mind, which no skill of the physician or
the philosopher could ever afterwards have set thoroughly to rights » (1.2, 3).
6 « What a teazing life did she lead herself, and consequently her fœtus
too, with that nonsensical anxiety of hers about lying in town? » (4.19, 215), dit-il.
146 / Hélène Dachez
La création est en outre mise en danger par les menaces de stérilité, d’impuissance et de castration qui émaillent le roman. Walter
Shandy jette le doute sur la capacité procréatrice de Toby dans une
épanorthose de fort mauvais augure : « thy begetting children – in
case thou should’st be able » (8.33, 415) ; et même si Tristram fait
allusion à ses petits-enfants (1.21, 50) et à la connaissance biblique
qu’il a des femmes (1.18, 35), il n’engendre véritablement aucun enfant, sa seule création étant son roman, fils métaphorique. La virilité
de Walter Shandy est quant à elle implicitement mise en doute lorsque Obadiah dit que son taureau est incapable de procréer (9.33,
456), insinuant qu’il pourrait en être de même pour Walter. Le narrateur laisse d’ailleurs entendre, grâce à une incohérence temporelle,
que son père n’est probablement pas celui que l’on croit. En effet, en
disant qu’il est né le 5 novembre 1718 (1.5, 5), et qu’il a été conçu au
début du mois de mars (1.4, 4), il indique que la grossesse n’a duré
que huit mois. Le fait qu’il ait une naissance difficile et qu’on envisage
une césarienne exclut une naissance prématurée, si bien que le lecteur déduit qu’il est né à terme.7 Le héros précise également que
Walter souffre de sciatique neuf mois avant sa naissance (4.25, 220).
Les doutes atteignent leur paroxysme si l’on pense que cette maladie
est annoncée dans un chapitre où il est également question
d’illégitimité : « a bend sinister » (4.25, 220). C’est sans doute Yorick
qui est son père (4.30, 232), personnage défini comme « a horse at
all points » (1.10, 12). Par cette expression fondée sur le « doubleentendre », le lecteur comprend que le cheval fougueux qu’est Yorick
s’oppose au taureau impuissant de (et qu’est) Walter.
Chez ce dernier, l’incapacité physique de procréer se reflète de
plus dans la stérilité des mots, des idées et des hypothèses qu’il soutient, comme l’illustre la scène des lits de justice (6.18, 307-09). La
répétition des propos de Walter par Mrs Shandy annihile la création
du sens, et la mère du héros frustre toute possibilité de création, littérale et figurée, lorsqu’elle dit « I cannot conceive, for my life, – » (6.18,
308). Walter semble aussi incapable de procréer des êtres qu’il l’est
d’élaborer et de propager ses systèmes et ses hypothèses, qui but7
Voir sur cette question l’article de Duncan Patrick.
La création dans Tristam Shandy…. / 147
tent contre leur propre absurdité, et se voient détruits par la réalité
(fictionnelle).8 Alors qu’il avait choisi d’appeler son fils Trismegistus,
selon lui le meilleur prénom possible, qui l’aurait prédisposé à de
grands succès, celui-ci est baptisé Tristram, le pire prénom qui soit,
qui ne peut manquer de porter préjudice au malheureux qui le porte. 9
Le processus de création intellectuelle est en outre régulièrement interrompu, comme le raconte Tristram, en employant une
image où se rejoignent les sens physique et intellectuel de la destruction et de l’avortement. Walter est contraint d’interrompre son discours
sur le bon bout d’une femme parce qu’on frappe à la porte, geste qui
met fin au processus d’élaboration : « a Devil of a rap at the door […]
crushed the head of as notable and curious a dissertation as ever was
engendered in the womb of speculation » (2.7, 73). Walter en vient
ainsi à symboliser la vanité de la création. Tristram décrit son ouvrage, Tristrapædia, comme « entirely useless, – every day a page or
two became of no consequence » (5.16, 263). L’extrême lenteur de
Walter témoigne d’une forme d’impuissance à créer et met en doute
la validité et le bien-fondé du processus de création : le peu qui est
créé ne sert à rien, puisque Tristram est trop grand pour pouvoir profiter de ces conseils éducatifs, et le titre très réducteur annule la possibilité que d’autres enfants puissent en bénéficier.
La création entretient un rapport dialectique avec la vanité et la
mortalité, car TS dépend de la volonté qui anime Tristram de faire
revivre un monde perdu. C’est grâce à un processus de métaphorisation que Sterne établit des liens entre création littéraire et procréation.
Dans ses lettres, il évoque son refus de castrer son ouvrage (« castrating my book » [90]) ; il appelle ses volumes « [my] children »
(121) ; et il utilise une image d’avortement pour annoncer qu’il n’a pu
mener à bien son dixième volume : « I miscarried of my tenth vo-
Voir l’analyse proposée par Jens Martin Gurr (22-25).
Tristram décrit son père : « so played upon in [his hypotheses] by
cross purposes; –[…] baffled and overthrown in all his little systems and wishes »
(1.19, 40).
148 / Hélène Dachez
lume » (Letters 294).10 Son personnage de Tristram, dernier de sa
lignée, jouit de la possibilité, grâce à l’écriture, de ranimer (« récréer ») les morts. Ce processus souligne le rapprochement entre
création et mémoire, et le roman s’apparente à un monument funéraire, que le héros érige à la mémoire de ses ascendants, construction bien réelle qui s’oppose à la tombe absente et fantasmée des
amants de Lyon (7.40, 374), sur laquelle Tristram ne peut verser ses
larmes. Ainsi que le remarque Robert L. Chibka : « Tristram’s insistence on vital affirmation both responds to and continually reminds
him of the mortality that has severed him from those his narrative
commemorates » (131). Les personnages recréés (et récréés) dans le
roman sont soit morts au moment où Tristram élabore son texte, tels
Walter, Mrs Shandy et Toby, soit déjà décédés dans la diégèse. Le
processus de réanimation se dédouble dans le cas de Tom puisque,
grâce à l’écriture, Tristram fait revivre Trim, mort au moment où il
rédige Tristram Shandy, qui fait lui-même revivre son frère, déjà mort :
« I see him this moment », dit Trim, « passing jollily along the street,
swinging his stick, with a smile and a chearful word for every body he
met » (9.5, 427). Ce processus de réanimation concerne aussi Yorick,
dont le narrateur annonce la mort de manière très visuelle, grâce à la
double épitaphe « Alas, poor YORICK » (1.12, 22) et à la double page
noire (1.12, 23-24). Or, Yorick revient à la vie au cours du roman, et il
est même le dernier personnage qui parle (9.33, 457).11
De plus, leur originalité fait des personnages recréés par Tristram (tous étant bien évidemment des créatures de Sterne), une véritable création.12 C’est leur « hobby-horse » (1.23-24, 53-56) qui les
10 La première lettre est probablement adressée à Noah Thomas (datée
du 30 janvier 1760), la deuxième à Jane (?) Fenton, en date du 3 août 1760, et la
troisième, adressée à ***, est datée du 6 janvier 1767.
11 Dans A Sentimental Journey (publié en 1768, donc un an après la fin
de Tristram Shandy), Yorick, bien vivant, narre ses aventures, et le texte s’achève
sur une aposiopèse, figure rhétorique qui nie la finitude, et consacre une création
toujours en devenir (125).
12 S’il faut se garder de confondre Sterne et Tristram, il n’en demeure
pas moins qu’il est souvent difficile, dans Tristram Shandy de distinguer entre
l’auteur et le narrateur (homodiégétique).
La création dans Tristam Shandy…. / 149
anime (leur donne une âme). Il est révélateur que Tristram insiste sur
l’originalité des membres de sa famille : « All the SHANDY FAMILY
were of an original character throughout » (1.21, 47). Walter et Toby
figurent parmi les plus excentriques de la famille : « my father […]
placed things in his own light; – he would weigh nothing in common
scales » (2.19, 104) ; et Toby se distingue par « his great singularity »
(1.24, 55). L’excentricité de Tristram lui-même, dit-il, est due en partie
à la dispersion des esprits animaux lors de sa conception (1.1, 1), et
elle justifie l’excentricité du texte qu’il produit, TS illustrant le jugement
que Toby porte sur son neveu : « I should neither think nor act like
any other man’s child » (1.3, 3).
Les propos de Toby évoquent un texte à nul autre pareil, véritable création ex nihilo. Or, il semble en réalité que la création dépende au contraire, ou également, d’un processus de recréation.
Il n’est pas indifférent que Tristram envisage de mener deux vies
parallèles : « I shall lead a fine life of it out of this self-same life of
mine; or, in other words, shall lead a couple of fine lives together »
(4.13, 207). Cette volonté souligne que Tristram Shandy est le résultat
d’un dédoublement fictionnel, puisque ce qui est déjà une fiction pour
Sterne (et pour le lecteur) – la vie de Tristram – est considéré comme
une expérience réelle à partir de laquelle le personnage construit une
fiction (Tristram Shandy en tant que création littéraire élaborée par le
narrateur), « out of » soulignant que le personnage se livre à un travail de recréation.
Cette reconstruction à partir de la réalité (fictionnelle) prétendument vécue par Tristram permet à Sterne de compenser son quotidien. À partir de janvier 1762, le romancier sait en effet que la consomption dont il est atteint est incurable, et sa mort est même annoncée dans The London Chronicle du 2 au 4 février 1762. L’asthme qui
l’empêche de respirer (1.5, 6) s’oppose à l’inspiration créatrice, à qui
Tristram adresse une prière (3.23, 151), et l’écriture est dotée d’une
fonction compensatrice, qui permet de recréer ce qui a disparu et/ou
ce qui manque chez ce personnage, victime d’une triple mutilation (de
150 / Hélène Dachez
son nez, de son prénom et de son sexe, lors de l’accident de fenêtre).
Ainsi que le résume Sigurd Burckhardt : « Tristram […] substituting a
construct of art for the impairment of his sexual potency, chooses – or
is compelled – to engage the ambiguity directly and bodily; instead of
excluding, he exploits it, tries to make it into an engine of construction,
to turn it back upon itself » (82).13
Le processus de création littéraire que choisit Tristram fuit toute
linéarité et instaure un nouveau rapport au temps. Contrairement à ce
que le titre annonce, le roman ne présente pas autant sa vie et ses
opinions que celles des membres de sa famille, processus grâce auquel il se garde d’écrire sur lui-même et fait proliférer les stratégies
d’évitement, de déplacement, d’interruption et de retard.14 Selon Robert L. Chibka, en effet, « his flirtatious narrative […] walks a teasing
tightrope between precipitous linear progress towards the grave and
eternal postponement of any forward progress at all » (136).
La stratégie de création qui guide Tristram repose ainsi sur le refus du déroulement chronologique. Il préfère la courbe et le cercle à la
ligne droite, ainsi que le montrent les schémas des cinq premiers
volumes (6.40, 333), et privilégie une création sans fin plutôt qu’une
création qui le conduirait inexorablement à un terme.15 Son choix de
combiner progression et digression, « one wheel within another » (1.22, 52), traduit une volonté de mouvement perpétuel, où les
divers éléments s’entraînent et n’ont pas besoin d’être remontés, au
contraire de la pendule des Shandy (1.1, 2).16 Dans le schéma temporel non chronologique qu’il recrée à partir de sa réalité, Tristram in-
13 L’on pense à la promesse que se fait Tristram à lui-même : « the credit, which will attend thee as an author, shall counterbalance the many evils which
have befallen thee as a man » (4.32, 236-37). De même, Toby recrée les batailles
sur le boulingrin pour compenser la blessure qu’il a reçue lors de la bataille de
Namur, comme on le verra.
14 La remarque polysémique faite par Yorick dans A Sentimental Journey, « I generally fly myself » (92), pourrait s’appliquer à Tristram.
15 Madeleine Descargues dit avec raison que le héros reste dans « a
state of permanent incipience » (402).
16 Cette image, « one wheel within another », rappelle aussi les thèses
mécanistes, qui voyaient en l’homme une machine. Voir sur ce point La Mettrie.
La création dans Tristam Shandy…. / 151
siste sur l’importance des digressions et sur leur fonction originale. 17
Alors que chez les autres auteurs elles figent le texte, il dote les
siennes d’une fonction créatrice, mobile et vitale, et précise qu’elles
constituent l’âme de son livre (1.22, 52). Le principe de digressionprogression rappelle, de manière emblématique, le pont de Toby,
construction suspendue, qui refuse la linéarité, permet de se déplacer
dans les deux sens, et de rester en suspens. Ces digressions, qui
semblent être le fruit de la fantaisie, dépendent d’un travail de création très concerté, et suggèrent que Tristram Shandy est le résultat
d’une destruction construite et d’une création déconstruite.
La présence marquée et revendiquée des digressions pose en
outre la question de l’unité, de la structure de l’œuvre, de la cohérence entre ses éléments et ses parties, ainsi que celle de leur harmonie (ou de leur disharmonie), de leur organisation (ou de leur désorganisation). En réalité, une partie de l’originalité de Tristram Shandy tient au fait que le « ou » y devient « et » : ordre et désordre créateurs sont unis dans un rapport dialectique, processus créateur dont
Lodwick Hartley souligne l’originalité : « [Sterne] evolved an architectonic all his own [which relied on] an ineffable combination of plan and
caprice » (72, 68).
D’un côté, Tristram souligne l’absence de construction comme
son principe privilégié de création, suggérant que le texte, création
dotée d’une force propre, sur laquelle le rédacteur n’a que peu de
prise, s’élabore de lui-même.18 Tristram Shandy, défini comme « a
COCK and … BULL [story] » (9.33, 457), ne repose sur aucun plan et
illustre les propos du narrateur : « I lump all together » (3.20, 141). Ce
dernier prétend d’ailleurs qu’il ne peut rien prévoir au cours de sa
rédaction car : « when a man sits down to write a story […] he knows
no more than his heels what lets and confounded hindrances he is to
meet with in his way, – or what a dance he may be led, by one excur17 Walter Shandy définit le processus digressif comme : « the eternal
scampering of discourse from one thing to another » (3.18, 137).
18 Au sujet de l’histoire de Le Fever, il écrit : « But this is neither here nor
there – why do I mention it? – Ask my pen, – it governs me, – I govern not it » (6.6,
152 / Hélène Dachez
sion or another, before all is over » (1.14, 26). Il mentionne aussi les
pauses imprévisibles, qui confèrent à sa narration son tempo irrégulier (1.14, 26-27), et se dit incapable de justifier pourquoi il rend hommage à la bonté naturelle de Toby à l’endroit où il le fait.19 Selon Roger B. Moss, la double page noire (1.12, 23-24), « a page lost forever
to the indomitable ink » (192), résume à elle seule cette création désordonnée et prétendument non maîtrisée.
Cependant, le narrateur attire aussi l’attention sur le soin qu’il
porte à l’élaboration de son texte, sur les questions qui commandent à
sa création, et il dit se soucier de son ordonnancement général. Il
explique, pour des questions d’équilibre : « that necessary equipoise
and balance … betwixt chapter and chapter, from whence the just
proportions and harmony of the whole work results » (4.25, 221) ; il
choisit donc de ne pas relater le voyage qu’entreprend Walter dans le
but de faire débaptiser puis rebaptiser Tristram. Il s’inquiète également de la place de chaque élément, notamment lorsqu’il s’avoue
bien embarrassé pour trouver l’endroit idéal où insérer l’anecdote
relatant la destruction du pont par Trim et Bridget :
The story […] is certainly out of its place here; for by right it should
come in, either amongst the anecdotes of my uncle Toby’s amours
with widow Wadman […] – or else in the middle of […] my uncle Toby’s campains on the bowling green, – for it will do very well in either
place; – but then if I reserve it for either of those parts of my story – I
ruin the story I’m upon, – and if I tell it here –I anticipate matters, and
ruin it there. (3.23, 150-51)
Tout en soulignant son absence de plan, il énonce des intentions
d’écriture, par exemple lorsqu’il promet au lecteur de lui expliquer en
son temps comment son nez a été écrasé (1.15, 30), ou de lui donner
des détails sur la blessure de Toby (1.21, 48). Il revendique le chaos
de l’écriture comme son principe de création littéraire, créant ainsi,
grâce à ce désordre organisé, un nouvel ordre esthétique, où se re19 « Here, – but why here, – rather than in any other part of my story, – I
am not able to tell; – but here it is, – my heart stops me to pay to thee, my dear
uncle Toby, once for all, the tribute I owe thy goodness » (3.34, 162), écrit-il.
