The central character is nothing more than a relatively small and narrow minded, over-opinionated, self interested character full of emboldened self righteousness, yet immoral to some extent and possessing many undesirable qualities. The scenes show Grenville’s careful and if not unorthodox and somewhat lifelike development of the character through the lives of many different women, and all the same – named Joan. The structure of the book is laid out in the beginning in a seemingly random pattern.
One scene is her conception, next she is a living woman ready to leap to the shores of Botany Bay, while next she is being born, next she is married. This continues noticeably until approximately scene 8, where she is in all ways fully matured (keep in mind only physically, her character is still in desperate need of some adjustments) and the scenes fit together, the only difference being in times and places, e. g.
Chapter 2, Scene 9 (meaning the second part of scene ‘x’) where Joan is pregnant to Duncan which carries through to Scene 10 where she is pregnant to Ken, gives birth and then the story in Chapter 2, Scene 10 has Joan’s baby Madge as an infant to Duncan again. This is the prolific moment where the narrative of the text forms some kind of logic to the reader and can grasp a more logical understanding of Joan’s development. Before that the “events, … seem inconsistent with what precedes them and thus are ultimately unsatisfying. ” (Griffith, p. 115)
“Writers of fiction must build conflict into their worlds… (Griffith p. 28) and while this is true in the case of Grenville’s book, Joan is of little use to those situations. While proclaiming to be of “fire and flame” (Grenville, p. 230) there is little evidence to support this notion. It seems when something ‘hard’ is put in her way, after her initial brave efforts in the novel, when there is a reasonable challenge in sight, she moves from it. Throughout the scenes she goes from a self proclaimed (and note, only self proclaimed, there are no other characters in this book who fully support her notion of making history) history maker to an old woman who contradicts her own self.
That will be addressed herein after. Joan’s marriage to Cook isn’t a seemingly interesting tale to the historical reader. While it would be one’s guess that all Australian’s know who Captain Cook is, this chapter relates specifically to a significant time and place (much the same as the Opening of Parliament much later on in the novel). It clutters the readers notion of the historical with the fiction. We know that “the most obvious difference is that writers of fiction can make up facts but that historians must take facts as they find them. In works of history, historians cannot manufacture facts to fill in the gaps of their knowledge.
Consequently, the fictional world is potentially more complete and coherent than the historical world. Not only can writers of fiction produce fact at will, they can produce them to fit a coherent plan. ” (Griffith, p. 28) This is shown clearly by Grenville since we know that Captain Cook’s wife Elizabeth did not accompany him and in that time, a woman on board a ship such as that (primarily research and exploration) would never have been allowed. The growth of Joan’s character in these early chapters is marginal and only shallow in their development.
Scene 3, is from the perspective of Aboriginal Joan. In the scheme of Joan’s development throughout the entire novel, in this particular scene she lacks cultural recognition and respect of her peers. Grenville dealt with this chapter callously and so out of context that this only mars Joan’s expansion. In Joan’s character there is almost a racism in the level of stupidity portrayed about the Aboriginals, this proving to be inaccurate and merely at surface level. A noticeable trait of Joan’s is her ability to ‘know’ about other people, from prying, gossip, first hand accounts or some other source.
Scene 5, where she is a washerwoman and she knows of Miss Mary’s pregnancy from whether her clothes have the remnants of a menstrual cycle on it or not, to Knightley “given to the sly fingering of his private parts”. (Grenville, p. 97) She even knows this. While failing to gossip about it, she does however watch some other soul trapped, even sees Miss Mary look at the door for her wild dash and freedom, and given the opportunity to help someone – again she is shy, and moves from helping another, highlighted in Scene 8 where she is a half-caste who still won’t help, or even try to help the small girl trying to reach for her brother.
Joan’s miscarriage in Chapter 2, Scene 5, is another example of the cold heartedness of Joan the character. She is not grateful of her love from Duncan and the child that grows within. She feels “hemispheres” (Grenville, p. 114) away from Duncan and a “prisoner of the tadpole inside me, (ibid) regarding it not as something she wants to love or does love already but as something “I would have to learn to love. ” (ibid) The scene around her shows no great hardship, a little boredom maybe, but she is living a comfortable life, and her resounding ungratefulness echoes through several of her scenes in the novel.
The readers’ interest in Joan, fluctuates throughout the book from levels of low, to medium and back again. To the reader, feelings of a person such as Joan would more than likely ultimately be ignored, people preferring to take the ‘I have my own problems’ escape route from her tired and tedious little world. And “yet, in the fictional world, they are important because they are his deeds, thoughts and feelings. We are interested in him not for his connection with an important historical event but simply because he is a human being. ” (Griffith, p. 29) The preoccupation Joan has with sex adds an unnecessary crudeness to her character.
