Bouyed up by a loan from Ann, Anne Lister now had a rush of entrepreneurial energy, employing male experts on her estate and consulting them about a water-wheel at Listerwick. With such a burst of economic activity at Shibden, local tongues again wagged about how exactly she was funding it all. This was heightened when their coalmining rivals, the Rawsons, stirred up local opposition. This involved accusations of poisoning a well at Water Lane mill on the industrial edge of Halifax, inherited by Ann Walker. Stories reached Shibden that ‘Mr Rawson set the people on…and the people burnt Ann and me in effigy’. Matters grew even more torrid when Anne Lister was told that Rawson’s men had been burning devil’s dung, to smother her master miner out of the Walker pit.
Anne’s elderly father, Jeremy Lister, grew weaker. Sitting by his death-bed, friction mounted between the two sisters. After he died, it was of course Anne who organized the formal funeral with all its required ceremony. They then visited York, for help from their lawyer in tidying up the complex final details in the wills of both Anne and Ann. Then, within days of their father’s death, Marian Lister departed from Shibden for good. Anne’s focus was on the two wills, rather than on saying goodbye to her irksome sister.
Anne Lister’s cash-flow problems meant that investments on the Shibden estate had to in part rely on Ann Walker’s comparative wealth. But Ann was upset by this and cried. Why should she be expected to cover so much expense for Shibden (like a carriage and male servants’ formal livery)? Anne’s diary might note that ‘the less I pother my head about her the better’; but her account book told a different story, with Anne still dependent on borrowing money from Ann.
This is the first book-length critical reading of the prose works of the Nigerian, America-settled, ‘global Igbo’ writer Chris Abani. Addressing his three novels – GraceLand (2004), The Virgin of Flames (2007), and The Secret History of Las Vegas (2014) – and the two novellas Becoming Abigail (2006) and Song for Night (2007), the book Chris Abani combines an original overview of the author’s career and new insights into his works. It provides a full picture of the oeuvre of a writer who is more and more asserting his worth in the international arena, and whose work stands out for the richness of its poetic language, its complex investigation of the contemporary human experience in a variety of extreme and surprising situations, and its probing ethical gaze. Building on the notions of biopolitics, necropolitics, mediascape imagination, and the performative quality of subjectivity, this volume highlights Abani’s ability to represent the tragedies and horrors of our times while also signalling the possibility of redemption. His characters’ attempts to find ways of becoming themselves, together with a poetical writing that clashes against the violence of history and humankind, make Abani’s work a significant contribution to the contemporary debate about human rights and literature.
Chapter 1 introduces the author through his work, in particular his poetry and essays, and uncovers some of the aesthetic principles that organise most of his oeuvre, such as the interplay of the grotesque, the ghostly and the beautiful, and his demanding ethical stance that requires the reader’s active involvement. The chapter rests on a series of forceful authorial statements, particularly about his aesthetics, about the human in extreme situations, the need for identity, the looseness of this notion, and the performative nature of subjectivity. It makes use of Abani’s Daphne’s Lot and The Face: Cartography of the Void to offer a contextual introduction to his concerns, and provides a selective overview of intertexts that informed his early life and work. The chapter includes discussion of Abani’s poems, which are not the main focus of the book, but work well for their constant dialogue with an autobiographical substratum that keeps resurfacing.
This chapter offers a critical survey of readings and receptions of Abani’s works. It brings together the main articles and essays on the topic, and provides important guidance for those approaching Abani’s literary output for the first time or for whoever is willing to browse secondary sources. Whilst critical material is usually devoted to a single novel or novella, this chapter organises secondary sources in a more organic way, so that a dialogue between different studies can emerge. The survey also summarises the findings of the book’s individual chapters and the most innovative elements in Abani’s writing, such as issues of necropolitics, biopolitics, gender, performativity, and human and environmental rights. This last chapter discusses both canonical and newer approaches to the texts, possibly pointing to future directions in research focusing on Abani’s work.
This chapter investigates the novel The Virgin of Flames. Through the character of Black, an African-Salvadoran Angelino, Abani explores the city of Los Angeles and its geographic but also identitarian margins. Madly in love with a transgender Mexican stripper, friend to an illegal African immigrant owner of an abattoir, and living atop of the Ugly Story, a bar and tattoo parlour owned by his Jewish friend Iggy, Black’s identitarian search talks of religion, solitude, and the magic yet damnation of ‘becoming’. The body is at the centre of Abani’s and Black’s investigation in this work, which concludes with the mystery of a ‘Marian’ transformation. The protagonist’s body, burning atop of his home, is welcomed by the Chicano crowd as a miracle, which urges the reader to reflect on the limit between one’s self and the other, individual struggles and communitarian values and meanings.
Song for Night (2007) is the story of My Luck, a West African boy soldier in search of his lost platoon, across a nightmarish desolated landscape, both geographically and metaphysically. His journey through the horrors of a civil war becomes a sorrowful quest, a descent into hell that eventually leads to the possibility of a re-emergence into light, however ambiguous. Though some reference to the Igbo ethnic group and its traditions lead us to suppose the story refers to the Nigerian Civil War, the location remains intentionally undefined, and time is difficult to keep, as the narrative moves from vaguely recognisable historical/cultural details to an increasingly eerie landscape inhabited by ghosts and a lost humanity maimed by war. The analysis focuses on the elaborate construction of the dumb child soldier’s sign language and ‘telepathic’ communication with the reader; on love and sex as a way to withstand war – a queering agent which inflects childhood in unexpected ways; on My Luck’s difficult passage to the world of the dead. Some rich and strange metamorphosis happens along the way: a recovery of memory and a sense of community which reaches beyond family and people, and extends to all that lives, to the planet and the stars that shine in the African sky.