Span: Journal of the South Pacific Assoc for Cwlth Lit and Language Studies
Number 36, 1992
Postcolonial Fictions:
Proceedings of the SPACLALS Triennial Conference 1992
Edited by Michèle Drouart

Great English Houses/New Homes in England? memory and identity in Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day and V. S. Naipaul's The Enigma of Arrival

M. Griffith

. . . I suppose I was very conscious of the fact that once I departed, Darlington Hall would stand empty for probably the first time since the day it was built. (Ishiguro)1

But the world had changed; time had moved on. I had found my talent and my subject, ever unfolding and developing. My career had changed; my ideas had changed. And coming to the manor at a time of disappointment and wounding, I felt an immense sympathy for my landlord, who, starting at the other end of the world, now wished to hide, like me. I felt a kinship with him; was deeply grateful for the style of things there. I never thought his seclusion strange. It was what I wanted for myself at that time. (Naipaul)2

These passages about the empty house and the secluded house which gives sanctuary are taken from two novels published in Britain within two years of each other. Although both refer to English country houses neither can be seen as entirely part of the trend that Peter Kemp, writing on fiction in Britain in the eighties calls "the heritage industry."3 Of course the seventies and early eighties saw a new intensity of interest in rural England and in country houses in particular.4 Several architectural histories had been published, notably by Mark Girouard, from 1978 onwards, which may have helped to foster a nostalgic imaginative return to the buildings whose design and ownership materially demonstrated codes of value and "ideals of conduct"5 so attractive to a people in a state that Rushdie describes in "Outside the Whale" as a "condition of cultural psychosis" brought about by "the continuing decline, the growing poverty and the meanness of spirit of much of Thatcherite Britain."6 The Falklands War and Mrs Thatcher's call for a return to "Victorian values" facilitated a British escapist return to the "lost hour of their precedence."7 In times like these a collective imagination may turn to those phenomena which already carry ideological freight to try to re-invest them with solidity and moral value, an impulse that Foucault has called "the ideology of the return" to a non-existent mythic past.8 It is also a time when an intervention can be made by writers intent on an appropriation of such sites for very different purposes.

The country house has been a resonant, recurring and dynamic symbol of "Englishness" in fiction from Emma onwards. Throughout nineteenth century fiction the country house becomes both the actual refuge of the prosperous middle-class industrialists from the blighted cities where they made their capital and the repository of the spoils of empire. Over the century, the houses themselves lost their traditional focal position in the landscape as sites of social and economic power but they represented a powerful social myth of harmony and order in the "Edenic" garden of the English countryside. They became iconic: ground over which different constructs of "English values" could be contested. The exchange of values which took place as the middle class married in or took possession of the houses tended to inflect the structures of power in changed ways.9

The impulse to return fictionally to the country house by two such unlikely writers as Ishiguro and Naipaul may arise from sources other than a simple nostalgia for the past and more from what could be seen as a desire to locate an individual's sense of dis-location in what Seamus Heaney called an "England of the mind." The texts could be seen as examples of attempts to address issues raised by the "end of empire" as it is experienced in Britain during the process of adjustment and transition to new political and social realities.10 An important question underlying the cultural appropriation of such a symbol is why neither author turns explicitly for his "material" to the "empire within" England.11 Both texts make explicit reference to the England of empire and make problematic in different ways the idea of "Englishness" and how it is constituted. The chosen authors represent a different trajectory of writing from that represented by, for example, Hanif Kureishi and Timothy Mo, whose settings engage more with the "empire within," use the comic mode to give voice to the experience of non-traditional but perhaps new-Anglo experiences of England, assume the right to appropriate without explanation and subvert the dominant culture's hold over the discursive construction of identity. In the words of a character from Sour Sweet "the conqueror never knew it was he who was truly the conquered."12

Naipaul's background and recurring themes scarcely need an introduction. Kazuo Ishiguro, a young self-described "internationalist" writer of Japanese origin, came to England from Nagasaki in 1954 with his parents. He was brought up expecting that one day he would return to Japan, consequently he still speaks Japanese to his parents although he does not remember not speaking English. Of his two earlier novels, A Pale View of Hills (1982) is set partly in Japan and partly in the English countryside, and his second, An Artist of the Floating World, wholly in Japan. Both novels deal with the aftermath of war and the collapse of empire but the method is oblique and the focus personal.

