Perspectives of estrangement : England and Englishness in the novels of Justin Cartwright

Buchanan, Andrea Susan (2013-03)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2013.


ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This thesis explores how Justin Cartwright’s perspective on Englishness, as a South Africanborn writer living and writing in England, is played out in his novels. Four of Cartwright’s novels with English settings are analysed: In Every Face I Meet (1995), The Promise of Happiness (2004), To Heaven by Water (2009) and Other People’s Money (2011). Cartwright’s position as a self-conscious observer of English life is revealed as eliciting a nuanced critique of Englishness. It is argued that Cartwright adopts something of an anthropological approach towards his English subjects, and that this troubles the traditional gaze of the Western anthropologist upon the “other”. At the same time, his protagonists are represented with humane sympathy, though this is often tempered with irony. Drawing on Paul Gilroy’s ideas about race and multiculture in England and Robert J.C. Young’s The Idea of English Ethnicity, this thesis discusses Cartwright’s presentation of Englishness as both potentially inclusive and exclusive. Cartwright also sets England against America, and more significantly, against Africa. Cartwright’s portrayal of Africa is shown to reveal his somewhat ambivalent attitude towards his birthplace. Throughout the thesis, Cartwright’s novels are discussed with an awareness of the influence that the social philosopher Isaiah Berlin has had on the author, particularly with regard to his critique of idealism and his espousal of value pluralism and liberal humanism. Yet it is also suggested that Cartwright’s liberal humanism may be intertwined with his complex and ambivalent attitude towards Africa. Moreover, the ironic tone and postmodern, metafictional elements of these novels perform Cartwright’s belief in value pluralism in interesting ways. The relationship between literature, art and national fictions is furthermore discussed, in conversation with Benedict Anderson’s ideas about nationalism. This thesis provides a close-reading of the works of this under-researched author and examines the complexity of his “estranged” position towards Englishness.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie tesis verken hoe Justin Cartwright, Suid-Afrikaans gebore skrywer woonagtig in Engeland, se die siening van Engelsheid (Englishness) in sy romans weerspieël word. Vier van Cartwright se romans met ‘n Engelse agtergrond word ontleed: In Every Face I Meet (1995), The Promise of Happiness (2004), To Heaven by Water (2009) en Other People’s Money (2011). Dit word onthul hoe Cartwright se posisie as self-bewuste waarnemer van Engelse lewe hom staat te stel om ‘n genuanseerde critique van Engelsheid te lewer. Daar word aangevoer dat Cartwright ‘n ietwat antropologiese benadering tot sy Engelse onderwerpe inneem en dat dit die tradisionele siening van die Westerse antropoloog van die “ander” ondergrawe. Terselfdertyd bied hy sy protagoniste met menslike erbarming aan, hoewel dit dikwels met ironie getemper word. Deur gebruik te maak van Paul Gilroy se opvattings oor ras en multikultuur in Engeland en Robert J.C. Young se The Idea of English Ethnicity, bespreek hierdie tesis hoe Cartwright Engelsheid voorstel as sowel potensieel inklusief as eksklusief. Cartwright stel ook Engeland teenoor Amerika, en meer belangwekkend, ook teenoor Afrika. Daar word aangetoon dat Cartwright se uitbeelding van Afrika sy nogal ambivalente houding teenoor sy geboorteplek verraai. Regdeur die tesis word Cartwright se romans bespreek met in agneming van die invloed van die sosiale filosoof Isaiah Berlin op die skrywer, veral ten op sigte van sy critique van idealisme en sy omhelsing van waardepluralisme en liberale humanisme. Tog word daar ook gesuggereer dat Cartwright se liberale humanisme verweef mag wees met sy verwikklede en ambivalente houding ten opsigte van Afrika. Daarbenewens is die ironiese toon en postmoderne, metafiktiewe element van hierdie romans op interessante maniere ‘n bevestiging van Cartwright se onderskrywing van waardepluralisme. Vervolgens word die verhouding tussen literatuur, kuns en nasionale fiksies bespreek in samehang met Benedict Anderson se idees oor nasionalisme. Hierde tesis bied ‘n noukeurige ondersoek van die werke van hierdie onderverkende skrywer en ondersoek die kompleksiteit van sy “vervreemde” houding teenoor Engelsheid.

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