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‘The Shape-Shifting Fictions of Pauline Melville’

Lawson Welsh, Sarah ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-2270-057X (1999) ‘The Shape-Shifting Fictions of Pauline Melville’. In: Conde, Mary and Lonsdale, Thorunn, (eds.) Caribbean Women Writers: Fiction in English. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 144-171

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The ‘shape-shifter’ of the title of Melville’s first collection of short stories is glossed in two epigraphs to the collection: one describes the shape-shifter as someone who is able to ‘conjure up as many different figures and manifestations as the sea has waves’: the other, more specifically, refers to the belief that the ‘shaman or medicine-man of the Indians of Guiana, to whom nothing is impossible, can effect transformation of himself or others’. The first epigraph is attributed only to an ‘Unknown poet’ and the second to Walter Roth’s anthropological study, Enquiry into the Animism and Folklore of the Guiana Indians (1909). In this way, Melville links the general and the particular, the timeless, cross-cultural archetype and a specifically Guyanese, Amerindian inflection of the concept of shape-shifting, in an introduction to her own work. More importantly, the two epigraphs encourage the composite identification of the writer, artist and magician with the shaman. However, as the narrator of ‘The Truth is in the Clothes’ warns, ‘the gifts of the genuine shaman overlap in places with the psychological wizardry of the charlatan’,3 and true shape-shifting may be confused with the slipperiness of the ‘confidence trickster’.

Item Type: Book Section
Status: Published
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-349-27071-2_10
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0441 Literary History
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN3311 Prose. Prose fiction
School/Department: School of Humanities
URI: https://ray.yorksj.ac.uk/id/eprint/5883

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