Gently parodic, The Remains of the Day is Ishiguro's first extended treatment of issues, similar to those of his earlier work, in an entirely English setting. Although dealing with events between the wars, this novel also demonstrates an interest in past "blindness" through the play of memory and its power to interrogate and regenerate a "sense of self" in an individual whose personal life is foregrounded against large historical events and takes its shape from a qualified understanding of them: a subject ideally suited to the mood of the times in which it was published.

The central consciousness in this doubly-distanced narrative time is the aged English butler, Stevens, who is setting out in the first passage quoted, leaving the house empty possibly for the first time in two hundred years. Through Stevens, a superannuated kind of servant and of the kind that is also often a stock literary comic figure, Ishiguro can give an insider's view of the hierarchical relationships within the house and particularly into the race and class assumptions of the English aristocracy during the twenties and thirties and, through his father's stories, back into the nineteenth century. The novel is set in 1956 but has a much longer narrative reach, by implication up to the late eighties.

Realist in mode, with familiar settings offset by a purposefully ironic approach, the narrative is composed of six days' recollections in confidential internal monologue. It is set at the time of the Suez crisis, moving forwards towards a meeting with Stevens' past colleague and friend, Miss Kenton; yet the important journey that Stevens takes is into the past: not just his own personal history with a painful revisiting of possibilities, but by virtue of his occupation and the position of Lord Darlington, into the history of England itself, now in a condition as reduced and straitened, in imperial terms, as the house for which Stevens must draw up a staff plan reflecting the more casual and democratic life of the new American owner.

Stevens' life and values are inextricably bound up in the ideology of the class and the man in whose house he served. Darlington's influential but unofficial position between the wars allowed him to by-pass the institutional methods of democratic decision-making and play a part in bringing about a more humane treatment of Germany after the Versailles Treaty but also later a dangerous appeasement of pre-World War II fascism. The reader comes to see that the roots of the first impulse are vitally connected with the second. As Stevens naively reflects on his own life in service, questions arise in his mind about the value of Darlington's own code of service to "noble ideals." To what extent can he be blamed as a naive idealist, or someone who failed to hold fast to beliefs in liberal democracy under the persuasion of the "new order"? This is represented by the Italian fascists and members of Mosley's organization who visit Darlington Hall in the twenties and early thirties, preparing the way for Darlington to become, or be characterized as, a German apologist and appeaser later when he sets up a meeting at the Hall between the German ambassador Ribbentrop and the British Prime Minister, with the hope of bringing about peace.

Here the country house is seen in its traditional role as the site of the informal exchange of ideas between elite groups, but tellingly the class which inhabits it is critically deficient in an ability to control the agenda of international politics. Ironically, the former site of power becomes the place where men of Darlington's class and liberal ideas become disempowered and where their amateurish "apolitical" ideas are pilloried by the professional politicians.

In Stevens' recollections, Darlington's code of decency does not permit him "to stamp a foe into the ground." Discussing his ideas with Stevens he says of his first world war service: "We treated each other decently over six months of shelling each other." It is this inappropriate language of "good breeding and etiquette" applied to the charnel house of the trenches which powerfully undercuts for the reader the logic of the codes by which Darlington and Stevens live, highlighting the fallacy at the heart of the lives of both men. When Darlington asks Stevens to sack two Jewish maids and stands by when his butler is humiliated by an elitist guest with fascist tendencies, the code of decency is seen to be one which is not universally applied. The house is, as much as the outside world it represents, a site of appeasement and a naked display of privilege.

Stevens' own use of superannuatedly genteel language, learnt from "the most distinguished men and women of England" visiting the Hall is both wonderfully absurd and indicative of his real position in his employer's house. When he speaks about Farraday seeing his "person" in the library he exemplifies his willing acceptance of the erasure of individuality that his role requires. His language is also, more bathetically, acquired from the reading of romantic fiction with plenty of "elegant dialogue" in his spartan bachelor rooms: a reading which vicariously answers his need for a life of the emotions.

