The World's Literature: Latin America discussion

Herbert G. de Lisser: "The White Witch of Rosehall"

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message 1: by Betty (last edited Mar 14, 2018 02:18AM) (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3593 comments Different than my expectation, so far, and fast-paced. A respectable, college-educated Englishman comes to sensorial Jamaica to learn about planting before his joining his family's plantation on Barbados. Descriptions of Jamaica's natural beauty, Rosehall's continuous processing of sugar cane with slave labor, and the competitive relationship between Takoo's mulatto grandaughter Millicent and the white plantation owner Annie Palmer keep the plot moving and encourage rival powers of voodoo.
"Annie's murderous rage towards Millicent has its foundation in the possibilities of these hierarchies breaking down, of
Annie's position of supremacy being put to the test. In Millicent,
Annie meets a rival with a clear sense of what she is due as a free
mulatto woman of some fortune and importance." -- Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert, "THE WHITE WITCH OF ROSEHALL AND THE LEGITIMACY OF FEMALE POWER IN THE CARIBBEAN PLANTATION", p38.
The plot captures a version of the legendary, notorious, bloodthirsty Annie Palmer, while Paravisini-Gebert's article sees Palmer as an illegitimate usurper of patriarchal mores.

message 2: by Betty (last edited Mar 15, 2018 06:09PM) (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3593 comments In mid-novel, Annie Palmer demonstrates her spiritual power to evoke at night in a field a frightening demon called the 'three-footed horse'. Soon after, she exercises her knowledge of voodoo to penetrate a closed door to put a curse on her impertinent rival Millicent. Behind the scenes, the slave rebellion stirs with a rumor of imminent emancipation. Donna-Marie Urbanowicz* notes the Sam Sharpe rebellion of 1831 stirring in the restive background of de Lisser's story (195, 204, 206). That began as acts of passive resistance, and missionaries encouraged slaves to recognize their human worth. Sharpe couldn't prevent further events known as the Baptist War.

*"The Power of Oral Tradition: Culture, Religion and the Birth of a Jamaican "National" Narrative in The White Witch of Rosehall" Chapter V (192-221) about de Lisser's fiction The White Witch of Rosehall.

message 3: by Betty (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3593 comments Chapter 17 "The Arrangement," and slightly Chapter 16, relates how the Jamaican plantations celebrated Christmas. Rosehall's graciousness on that holiday somewhat differed from that which characterized other estates de Lisser indicates. He describes the day's warm weather and warmer relations between bonded workers and proprietors, including Junkanoo costumes, dancing, and gratuities. His scope of those events, sandwiched between the preceding year of enslaved labor and the subsequent one of likely rebellion, narrates the relations, both those mandated by law and those expected by custom, through the interactions of specific characters. Other fictions with scenes of Junkanoo in them that I've recently read spend less narrative space about the tradition. The period of 1928-29 around the book's publication might have had access to more vivid memories of the practice by contrast with writers of later eras. The paternalistic period of colonization in which he wrote about Jamaica comes across in F. M. Birbalsingh's essay "The Novels of H. G. DeLisser".

message 4: by Betty (last edited Mar 24, 2018 06:37AM) (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3593 comments The witch Annie Palmer successfully practices obeah at least three times during the story, and she nearly averts her death with it but for old Takoo's interference to avenge his grand-daughter Millicent's death, which utilized Palmer's knowledge of the black arts and others' superstitious beliefs.

The first display of Palmer's ability to practice Haitian voodoo creates the gigantic Three-footed Horse looming over the sugarcane field. Its ghastly sight frightens believers of superstition as well as nonbelievers. In the second instance, she projects her mental image of Old Hige through the locked door behind which Millicent sleeps. Millicent stirs to feel a presence in the room then believes that the purplish mark on her breast indicates that the vampiric Old Hige is drinking her blood as Palmer's retaliation for rivalry over Robert Rutherford's affection. Palmer's last successful summoning happens as the less powerful obeahman Takoo attempts to exorcise Old Hige from pale, ailing Millicent amidst a gyrating crowd in a darkened forest. There, Palmer summons the double-sized Rolling-Calf, a bull with rolling eyes, to arise in front of the attendees to nix the confidence of the exorcists and to despair Millicent of any hope.

How the magic works, de Lisser describes in chapter 21, "Rider and Millicent," through the words of defrocked priest Rider, along with Rutherford, to Takoo. Both characters had secretly observed the exorcism taking place:
"We saw everything. And we want you and Millie to understand that it was nothing real; only something imagined ... by someone else who caused you to see it. Can you follow me? That person first pictured the Bull in her mind and had power enough to make it appear to all of us also. But the thing itself wasn't real; it was only a vision. Do you think we can get Millicent to understand that?"

"Understand what, massa? If a woman have power to make you see such a thing, what can you do against her? And it was real. Massa, Rolling-Calf is real. And it appear just when I was taking off the sucking spirit from Millie, Mrs Palmer's spirit!"
Hence, Palmer had learned the ability to transfer a mental image so others, conditioned to believe in demons, could see it before them in real life.

More about the fiction-based legend of Annie Palmer who occupied Rosehall here.

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