sheila collingwood-whittick on kate grenville


Sheila Collingwood-Whittick, ‘Discursive manipulations of names and naming in Kate Grenville’s “The secret river”‘, Commonwealth Essays and Studies 36, 1 (2013).

This article stems from two observations arising from my reading of Kate Grenville’s three-part exploration of Anglo-Australia’s frontier history. The first is that, contrary to Grenville’s averred commitment to telling the unvarnished truth about the modern nation’s shameful origins, her recent historical fiction betrays a refractory tendency to portray Australia’s past in a sentimental light. The second is that names and the act of naming constitute a dominant strand in the narrative weave of each of the novels. In the discussion that follows I seek to demonstrate the existence of a causal link between these two apparently unrelated observations by showing that a recurrent narratorial emphasis on the affective importance that names of places, people and things assume in the life of the colonial subject constitutes a vital element in the “empathetic history” (Gall 95) of Australia’s frontier era that Grenville is intent on creating. Although this analysis can be applied to all three of Grenville’s colonial novels, the present article will focus solely on the trilogy’s opening volume, The Secret River – the work in which the author’s discursive manipulation of names is most transparent and the ideological direction the rest of her frontier saga will follow is clearly signposted.

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