Other examples of the oblique way Ishiguro forestalls a sentimental view of the past are in the silences and gaps in Stevens" life: the butler's only memories are of his adult life in his servant's role. The routines of the great house, the gendered nature of its physical spaces and the responsibilities of the staff preclude individual expression. The necessary order of the house requires silence and invisibility in its servants. Internalizing a rationalization of his role, Stevens rejects Miss Kenton's interest in him as unprofessional. Liaisons between servants disrupt the perfect running of the house. In an odd inversion of traditional roles, women represent a threat to the masculine, professional order of the house. There is no mention of a life outside service until the journey he takes at the insistence of his American employer (in Farraday's Ford and wearing the cast-off, out-dated suits, "too small but ideal in tone," he has been given over the years as tips) gives him the physical and psychological distance to reflect.

Outside the Hall a different England is coming into being where the people he meets openly speak about their right to have an opinion in a country for whose defence their sons died, where the pressing questions about agency which have gradually concerned Stevens are debated by a class newly empowered by the social upheaval caused by the war. "There's no dignity to be had in being a slave," ays a typical Englishman, commenting on the victory over Germany. On the question of the Empire itself going independent he is less sure, turning to Stevens as to one who could clarify such matters. Stevens avoids the issue. Ishiguro's method is to suggest important issues and the debate around them. His choice of narrator precludes his direct engagement in the heat and passion of the questions raised.

As Stevens motors along with the Hall's 1930s guide book called The Wonder of England, through villages which at first seem untouched by post-war change, the servant reveals an incapacity to speak naturally to others, a sense of lost connections with his countrymen and a restricted notion of "Englishness," fixed by Darlington Hall. The life of the nation proceeds "above stairs" in the meetings between the "greatest ladies and gentlemen" of the land, in whose hands "the destiny of civilisation" truly lies, and "a butler's duty is to provide good service" and "not to meddle in the great affairs of the nation." His domestic role, demonstrated so amusingly as he inspects each guest house's standards with a professional eye, also allows him to accept Darlington's own metaphor of the need to by-pass consultation "when the nation's house is on fire." Never is it truer that a subject is "spoken" by the language available. Stevens' apologia for a life lived voluntarily without agency is bound up in his identification with the words which define his relationship to the house, the master and the imperial nation: "dignity," "greatness." His sense of his own life's worth depends on Darlington's achievement.

In a professional publication, "A Quarterly for the Gentleman's Gentleman," butlers contest the question of whether the houses of business men or the newly rich can be regarded as distinguished, thus demonstrating, as does the Hayes Society, the mirror-like reflection the servant gives the master. The exchange of values denied agency to one group while giving its members a policing role in the social hierarchy.13 It is in this loss of the "other" by whom one could know oneself, that the servant's loss of self lies. If Darlington is a failure, then Stevens' life is a misguided gesture also. Seen in this light the two moments of Stevens' greatness are nothing more than the delusions of a man who could not make his own mistakes. Significantly these moments are also the ones when Darlington intervenes in international politics. They involve Stevens' suppression of raw feelings of pain at his father's death (when he is absent serving at the peace conference) and when he loses Miss Kenton to another man.

Throughout most of his life with Darlington in the Hall Stevens is metaphorically in the dark, as he is depicted once standing outside Miss Kenton's door, listening to her crying, "with the light seeping around the edges;" and he is never more lost and dis-located than when, mistaken for a real gentleman, he takes on the persona of Darlington and speaks of his "international" interests. The knowledge which Stevens eventually comes to as he sits crying on the pier, his heart broken, at the "remains of the day," is that he has made large errors of judgement. He has told Miss Kenton he will not be returning to an empty house but to "work, work, more work," yet the house is empty of all that it once meant, not only for Stevens. A renewed code of service now encompassing the possibility of spontaneous banter with his American employer is all that is left for the man, whose journey into the past has been a brief registering of a sense of estrangement during the few days when he is beyond all former boundaries. In the end, though, he "homes" to the only place and framework of values he knows.

Ishiguro has employed the consciousness of a man connected crucially but in a subordinate, silenced way to a now displaced power elite once implicated in the imperial past. Through Stevens' epiphany on the pier, it is revealed that the ideology of service which limited Stevens' life and his father's, killed his brother and destroyed Darlington, conceals the real material conditions and damaging effects of the class-inflected imperial enterprise.

