Penelope Lively's Moon Tiger and Waterland

[Added by George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University]

Penelope Lively's Moon Tiger (1987), a novel told by a woman historian as she lays dying, shares many of Waterland's conceptions of time, history, narrative, and identity. Which of the following ideas support those in Waterland and which oppose it? Why do you think British writers in the 1980s have concerned themselves with problems of narrative history and personal identity?

A history of the world. . . . The works, this time. The whole triumphant murderous unstoppable chute--from the mud to the stars, universal and particular, your story and mine. (1) . . . The question is, shall it or shall it not be linear history. I've always thought a kaleidoscopic view might be an interesting heresey. Shake the tube and see what comes out. Chronology irritates me. There is no chronology inside my head. I am composed of myriad Claudias who spin and mix and part like sparks of sunlight on water. The pack of cards I carry around is forever shuffled and re-shuffled; there is no sequence, everything happens at once. The machines of the new technology, I understand, perform in much the same way: all knowledge is stored, to be summoned up at the flick of a key. They sound, in theory, more efficient. Some of my keys don't work; others demand pass-words, codes, random unlocking sequences. The collective past, curiously, provides these. It is public property, but it is also deeply private. We all look differently at it. My Victorians are not your Victorians. ( 2) Compare p. 152.

The voice of history, of course, is composite. Many voices; all the voices that have managed to get themselves heard. Some louder than others, naturally. My story is tangled with the stories of others--Mother, Gordon, Jasper, Lisa, and one other person above all; their voices must be heard also, thus shall I abide by the conventions of history. I shall respect the laws of evidence. Of truth, whatever that me be. But truth is tied to words, to print, to the testimony of the page. Moments shower away; the days of our lives vanish utter, more insubstantial than if they had been invented. Fiction can seem more enduring than reality. Pierre on the field of battle, the Bennett girls at their sewing, Tess on the threshing machine--all these are nailed down for ever, on the page and in a million heads. What happened to me on Charnmouth Beach in 1920, on the other hand, is thistledown. And when you and I talk about history, we don't mean what actually happened, do we? The cosmic chaos of everywhere, all time? We mean the tudying up of this into books, the concentration of the benign historical eye upon years and places and persons. History unravels; circumstances, following their natural inclination, prefer to remain ravelled. (5-6)

I have seen Cairo since the war years and that time seemed to shimmer as a mirage over the present. . . The place didn't look the same but it felt the same; sensations clutched and transformed me. I stood outside some coincrete and plate-glass tower-block, picked a handful of eucalyptus leaves from a branch, crushed them in my hand, smelt, and tears came to my eyes. Sixty-seven-year-old Claudia, on a pavement awash with packaged American matrons, crying not in grief but in wonder that nothing is ever lost, that everything can be retrieved, that a lifetime is not linear but instant. That, inside the head, everything happens at once." (68)

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