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Echoes of a not so Mythical Past: Memories of Race in Elizabeth Jolley’s The Well

Author(s): Cornelis Martin Renes

Journal: Coolabah
ISSN 1988-5946

Volume: 3;
Start page: 116;
Date: 2009;
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Keywords: postcolonial Gothic | gender | race.

Critical discussion of Elizabeth Jolley’s The Well (1986) has largelyfocused on issues of gender, but little has been said about the racial inscription ofthe novel. This lack is especially relevant when criticism, despite praising theauthor’s experimentation with narrative technique and genre, tends to voicedissatisfaction with the novel’s conclusion in medias res, which never solves thetension between a presumed return to the patriarchal norm and the voicing ofliberating alternatives. This paper proposes a postcolonial perspective so as tocome to terms with this dilemma, and argues that the text signals the impossibilityof suppressing the Native from the contemporary Australian land and textscape,whose Gothic articulation in the uncanny shape of the male well-dweller hauntsthe novel’s engagement with female empowerment. The female protagonist mayonly start overcoming a crippling gender discourse in the White postcolonialpastoralist setting by inscribing herself into ‘Australianness’. Reconciling herbody with the land is significantly staged in terms of an Aboriginal cosmogony, asit is a ‘walkabout’ that allows Hester to start controlling her body and story. Thus,The Well may be understood to be inconclusive because it struggles to mapgender across race at a time of Aboriginal-exclusive multiculturalism. Written inthe mid 1980s, it announces a point of inflection in thinking about nativenonnativerelationships which would soon lead to attempts at ‘Reconciliation’ bymainstream Australia.
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