La création dans Tristam Shandy…. / 153
joignent le naturel et l’artifice, dans une création qui s’élabore tout
ensemble sur l’innovation et sur la reprise.
Tristram reconnaît en effet qu’il reprend des auteurs, des théories et des genres du passé, comme la tradition du « learned wit »,
définie par des raisonnements abstraits, des citations abondantes et
des connaissances encyclopédiques.20 Il suggère que Tristram Shandy est créé selon les mêmes règles que celles qui régissent les
contes de Slawkenbergius :
collating, collecting and compiling, – begging, borrowing, and stealing,
as he went along, all that had been wrote or wrangled thereupon in the
schools and porticos of the learned: so that Slawkenbergius his book
may properly be considered, not only as a model, – but as a thoroughstitch’d DIGEST and regular institute of noses; comprehending in it, all
that is, or can be needful to be known about them. (3.38, 168-69)
Or, Tristram dénonce les plagiats: « how infinitely short of the
force and spirit of the original! » (3.12, 133) ; il s’érige contre la répétition stérile, et demande, dans une question dont la réponse fait peu
de doutes,
shall we for ever make new books, as apothecaries make new mixtures, by pouring only out of one vessel into another? / Are we for ever
to be twisting, and untwisting the same rope? for ever in the same
track– for ever at the same pace? / Shall we be destined to the days
of eternity […] to be shewing the relicks of learning, as monks do the
relicks of their saints – without working one – one single miracle with
them? (5.1, 239)
20 Les reprises les plus visibles sont celles empruntées à Cervantes (Yorick est comparé à « the peerless knight of La Mancha » [1.10, 15]), à John Locke
(notamment la paraphrase de Essay Concerning Human Understanding [3.18,
138]), à Shakespeare, ou encore à Montaigne, à Rabelais, à Burton (dans Anatomy
of Melancholy), et à Swift (notamment dans A Tale of a Tub). Sur la tradition du
« learned wit », voir l’excellent article de D. W. Jefferson. Selon Wayne C. Booth,
Tristram Shandy est élaboré à partir de trois inspirations majeures : le roman comique, l’essai spéculatif (« speculative essay ») et la satire dans la tradition de The
Tale of a Tub (The Rhetoric of Fiction 224-29). En reprenant ces textes, Sterne leur
redonne vie, comme le montre Brigitte Friant-Kessler, 65-66.
154 / Hélène Dachez
En effet, pour le narrateur (et pour Sterne), la création, terme qui
associe le souffle de vie, l’âme et le souffle créateur, est avant tout
innovation, imagination et inspiration. En insistant à l’envi sur son
originalité créatrice, Tristram souligne qu’il refuse d’élaborer son roman en reprenant les conventions littéraires : « I shall confine myself
neither to [Horace’s] rules, nor to any man’s rules that ever lived »
(1.4, 4). Il prétend ainsi construire une œuvre selon un processus de
création totalement original : « I have … been clearing the ground to
raise the building – and such a building do I foresee it will turn out, as
never was planned, and as never was executed since Adam » (4.32,
236) ; et il met en relief l’unicité de sa création, en expliquant que,
étant donné le rythme auquel il compose son ouvrage (un an est
nécessaire pour narrer une seule journée), plus il écrit, plus il devra
écrire, sans jamais se rattraper : « an observation never applicable
before to any biographical writer since the creation of the world, but to
myself – and I believe will never hold good to any other, until its final
destruction » (4.13, 206). Il en va de même lorsqu’il narre ses
voyages à Auxerre et qu’il insiste sur la triple juxtaposition des temps,
procédé inédit jusqu’alors (7.28, 362).
S’il reprend ce qui existe déjà, son but principal est de s’en servir
pour innover, si bien que, si la création est recréation, la recréation
est également création, comme l’illustre la théorie des climats, qu’il
utilise, tout en la faisant sienne.21 Le volume 7 fournit un exemple de
cette dialectique entre création et recréation. Le narrateur y propose
sa propre version d’un récit de voyage et prend les conventions du
genre à rebours.22 Dans sa volonté de se démarquer de la tradition, il
refuse d’évoquer ce que les voyageurs décrivent d’ordinaire : « I cannot stop a moment to give you the characters of the people – their
genius – their manners – their customs – their laws – their religion –
« That observation is my own », dit-il fièrement, « – and was struck
out by me this very rainy day, March 26, 1759, betwixt the hours of nine and ten in
the morning » (1.21, 46).
22 A Sentimental Journey, de même, se démarque des récits de voyage
traditionnels, dont Travels through France and Italy, de Smollett, offre un bon
La création dans Tristam Shandy…. / 155
their government – their manufactures – their commerce – their finances » (7.19, 352).
Le roman se présente donc comme le fruit d’une assimilation totale et d’une création originale à partir de sources diverses, comme le
résume J. Paul Hunter : « themes, ideas, or systems from all sorts of
places are […] absorbed into the Sternean purposes of the work. […]
[He] invites all learning into his own work, there transforming it into
something that fits his own artistic needs. The omnivorous maw of
Tristram Shandy devours whatever it finds, and nothing remains undigested » (132). La recréation devient même auto-recréation puisque,
dans le volume 9, il reprend et transforme ce qu’il a déjà traité dans
les volumes précédents.23 Un tel procédé attire l’attention sur la facture du texte, ainsi que sur sa nature d’artefact linguistique car,
comme l’analyse Martin Price, « we have moved from art as illusion to
concern with the processes of art » (332).
Si Tristram recherche les origines de la vie, il recherche aussi
celles de la création littéraire. Tristram Shandy se présente comme
une œuvre métafictionnelle par essence, « a work in progress » au
sens propre du terme, en train de se faire, et de se regarder se faire,
où fusionnent les deux sens de la création : le processus et le résultat. Le narrateur propose un questionnement sur la création littéraire,
présente son texte, qui se développe dans un espace d’écriture particulièrement souple, comme une construction linguistique, et souligne
que tout langage est fiction et (re-)création.24 Il explore par quels procédés le texte se crée peu à peu, procédés qu’il peut manipuler à ses
propres fins, à l’instar de Didius, qui récrit la licence de la sage-femme
et lui donne le sens qui lui convient le mieux (1.7, 8). La dédicace,
d’abord lacunaire, puis complétée (le nom et la qualité de l’acheteur
figureront dans l’édition suivante [1.9, 10-11]) illustre cette création en
Voir Wayne C. Booth: « all these echoes of earlier phrases and situations […] indicate that Sterne […] pillaged his earlier work » (« Did Sterne Complete
Tristram Shandy? » [183]).
24 Le narrateur insiste sur la construction de toute création littéraire par
un jeu de mots sur « story » / « storey » et sur la polysémie du terme « foundation »,
notamment lorsqu’il écrit : « many an undertaking critick would have built two stories
higher upon worse foundations » (5.3, 248).
156 / Hélène Dachez
devenir. De plus, le narrateur insiste sur le moment même où le texte
se crée, et se décrit : « in this fertile land … unskrewing my ink-horn
to write my uncle Toby’s amours » (8.1, 380). Les dates données par
Tristram insistent également sur le moment présent et concret de
l’écriture, où la plume touche le papier.25
Si le texte se crée peu à peu, le lecteur, de même, est créé par
la lecture.26 Au cours de son ouvrage, Tristram évoque plusieurs lecteurs, « Sir » (6.36, 330) et « Madam » (1.20, 41), lectrice à qui il reproche d’être incapable de créer le sens par inférence. À ces deux
catégories de lecteurs, il prétend apprendre – et promet d’apprendre –
à lire un ouvrage particulièrement original (1.20, 42). Selon Howard
Anderson, le narrateur enseigne au lecteur à s’ouvrir à de nouvelles
formes littéraires : « almost at once, Tristram Shandy begins to make
us aware of reductive limits that our imaginations have imposed upon
a new experience. He makes us doubt the adequacy of our own imaginations to comprehend and assess accurately what is happening
before our eyes » (966). Il apprend également à son lecteur à ne pas
établir de liens erronés de cause à conséquence, par exemple quand
Phutatorius, brûlé à l’entre jambe par une châtaigne qu’il croit, à tort,
appartenir à Yorick, parce que ce dernier la ramasse, s’imagine qu’il
l’y a mise pour le punir de son livre De Concubinis Retinendis (4.27,
226-27). Il lui montre que la création littéraire prend aussi d’autres
formes, plus originales, que celles des romans qu’il a l’habitude de
lire.27 C’est aussi par sa ponctuation inédite qu’il favorise une autre
forme de lecture, car « Sterne’s page demands a lively eye that apprehends meaning not “straight forwards,” line by line from left to right,
top to bottom, but in a dance that perceives the structure of the space,
25 Ces dates, qui permettent de suivre précisément l’élaboration du
texte, sont le 9 mars 1759 (1.18, 32), le 26 mars 1759 (1.21, 46) et le 12 août 1766
(9.1, 423). Voir de Voogd, 8.
26 Voir Descargues, 409-12.
27 Voir, à ce propos, les remarques de Howard Anderson : « Sterne assaults
our conceptions about what a narrative should be, and thereby gets us to reconsider
what a narrative […] is […]. [He mocks] the reader’s impulse to have him get on with
the central narrative line » (968-69).
La création dans Tristam Shandy…. / 157
actively moving back and forth, in essence creating meaning by performing these actions » (Fanning 440). Dans un rapport qui fait se
rejoindre processus et résultat de la création, le lecteur (créé par le
texte) crée le texte, et renforce l’idée que la création est une expérience en devenir, comme l’illustrent le portrait de la veuve Wadman,
où Tristram prête sa plume au lecteur et laisse son texte vierge (6.38,
330-31), ainsi que la proposition faite au lecteur de rédiger l’histoire
des amours de Toby et de la veuve Wadman.28
Or, si Tristram abandonne au lecteur une partie du travail, c’est
néanmoins lui qui fixe les règles du jeu. Le texte, qui se situe à michemin entre création et recréation, et qui énonce de nouvelles règles
d’écriture et de lecture, devient alors récréation.
Dans une lettre du 23 mai 1759, Sterne annonce qu’il considère
son roman comme une récréation : « the Plan […] tak[es] in […] every
Thing […] which I find Laugh-at-able in my way » (Letters 74). Selon
l’onomastique, Tristram signifie « celui qui est triste », alors que Yorick est, nous apprend Hamlet, le fou du roi (« jester » 1.11, 16). En
fait, Tristram devient le « fou du lecteur » (« the reader’s jester »), le
prévient qu’il en portera parfois les signes distinctifs (« a fool’s cap
with a bell » [1.6, 7]) et qu’il entend régner sur « a kingdom of hearty
laughing subjects » (4.32, 237). Il revendique la récréation (au sens
de « ranimer », de redonner vie) comme la fonction principale de
l’écriture et comme le but de la lecture. En parodiant les traités de
médecine de l’époque, il explique quels bienfaits physiques aura la
lecture de son ouvrage : « true Shandeism … opens the heart and
lungs, and … forces the blood and other vital fluids of the body to run
freely thro’ its channels, and makes the wheels of life run long and
« Though I have all along been hastening towards this part of it, with so
much earnest desire, as well as knowing it to be the choicest morsel of what I had to
offer to the world, yet now that I am got at it, any one is welcome to take my pen,
and go on with the story for me that will » (9.24, 443).
158 / Hélène Dachez
chearfully round » (4.32, 237).29 Pour le narrateur, l’art et la création,
liés au rire, sont des moyens de transcender non seulement les vicissitudes de la vie, mais aussi la perspective de la mort.
Toby et ses activités sur le boulingrin illustrent cette possibilité
récréative.30 Le personnage passe de la destruction à la création (une
forme de recréation), puis à la récréation. Blessé dans sa chair, il est
d’abord incapable de raconter la scène de mutilation par les mots.
Pour pallier cette difficulté à créer du sens (2.1, 58), qui menace jusqu’à sa vie (1.25, 57), il a recours à des objets concrets : la carte de
Namur, puis le boulingrin. Toby recrée une réalité différente de celle
du champ de bataille à partir de mottes de terre, activité qui devient
son « hobby-horse » (2.1, 59, 60). Sa guérison est rendue possible
par la création d’un espace de jeu (c’est-à-dire de représentation et
de délassement) où sont reconstruites les villes concernées par les
batailles et les combats narrés dans les gazettes (6.21, 312 ; 6.23,
315). Grâce à ce processus de recréation récréative, il compense sa
virilité défaillante et son incapacité de procréer par ses actions sur le
terrain (de son boulingrin), dont Stephen Soud analyse la fonction :
« his fortress gardening is especially suffused with vestiges of his lost
sexuality. […] The labyrinth in Yorkshire supplants the labyrinth in
Flanders, as Toby attempts to regain his lost potency in the garden
maze » (403). Son itinéraire le conduit de la blessure de guerre au
plaisir du jeu (2.3, 65) et la destruction typique de la guerre cède la
place à la construction, au jeu et à la fiction : c’est de la fumée de
tabac qui sort des canons et personne n’est jamais blessé (6.26, 319).
Ce changement de perspective se traduit par l’adoption d’un vocabulaire amoureux pour traduire ses activités récréatives : « never did
lover post down to a belov’d mistress with more heat and expectation,
than my uncle Toby did, to enjoy this self-same thing in private » (2.5,
70). Après la signature du traité d’Utrecht (1713), le vocabulaire mili-
Tristram dévoile la fonction de son ouvrage : « ’tis wrote […] against the
spleen » (4.22, 218).
30 Selon Fred C. Pinnegar : « the bowling green on which the siege of Namur
is recreated is presented in terms of creativity, fecundity and sexuality » (98).
La création dans Tristam Shandy…. / 159
taire est détourné pour permettre à Tristam de rendre compte des
amours de Toby et de la veuve.31
Il s’établit alors un parallèle entre la recréation récréative de Toby et celle de Tristram dont le « hobby-horse » est Tristram Shandy
car, grâce à son livre, résultat d’une procréation métaphorique, le
personnage recrée et réorganise la réalité comme il le souhaite, en
insistant sur son pouvoir récréatif, comme l’illustre la fin du volume
7 (7.43, 376-79). Nannette et la danse y deviennent l’incarnation de la
récréation et réaffirment la force vitale. Le changement est d’autant
plus marquant que Tristram s’est dit pourchassé par la mort quelques
pages plus tôt. Selon K. E. Smith, en effet, l’épisode signifie « the very
apotheosis of life […] a resurrection from the dead » (21-22). En ajoutant, « this is […] the enactment of a commitment to life, an act of
writing that will energise Tristram and enable him to continue writing
of uncle Toby’s amours » (21), K. E. Smith suggère que la vie, menacée un instant auparavant, et le texte qui la recrée (et la récrée) deviennent un jeu, qui met face à face le lecteur et le narrateur.
Dans cette récréation qu’est le texte, le narrateur fait des annonces, des promesses, et parfois aussi frustre les attentes du lecteur. Il aiguise sa curiosité (1.13, 25 ; 2.19, 111), le défie de deviner
ce qui suivra.32 Il joue avec les règles de ponctuation, notamment en
utilisant plusieurs lignes d’astérisques pour narrer l’accident de fenêtre dont il est victime, et dire, sans le faire vraiment, quelle est la
gravité de la blessure reçue (6.14, 304-05).33 Il lui arrive aussi de se
contredire, tout en attendant sans doute que son lecteur s’en rende
compte, par exemple quand il se moque de la volonté de savoir encyclopédique de Walter Shandy, mais écrit : « nothing which has tou31 Parmi de très nombreux exemples, on relève les expressions : « to lay
siege to that fair and strong citadel » (3.25, 151), « Love-militancy » (8.14, 389),
« the attack », « Mrs. Wadman’s next stroke of generalship » (8.16, 391), « she left
a ball here », « a good thundering attack upon her » (8.28, 41).
32 « My reader has never yet been able to guess at any thing. […] If I
thought you was able to form the least judgment or probable conjecture to yourself,
of what was to come in the next page, – I would tear it out of my book » (1.25, 57).
