A HARLOT'S PROGRESS reinvents William Hogarth's famous painting of 1732 which tells the story of a whore, a Jewish merchant, a magistrate and a quack doctor bound together by sexual and financial greed. Dabydeen's novel endows Hogarth's characters with alternative potential lives, redeeming them for their cliched status as predators or victims. The protagonist - in Hogarth, a black slave boy, in Dabydeen, London's oldest black inhabitant - is forced to tell his story to the Abolitionists in return for their charity. He refuses however to supply parade of grievances, and to give a simplistic account of beatings, sexual abuses, etc. He will not embark upon yet another fictional journey into the dark nature of slavery for the voyeuristic delight of the English reader. Instead, the old man ties the reader up in knots as deftly as a harlot her client: he spins a tale of myths, half-truths and fantasies; recreating Africa and eighteenth-century London in startlingly poetic ways. What matters to him is the odyssey into poetry, the rich texture of his narrative, not its truthfulness. In this, his fourth novel, David Dabydeen opens up history to myriad imaginary interpretations, repopulating a vanished world with a strange, defiantly vivid and compassionate humanity.
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Going back to the origins of black fiction in 18th-century slave narrative, A Harlot's Progress tells the story of Mungo, an elderly slave engaged in dictating the main events of his life to the Abolitionist, Mr Pringle, who is "authoring" his autobiography. Unfortunately, the true history of Mungo's life--both as a slave and as an African-keeps on going missing in Pringle's attempts to transform that life into a moral emblem or fable of savage innocence preceding the fall into slavery. In fact, that life refuses to confirm to any of the versions white Europeans--whether in the guise of the painter Hogarth, Mungo's "owners", Lord and Lady Montagu, or Thomas Thistlewood, the captain of the slave ship responsible for "blooding" him, both sexually and otherwise--try and project onto him.
Employing a variety of plots and narrative perspectives, Dabydeen explores the instability of the slave's image in European representations of Africa and Africans. However, the idea that fictions are irresolvable and, ultimately, irretrievable, gives way, in the final brief section of the book, to sentiments of love and redemption which are seemingly exempt from the whirl of illusion, myth and ironic fabrication that precedes it. Like the sections on Africa that open the novel, authentic love seems to lie beyond the deconstructions and lies of history, a moment of truth, both comprehensible and shared. --David MarriottReview:
"David Dabydeen's new novel takes as its starting point Hogarth's painting of 1732...and sets out to release the people it represents - prostitute, merchant, quack doctor and slave boy - from easy moralism, both the artist's and our own... Dabydeen has an imaginative mastery of the period, and can render it a hundred ways" ( Observer)
"Exhilarating...Beguiling and provocative" ( The Times)
"The best of the younger generation of Caribbean novelists" (Penelope Lively)
"His strong vision… suggests that, for the recreation of lost meaning, it is necessary to strike off the fetters of narrative, and be released into poetry." (Hilary Mantel The Independent)
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Book Description Vintage Books, 2000. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0099288729
Book Description Book Condition: Brand New. Book Condition: Brand New. Bookseller Inventory # 97800992887251.0