Unlike Jack, the rural worker, who is to bear such symbolic weight in The Enigma of Arrival, Stevens, in his feminized role in the house, has no space in which to live vitally or as a whole being. In the final irony of the novel, when he returns to Farraday, he will have a new role to act - one which he once thought was his meaning - the English butler - "the real thing" Farraday wants him to be. Ishiguro shows, in the limitations of this renewal, that the old dynamics of power continue, with new inflections. Yet the ending also demonstrates that for some individuals there is comfort in returning to old ways of being, to the protective if modified beliefs of the past. The novel is a witty, considered treatment of the untidy endings of empire.

Naipaul's The Enigma of Arrival, which is also set in the south of England,14 has had a mixed reception. In England it has been acclaimed, becoming at one time a best seller, but it has also received a tough-minded, if rather prescriptive analysis in the materialist reading of Selwyn Cudjoe who, although dismissing it as a reactionary work which tells a comforting story to the West about the the culture of the other, comments more generally on Naipaul's work as representing "an important postcolonial impulse/response that begs to be understood."15 Some critics and reviewers, including Rushdie, have reacted "sadly" to Naipaul's account of his centring in England and to the foregrounding of personal anguish that the fiction/autobiography demonstrates.

In fact the work is rather provocatively subtitled "a novel in five sections" as the narrator is/is not Naipaul.16 The novel's fractured chronology, repetitious worrying of the details of physical description and frequent returns to remembered incidents and times of his life in order to diagnose particular emotional states both in himself and in the people he meets, betray a desire to write order onto confused, almost schizophrenic experience. The shape of the novel is in many ways defined by the daily walks Naipaul takes from his cottage over the eighteen or so years he lives there. Familiar and favourite ways are trodden again and again, both physically and metaphorically, not only by Naipaul but by the other characters of the novel. This gives a sense of the habitual and everyday routines of life and a circularity to the narrative in which there are many arrivals, many returns to the same place. But the purposeful ironies evident in Ishiguro's work, in which memory becomes a revelatory comment on personal life and national history, are absent. Naipaul's retreat to the "heart of England" represents his attempt to claim the (possibly disputed) right to become one of "the tribe of interpreters"17 of the nation: to mediate the landscape; to construct through a universalizing of experience a renewed sense of the sanctities of life. The contradictions of his project are revealed in his own sense of his speaking position and the specific place and time at which it takes place: a rural world in flux. The tension created by his own self-reflexive ambivalence and uncertainty marks the work. Unlike Stevens, Naipaul as narrator is immediately aware of and implicated in the historical burdens that a specifically Western-educated colonial subjectivity involves. His first arrival is marked by a sickness of the soul, his "raw colonial nerves," a loss of confidence in his art and the memory of years of sour and unsettled experience in England exemplified in the dreams that he suffers of "the exploding head" and his bath-time visions of himself as a corpse. A sense of self is eluding him for reasons that are not dissimilar to Stevens'. Age and perceived failures cause a reappraisal of the decisions and directions taken so confidently in youth. In Stevens' case the dream of his life is that through service he can become a great butler serving the empire in his own way; in Naipaul's case, it is the idea of becoming a writer which brought him in the 1950s to the place where such metamorphoses were supposed to happen: England. He left Trinidad without knowing that his true material lay there and in his own experience, rather than in imitating English authors.

Recognizing the historical processes which have shaped him, he at first experiences, unlike Stevens, a difficulty in "seeing" the place to which he has escaped, a landscape already shaped through the blurred romantic images and the language acquired at school in Trinidad. Stevens is so obsessed by the housekeeping rituals of the Hall that a mere name glimpsed on a signpost reminds him - unselfconsciously - of silver polish and the way that the silver of great houses is an index of their status. Naipaul's obsession is to depth-sound the landscape through literary references, bringing it into imaginative being through a display of his Western reading, and without the light, playful touch Ishiguro displays when he parodies Howards End.18 But the great gain Naipaul claims to make in Wiltshire is gradually to learn to read the landscape accurately through, and despite, the lies of the representations - the crudely coloured Constable reproductions or pictures of fat cows on cans of condensed milk - the kind of icons exported to the colonies as part of the imperial project of fixing England as a sign of beauty and an object of desire. While he comments coolly on this colonizing practice, Naipaul also reveals with some poignancy that it is only rarely, and in a particular place, that the myth becomes a reality and he can imagine himself actually inside the picture he carried for so long as a fantasy. It is this aside that betrays the longing for a mythic home which remains elusively beyond his grasp.