33 Selon Anne Bandry-Scubbi : « quel que soit leur nombre, les astérisques sont un des instruments de la grivoiserie du texte » (45).
160 / Hélène Dachez
ched me will be thought trifling in its nature, or tedious in its telling »
(1.6, 6). Il fait des promesses, mais ne les tient pas toujours (il annonce vingt volumes et des cartes [1.13, 25]). La page marbrée devient l’emblème de ce jeu avec le lecteur et, selon Stephen Soud :
« its mystic truth obscured by the carefully designed swirls of color [is]
calculated to resist our systematizing, [it is] a “motly emblem” of […]
Tristram Shandy » (408).34
C’est enfin par le jeu sur la langue que l’écriture devient récréation, notamment dans le jeu entre sens propre et sens figuré ou métaphorique, illustré par l’épisode où une mule, à cause d’une erreur
commise par Obadiah, naît de l’accouplement d’une belle jument et
d’un magnifique cheval arabe. La procréation est doublement ratée,
puisque la mule est un animal stérile. Mrs Shandy et Toby pensent
que Walter, déçu, va littéralement assassiner Obadiah. Or, le père de
Tristram se contente de faire à son domestique une remarque assassine (5.3, 247), si bien que l’humour remplace la catastrophe annoncée. Le jeu sur le sens propre et le sens figuré est d’autant plus important qu’il définit le texte : « A COCK and a BULL » (9.33, 457). Il
est en effet question d’un taureau véritable, celui de Mr Shandy,
soupçonné d’impuissance, on l’a vu. Quant à « COCK », il ne s’agit
sans doute pas de l’animal, mais du sujet de préoccupation principal
de la veuve Wadman. L’expression sert aussi à définir ce qu’est
l’ouvrage : un roman à dormir debout, sans queue ni tête, forme informelle qui insiste sur l’originalité créatrice de l’auteur.
Cette caractéristique ludique du texte est sous-tendue par le
double-entendre. La scène des lits de justice repose sur une lecture
double des termes : « the boy », « the child » et « to be put in
breeches » suggérant à la fois le fils et le pénis de Walter (6.18, 307309). Un sens sexuel se greffe également sur le sens militaire dans la
scène où Trim et Bridget démolissent le pont de Toby. Le responsable
est « the destructive machinery of corporal Trim […] no bridge, or
bastion, or sally port that ever was constructed in this world, can hold
Tristram définit cette page comme : « [the] motly emblem of my
work » (3.36, 164).
La création dans Tristam Shandy…. / 161
out against such artillery » (3.24, 153). La polysémie du terme
« bridge » renforce la confusion, car elle est en outre à l’origine d’un
quiproquo entre le docteur Slop, qui souhaite utiliser « a bridge » pour
reconstruire un nez à Tristram, et Toby, qui pense au pont démoli par
Trim et Bridget (3.23, 150). Le terme « siege », que Tristram évoque
lorsqu’il mentionne « the difficulties of my uncle Toby’s siege » (9.32,
455), a un sens au moins triple : il s’agit du siège de Namur, du siège
qu’organise la veuve pour séduire Toby et du siège au sens physique
de postérieur. La confusion entre sens propre et sens figuré crée ainsi
des quiproquos difficiles à démêler. L’expression « to the end of the
chapter » (1.10, 14, 5.13, 259, 8.22, 405) reste volontairement vague
et il est impossible de savoir s’il s’agit de la fin du chapitre du livre (au
sens propre) ou de la fin de l’activité décrite ou des événements représentés (au sens figuré).
Une dernière modalité du jeu sur la langue tient au fait que la
métaphore est prise au sens propre, procédé qui insiste sur le caractère artificiel, créé ou recréé du texte, ainsi que sur sa nature
d’artefact linguistique. Toby illustre la métaphore « ne pas faire de mal
à une mouche » (« [no] heart to retaliate upon a fly » [2.12, 80-81]) au
sens propre, en laissant en vie une mouche qui l’importune. Un passage du conte de Slawkenbergius concrétise quant à lui la métaphore
« to be on somebody’s mind ». En décrivant l’effet physique qu’a le
nez de l’étranger sur l’esprit de l’abbesse de Quedlinberg et de ses
dignitaires, Tristram se moque de la théorie cartésienne, selon laquelle le lien entre le corps et l’esprit se situe dans la glande pinéale :
« the courteous stranger’s nose had got perched upon the top of the
pineal gland of her brain, and made such a rousing work in [their]
fancies […] they could not get a wink of sleep the whole night thro’ for
it » (4, 183). Ce jeu sur la langue se voit paradoxalement renforcé par
le fait que Tristram, tout en le suggérant, le nie : « I declare, by that
word I mean a Nose, and nothing more, or less » (3.31, 159). Le contexte crée, ou tout au moins suggère, le double sens, que le narrateur
dément, mais tout en donnant au lecteur l’idée qu’il le manipule, tout
162 / Hélène Dachez
comme il manipule la langue et évoque une possibilité de création
sémantique quasi infinie (6.2, 287).35
Ainsi, au niveau thématique, il s’établit dans Tristram Shandy un
rapport dialectique entre la création et la destruction, qui conduit à
envisager la création dans son rapport à la recréation. Le texte devient un espace de jeu entre le narrateur, l’auteur et le lecteur – un
espace récréatif, ludique, où le jeu linguistique commande à la création. L’originalité de ce jeu tient en partie au fait que le narrateur fixe
les règles, qui reposent sur le paradoxe qu’il n’y a justement pas de
règles. Tristram / Sterne entendent créer un lecteur capable de tirer
tout le profit souhaitable du texte, tout en mettant en doute cette possibilité.36 Il est révélateur que le sermon lu par Trim soit reçu par
chaque lecteur à sa manière et ne provoque aucun changement dans
l’auditoire (2.17, 88-101). Le lecteur est invité à se demander si, par la
portée métafictionnelle de ce sermon, Sterne ne dénonce pas la vanité de toute lecture, ou bien la vanité de l’auteur qui est dans l’illusion
qu’on l’écoute ; et, plus généralement, Sterne semble demander (et
se demander) pour qui et pour quoi créer. Il propose un questionnement sur ses œuvres et sur l’art comme incarnation et comme prolongement de soi, ainsi que sur la part d’âme qu’il est possible de transmettre après sa disparition. La pire possibilité est illustrée par le sort
réservé à la Tristrapædia (création frappée de nullité) et la meilleure
est sans doute TS, création, recréation et récréation qui, bien
qu’ayant été écrite par un auteur dont le prénom ne le prédestinait à
rien de bon, réserve d’incomparables surprises à son lecteur.
Hélène Dachez37
35 On pense à la multiplicité des possibilités sémantiques engendrée par
les verbes et auxiliaires de la langue anglaise (5.43, 285-86) ; voir aussi 5.42, 284.
36 Voir à ce sujet l’article de J. Paul Hunter, « Response as Reformation:
Tristram Shandy and the Art of Interpretation. »
37 Hélène Dachez, Université Toulouse 2 – Le Mirail (France).
La création dans Tristam Shandy…. / 163
Anderson, Howard. « Tristram Shandy and the Reader’s Imagination. »
PMLA 86 (1971): 966-73.
Bandry-Scubbi, Anne. « Tristram Shandy à mots comptés. » Revue de la
Société d’Études Anglo-Américaines des XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles 63
(2006): 41-61.
Booth, Wayne C. « Did Sterne Complete Tristram Shandy? » Modern Philology 47 (1951): 172-83.
--------------------. The Rhetoric of Fiction. Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1961.
Burckhardt, Sigurd. « Tristram Shandy’s Law of Gravity. » Journal of English
Literary History 28 (1961): 70-88.
Chibka, Robert L. « The Hobby-Horse’s Epitaph: Tristram Shandy, Hamlet,
and the Vehicles of Memory. » Eighteenth-Century Fiction 3 (1991):
De Voogd, Peter. « How to Read Tristram Shandy. » Revue de la Société
d’Études Anglo-Américaines des XVIIe et XVIIIe Siècles 63 (2006): 717.
Descargues, Madeleine. « The Obstetrics of Tristam Shandy. » Études Anglaises 59 (2006): 401-13.
Fanning, Christopher. « On Sterne’s Page: Spatial Layout, Spatial Form,
and Social Spaces in Tristram Shandy. » Eighteenth-Century Fiction
10 (1998): 429-50.
Friant-Kessler, Brigitte. « Tristram Shandy’s Mirroring Images. » Revue de la
Société d’Études Anglo-Américaines des XVIIe et XVIIIe Siècles 63
(2006): 63-84.
Gurr, Jens Martin. « Tristram Shandy: Postmodernism in the 18th Century? » Revue de la Société d’Études Anglo-Américaines des XVIIe et
XVIIIe Siècles 63 (2006): 19-40.
Hartley, Lodwick. « A Chapter of Conclusions. » Laurence Sterne in the
Twentieth Century: An Essay and a Bibliography of Sternean Studies
1900-1965. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina Press, 1966. 64-75.
Hunter, J Paul. « Response as Reformation: Tristram Shandy and the Art of
Interpretation. »
Novel 4 (1971): 132-46.
Jefferson, D. W. « Tristram Shandy and the Tradition of Learned Wit. » Essays in Criticism 1 (1951): 225-48.
164 / Hélène Dachez
La Mettrie, Julien Offray de. L’Homme-Machine. 1748. L’Homme-Machine
suivi de L’Art de jouir. Paris : Bossard, 1921. 1-147.
Moss, Roger B. « Sterne’s Punctuation. » Eighteenth-Century Studies 15
(1981-82): 179-200.
Patrick, Duncan. « The “Nine Months” Problem. » The Shandean 15 (2004):
Pinnegar, Fred C. « The Groin Wounds of Tristram and Uncle Toby’s. » The
Shandean 7 (1995): 87-100.
Price, Martin. « Sterne: Art and Nature. » To the Palace of Wisdom: Studies
in Order and Energy from Dryden to Blake. Ed. Martin Price. 1964.
New York: Doubleday, 1965. 313-42.
Smith, K. E. « Ordering Things in France: The Travels of Sterne, Tristram
and Yorick. » Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century 292
(1991): 15-25.
Smollett, Tobias. Travels through France and Italy. 1766. Ed. Frank Felsenstein. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Soud, Stephen. « “Weavers, Gardeners, and Gladiators”: Labyrinths in Tristram Shandy. » Eighteenth-Century Studies 28 (1995): 397-411.
Sterne, Laurence. Letters of Laurence Sterne. Ed. Lewis Perry Curtis. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1935.
---------------------. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.
1760-67. Ed. Howard Anderson. New York: Norton, 1980.
--------------------. A Sentimental Journey. 1768. A Sentimental Journey with A
Journal to Eliza. Ed. Ian Jack. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.
The Anthropological Role of Arabic Sociolinguistics: The Touat Speech Community
as an Example
Personal names, terms of status and titles inform about the function of language and the social relations that characterise any speech
community. Forms of address provide information about both linguistic
variation and social differentiation. They illustrate the complexity of
social interaction, as it is subject to variation according to addressee/addressor, context of communication, distance and/or intimacy between speaker and interlocutor, as well as their social background.
In the next sections, we describe the Touatian society from both
sociological and anthropological viewpoints to have an idea about the
various components of the local social hierarchy. The terms of address are also dealt with to show that there are rules that govern the
naming process of the latter community.
1. Sociology
The sociological description is essential to reveal the traditional
human hierarchy (Chorfas, Mrabtines, Zawayas, slaves, and Harratines). The socio-historical structure of the Touat is necessary to reveal
local history and its immediate counterpart, i.e. society. As Abdallah
Laroui says: “the masters changed; their race, religion and language
changed but not so the structure” (76).
The Touatian social hierarchy is based on “Caste” criteria
(Searle-Chatterjee). The castes are composed of the Chorfas (or the
Nobles), the Mrabtines (or Marabouts), the Zwi (or people of the
shrines) who define themselves through Muslim affiliation, and the
166 / Bouhania Bachir
slaves and Harratines who are not wealthy, and do not have any prestige.
Scheduled mobility within the system is permitted to those belonging to the same caste-membership. It takes the form of intermarriages within the closed caste-membership arrangement. Nevertheless, all layers of the Touat social stratification respect the principles of Islam: unity, kindness, solidarity, etc.
1.1 The Chorfas / The Nobles
The adjective “Chorfas” refers to the highest class of the Touat
hierarchy. It is used to demarcate the people who descend from
Prophet Mohamed’s (pbuh) family. That is, they are the children of El
Hassan and El Hussein, sons of Caliph Ali and Fatima, daughter of
Prophet Mohamed (pbuh). They are sometimes referred to as “Alids,”
as “Idrissids,” and as the “Hassanids” of Morocco.
The Chorfas are black or white. The formers are referred to as
“Negroid Shurafa” (Trimingham 98). Their father is As-Saqli, a Cherif
who visited the King of Timbuktu and married one of his daughters.
When the Cherif died, he left the first dynasty of black African Chorfas. Years later, his children travelled towards the oases of central
Sahara looking for refuge. In the Touat, the black Chorfas founded the
village of Kali. Nowadays, the Chorfas do not have much effect on
local social mobility. Yet, they still have the admiration of society for
their piety, the traditional teaching of the Koran and the precepts of his
Prophet (pbuh). Present Touatian social stratification considers the
Chorfas as its highest sphere. This group represents the most respected and the most influential class of the people of the Touat.
1.2 The Mrabtines / Marabouts
Along with the Chorfas, the Marabouts constitute the second
layer of the highest spheres of the Touat social stratification. They are
both the nobility and the local aristocracy. The Marabouts come from
the Almoravid dynasty which ruled northern Africa and a part of Andalusia for centuries. According to J. Cuoq (in Benhsain and Devisse
Anthropological Role of Arabic Sociolinguistics…. / 167
2000: 14; see also Taibi 2000) the “Murabitun” were the people who
received a theological teaching from Imam Al-Farsi, and were depository not only of his knowledge but also of his “Baraka” or holiness. In
the Touat, they are the “Imams,” the religious scholars, and the
Koranic teachers. Their sole aim is to preach the word of God and the
precepts of his Prophet. In the Touat, the Marabouts are respected,
for they are the “Sheikhs” of the shrines. They can also marry with
people from the other highest spheres, such as the Chorfas and the
1.3 The Zwi/ People of the Shrines
The Zwi are of Berber “Sanhadja”-Moorish origin. They are
nicknamed “Mulattamun” or the “veiled” people because they used to
wear a blue veil on the face. They are also called “Tolba” in Algeria
and “Zanaja” in Morocco. Both in Algeria and Morocco, the Zwi had to
pay collective tributes to the Chorfas or to the Alids who protected
them from any dangers. They were thoroughly arabicised right from
the first centuries of the Muslim conquests of North Africa.
1.4 The Slaves and the Hartanis
The slaves fall into two categories: the original slaves and the
Harratines. The original slaves are black people who were brought
from the Sudan (kingdoms of Mali, Ghana and Songhay) to The Touat
as prisoners, and were sold to rich families and merchants in the
Touat markets of slaves. They had to perform the most difficult tasks
such as digging, cleaning and maintaining hundreds of Foggaras. 1
Their work also consisted in building the numerous citadels and
Ksours. The slaves worked in their masters' fields along with their
Ancient forms of aqueducts.
168 / Bouhania Bachir
1.4.1 The Slaves
The slaves, who were taken or brought from Bornou, Boure,
Kano, Kanem, Katsina, Hausaland and Timbuktu, were taught the
Koran and the precepts of Prophet Mohamed (pbuh) (Levtzion). They
were exchanged for gold, salt, and fabrics such as silk. After two or
three generations, the slaves could be integrated into their masters’
families. Their children were sent to Koranic schools where they were
taught the Koran and the “Sira” (Prophet Mohamed’s sayings and
deeds). Others were restricted to work on the fields. Some slaves
were considered as freeborn Muslims and were allowed to marry free
women. Yet, the stigma of their servile state remained vivid. As such,
they were not granted social mobility up the local social stratification.
They were always considered as the lowest-backward classes.