In Scene 6, she wonders such things as whether the Aboriginal people or the neighbours who are still quite far away can hear her moans of pleasure in the night. Many other examples can also be found of her ponderings with the opposite sex, namely husbands and the individual from the carriage who tries to rape her. A chapter that seems strangely out of place even in Joan’s development in scene 7 where Mrs Beauman runs out into the rain. This is the turning point for Joan realising that “I, Joan, (was) fearful of a bit of frozen water and what a few minions might think! ” (Grenville, p. 152).
She realises that she too declaring all this bravo to herself is too respectable (in this role – in any other she would have no doubt taken the opportunity) to engage in such foolery. One trait the reader may be unable to understand is Joan’s complete almost loathing desire to be away from her “good and kindly” (Grenville, p. 231) husbands. Chapter 2, Scene 7 is a perfect example of that where she actually gains the questionable ‘courage’ to leave Duncan at the Agricultural Hall at the Show, and shortly after making her ‘history’ she realised “she had fractured his peace for ever, and I sat shivering with awe at my power. (Grenville, p. 163) She’s moving through this pain of what she’s done and yet is back to her self-centredness and fruitless history-making efforts. Her development in Chapter 2, Scene 8 as Jack is an unnecessary development in her character.
This is not something one would expect of a lady, particularly in this period of time, and is not something the reader would expect. “Some critics hold that novelty and surprise are major causes of pleasure. Thus many novels give pleasure by using exotic settings, unusual characters, and suspenseful plots. ” (Griffith, p. 16) Grenville sadly to say doesn’t use the unusual character aspect or the suspenseful plot. From the rest of Joan’s life and her mediocre developments we know that nothing particularly exciting will happen to her, even as a man. She still learns no respect, and still thinks she’ll be someone. While as a man though (this would happen still if she were no doubt, a woman) she found herself “uttering small moaning noises of reconsideration, of regret and remorse. ” (Grenville, p. 199) She develops well in Chapter 2, Scene 9, when her and Duncan reunite.
Even though where many would have left Joan for dead, Duncan was too kindly and still loving her took her back. This is definitely her turning point when she addresses herself by saying, “I had looked into the face of destiny and found it cold: I envied no one now, hankered after no greatness, dreamed no dreams of crowds cheering my name, armies following where I led, the adour of artists inspired by my face: all that was an empty mockery, while sitting with my feet up, dreaming away the days and nights in a smudge of sentiment, seemed a finer thing to do than any of those. (Grenville, p. 224) Her next chapter, Scene 10, is eventful with the birth of her daughter Lucy, happy and well into the safe arms of Amy. She finally learns what it is to love and be grateful for that. Ken is with her, another good man she has married and Amy, the stranger and midwife to her newborn child. Again the scenario turns in Scene 2 of Chapter 10 where Joan is weeping for all the troubles of the world and feeling grateful (finally) for what she has, but now it’s just pity and because of her attitudes in the past, the reader doesn’t feel like she is genuine in her emotion.
It’s like she’s not complaining about her own state, now it’s everyone else’s. Scene 11 manages to turn in on itself in one chapter. Joan while thrilled at having to be surrounded by important people, practicing her curtsies and handshakes, she then turns after it’s all over to yelling out about lies outside. Fortunately she gets a lesson in “mortification” (mortified) (Grenville, p. 255), which also occurs with Duncan in chapters prior. She ends up feeling “foolish and flat” (Grenville, p. 60) which is no doubt what she’s needed to feel from many chapters earlier. She then turns again foolish enough to think that the information she will pass on her grandaughter Alice is her “inheritance. ” (Grenville, p. 262). Information yes, but of importance on such a grand scale to be her inheritance – her legacy? No. One may find it amusing to think of how individuals do in fact decide where the monument for Cook’s first step and other such landmarks are put.
A case of sentimentality and wonder quite unusual to the rest of Joan’s character. In this scene readers can tell Duncan and Joan are getting quite elderly. They are reflecting on old pictures at the beach of all of them. She is beginning to feel old and very alone even with Duncan by her side. “… Madge knew to be kind where I had been callous, and knew how silent it would be when it was just Duncan and me by ourselves in the house. ” (Grenville, p. 277) Is she beginning to feel that she is no longer prepared for destiny?
Yes. The epilogue is the final and most possibly the most disheartening of all Joan’s thoughts and efforts. She contradicts herself in the most aggregate of ways. It offers hope that she acknowledges her own failing to make any form of substantial history. She admits her “bogus grandeur” (Grenville, p. 284). It’s all been done before and she is not the entire history of the globe not even broadly speaking because there are a million other events she hasn’t even dreamed of exploring, or done as the case may be.
Even if she had, it’s all been done before. An interesting fact the reader may also note is throughout Joan’s life there is always the reference to God and faith. At the end there’s the blatant suggestion of Darwin’s theory as she says, “Stars blazed, protozoa coupled, apes levered themselves upright, generations of women and men lived and died, and like them all I, Joan, have made history. ” This is perhaps a last purposeful or inadvertent attempt to be everything and everyone. She again fails.