The strain in Naipaul's language and observations differs from that of the genteel Stevens. On the one hand his wide range of references seem familiar to the narrator and on the other he separates words off with quotation marks as if they are strange and alien - "run," "hound," "wet meadows" - giving them an unnatural, problematic quality which must later be resolved into the familiar. Over the years at the cottage the English "types" have fewer of the superficially "readable attributes" Naipaul first saw. They are not figures in a landscape whose economic function is erased. They are seen to be individuals who share with him - with the exception of Jack - a loss of purpose and community, though they are caught in a decaying rural world and he chooses to live his own version of an affluent middle-class retreat from the metropolis by alternating his English country home with travel and research trips abroad.

At just off-centre in the narrative stands the manor house, giving Naipaul the opportunity to link his own life with the landlord's through their shared imperial history. By locating himself in the cottage which was once no doubt the abode of a former estate worker and which gives him a joy of place like no other, he marks himself as an outsider. Yet placing himself there gives him the privileges of an partially inside view. The ambivalence of his position is made clear in the "gaffes" he records: thinking himself anonymous in the valley, he makes the early mistake of lying about where he lives to an enquirer, without realising that in such a place houses and their occupants are known to everyone. Like Stevens, whose identity is questioned on his journey, he is temporarily adrift in the England of his imagination. The changing material and social realities become clearer to him through contact with the rural workers associated with the manor and the landlord.

All but two of the people he meets work for the estate, reduced from its Edwardian splendour to unproductive wilderness. The lives connected with the building through economic relationships are not inhabitants like the vivid personalities of Thrushcross Grange or Shorthills, other ruined manors in Naipaul's fiction. Even the two men whose work lives are not structured in this way, Bray the car-hire man who values his freedom but whose servility strikes Naipaul forcibly, and Alan, the metropolitan visitor, have personalities marked by the manor. In Bray's case he has suffered a never-to-be forgotten humiliation there as a young summer employee which has shaped his quirky sense of independence. Alan, by contrast, on his weekend visits plays out his "apres le deluge" idea of a particular style of life ("Isn't it nice to have rich friends?"), a style long gone, but captured in the self-consciously posed photographs of house-parties from the privileged youth of the present landlord, "the man in the manor." The landlord and Alan share with Naipaul himself a sense of themselves as engaged in artistic pursuits. Yet Naipaul records dismissively that the writing of each man is slight and marginal. Like Darlington Hall, this manor is a hollow echo of the country house which once was the focus of artistic production or patronage. Alan is only admitted because he tells the landlord stories of London life in return for the landlord's own stories about the charade he himself plays out with servants like Pitton, giving him pink champagne in order to laugh at him. There is a bitter edge to Naipaul's treatment of the master/servant relationship, in contrast to Ishiguro's comic handling of similar incidents.

It may be too severe a judgement to suggest, as Cudjoe does, that a characteristic of Naipaul's is a misanthropic tendency to externalize his own neuroses by projecting them onto others.19 Naipaul may be striving to create his own "colonial fantasy" in Wiltshire as Cudjoe suggests, but he also reveals an inability not to see the destructive aspects of his adopted society. This places his work in a more problematic category, one which is not entirely colonial or mimetic, but stands at a point where the subject acts, within the confines of the historical moment, recognizing the limitations of agency. Nowhere is this clearer than in Naipaul's treatment of the vitiated manor and its melancholic owner, like Darlington a shadowy figure, described twice, briefly but evocatively by Naipaul.