1.4.2 The Hartanis
The other category of coloured people considered as slaves is
that of the Harratines. In fact, they are freeborn slaves. The etymology
of the name is improbable and controversial. For the natives, this
word means “second generation of free slaves,” for the word is composed of Arabic {harrun} “free” and {thani} “second.” According to AlNassiri (in Batran 4) in the Maghrib the term Harratin is used to mean
“a manumitted man, or a free man of secondary rank.” Another definition is {harrarta} “you freed” and Arabic first personal singular pronoun
{ana}, i.e. harrarta + ana = harrartani “you freed me.”
Another definition given to the word Harratines is the Arabic
noun for cultivators {harratin}. This idea could account for the clarification of the origin of the name, since most Hartani people are agriculturists. The Harratines do not constitute a well-demarcated African
tribe; rather they are a scattered population amongst Arabs and Berbers. Socailly speaking, the Hartanis are classified between the
slaves and the free men; hence their appellation of “free man of second rank.” The Harratines became landowners after the independence of Algeria thanks to the Agrarian Revolution of the 1970s (Ca-
Anthropological Role of Arabic Sociolinguistics…. / 169
pot-Rey 235). They owned pieces of land and became rich. As such,
they got the opportunity to climb up the social ladder.
In the next section, we deal with forms of address used within
the Touatian community. These, as already mentioned above, are
subject to local rules of address which set distant and intimate relationships among the speakers.
2. Forms of Address
Forms of address have long been of interest to sociolinguists,
anthropologists, and social psychologists as they reflect complex social networks, and shed light on systems of relationships between
members of a given speech community (Paulston). Address terms are
not static but vary according to the social context, occasion and situation of communication (Brown and Yule 54; Lakoff). The social context
affects the choice of forms of address, which are used between people for communicative purposes, or when the addressor wants to attract the attention of the interlocutor, or when communicators want to
establish their personal social position in relation to the addressees.
(Evans-Pritchard: 1929; Evans-Pritchard: 1964). Forms of address
can be used in two different manners. First, they are employed to
address people directly, during a conversation for example. The use
of the terms is dependent on several social factors, among which:
-family norms of address between children and parents at different
-audience (who is listening?);
-social context (is it formal or public, or private and personal, for instance) (Holmes 2001: 14).
Second, they are used to refer to people who are either present
or absent during the speech event. While referring to people, the
speakers also have to respect factors such as the relationship between the speaker and the person referred to. The addressor’s use of
forms of address to refer to an absent person depends on whether he
knows the person well or not.
170 / Bouhania Bachir
The linguistic forms used illustrate the complex social relationships that exist between the members of the speech community.
Some address terms, titles of status in particular, function as honorifics and carry the idea of politeness, power and solidarity between
the interacting people. When used along a personal name, they often
reflect humility and humbleness on the part of the speaker as a way of
showing “positive politeness” (Watts 2003: 86).
In matter of social distance/intimacy, the degree of formality of
context is a determining factor. The forms used to address friends and
family members differ according to the formality of the social context.
(Keshavarz: 2001). In this case, relational honorifics (Farghal: 2002;
Farghal and Shakir: 1994) can be split into intimate and distant honorifics. The former are used to address close relatives, while the latter
are appropriate with other people.
Social intimacy and social distance between members of a
speech community vary according to such features as age, sex, social
class, and social roles. Terms of address used between people who
work together, or who are members of the same family, or who belong
to the same social class are not similar to those used with others.
These terms identify both participants to the speech event. Terms of
address correspond to the individual’s own characteristics. Language,
then, varies according to the social characteristics of the speaker and
according to the social context where the speech event occurs. Terms
of address identify the regional and social background of the addressee or addressor. Personal names, as true terms of address, are
not bestowed freely upon a person. They are given according to several criteria such as birth, descent, prestige, social class, etc.
Since forms of address reflect complex social networks, local
speech community does not consider naming a person as an arbitrary
process of identification, but rather as a means of identifying the social background of the person named. First and full official names, for
instance, are considered as address forms, since they enable speakers to identify their interlocutors, or to be identified.
Names constitute a symbol of personal identification. The link
between name and bearer is part of the individual’s identity. As such,
Anthropological Role of Arabic Sociolinguistics…. / 171
the act of naming a person denotes expectations or objectives of the
2.1 Implications of Personal Names
As forms of address (Parkinson 1985: 43; Leyew: 2003), names
are not only a linguistic but also a cultural manifestation of any given
speech community. They carry information about people and their
social behaviour, and function as a symbolic system of personal and
group identity. Names vary according to age, sex, and social class
membership of bearer.
In general, all societies share the common background that each
individual holds at least one name. However, differences may exist
between individuals and societies concerning their ways of naming
children, particularly if the names denote social characteristics, regional belongings, and historical events. Most names are arbitrary
words used to identify and differentiate between a person and another
in a given place at a given moment. They are chosen from a local
stock, and correspond to various happenings. Sometimes, names
reflect local social hierarchies (Salih and Bader: 1999) and perform
the act of identifying reference.
In the following lines, we give a few details about “first” and “full
official” names, as well as “titles of status” used by the Touat speech
community. Names are not bestowed upon a person randomly; they
are a reflection of deep social networks of which the nominal stock is
restricted by standards of use.
2.2 Personal First Names
Names reflect the “conceptual and sociocultural reality” of society (Akinnaso 1980: 277, qtd. in Salih and Bader 1999: 30). The Touat
community respects Muslim and Arab traditional patterns of bestowing
first and last names. Arabic onomastics and anthroponomy (Al-Qalli:
2002) show that there are standards of use of male and female first
names. These norms are the following:
172 / Bouhania Bachir
-Theophoric names with prefix “Abd-el-...” Abdelkader, Abdallah, etc.
-Names of Prophet Mohamed: Mohamed, Ahmed, Mustapha, etc.
-Names with Prophet Mohamed’s epithets: Adel, Amine, Bachir, Burhan, Mounir, etc.
-Names of prophets: Aissa, Mousa, Ibrahim, Idriss, Ismail, Younes,
Youcef, etc.
-Names of the Prophet Mohamed’s family/descent and companions:
Aboubakr, Aicha, Ali, Hamza, Khadidja, Omar, Othmane, etc.
-Names of the Koran’s verses: Anfal, Ikhlas, Imran, Kawthar, Mariam,
-Names prefixed to “...-eddine”: Chamseddine, Kheireddine, etc.
-Names of famous places; Marwa, Muna, etc.
-Names with prefix “Abd-en- (apart God)”: Abdennebi, etc.
-Names of Muslim months: Chaaban, Rabia, Rabiaa, Rajab, Ramdan, etc.
-Names of days: Achour, Achoura, Boudjemaa, Djemaa, Khemis, etc.
-Names of occasions/events: Aid, Belaid, Belaida, Harbi, Miloud,
Mouloud, etc.
-Names of colour: Kahlouche, Samra, Souidani, Zarqa, etc.
-Names of planets: Badr, Chihab, Hilal, Qamra, etc.
-Names of animals: Abbas, Fahd, Tawas, etc.
-Names of plants: Khoukha, Nakhla, Warda, Yasmina, Zahra, Zhor,
Zohra, etc.
As a way of illustration, a few examples of first names are instanced. The data are gathered throughout a questionnaire whereby
university students (n = 100) were asked about their parents and
grand-parents’ first names. Another set of data is collected from the
university’s board of registration (n = 217) on which the names of the
students and their parents are reported.
Some people bear two different names; the first is a term of
status. The second is a personal name. Muslim names, such as “Hassan, Mulay, Al-Ouafi, As-Said, Hiba, Malluk,” and theophoric names
with the prefix “Abd-al…” as “Abdelkader, Abdallah” are frequently
used (Mecheri: 2003 273ff).
Anthropological Role of Arabic Sociolinguistics…. / 173
Table 1: Examples of Male First Names
1. Theophoric names
2. Prophet Mohamed’s
3. The Prophet’s
4. Prophets’ names
5. The Prophet’s
house/descent and
6. Names with prefix
‘Abd-el- (apart God)’:
7.Names of Muslim
8. Occasions/events
9. Names of colour
10. Names of planets
11. Names of days
12. Names of animals
Abdallah, Abdelkader, Abdelkrim, Abdelmoula,
Abderrahman, Abderrahim
Ahmed, Boufeldja, Boumedienne, Bouamama,
Al-Ouafi, Amine, Chafi’i, Cherif, Habib, Mabrouk,
Mahmoud, Sadek, Tahar, Tayeb, Yacine, etc.
Daoud, Driss, Ibrahim, Ismail, Moussa, Salah,
Abbas, Aboubakr, Ali, Hamza, Hassan, Hussein
Abdennebi, Abdelhadi, Abdelfodil
Chaabane, Ramdane
Belaid, Miloud, Mouloud
Lahmar, Lakhdar
Achour, Boudjemaa, Khemis
Abbas, Fahd
The table shows that, although Adrar’s naming system respects
the general Arabo-Muslim patterns of bestowing names upon children,
it does not completely act in accordance with it. For example, we do
not find first names prefixed to “-eddine,” or that refer to the verses of
the Koran.
Male names can be used either alone or in connection with another term, particularly a status term. The other terms can also be
used alone without the name depending on the situation and context.
If a speaker addresses a person, he can choose among to following
174 / Bouhania Bachir
-The name alone: as in Abdelkrim, Youcef, Hasan
-The name with a status title: Mulay Abdelkrim, Sidi Youcef, bba
-The title alone: Mulay, Sidi, bba.
These three choices convey different social meanings. They reflect intimacy and/or lack of respect between speakers as in the use of
name alone. They also express acquaintance and respect between
the participants, as in the use of name + status title. The third option
means no acquaintance but respect to the person addressed.
The women have their personal first name system. The following
table reports some female names used by Adrar speech community.
We notice that the female name system does not follow the same
criteria as those of the men:
Table 2: Examples of Female First Names.
1. The Prophet’s epithets
2. The Prophet’s house/
descent and companions
3. Names of days
4. Names of Muslim months
5. Occasions/events
6. Names of colour
7. Names of planets
8. Names of plants
Al-Ouafia, Amina, Cherifa, Faddoul, Habiba, Mabrouka, Mebarka,
Mimouna, Rokaya, Safia, Tahra
Aicha, Asma, Batoul, Khadidja,
Oul-kalthoum, Saadia, Zeinab, Zeinaba
Belaida, Milouda
Khadra, Samra
Warda, Yasmina, Zahra, Zhor,
We can find some female first names which are seldom used in
northern Algeria. For instance, we have Alkhadem “the servant,”
Mardijja “satisfied,” and Tayaa “the obeying.” First names such as
Aminata, Embirika, Fatimata, and Yaminata are still used in Aoulef as
Muslim-African proper names (Schottmann 2000: 82).
Anthropological Role of Arabic Sociolinguistics…. / 175
2.3 Full Official Name
Family names may be a “laqab,” that is a “‘family name’, which
can be appended, at will, in place of the grandfather’s, or the greatgrandfather’s name, or after them both. This is usually not a first name
but rather some distinguishing characteristic of the family” (Parkinson:
1985 48). In the Touat, we can note that family names are chosen
according to Arabo-Muslim patterns. Among these, we have:
Table 3: Some Family Names Used as “Laqab”
Honorific Arab tribal
Honorific place
Names referring to
former slaves
Names referring to
an occupation
Names referring to a
religious occupation
(Al-)Alaoui, Al-Hachemi, Al-Maghili, Al-Omari, AlTidjani, Mahraz and Maharzi, Mansouri, Hallali,
Yaichaoui, Yaichi, Ouled Abbas, Ouled Abbou,
Ouled Ba Mahdi, Ouled Bouhafs, Ouled Khodeir,
Ouled Othmane, etc.
Al-Bekrawi, Al-Bekri, Al-Kounti, Al-Maghili,
Al-Reggani, Al-Tamantiti, Al-Tinboukti, Al-Tinilani,
Al-Touati, Yamani, etc.
Abid, Aboud, Benabid, etc.
Segai “the (water) pourer,” Kiyyal “water measurer,”
Haddad the blacksmith,” Moqaddem “person in
charge of a Zawya.”
Zaoui “Zawya teacher,” Mrabet the Marabout.”
2.4 Foreign names
In The Touat, a number of African names are assimilated to local
reservoir. For example Ahmadou, Bahou, Bakhou, Chankla/Changla,
Fendou, Fendaoui, Fullane, Foulani, Forma, Kamju, Kentaoui,
Kikmu/Kigmu, Kounta, Kounti, Niklou, Nigilou, Tambou, Tambouli,
176 / Bouhania Bachir
Tambaoui, Touki, Oukkadou and Qouma/Gouma are originally subSaharan family names.
3. Titles of Status or Status Terms
Speech communities may have rules concerning the use of
terms of respect or of status which are particularly used between
speakers of equal and unequal ranks (Trudgill: 2000). Speech between these people is more formal than if the participants are equal
peers, friends, brothers and sisters. The use of titles of status preceding the first personal name respects the notion of personal “face” as
well as “politeness” (Brown and Yule: 1996 60; Lakoff: 1972 909;
Watts: 2003 86; Affui: 2006).
The category of social honorifics can be split into relational and
absolute honorifics (Levinson: 1983). Absolute honorifics are used to
address people of certain social rank and position, such as [Hakim] for
a Doctor, [Siderrajas] for a Judge, and [HaDaraat] for a police officer.
They are fixed both in form and allocation.
The category of relational honorifics can subdivide into distant
and intimate relational honorifics. Titles of address pertain to the first
sub-category. They are linked to a certain class of addressees, and
set distant relationships between speaker and adressee. The second
subcategory, relational social honorifics, reflects direct relationships
between speakers and addressees.
In the Touatian speech community, systems of terms of status
exist. Their use creates levels of distance/intimacy and formality/informality between speakers. A kinship term, such as [bba], functions either as a distant or as an intimate absolute kin term when addressing or referring to a person. When used before a personal name
to address or to refer to the person, it is a distant absolute kin term
whose value is that of a title of address. When it does not occur next
to a first name, it is an intimate absolute kin term.
In the Touat, titles of status are used both to address and to refer
to people of the same Class/Caste, but are prohibited for the other
levels of the social hierarchy. Chorfas have their own titles; they employ them between themselves exclusively. When communicating
Anthropological Role of Arabic Sociolinguistics…. / 177
with, or are saluted by the other levels of the social ladder (the Arabs,
Lajouad, Harratines, slaves, etc.) they require that their status-titles,
such as “Mulay” (My Master) and “Sidi” (My Lord) for the males,
“Lalla” (My Lady) and “Moulate” (My Mistress) for the females, be
prefixed to their personal names so as not to be diminished or minimised.
The status title “Mulay” is now borne by Chorfas children as a
proper name, and is registered on their birth certificates, identity
cards, and passports. The Chorfas address their kids with the titles
“Sidi” and “Mulay” preceding their personal names. Status terms can
be used following a certain pattern. For example, a Cherif is never
addressed with the diminutive term “Si,” which comes from Arabic
“Sidi” – “My Master.” He is called with the full status term “Sidi” either
alone or preceding his proper name. As an illustration, we report the
following examples:
Bba Messaoud, Bba Maarouf,
Cheikh Sidi El-Bekri Benabdelkrim Tamentiti,
Cheikh Mulay Abdallah Reggani,
Cheikh Sid El-Mokhtar El-Kounti,
Cheikh Sidi Bba Hamou Ben-Hnini,
Cheikh Ahmed Ben Sidi Bba Hamou,
Cheikh Sidi Ahmadou,
Cheikh Mulay Lahcen,
Sidi Mohamed Essalem, Sidi Mohamed Essalah,
Sidi El-Hadj Bou-Ahmed, Sid El-Hadl Bou-Lghait.
At the level of titles, old white Chorfas women are addressed exclusively as [Cherifa- Safia- Lalla- Moulate- Setti]. Nowadays, Chorfas
women are named with the titles “Lalla” and “Moulate” (from CA
/mawlaati/ “My Mistress”) prefixed to any personal name, for example:
“Lalla Aicha,” “Lalla Zahra,” “Moulate Aicha” and “Moulate Zahra.”
178 / Bouhania Bachir
The preceding sections show that the Touatian speech community is still stratified. It does not allow for any crossing over of its hermetic social stratification; and this is obvious in the naming structure
which is prevailing among the members of the community. Moreover,
the use of titles of status is a clear illustration that the Touatian
speech community has a discriminatory designation system which
sets rigid rules for bestowing names onto children. The titles of status
which are appended or prefixed to proper names instantiate the complexity that characterises the Touatian speech community in matter of
verbal communication. The fact that titles of status are reported on
identity cards is a clear manifestation that the community is not about
to change its secular human organisation; on the reverse, the community is reinforcing its rigidity and is not ready for any change.
Bouhania Bachir2
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Study.” Language and Intercultural Communication 6 (1), 2006, 76-91.
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Benhsain, R and J. Devisse. « Les Almoravides et l'Afrique Occidentale XIeXIIe Siècles ». Arabica. XLVII, Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2000.
Brown, G. and Yule, G. Discourse Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,1989.
Dr. Bouhania Bachir (MACC), Département des Langues Etrangères,
Université d’Adrar, Algérie.
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Capot-Rey, R. « La Population des Territoires du Sud », in Revue Africaine,
n° 84, 1940.
Cuoq, J. Recueil des sources arabes concernant l'Afrique occidentale du
VIIe au XVIe siècle, translations and notes, Paris, 1975.
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1929, 190-94.
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2002, 163-81.
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Social Honorifics in Jordanian Arabic.” Anthropological Linguistics 36
2, 1994, 240-53.
Holmes, J. (1992). An Introduction to Sociolinguistics. Blackwell Publishers,
Keshavarz, M. H. “The role of social context, intimacy, and distance in the
choice of forms of address.” International Journal of the Sociology of
Language, 148, 2001, 5-18.
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Slaves and Slavery in Muslim Africa, R.Willis (ed.), vol. I, London:
Frank Cass, 1985.
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Insight.” Journal of African and Cultural Studies 16 (2), Special Issue
Focusing on the Media in and about Africa, 2003. 181-211.
Mecheri, T. “‘asmaa’ wa ‘alqaab ‘annaas bimantiqat touat ‘al-kubra (First and
Last Names of Touat People),” in Al-dirassat Al-lughawijja 2, Mentouri
University, 2003, 270-90.
Parkinson, D. B. Constructing the Social Context of Communication: Terms
of Address in Egyptian Arabic. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1985.
Paulston, C. B. “Pronouns of Address in Swedish: Social Class Semantics
and a Changing System.” Language in Society 5, 1976, 359-86.
Salih, M. H. and Bader. Y. T. “Personal Names of Jordanian Arabic Christians: a sociocultural study.” International Journal of the Sociology of
Language 140, 1999, 29-43.
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Schottmann, W. 2000. “Baatonu First Personal Names from Birth to Death.”
Africa 70(1).
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Sharma (eds.), The Sociological Revue, Blackwell Publishers, 1994.
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Watts, R. J. Politeness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
The Dilemma of the Teacher and the Learner
of English in the Non-Native English
Classroom: the Case of Cameroon
1. Introduction1
The spread of English across the globe has raised commonplace
questions such as “which English, whose English?” etc. It is not new
to point out that, among the sea of English varieties in the world, only
BrE and AmE have held sway in terms of standards and codification.
They are the most documented varieties so far. These two varieties,
often referred to as the two main native varieties, are seen by many
as models for other varieties to look up to. This view is, however, not
shared by all, who think that seeing the native speaker as the sole
norm provider for the whole English-speaking world will be ignoring
the multilingual and multicultural realities of the non-native speaking
environment. Most of the non-native speakers who now show a favourable attitude towards their own forms see the imposition of the
native model on them as a threat to what serves as a marker of their
identity. This debate therefore, is centred on the problems and prospects as well as the motivation of accepting native standards in nonnative speaking settings. Geeraerts (2003) identifies two models in
which the trends outlined above are situated, respectively the romantic and the rationalist models. The proponents of the romantic model
hold that English as a world language should remain a monolith. To
them, international intelligibility will be guaranteed if a single standard
is maintained both in the native and non-native speaking environments. Scholars like Quirk, Chevillet, Gimson, etc., defend this thesis.
1 This paper is a modified version of a paper published in proceedings of
the conference on Language, Literature and Identity, held in Yaounde-Cameroon,
182 / Samuel N. Atechi
Diametrically opposed to this view is Braj Kachru who published a
series of articles during the last years of the twentieth century (1994,
1995, 1996, etc.), raising a myriad of concerns about this debate on
standards. Anne Pakir shares the concerns raised by Kachru and
goes further to reiterates two lessons of the global spread of English
when she contends: “we have to place the English language in its
regional and social context, and ‘to know’ in the classical sense, the
multi-identities and faces of such a language” and second, “we have
to accept the inevitable “pluricentricity” of English, rather than carrying
on with the tradition that there can only be a duo-centricity (viz., the
British or the American centres of linguistic hegemony)” (Pakir 1997:
When we talk of standards, it is mainly in respect of spoken English that the fear is often expressed that a non-native variety may become unintelligible to the rest of the English-speaking world. This is all
the more so because the spread of English varieties around the world
has developed many statuses and functions. The speakers in the new
English environments have twisted the language or nativised it to suit
their sociolinguistic realities against the wish of those who wish to see
it remain a monolith. Bamgbose identifies three types of nativisation,
namely, pragmatic, creative and linguistic nativisation (1998: 5-7). Of
these three types, he observes that linguistic nativisation stands less
chances of being tolerated. He blames this on the lack of codification.
“One of the major factors militating against the emergence of endonormative standards in non-native Englishes is precisely the dearth of
codification.” The debate on the acceptance of non-native English
norms in non-native settings has attracted the sustained attention of
scholars across the globe. Bamgbose reports a scene in 1984, at the
conference held in London to mark the 50th anniversary of the British
Council, where Lord Randolph Quirk and Professor Braj Kachru were
engaged in what he calls a “battle royal on Standard English as a
norm for the English-using world” (1998: 1). Quirk argued in favour of
a global standard, which he thought will guarantee international intelligibility, while Kachru argued in favour of the legitimacy and equality of
Englishes in the three concentric circles. To Kachru, English being an
international language, it cannot be seen as the sole property of na-
The Dilemma of the Teacher and the Learner…. / 183
tive speakers who will be the sole norm setters. Simo Bobda observes
that the 1980s and 1990s especially have seen countless formal and
informal academic and non-academic debates on the model to aspire
to in non-native English-using communities (2000: 54-55). He cites a
case in Cameroon where in 1989, the Cameroonian television series
English With a Difference provoked long passionate arguments for
and against the emulation of the native English model in Cameroon,
namely in pronunciation. In the same vein, Simo Bobda reports on
how in South Africa, the increasing divergence of South African Black
English (SABE) from the native English norms occasioned the organisation at the University of Pretoria of a seminar on “Appropriating
English in Democratic South Africa.” The debate was centred on
whether stable deviations in SABE should be accepted as alternative
norms. The debate featured, on the “con” side, Professor Peter Titlestead, and Professor Christa van der Walt on the “pro” side. Despite the consensus by a majority of these scholars that it is unrealistic to impose native norms in non-native environments, some conservatives still think that British and American Englishes should be used
as norms in these New English settings.
Quirk strongly believes that Native English norms should be
maintained in non-native areas if we do not want to see English degenerate to mutually unintelligible varieties. Talking about falling standards in non-native areas, he contends: “there is the need for native
teacher’s support and the need for non-native teachers to be in constant touch with the native language” (1990: 7). He further observes
that “since research has shown that natives have radically different
internalisations, the implications for attempting the institutionalisation
of non-native varieties of the language are too obvious for me to mention.” He frowns at the liberal way in which issues of standards are
handled: “If recent history has given us ‘liberation theory’ why not also
“liberation linguistics?”
Quirk raises two concerns about variation: He thinks that it will
set up barriers to communication and “we won’t be able to break down
barriers to careers and social mobility” (ibid.). But Fairman sees the
issue of barrier and mobility as a prejudice against regional dialects
and that any theory which defines regional dialects as deficient com-
184 / Samuel N. Atechi
pared with native standards helps to maintain this prejudice and barrier. “We can’t replace dialect variation. What we ought to do, however, is to make variation the basis for action against social and communication barriers in this multidialectal world” (1990: 26). (For more
on this debate, see Chevillet 1992, Gimson 1980, 1981; Fairman
Looking at the way some of these scholars cling tenaciously to
their claim, one begins to ask whether there is something else hidden
behind the insistence on native models in non-native settings. Simo
Bobda (1994) echoes Makoni, who thinks that there are many economic considerations behind the fight for the maintenance of native
English as the sole norm (1992: 8). He notes that during a recession
Britain and America can sell English teachers and teaching materials
unchallenged to the whole world, an advantage that they will lose if
new Englishes are recognised in education in Africa and Asia. He
quotes Sir Richard Francis, Director General of the British Council,
who argues that “Britain’s real black gold is not the North Sea oil but
the English language,” and the Director of the International House in
London who writes: “once we used to send gunboats and diplomats
abroad; now we are sending English teachers.”
It would appear that those who are fighting for the maintenance
of native English norms in non-native environments are fighting a lost
battle. There is ample evidence to show that a majority of scholars all
over the world are unanimous on the unrealistic nature of imposing
native norms in non-native settings. These scholars tend to see the
issue of identity as cardinal in the debate, for denying the use of these
local forms is robbing these speakers of a vital aspect of their identity.
In this connection, Paikeday (1985) quoted by Simo Bobda, proclaims
unequivocally: “The Native Speaker is Dead!” This statement is supported by ample evidence from many non-native English-speaking
countries as seen in the example by (2000: 66). In Cameroon, for
example, the most seasoned ELT professionals say p[ɩ]sant, spell “in
front” as one word “infront,” spell “occurred/occurrence” with a single
“r”, say and write “enable/allow” someone do something, “make”
someone to do something, “emphasize/stress” on something, etc. All
these forms help to mark the identity of the English speaking Camer-
The Dilemma of the Teacher and the Learner…. / 185
oonian, a marker he will jealously want to keep rather than lose it to
an illusionary model that is unattainable.
2. To teach or not to teach
Modiano (1999), like Brown (1995), thinks non-native features
should gain legitimacy in the classroom and should be accepted as
alternative standards in international English proficiency tests like the
TOEFL and the TOEIC. Simo Bobda (2000: 66), however, sees two
problems that will likely militate against such an ambitious proposal.
First, the limited professional and educational opportunities attached
to such features in a world almost exclusively controlled by the West.
Second, the lack of codification of these alternative standards, a prerequisite for the design of required didactic materials.
On the strength of the above, one can conclude that dust is still
to settle with regard to attitudes towards non-native norms, especially
when it comes to accepting them in the classroom. In the face of all
these controversies, one may be tempted to agree with those scholars
who see the codification of non-native varieties as a giant step forward. Kachru (1992) suggests that with a shift of interlocutors, there
has to be a shift of the canon (quoted by Pakir 1997: 172). He thinks
that, issues of standards and the documentation of “such additional
Englishes then become a major new focus of study.” Bamgbose notes
that the importance of codification of non-native varieties “is too obvious to be belaboured” (1998:4). The acceptance, recognition and
consequent codification of these new varieties will clearly define which
aspects of these varieties are errors and which can be called features
that mark them as varieties in their own right. This clarification is vital
to the issue of intelligibility and identity (for more on the argument for
codification of non-native varieties of English see Fairman: 1990;
Simo Bobda: 1994; Bamgbose: 1998).
3. The Status of the Non-Native teacher in the ELT profession
Closely linked to the debate on the introduction of non-native
models in non-native classrooms and the didactic material used for
186 / Samuel N. Atechi
instruction in non-native settings, is the debate on the non-native English teacher’s dilemma in the ELT profession. Those who defend the
thesis for the imposition of native English models in non-native settings believe that if the non-native teacher is allowed to teach the
language, this will only lead to the dissemination of local features in
the end, and the dream for international intelligibility will be dashed.
Many scholars dismiss this assertion arguing that the non-native
teacher stands a better chance of teaching their fellow non-native
learners than native English teachers who do not know the realities of
these settings.
Cheshire points out that the distinction conventionally drawn between the native speaker and the non-native speaker is becoming
blurred and increasingly difficult to operationalise (1991b: 2). Nayar
equally argues that the concept of the native speaker, particularly for
a language with such a trans-national and trans-ethnic profile as English creates some insidious pragmatic problems (1998: 28).
Still on the same line of thought, Widdowson (1994) argues that
the native speaker teachers are by and large equipped with knowledge only in a privileged intuitive sense and with pedagogic competence only to a rudimentary degree. By contrast, he goes on to argue,
non-native speaker teachers know the “subject,” English, in an explicit
rather than intuitive sense, by virtue of having themselves learnt it as
a foreign language and as a result of this, their pedagogic “credentials” are more credible.
Jenkins (2000) seems to take a more radical stance with regard
to the non-native speaking teachers’ status in the ELT profession. She
thinks that the non-native teacher is better placed to teach other nonnative learners because of their personal knowledge of the “route” that
their learners are travelling. This is an experience that NS teachers
have not passed through. Non-native teachers have this privileged
knowledge which informs their teaching, particularly if they share the
same L1 (see Kershaw: 1996; Parrott: 1998; Gnutzmann: 1999).
Kachru thinks that what is clear is that the “accent bar” segregating native and non-native users is still alive and well (1992: 27). Nobody wants to spend time to look into what the non-native teachers
are doing in the domain of pronunciation teaching; instead people
The Dilemma of the Teacher and the Learner…. / 187
keep evaluating these teachers’ accents in terms of their proximity to
NS standard accents. This type of attitude only goes to explain the
type of hurdles the non-native teachers go through in securing teaching positions. Bony Norton, referring to her experience of studying job
offers at the 1996 TESOL Convention in Chicago, says she was
“struck by the number of advertisements that called specifically for a
‘native English speaker’” (1992: 422).
The phenomenon of relegating the non-native teacher to the
background has got to the point where they have developed an inferiority complex and most of them now show the ultimate desire in “becoming like the native speakers in their command of the English language and perhaps even in their general behaviour.” Scholars like
Prator (1968) and Chevillet (1992) still find it difficult to accept that
Non-Native speakers are qualified to teach the language. Walelign
notes with indignation that even a marginally qualified native speaker
“has long been preferred to a well-trained and experienced non-native
speaker” (1986: 41).
This is rather unfortunate but all seems not to be lost as Jenkins
(2000) thinks there is light at the end of the tunnel. She thinks we may
one day get to the situation predicted by Eph Tunkle, a presenter at a
colloquium entitled “Non-native teachers teaching pronunciation” held
at the 1999 TESOL teaching Convention in New York. She now asks
the question if it is not feasible that in a few years, a colloquium will be
held on the topic “Native English teachers teaching pronunciation;
where can we put them”? (2000: 227) (for more on those who vote for
a shift in attitudes towards the Non-Native teachers, see Jenkins:
4. The teaching of English in Cameroon
Cameroon is one of the most complex linguistic settings in the
world. The linguistic landscape comprises two official languages, English and French, a dominant Pidgin English and over 248 indigenous
languages. English is one of the official languages in the country and
serves as a second language to Anglophone Cameroonians. It is also
188 / Samuel N. Atechi
taught as a foreign language to French-speaking Cameroonians. Language teaching and learning entails a learner, a teacher and the material taught. In short, it has to do with who teaches what and to
whom. The teacher of English as a second language in Cameroon is
a person who is also a speaker of the language as a second language. The learner is acquiring that language as a second language.
The teaching material is in normal circumstances supposed to reflect
the sociolinguistic and cultural realities of the learner’s environment.
While the teacher and the learner are all speakers of the local model
that has developed in the Cameroonian environment, the didactic
material still unfortunately does not reflect the realities of the setting.
Simo Bobda (1994) remarks that there is still a strong tendency
in textbooks to aim at the native model. He cites text books in Cameroon like Atanga et al. Intensive English for secondary schools (1986),
Grant et al. Secondary English project (1977) and Cripwell et al. Go
for English (1990), which still devote enormous time to the teaching of
Native English pronunciation. All these painstaking drills on RP
sounds are designed “to help the pupils learn through simple exercises how to minimize articulatory problems resulting from mother
tongue interference” (Atanga et al., back cover).