The unnamed landlord, an aged invalid suffering from accidia (its onset coinciding with the beginning of Britain's imperial collapse after world war II, is an object of the writer's speculations. Naipaul sympathizes but professes no desire to confront the reality of the one who is "his opposite in every way, social, artistic, sexual" and whom he glimpses twice, first as "a round head, a bald head, a suit (or the jacket of a brown suit), a benign expression," and again later in the ruin of his garden; a sense of disgust pervades the brief description: "semi-nude, his legs crossed, the fat right thigh (the thigh that was raised, and which I saw) tightly encased in his shorts."

He recognizes the "imperial link" betweem himself and the landlord, which explains "my birth in the New World, the language I used, the vocation and ambition I had; this empire in the end explained my presence there in the valley, in that cottage, in the grounds of the manor. But we were - or had started - at opposite ends of wealth, privilege, and in the hearts of different cultures."

"Or had started" - the expression suggests accommodation to the English "magic of place" and the assumption of the authority to speak which The Enigma of Arrival entails. It is enough that the landlord remains without a personality for Naipaul to judge. The manor and its grounds express the man: "he stayed in his house which was his setting and dreamed of being elsewhere, dreamed in his own way."

Unable to "dream in his own way," Naipaul describes the grounds and outbuildings of the manor in detail, with an eye to the playfulness and fanciful quality in the constructed naturalness of the stable which looks like a forester's hut and the age of his own cottage. Naipaul never penetrates the manor itself, apart from the servants' quarters. He says, "I didn't know the internal arrangements" and turns his attention to the grounds over which he has some territorial claim and where his fantasy can work unimpeded. The house, "created at the zenith of imperial wealth and power, a period of high, even extravagant, middle-class domestic architecture," once had sixteen gardeners. During Naipaul's residence it loses its last gardener, Pitton. The estate, run by agents, is no longer able to afford his services. The capital of his tied cottage is released to make necessary repairs to the house.

The grounds themselves are an emblem for Naipaul of the landlord's fixed, sterile personality: the man who for aesthetic reasons allows ivy to grow unimpeded over the garden and house strangling the cherry tree and who sends Beardsleyesque paintings to the narrator to express artistic comradeship. The landlord"s vanity-press novella (the plot, summarised, reads as a cartoon version of crude racist attitudes) constitutes Naipaul's ironic, tactical comment on knowledges acquired at second hand of the "other."

Again, just as in Ishiguro's work, obliquity of technique is deployed to interrogate attitudes and values. The difference is that for Naipaul any less tentative engagement with the enigma of "authenticity" implicates him in a re-inscription of the values through which he can only be constituted in a subordinate subjectivity. Just as Darlington can never be confronted by Stevens, there is no point of contact possible with the landlord. Nowhere is the tension created by this avoidance more obvious than in Naipaul's treatment of the manor itself, which, like its owner, and like the novella, is a "fraud": a narrative, albeit an architectural one, told late in the imperial day about privilege and class. The estate is no more than "a nature reserve," no longer workable land. Yet Naipaul is drawn to its aesthetic of decay, and to the fantasy he can maintain if he does not enter the house or come close enough to the landlord to judge him or be judged by him. Instead, the lawns need only to be cut to reveal "old order and beauty" and before three beeches are cut and corded Naipaul enjoys the Marvellian "green shade" which embraces the house. The impatience expressed at those who are careless of the beauty of the past (eg. Mrs Phillips' destructively incompetent pruning of old roses) is explicable in terms of Naipaul's need to preserve his construction of England. Yet he sees clearly that the past is a construction just as the country cottage gardens require artifice to preserve their naturalness.

But the question of lack of authenticity haunts Naipaul as he explores his own fear of role-playing as writer through the portraits of the people he meets: Alan's fantasy of himself as a recorder of life in his diary; Pitton's sense of self fragilely expressed in his county clothes; Brenda's romance of herself as "femme fatale" which she lives out with tragic consequences. The house provides the location for these delusions and they inform the way in which these people think, sometimes oppositionally like Pitton, about their heritage. Against the background of the decayed fantasy of power that the building itself represents, people find a place to act out their lives, still playing the narcissistic game of being English which Naipaul had commented on so acerbically in a chapter of An Area of Darknes entitled "Fantasies and Ruins."20 Despite these perceptions, the peace gained in the manor grounds allows Naipaul to remember and recount his own painful wounding - "the separation of man and writer" and make a gesture of propitiation to the past through that revisiting.