It is worth noting here that these textbooks do not give any concession to local forms that reflect the realities of the sociolinguistic
and cultural identity of both the teacher and the learner of the language. It thus sounds most paradoxical and problematic to imagine
that the teacher who is a typical speaker of CamE is obliged to teach
these forms that he is not familiar with, let alone the learner who has
very little exposure to the native forms. We all know that our teachers
are all locally trained and that most of them are not exposed to these
native forms as it were. We shall briefly look at some of the challenges faced by the teacher and the learner of English in the Cameroonian classroom.
The Dilemma of the Teacher and the Learner…. / 189
a. Phonological challenges
Native English
Given word
It is evident that majority of Cameroonians will not be able to
pronounce the words the way the native speakers do, let alone understand them when they are said by the native speakers. Atechi reports
that mean intelligibility scores between CamE and BrE and AmE fall
below 60% (2006). In a situation where the textbook prescribes the
native norm as the only way out, problems are bound to crop up. The
most interesting thing here is that the teacher who is supposed to
teach these forms is not a native speaker and thus has even a handicap in pronouncing them the way native speakers do. It is only but
logical that if the teacher fails to teach well, the learner will not be able
to learn anything. To show the amount of confusion brought in by this
debate, pedagogues, teachers’ associations and other interested
groups in Cameroon have been leaving no stone unturned in a bid to
find solutions to this problem. The teachers and English Language
Advisers for the NW and SW provinces of Cameroon have been
meeting to seek solutions to this dilemma. In one of their meetings,
they denounce the corruption of English pronunciation by their students, as they give instances of these deviations and prescribe remedial strategies. The teachers, however, seem to be more confused as
they encourage and condemn localised forms in the same document.
This confusion stems from the fact that CamE phonology deviates markedly from that of BrE as it is characterized by features like
vowel shortening, monophthongisation of native English diphthongs,
190 / Samuel N. Atechi
the absence of interdentals as in “think” and “that,” spelling, pronunciation, etc. These features are glaringly illustrated by the CamE realizations of the words above. Research on CamE phonology has
proved that these features are quite consistent and systematic, thus
mapping out CamE as a variety in its own right. In other words, it
stands as a mark of identity for the English-speaking Cameroonian.
This explains why, “Cameroonians who insist on sounding like Britons
are sometimes ridiculed rather than admired” (Mbangwana 1987:
b. Lexical challenges
At the lexical level, CamE equally deviates markedly from BrE.
The differences at this level serve as a source of problems to both the
learner and teacher of English in the Cameroonian classroom.
Face flannel
Living room
baby napkin
face towel
Should a textbook prescribe these words and neither the teacher
nor the learner identifies with any of them, then the teaching /learning
process is doomed to fail. The teacher and learner of English are
familiar with the CamE items. This ushers in a very serious pedagogical problem. The most intriguing thing here is that the actors in the
teaching / learning process may not have the same degree of exposure to both models. The teacher may be well informed with regard to
these native forms but the learners may not. On the other hand, some
of the learners may be more exposed to the native model than others
and even more than the teacher for some reason. What then happens
when a form that is not popular is used in class or even in an examination? If the teacher in setting questions uses this form, the learner
The Dilemma of the Teacher and the Learner…. / 191
will be confused, and if the learners in the course of answering questions use these forms, the teacher who is not well informed may penalize them.
c. Grammatical challenges
It is not only at the level of lexis and phonology that CamE deviates markedly from the native model. At the level of grammar one
notices that a good number of features that can comfortably be ascribed to CamE are typically Cameroonian
Pick up somebody
Lend money to somebody
Pick somebody
Borrow money to somebody
Congratulate someone on
I will be back soon
Congratulate someone for
I am coming
He is a thief. Isn’t he?
He is a thief. Isn’t it?
How is your wife?
How is our wife?
From the data above, one discovers that CamE has clear identifiable features that cannot be overlooked. These features suggest that
this non-native variety has the right to some quasi autonomy. Cameroonians wish to be identified as speakers of CamE. For example, it
will be more acceptable for a Cameroonian to ask the question: “how
is our wife?” referring to a friend’s wife than to ask, “how is your wife?”
The Cameroonian thinks that using the collective possessive “our”
shows some aspect of communal life. This communal concept gives
speakers of CamE the impression that they share even things that
can naturally not be shared. This phenomenon of sharing is part and
parcel of the Cameroonian society. That is why it is reflected in the
way they use the English language. It is very normal for a Cameroonian to talk of “my mothers,” “my fathers,” etc. In Cameroon all uncles,
father’s friends and other males that are of the father’s age are addressed as father. This is the same with mother, sister, brother, etc. In
192 / Samuel N. Atechi
the classroom, both the teacher and the learner will be in total confusion in a situation where someone uses the native English version
because he or she is exposed to it. As aforementioned, the teacher or
the learner may suffer the consequences of this mix up.
5. Further complications in the Cameroonian classroom
Although BrE is the mother of CamE because of the colonial history they have, the unprecedented growth of AmE is now threatening
the hegemony of BrE in most areas that were traditionally known to be
for BrE (Atechi: 2004). The growth of this variety has led to a change
of attitudes towards it and the mad rush to learn it. Foster observes
that the use of Americanisms among the young generation in Britain is
“the hallmark of the tough-guy and the hey man” (1968: 14). In some
cases Cameroonians are more used to American forms than to the
British forms, and in some cases they are more exposed to British
forms than to American as we see in the examples below:
trunk call
petrol station
full stop
term paper
international call
filling station
term paper
international call
petrol station
full stop
The above scenario can only usher in a high degree of confusion
when it comes to the learning/teaching process. At one point the
teacher and the learner are more exposed to American forms and at
another point, they are more exposed to British forms. One interesting
thing to note here is that what they are not exposed to is either seen
in terms of wrong usage or in terms of more formal usage as compared to what they know already. Some teachers and learners who
are ignorant of the other forms may see them as substandard or incorrect. For example, many Cameroonians think that “cab” and “period”
The Dilemma of the Teacher and the Learner…. / 193
are more fashionable than “taxi” and “full stop.” Some will hardly even
know what they mean.
At the level of grammatical patterning, Cameroonians think it is
elitist to say “I am visiting with her tomorrow” rather than to say “I am
visiting her tomorrow,” “I will see you over the weekend” rather than “I
will see you at the week end.” Even at the phonological level, words
like tomato, schedule, leisure, lieutenant, and vase, etc., form part of
the confusion because the BrE and AmE have different phonological
realizations for these words. Although there is no text that specifies
the model to be used in the Cameroonian classroom, most teachers
and learners think that since formal education started in Cameroon
with the BrE model, and most of the didactic materials and other reference books for the teaching of the language are based on BrE, it
should normally be the model to look to. It is worthwhile mentioning
here that this line of thought is now being questioned given that
Americanisms have forced their way into the Cameroon setting and
are even threatening the hegemony of BrE forms. The teacher and
the learner are now in more confusion than ever before given that
their attitudes and degree of exposure to each variety vary greatly,
and that there are some salient differences between the two native
varieties in question. Mbangwana points out that there are cases
where different words are used to express the same meaning in the
two native varieties (2002); AmE, “state department,” “president” (university), “congress” and “truck” while BrE, “foreign office,” “vice chancellor,” “parliament,” “lorry.”
In some cases the two share a common word or expression, but
with a different meaning, e.g., “vest” in AmE is called “waist coat” in
BrE, but “vest” in BrE is called an “undershirt” in AmE. “Camp bed” in
BrE while “cot” in BrE is “crib” in AmE. In certain cases both varieties
have the same meaning, but one variety has an additional meaning
not used by the other, e.g., BrE and AmE agree in the meaning of
“fall” as something dropping down but AmE extends it to the BrE “autumn” when leaves shed and fall. In some cases still, the two varieties
share a common expression and in meaning, but where one or both
expressions for the same thing, not used by the other, e.g., both AmE
194 / Samuel N. Atechi
and BrE use “taxi,” while “cab” is essentially AmE, they share “raincoat,” but “mackintosh” is typical BrE for the same thing.
Looking at the analysis above one sees that confusion is rife not
only between speakers of the two varieties, but also between the
learner and teacher of the language in a non-native setting like Cameroon who look to these native varieties for the learning and teaching
of the language. As if that was not enough, there is a third and even
more complicated dimension to this issue of model in the Cameroonian classroom. We have seen that at first, attitudes towards BrE
were positive and anything apart from this was seen as substandard
and thus not worth studying. But later on attitudes began to change
with the growing popularity of AmE. These two varieties held sway for
quite some time until CamE started forcing its way onto the scene,
given that features of this non-native variety were becoming very systematic and consistent. This systematicity came along with changing
attitudes towards this variety. Most Cameroonians thought that although the two native varieties were well documented with didactic
materials and treaties that facilitated the teaching/learning process, a
local variety was even more important because it reflects their identity
as CamE speakers as well as the sociolinguistic and cultural realities
of their setting. We find here, a complex linguistic setting with three
models jostling for position.
It is interesting to note that in some cases, CamE speakers
adopt BrE forms, in some cases, AmE forms, in some, CamE forms
and in some either the two native forms are used interchangeably or
the three models are used interchangeably. This type of complexity
ushers in a very serious problem for the teacher and the learner of the
language given that the degree of exposure may not be the same. For
example, when a learner writes an examination, answers questions in
class or interacts with other learners. The same applies to the teacher
when he teaches in class, corrects or marks scripts, etc. What does
he do when he takes up a learner’s examination script to discover that
he/she uses only AmE forms, BrE forms, CamE forms, BrE and AmE
forms, BrE, AmE and CamE forms interchangeably? How does he
handle the situation? What if he is not sufficiently exposed to some of
the forms used by the learners? When he finally makes a decision,
The Dilemma of the Teacher and the Learner…. / 195
who suffers? These and many more are the questions that plague the
learning and teaching of English in the non-native classroom in general and Cameroon in particular, as we see in the list below:
house of commons
thermos flask
level crossing
dual carriageway
house of representatives
thermos bottle
grade crossing
divided highway
house of assembly
railway crossing
two way traffic
Three possibilities present themselves in this connection: CamE,
which is the local variety of English spoken in the country; native English, which is the variety spoken in ENL countries, and EIL, which is a
neutral international variety proposed by some scholars (Jenkins:
2000) to serve the needs of international intelligibility. An important
question to ask is: Which of these varieties is suitable for CamE
speakers, and why? This question is quite complex. Looking at the
results of studies conducted on CamE, especially on intelligibility like
Talom (1990) and Atechi (2006), it is clear that CamE is suitable for
teaching in Cameroon, because the variety takes into account the
sociolinguistic and cultural realities of the Cameroon local linguistic
landscape. The variety serves as the marker of national identity of the
speaker. It is also the variety that they are used to. But two major
problems present themselves at this level. For what purpose do Cameroonians learn English? Is it just for purposes of intranational communication or equally for international communication? Is the variety
sufficiently described and codified as to take up this function without
problems? To answer the first question, one would say Cameroonians
need English more for intranational communication than for international communication. But the fact that science and technology are
reducing the world to a global village means that the Cameroonians,
like any other people, would need to be internationally intelligible in
order to fit into this new world. The problem that immediately poses
itself is which variety to go for so as to guarantee either international
196 / Samuel N. Atechi
intelligibility or both international and intranational intelligibility. At this
juncture, the problem of maintaining the local variety for purposes of
national identity and learning an international variety for international
communication purposes ushers in serious debate.
6. Conclusion
To conclude, it will not be an overstatement to say that dust is
still to settle on this debate on the model of English that is suitable for
the non-native English-speaking setting. We all agree that the native
model is not suitable for the Non-Native environment because it violates the socio-linguistic realities of the speaker and more importantly,
deprives the speaker of an important marker of his identity. We may,
however, not want to lose sight of the advantages that the Native
varieties have that non-native varieties lack. Native varieties are amply documented, opposed to non-native varieties that are not codified.
These qualities make their credentials as a model for teaching, more
credible. But given that this debate revolves around a very sensitive
notion like preserving the identity of the non-native Speaker, the qualities that native models have may not be convincing enough to override the need to maintain the speakers’ identity. Thus one may only
join other eminent scholars like Kachru, Bamgbose, Crystal, Simo
Bobda, etc., to reiterate the need for codification of these Englishes. If
this is done, it will go a long way to add more impetus to the argument
advanced by the above scholars that they gain legitimacy in the classroom.
Samuel N. Atechi 1
1 Dr Samuel ATECHI, Senior Lecturer, Department of English, University of Yaounde I, PO Box 31217, Yaounde, Cameroon.
email: [email protected]
The Dilemma of the Teacher and the Learner…. / 197
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Le conflit dans The Scorching Wind (1964)
de Walter Macken
Le roman1 relate un épisode de la guerre d’indépendance menée par les Irlandais contre la présence des Britanniques sur leur sol
depuis l’invasion de l’île en 1171. Walter Macken2, 1915-1967, écrivit
trois romans concernant trois chapitres douloureux des relations anglo-irlandaises, la colonisation du nord de l’Irlande sous Cromwell, la
famine et, dans ce livre, la période allant de 1916 à 1922 qui aboutit
à la partition de l’Irlande et donc à la création de la République
d’Irlande d’un côté et au maintien du pouvoir britannique sur les six
comtés du nord, de l’autre, bénéficiant du régime affecté aux dominions dans l’Empire Britannique. Les héros de The Scorching Wind 3
sont un groupe de résistants à l’occupant anglais déterminés à obtenir
le départ des troupes honnies ; cette situation repose d’abord sur
l’échec avéré des Anglais qui n’ont pas voulu intégrer les différentes
provinces celtes soumises au cours des siècles pour créer une
grande nation britannique4, sauvegardant ainsi la suprématie de la
Walter Macken, The Scorching Wind (1964) Londres: Pan Books,
2 Walter Macken est né à Galway et écrivit de nombreuses pièces de
théâtre ; son activité de comédien le conduisit de Galway à Dublin mais se retira
dans la région de Galway pour écrire.
3 « On the wicked he will rain fiery coals and burning sulphur, a scorching wind will be their lot » vient du Psaume 10 verset 6 selon la Bible hébraïque,
(et du Psaume 11 selon la Bible grecque et romaine). Il s’agit de la traduction moderne du verset de la New International Version, alors que la Bible, dite « King
James », propose la phrase : « a horrible tempest », en français dans la Bible des
Peuples la traduction du verset 6 devient : « un souffle de feu ».
4 Tony Blair en 2006 voudra établir une définition de l’identité nationale
(Britishness), comme le feront la plupart des pays européens ou africains, telle la
Cote d’Ivoire, par exemple.
200 / Joëlle Harel
nation anglaise, et sur l’insistante discrimination ethnique, politique et
religieuse que le gouvernement de Londres érigera en système en
Irlande. Ainsi, une sous-catégorie apparaîtra, celle des Angloirlandais, dont fit partie Jonathan Smith, qui attribuait une place inférieure aux Anglais vivant en Irlande, victimes supposées d’une contamination des esprits et des manières5. Face à l’injustice et à
l’arbitraire, la population locale ne pouvait que rassembler ses forces
et s’engager dans un combat sans cesse renouvelé depuis le XII ème
siècle. La Réforme au XVIème siècle exacerba de part et d’autre cette
opposition qui se nourrit d’un fanatisme permettant toutes les exactions de la part des troupes occupantes d’un côté, et les révoltes sanglantes de l’autre. Walter Macken, éduqué dans cette atmosphère de
conflit que se transmettaient les Irlandais de génération en génération, chercha à donner au lecteur un aperçu des sentiments d’un
groupe de jeunes gens de Galway partis à Dublin pour libérer la patrie
des envahisseurs6.
Pour Macken, le conflit est donc une réaction à une situation jugée intolérable et qui mérite le sacrifice suprême de père en fils. Mais
les Britanniques ont peaufiné leur politique en Irlande, et ont réussi,
pour se maintenir, depuis le débarquement d’Henri II en 1171 sur ce
territoire apparemment totalement hostile, à se créer des alliés de
circonstance ou de conviction, et à opposer les groupes rebelles les
uns aux les autres. Le roman de Walter Macken se termine ainsi par
la tragédie de la guerre civile de 1922-1923, incarnée par la lutte fratricide des deux héros principaux.
5 Le Japon moderne agit de même en établissant une liste des Japonais
vivant à l’étranger avec leur descendance directe, selon le pays d’accueil ; ainsi, les
Japonais habitant l’Amérique Latine sont-ils moins bien considérés que ceux résidant aux Etats-Unis et se voient attribuer une appellation spécifique ; leurs enfants
mis, en contact direct avec ces cultures jugées différentes, sont placés dans des
catégories inférieures.
6 C’est également au nom de la nation que le FLN lutta contre la présence française en Algérie. Ce concept de sauvegarde de la nation traverse ainsi
tous les mouvements politiques, que l’histoire leur donne raison ou non.
Le conflit dans The Scorching Wind…. / 201
Une double légitimité
Les premiers siècles de l’histoire de l’Angleterre démontrèrent la
complexité, mais aussi la faisabilité, de l’intégration de diverses populations pour, au gré des diverses invasions germaniques 7, viking et
normande, parvenir à créer la nation anglaise que nous connaissons,
au détriment, il est vrai de la population d’origine : les Bretons. Est-il
possible que l’unité se soit instaurée facilement entre les peuples
germaniques et qu’un mur se soit dressé entre eux et les clans celtes,
en conséquence d’un choc des cultures, voire des civilisations ? C’est
peut-être là que réside l’incapacité des gouvernements anglais à assimiler ou à intégrer dans le royaume les Irlandais, les Ecossais, et
dans une moindre mesure les Gallois, qui tous recouvriront une certaine autonomie au XXIème siècle. Or, il paraîtrait logique qu’une terre
voisine, conquise bien des siècles auparavant, face partie d’un ensemble plus grand et s’y fonde ; c’est ainsi que se créèrent tous les
Etats au cours de l’histoire, ce qui ne donna pas lieu à des guerres de
libération, sauf lorsque que le peuple envahisseur imposa une discrimination ethnique ou religieuse, comme ce fut le cas en Espagne qui
dut attendre huit siècles pour libérer totalement son territoire de la
présence mauresque.
En Irlande, il en a résulté une lourde hostilité entre les AngloSaxons, considérés depuis huit siècles comme des envahisseurs
étrangers, et les clans celtes. Il est vrai que le traitement infligé aux
Bretons a probablement contribué à créer le sentiment d’hostilité dont
témoignèrent les Irlandais dès la conquête ; pourtant, au cours des
différents siècles, une paix solide aurait dû s’établir s’appuyant sur
Rappelons que la Grande-Bretagne connut de très nombreuses invasions qui changèrent fondamentalement son histoire à plusieurs reprises : à partir
du Vème siècle, les Angles et les Saxons, venus des terres germaniques, repoussèrent les Celtes et les Irlandais, et changèrent le nom du pays, « Britannia », en
« Angleterre », la terre des Angles. Les Vikings, et en particulier les Danois ne
laissèrent ensuite aux Anglo-Saxons que le Wessex, puis ce fut au tour des Normands, avec la bataille de Hastings en 1066, de conquérir l’Angleterre et de lui
apporter la langue française...
202 / Joëlle Harel
des traités puis des amitiés inaliénables, comme cela fut le cas dans
d’autres pays d’Europe.
Il est clair que chacune des deux parties croit fermement en son
bon droit et qu’aucune volonté réelle d’établir les liens personnels et
politiques nécessaires ne s’est véritablement fait jour. Des erreurs
stratégiques, politiques et culturelles semblent être donc à l’origine
d’un conflit qui repose sur un sentiment également partagé de légitimité. L’observateur constate, devant cette guerre qui se poursuit depuis huit siècles, que l’intégration à une plus grande entité nationale,
dont les Unionistes rêvent, a pu se faire en Bretagne ou en Galice,
chez leurs voisins, afin de créer une unité nationale que ces populations gaéliques n’ont pas remises en question de la même manière au
Royaume-Uni. Il existe par conséquent une particularité dans ce pays
qui continue de diviser les communautés.
La tragédie irlandaise s’explique donc par la certitude qu’ont les
Anglais, d’un côté, et les Irlandais, de l’autre, de mener un combat
juste qui les transcende et justifie l’âpreté du conflit. Ce sentiment
viscéral s’exprime à des degrés divers dans de nombreuses œuvres
artistiques, et singulièrement chez Walter Macken. En effet, à
l’opposé d’autres écrivains comme Frank Delaney8, ou Edward Rutherford, qui décidèrent, tous deux, d’écrire une histoire romancée de
l’Irlande, avec ses méandres, ses compromis, ses traités, mais aussi
ses combats et ses massacres, Walter Macken livra un roman de
crise, n’hésitant pas à embrasser passionnément le parti des rebelles
irlandais pour écrire un roman de la résistance à l’occupant, sur une
période courte, en puisant sa force dans les sacrifices consentis par
les générations précédentes et la conviction que la nation irlandaise
serait in fine victorieuse.
Il est plus surprenant qu’un artiste anglais, né dans le Warwickshire, Ken Loach, s’empare des mêmes évènements pour signer
une œuvre primée au Festival Cinématographique de Cannes en
2006, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, et adhère, lui aussi, au point
8 Frank Delaney, Ireland, a Novel, New York: Harper and Collins Publishers, 2005; Edward Rutherford (2006), Ireland Awakening, London: Arrow Books,
Le conflit dans The Scorching Wind…. / 203
de vue des résistants du Sinn Fein. Cette Palme d’Or reprend
d’ailleurs les grands passages et les personnages du roman de Walter Macken. La légitimité de cet Anglais, sans doute parfaitement
sincère et très ému des circonstances que rencontrèrent ces individus
ordinaires qui se dressèrent avec quelques vieux fusils contre la puissance de l’Empire Britannique, soulève néanmoins des questions sur
sa légitimité à s’approprier ainsi le combat des ennemis de son
peuple, car si la fascination de Walter Macken pour ce conflit
s’explique par ses racines familiales, la position de Ken Loach, qui
produisit un film très émouvant, est plus difficile à comprendre. Ken
Loach a d’ailleurs ressenti l’importance de ces racines historiques
puisqu’il a pris soin de choisir des acteurs ayant les mêmes origines
géographiques et religieuses que les personnages du roman9.
Les héros du roman sont pour la plupart issus d’une famille
simple qui vit à Galway : le père, professeur d’histoire, est un fervent
patriote10 et enseigne à ses élèves et à ses enfants le souvenir des
héros tombés pour défendre le sol national ; il fait grief à son cadet,
Dominic, de préférer ses études de médecine au combat, comme il
reproche à son aîné, Dualta, de se laisser séduire par les discours
des Redmont Volunteers11 : « You are betraying your people […]. You
are betraying seven hundred years of the blood of the martyrs. »12
Voir le commentaire proposé à la fin du film dans le DVD (Diaphana,
édition Video, France Inter, TF1, 2006).
10 « He was a fighter against the imposition of a foreign culture. ‘You
must play Irish, talk Irish, to be Irish,’ he used to say » (196).
11 Les Redmont Volunteers acceptèrent de rejoindre l’armée britannique
et de se battre dans la Somme contre l’armée allemande pendant la première
guerre mondiale, car ils pensaient ainsi œuvrer à l’autonomie de l’Irlande. Cet espoir fut malheureusement aussi bafoué que celui que nourrirent les Indiens qui
avaient reçu des assurances similaires de Londres, en échange de leur engagement militaire.
12 Et plus loin: « He was waving his hand at the pictures on the walls.
They were all engravings of drawings or framed ballads. Wolfe Tone, Robert Emmet, Meagher of the Sword, Mitchell, Davis, Davitt; the place was like a museum.
[…] Has all the struggle of the centuries, our own sufferings with the Land League,
the crucifixion of the Fenians, meant so little to you that you will join the army or our
oppressors to uphold the Empire? (11)
204 / Joëlle Harel
Le rappel constant aux générations passées est le ciment qui
constitue une nation comme l’écrivit Ernest Renan13, car même si des
Irlandais choisissaient de renier leurs racines et de vivre dans le moment présent comme tente de le faire Dominic, leurs ennemis leur
rappelaient sans cesse leurs origines et leur en faisaient payer le prix.
Il ne suffit pas de rejeter le passé et de se bâtir une image de soi à sa
convenance sans obligations ni devoirs pour que l’ennemi y adhère :
c’est la douloureuse leçon qu’apprendront également certaines victimes de la seconde guerre mondiale. Un nom, un lieu de naissance,
une appartenance ethnique suffiront parfois à déterminer qui devra
vivre ou mourir dans l’esprit du bourreau. Le père de Dominic tente
d’inculquer une nouvelle fois cette dure leçon de la vie à ses enfants,
car on ne peut échapper à son destin. Chacun doit être prêt à se
battre pour sauvegarder ou rétablir sa dignité 14 et son indépendance.
Les troupes anglaises raniment régulièrement cette flamme dans
l’esprit des Irlandais car tout nouveau crime provoque de nouveaux
sentiments de vengeance dans le cœur de chaque famille victime.
Si Dualta communique tout d’abord à son père ses espoirs dans
l’accord établi entre Redmond et Londres – « Redmond is a good
man. He said if we fight for them we will get Home Rule. I believe this.
So am I wrong in doing what I believe is right? » (12) –, il n’a pas oublié ses leçons et il rejoint les résistants dès son retour du front. En
« Une nation est donc une grande solidarité, constituée par le sentiment des sacrifices qu’on a faits et de ceux qu’on est disposé à faire encore »,
Ernest Renan, « Qu’est-ce qu’une nation ? » Conférence prononcée à la Sorbonne,
le 11 mars 1882. [].
E. Renan (1823-1892), né à Tréguier en Bretagne, s’était élevé contre
l’idée de race exposée auparavant par J. G. Fichte (1762-1814) sur la nation, dans
son célèbre texte, Discours à la Nation Allemande. Renan appuya sa définition sur
les liens historiques des individus et sur leur volonté de vivre ensemble et d’adhérer
aux mêmes idéaux. Ce concept permet d’englober les nouveaux arrivants dans la
nation à condition qu’ils se reconnaissent les mêmes obligations historiques et les
mêmes héros.
14 « He was a Lordeen […] On the other side of the road a barefooted
woman […] stepped off the road as the car neared her, and as it passed she bent
her knee. […] ‘She needn’t not do it’, said Dominic. ‘She owes him nothing. Not
even courtesy’ » (9).
Le conflit dans The Scorching Wind…. / 205
fait, Dualta apparaît peu à peu comme un personnage plus complexe
qui profite de son passage dans l’armée anglaise pour apprendre le
maniement des armes et y dérober un ou deux fusils. C’est un caractère trouble, qui est à la fois un combattant et un politique. Ainsi saura-t-il se satisfaire du compromis que signera, à la fin du roman, Michael Collins15.
Entre Dualta et le père se pose la question fondamentale de la
légitimité du conflit. Dualta et son père se quittent, chacun désespéré
de n’avoir pu persuader l’autre de la logique de son raisonnement.
Dualta s’exprime avec une égale force, quelle que soit sa position,
alors qu’il change de point de vue plusieurs fois au cours du roman et
qu’il se heurte à des personnages plus entiers que lui, comme son
père et son frère, qui, eux, sont prêts à mourir pour respecter leur
engagement. Il est toujours difficile de croire quelqu’un qui évolue si
vite et qui change si facilement de drapeau. L’opportunisme de Dualta
contraste avec l’engagement total de Dominic qui ne s’écarte pas de
sa route, quel que soit le sacrifice à consentir.
En fait, quelques résistants irlandais, déconcertés par le ralliement des Redmont Volunteers, rejoignent le Sinn Fein et décident de
frapper l’Angleterre à un moment où elle est tout entière engagée
dans la première guerre mondiale. Cette décision est douloureusement ressentie par tous les alliés16 qui désespèrent de repousser les
Allemands et qui avaient besoin du soutien massif des Britanniques,
mais les Irlandais voient dans cette guerre titanesque une opportunité
unique pour régler leur conflit personnel, et ils lancent l’attaque de la
Poste à Dublin en 191617. Un des mérites du roman est de montrer
l’enfermement de la pensée de ces résistants irlandais qui rejettent
l’idée que lutter dans la Somme aux côtés des Anglais soit
l’expression de leur devoir européen ; ils ne se reconnaissent, comme
Michael Collins signe en 1921 le traité donnant naissance à l’Irish
Free State, accordant l’indépendance à 20 comtés sur 26, laissant l’Ulster sous le
contrôle de Londres.
16 Le lecteur français se rappelle que 1916 est avant tout synonyme
pour lui de Verdun et des combats dans les tranchées.
17 The Easter Uprising de 1916.
206 / Joëlle Harel
unique obligation, que la lutte contre l’ennemi héréditaire. « They
didn’t know much about this war in France » (18). S’engager dans
l’armée britannique est, de leur point de vue, loin d’être légitime, c’est
une trahison et ne pas profiter d’une faiblesse des Britanniques une
faute stratégique que rappelle la question quasi simpliste: « What
have we to do with things like that? » (24). Des sergents recruteurs
parviennent néanmoins à convaincre certains Irlandais de les rejoindre. Dominic juge ces âmes perdues durement et enrage de voir
tant de jeunes hommes dépenser leur énergie à soutenir une cause
« ignoble » : « You were right my dear father, Dualta is riding the
wrong dream […] for a Belgian prostitute. Nothing more noble? »
(25) ; car Dominic et ses amis parviennent à se convaincre que faire
la guerre contre l’Allemagne ne servirait qu’à défendre une pauvre
Belge, utilisée par les agents de la propagande britannique pour rallier
les cœurs à leur cause.
Ce combat n’est rien à côté de la cause sacrée de tout Irlandais
digne de ses ancêtres. « They kill our people and then they are surprised we won’t go and fight their favourite war for them » (64). Et la
voix d’une femme résonne au milieu de la foule des curieux, venus
assister au discours du recruteur : « Don’t send your sons to fight for
them! Don’t let them go with them! Keep them here, I tell you, because the fight will be at home. Three months is all they last in the
mud of Flanders. […] Irish blood and guts fertilizing the fields of a
foreign land » (30). Les rebelles frappent à Dublin et annoncent
l’instauration d’un gouvernement provisoire, s’appuyant sur leur tradition nationale : « The Provisional Government of the Irish Republic to
the People of Ireland. Irishmen and Irishwomen: In the name of God
and the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of
nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children, her flag, and
strikes for freedom » (40)18.
18 Walter Macken cite longuement cette proclamation qui se poursuit
ainsi : « Having organized and trained her manhood through her secret revolutionary organisation, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and through her open military
organisation, the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army, having patiently perfected her discipline, having resolutely waited for the right moment to reveal itself,
Le conflit dans The Scorching Wind…. / 207
La répression anglaise est terrible et de nombreuses arrestations
suivent ce coup d’éclat. Walter Macken en profite pour rappeler au
lecteur la cause de ces actes de rebellion : « Always there had to be
men marching under armed guards to prison ships or prison trains, a
long line of them stretching back over the centuries. He could hear the
voice of his father, walking him down by the docks, talking of the ships
that had departed from there carrying Irishmen and women, as felons
to Australia, slaves to the Barbados, dying on Atlantic coffin ships,
fleeing from hunger, famine, disease, exploitation » (53). L’auteur
veut, ici, convaincre le lecteur contemporain de la justesse de la
cause défendue par ses personnages19, et il reprend le cours de son
L’espoir des résistants repose sur la révolte des innocents arrêtés par erreur dans les raids organisés par l’armée, qui risquent de
sortir de prison en proie à un vif sentiment de revanche ; c’est
d’ailleurs ce qui se produit pour Dominic lorsqu’il est torturé chez lui
par des soldats qui veulent savoir où se cache son frère. Naturellement, tous ces prisonniers ne prendront pas les armes contre leurs
tortionnaires, mais un petit groupe d’hommes et de femmes décidés
peut inverser le cours de l’histoire, explique le narrateur : « They take
away thousands of lukewarm, mild nationalist, and clamp them into
camps and jails. So they go in tepid and they come out roaring revolutionaries » (63). Mais comme le lecteur contemporain le sait, les résistants ont besoin du soutien de la population pour porter des messages et des armes, pour les abriter et les nourrir ; Walter Macken ne
manque pas de souligner l’importance de l’aide apportée aux combattants par les gens ordinaires, les petites gens qui s’attirent ainsi la
she now seizes that moment, and supported by her exiled children in America and
by gallant allies in Europe, but relying in the first on her own strength, she strikes in
full confidence of victory » (40).
19 Walter Macken cite même le texte des Evêques approuvant le refus
des Irlandais de participer à la guerre mondiale : « The Bishops’ Manifesto » : « We
consider that conscription forced in this way on Ireland is an oppressive and inhuman law which the Irish people have a right to resist by every means that are consonant to the law of God » (77).
208 / Joëlle Harel
vindicte aveugle des forces policières. Des fermes brûlent, tandis que
des dénonciations et des trahisons spontanées ou arrachées permettent de nombreuses arrestations ; mais tout ceci ne suffit pas, et les
Anglais sont contraints d’envoyer de nouvelles forces de répression,
les sinistres Black and Tans, qui terrorisent la population. Le narrateur
y voit un signe de faiblesse de la part des autorités qui font appel, non
plus à des troupes sûres de leur bon droit pour faire respecter les lois
de l’Empire, mais à des mercenaires, des loups enragés, sans foi ni
Le gouvernement se discrédite en recourant à la force brutale au
lieu de poursuivre une œuvre de pacification, légitime à leurs propres
yeux : « He thought men like them had been present as mercenaries
in all the wars of history, and when a country was desperate enough
to call in the mercenaries, there was bound to be brutality, and looting
and sudden death for the innocent » (114). Certes, le narrateur ne
prétend pas que c’est la première fois que l’Angleterre utilise des
hommes de sac et de corde pour juguler une révolte, et il évoque ces
nombreuses autres occasions où les hommes préférèrent se battre et
mourir que de se soumettre à des troupes venues uniquement pour
leur faire courber l’échine, chaque génération acceptant de faire ce
sacrifice pour éviter à ses enfants de subir le même sort : « The rule
of non-law. It had always been so » (126)20.
La stratégie britannique : opposer les Irlandais entre eux
Les autorités britanniques utilisaient depuis longtemps des Irlandais dans un corps d’armée et une police qui avaient essentiellement
« Why, they had said, enough is enough and taken their swords or
their pikes or their long guns or their bare hands and gone out to fight. And he saw
now that they were happy of dying, because it was better to die with a purpose than
to live with unreason, […] doomed to death in the coffin ships or the West Indies or
Australia or fetid prisons or on the gallows, their bodies laid out like fish waiting to be
boxed […] He had an inkling of what had moved them. This. To be free of this and
all that it implied. So that their children might never have to go through this […]. The
whole of history seemed to culminate for him at this moment » (126).
Le conflit dans The Scorching Wind…. / 209
pour mission le contrôle des insurgés. De nombreux jeunes gens,
face à la misère des campagnes, s’engageaient dans ces forces afin
de bénéficier d’un emploi sûr. Poric est l’un de ces jeunes policiers qui
rejoint volontiers sa caserne jusqu’à la venue d’un officier anglais lui
ordonnant l’inacceptable : « This crazy new policeman had lined them
up, and told them to shoot every Irishman they saw with his hands in
his pocket since that was a sure sign that he would be concealing a
gun » (118). A l’énoncé de cet ordre, plusieurs recrues quittent les
rangs de la police, ne pouvant accepter une telle consigne ; mais
naturellement, comme la plupart des policiers irlandais restent à leurs
postes, ceci pose un lourd cas de conscience aux résistants qui répugnent à se battre contre leurs compatriotes : « ‘These men are soldiers’ said Sam. ‘But they are Irishmen’ said Dominic » (155).
Les grandes invasions nécessitent l’apport de soldats locaux qui
sont intégrés aux corps expéditionnaires qui, par définition, ne peuvent contenir ou contrôler une population hostile. De plus ils connaissent bien les us et coutumes de leurs nouveaux ennemis et la configuration du terrain. Leur aide est donc précieuse aux envahisseurs et
leur intégration, indispensable aux troupes originelles, leur donne un
statut particulier au sein des populations à soumettre, ainsi que vis-àvis de leurs nouveaux maîtres. Ils bénéficient d’avantages matériels
indéniables, font partie d’un groupe qui leur offre solidarité et protection, suivent des ordres simples dont ils n’endossent pas la responsabilité, s’octroient des privilèges au frais de la population locale qui ne
peut se plaindre de mauvais traitements aux autorités ; mais ils sont
toujours considérés comme des renégats par les deux parties en
présence. Ce prix psychologique à payer pour avoir renié son peuple
et fait allégeance à l’ennemi est parfois une cause de rupture dans
l’esprit des moins endurcis. Certains de ces hommes en perdent tout
sentiment d’appartenance et ne savent plus quel drapeau ils servent ;
pourtant, l’enrôlement de ces mercenaires, traîtres à leur peuple, est
une opération très largement profitable, malgré les quelques défections individuelles qui peuvent se produire.
Car en effet, détourner les gens de leurs sentiments naturels
d’appartenance à un groupe et en faire des mercenaires comporte
210 / Joëlle Harel
quelques risques, comme le prouve l’épisode concernant Moriarty ;
âme perdue au milieu d’un conflit qui le dépasse, il décide de s’isoler
et de survivre égoïstement, sans se reconnaître de maître, et vend,
avec quelques autres soldats pervertis, des armes aux rebelles.
Toutes les guerres ont bien sûr leur lot de traîtres, mais l’existence
des profiteurs soulève en général le dégoût des vrais combattants.
Sam et ses amis ne peuvent comprendre ces petits trafiquants qui ne
se reconnaissent en aucune des parties et veulent seulement faire le
plus d’argent possible en vendant les armes qui risquent de les
abattre plus tard : « There will always be top-dogs. You get in, these
are the boys who will take most of everything. But the little fellows can
get some too, by fiddling about. You see? » (158).
Sam tente de rationaliser une telle attitude en prêtant à Moriarty
un patriotisme caché : « Under the words […] maybe he is a patriot.
Goddamn it, under the words he must have feeling. He won’t say it
right out. But he must have » (ibid.), car, il lui semble impossible qu’un
soldat n’ait pas d’idéal.
Le combat entre Irlandais signifie aussi s’attaquer aux Unionistes, dont les familles s’étaient parfois installées depuis plusieurs
siècles et qui auraient dû devenir de vrais Irlandais et non pas des
colonisateurs. Et pourtant, les lois anglaises, leur attribuant un statut
préférentiel de riche propriétaire et des terres, ont fait perdurer ce
sentiment de classe, empêchant toute assimilation des nouveaux
arrivants. De plus, le maintien de ces discriminations entretient à la
fois le ressentiment chez les victimes et la crainte chez les possédants qui ont peur de perdre leurs acquis et de devoir rendre des
comptes, par-delà les siècles, aux malheureux qu’ils exploitent en
toute légalité.
Une certaine mobilité sociale aurait sans doute désamorcé cette
situation explosive qui n’effraie pas le gouvernement britannique,
confiant dans sa capacité à juguler toute révolte. Les possédants
anglo-irlandais sont les plus farouches alliés des troupes anglaises,
car leur groupe a le plus à perdre d’une victoire de la résistance républicaine. C’est pourquoi, tout naturellement, ces propriétaires souhaitent le maintien dans le Royaume-Uni de la province. Quelques
Le conflit dans The Scorching Wind…. / 211
grandes familles irlandaises ayant également fait allégeance aux Anglais sont donc considérées comme des ennemis par les rebelles :
« You had to tell yourself that these people deserved no pity, since for
centuries they had separated themselves from the people and oppressed them with their exactions and fines, or complete indifference.
They themselves had chosen the way and were undoubtedly heart
and soul, in prayer and practice, on the side of the foreigner » (206).
Au cours des siècles, les Anglais avaient su opposer les clans
les uns aux autres à leur profit, grandement aidés, il est vrai, par la
tendance néfaste des Celtes à la division et aux luttes fratricides.
Cette même caractéristique condamna les Ecossais dans les batailles
qui les opposèrent aux Anglais pendant si longtemps ; mais ces dissensions sont enfin résolues au XXème siècle ce qui donne quelque
espoir de succès aux combattants : « A few hundred years ago… we
would have all been cutting one another’s throats, the O’Flahertys and
the O’Malleys and the Joyces and the rest of the clans. It took a long
time for us all to get together » (249). Cependant, une autre guerre
civile va se déclarer entre les résistants, pourtant unis contre un ennemi commun pendant ces brèves années allant de 1916 à 1921,
avec la signature du Traité de l’Irish Free State par Michael Collins.
Les Irlandais sont frappés de stupeur à la lecture des titres de la
TO SAY IF SHE WILL STAY IN IRISH PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT AT ONCE » (276). Immédiatement, le clivage se fait entre les
partisans de la paix à n’importe quel prix et ceux qui veulent rester
fidèles à leur serment de promouvoir une république pour la totalité de
l’île. Car la subtilité anglaise est d’avoir proposé une partition et donc
imposé une division dans les troupes rebelles. La déclaration américaine de Wilson21, en 1918, proclamant le droit à l’autodétermination
21 Les Américains aiment redessiner les cartes avec un succès variable
selon les circonstances, mais s’ils ont favorisé largement l’autodétermination des
peuples appartenant aux empires français et britanniques au XXème siècle, ils se
sont bien gardés de demander aux Indiens d’Amérique de voter pour leur autodé-
212 / Joëlle Harel
des peuples, a contraint le gouvernement de Londres à offrir l’indépendance aux vingt comtés sud de l’île ; mais il ne veut pas paraître
avoir perdu le contrôle d’un territoire qu’il a conquis au douzième
siècle et qui se situe à quelques kilomètres de sa côte. Alors, il met la
dernière main à un plan très ingénieux qui aboutira, après les premiers réactions négatives qui ne manqueront de se produire, à la
création d’une zone tampon protégeant sa face est.
Si l’histoire montre que les peuples n’aiment pas être divisés et
que tôt au tard une guerre ou un traité de réunification22 s’avère indispensable pour refermer la plaie ouverte, Londres gagne pourtant la
bataille, au moins provisoirement, et continuera de contrôler l’Ulster
tout au long du vingtième siècle, voire plus.
Dominic, l’étudiant en médecine qui a abandonné un avenir tout
tracé et a refusé de parler sous la torture afin de protéger son frère,
ne peut se résoudre à renier son serment, et il en relit le texte23 pour
mesurer l’écart qui existe entre la proposition anglaise et la teneur de
son engagement à la cause républicaine.
termination. Cette politique d’ailleurs trouve très vite ses limites, car de quel peuple
parle-t-on, quelle date doit être prise en considération pour redessiner les cartes :
deux cents ans, cinq cents ans, deux mille ans ? La Chine a imprimé une carte aux
lendemains de la rétrocession des territoires de Hong-Kong, incluant toutes les
terres lui ayant appartenu au cours des deux derniers millénaires, ce qui inclut le
Japon, par exemple. Les Parisiens doivent-ils s’attendre à redevenir romains, tous
comme les Londoniens ? Il ne s’agit donc pas d’un principe universel, mais d’un
discours politique utilisé au service d’une politique conjoncturelle.
22 Au XXème siècle, la division de l’Allemagne ou celle du Vietnam se
sont conclues par des réunifications, et la Corée semble vouloir suivre le même
chemin dans des circonstances bien différentes. La France devait également être
divisée en deux afin de permettre une fin plus rapide de la deuxième guerre mondiale en Europe, ce qui aurait laissé le nord du pays aux Allemands, avec la création d’un état pangermanique !
23 « I do solemnly swear that I do not and shall not yield a voluntary support to any pretended Government, authority, or power within Ireland hostile and
inimical thereto, and I do further swear that to the best of my knowledge and ability I
will support and defend the Irish Republic and the Government of the Irish Republic,
which is Dail Eireann, against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and I will bear true
obedience and allegiance to the same, and that I take this obligation freely without
any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, so help me God ».
Le conflit dans The Scorching Wind…. / 213
Cependant, l’accord est approuvé par l’assemblée parlementaire
car les autorités anglaises jouent sur plusieurs registres : d’abord,
l’épuisement des combattants et des populations locales qui les soutiennent et dont les fermes brûlent les unes après les autres, puis
l’immense pauvreté qui frappe le petit peuple, accentuée par les batailles et les destructions qu’elles engendrent, enfin l’absence
d’hommes dans les champs qui doivent être cultivés par les femmes
et les enfants. En outre, Londres propose aux Irlandais le départ des
troupes anglaises et la remise aux forces locales du contrôle du territoire : cet argument convainc beaucoup de résistants, dont Poric, tout
heureux de redevenir policier : « I want to be a policeman. I was in the
other police and then I was in the Republican Police. Now they write
and say I am to be in the new police, the Civic Guard […] I thought
everything was fine. They signed the Treaty and we have peace and
our own Government and our army and our own police » (282).
Et enfin, le sentiment de puissance qui pousse des petits chefs à
endosser avec plaisir l’uniforme d’officier de la nouvelle armée
d’Ulster. Ainsi Dualta adopte-t-il facilement le discours d’un capitaine
régulier face à un rebelle, qui n’est autre que son frère, rejetant dans
le néant ses années de lutte et son rêve d’indépendance : « You will
be crushed because we have the power » (290). Face à cet ennemi
implacable, Dominic ne peut que s’interroger sur l’origine de sa « déviance », mais il n’ose se rappeler que Dualta avait déjà fait preuve
d’une grande souplesse politique en rejoignant les Redmont Volunteers malgré les violents reproches de son père et de sa mère :
« Has everything I told you over the years meant nothing at all to you?
Would I have been better off trying to teach patriotism to the pigs? »
(11), avait hurlé leur père.
Walter Macken ajoute au pathos de la situation en plaçant symboliquement les deux frères dans des camps désormais opposés.
Dominic tue, sans le reconnaître, son frère au cours d’une escarmouche et retourne chez lui, détruit par ce crime inexpiable : « You
see… it can become too much for individuals. Like this. Just little men,
with love and brothers. You see, men with brothers » (304). Notons
que dans le film réalisé par le cinéaste anglais Ken Loach, qui s’est
214 / Joëlle Harel
approprié cette tragédie irlandaise, l’affrontement entre les deux
frères est plus direct : le capitaine des nouvelles forces armées irlandaises fait fusiller son frère qui refuse de lui révéler les endroits où
sont cachées des armes et il commande lui-même le peloton
d’exécution, sans doute pour souligner que l’on devient facilement
bourreau lorsque l’on se croit investi d’une juste cause.
Le conflit ne s’interrompra que momentanément avant que
d’autres générations ne reprennent le combat ancestral plus tard,
dans les années soixante-dix, avant que d’autres chefs ne parviennent à concrétiser, en 2007, les espoirs de paix du Good Friday
Agreement qui semble entériner le traité de la partition de 1921, et ne
s’interrogent en ces termes, comme le fit Joe Murphy : sommes-nous
dignes des héros du passé ?
Si le roman repose sur la certitude du romancier de défendre
une cause juste, il concentre son récit sur ses personnages irlandais
et refuse de donner la parole à leurs adversaires britanniques. Les
Anglais n’apparaissent qu’à de rares moments, uniquement pour
scander les évènements qui transforment la vie des personnages
principaux. Ils ne sont vus que négativement ou sont rejetés à l’arrière
du décor pour mettre l’accent sur les sentiments et les actes des Irlandais.
Il s’agit donc ici d’un livre, parlant d’un épisode guerrier, qui impose de nier toute légitimité à l’ennemi et à ne le prendre en compte
que dans sa qualité de soldat à combattre voire à abattre. Le romancier n’hésite pas à élaborer des scènes violentes qui justifient la prise
de position des combattants, afin de ranimer le sentiment de compassion et d’adhésion du lecteur.
Il est évidemment impossible de participer à un conflit et
d’analyser objectivement les raisons et les motivations de ceux que
l’on cherche à tout prix à éliminer. Que l’usage d’insultes, de brutalités
et d’actes barbares commis par les occupants, serve également à
convaincre les troupes de leur statut supérieur et de leur impunité
Le conflit dans The Scorching Wind…. / 215
pour les pousser à commettre d’autres actes violents, voici sans
doute le seul regard psychologique que s’autorise Walter Macken visà-vis des forces de l’ordre.
Joëlle Harel24
Joëlle Harel, Université Paris-Val-de-Marne, France.
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