With Pitton's departure and Alan's suicide the order which Naipaul had glimpsed, even if it was an order which created only the possibility to dream, is gone. Elms are dying around the countryside. Rooks, displaced, are suddenly in the trees prospecting like colonizers for new homes. For Naipaul time alters, memories are jumbled, "the years began to stack together." In this place men had once been "in control of their destinies" and could create meaning by appeasing rituals; now the destitute woman Bray adopts as his "child" or "fancy-woman" is a sign of the broken links with past sanctities, represented by Stonehenge, and the middle ages, and the writer's remembered childhood in Trinidad. Even Naipaul himself is part of the secular changes, as, when renovating cottages to which he will move from the manor cottage, he meets an old lady who once used to visit her shepherd grandfather there. Naipaul feels "embarrassed to have destroyed or spoilt the past" for her and embarrassed to be what he feels he is: "an intruder" . . . "from another hemisphere."

Before he leaves the manor grounds, Naipaul sees himself as part of the process of change in the landscape. He "had learned a language after living among its sounds." He writes: "Land is not land alone . . . it partakes of what we breathe into it, is touched by our moods and memories."

In the final passage of the novel's last section, "The Ceremony of Farewell," Naipaul confronts a "real death" and the process whereby each generation is taken further away from the sanctities of childhood and, particularly in Naipaul's case, the fantasy of home he had constructed while in England. These ideas are expressed, not in the style of the ironic, mannered pastiches of Ishiguro, but in a passage which echoes Eliot's nostalgia at the end of The Mill on the Floss. The thoughts return him in a circular fashion to his true vocation and the material for his new book. This is not to be the original study he imagined when he first saw De Chirico's painting, The Enigma of Arrival (92) - a version of that had already been written as In a Free State - but a story suggesting salvation, Jack's story: the story of an Englishman who lived amidst ruin and change and reminders of "the brevity of the cycles of growth and creation" and who "created his own life, his own world, his own continent." The building of the manor house itself, paid for with the revenue of empire, is only the latest sign of many dispossessions and cycles in the landscape, just as the deaths in the novel signify the pattern of loss and renewal in the lives of survivors.

Barthes reminds us in Mythologies that this sort of story-telling "makes contingency eternal" by doing away with all dialectics. "Men depoliticize according to their needs."21 Naipaul does not entirely do away with all dialectics but he is content in the end to recognize that, as Dyer points out, "we are free to forge our cultural identity but, to adapt Marx's famous formula, we are not free to do so under conditions of our own choosing."22

For Ishiguro the country house is a way of engaging with the residual "body" of imperial power, as "the spirit is slipping" and changing in England.23 His narrator takes us directly into a particular social order and system of values, exposing their contradictions despite his limited consciousness. Naipaul, on the other hand, is drawn to the country house by an identification with the malaise it symbolizes. Although he makes implicit judgements on the social order, he cannot separate himself from a fascination with the power it once represented. Finally he is unable to confront this enigma and the novel is a compelling documentation of the accommodation to the necessities of surviving, and of the saving lies which are required to do so. These impulses may explain the conflicting accounts of The Enigma of Arrival.

Both texts seem to demonstrate that the country house can still work paradoxically as a site at which values and identities are negotiated, but not through a harmonizing marriage of opposites, because the significant relationships of both novels are between men, bound in different ways to the sterile, imperial past. Naipaul's narrator is someone finally, and conservatively, endorsing the values of the culture he wants to claim by focussing on a mythical mapping of the landscape, yet sufficiently aware of the ambiguities of his own historical position to register some doubts about the social and political specificity in which such an act takes place. In contrast, Ishiguro's novel may be seen as a muted example of the kind of tactics needed to allow the maneuvering subversive24 right into the house of fiction. Both writers negotiate in different ways the postcolonial condition of England.

Works Cited

Barthes, R. Mythologies. St. Albans: Paladin, 1973.

Bhabha, H.K. ed. Nation and Narration. London: Routledge, 1990.

Chambers, R. Room for Maneuver: Reading (the) oppositional (in) Narrative. London: University of Chicago Press, 1991.

Cudjoe, S.R. V.S. Naipaul: A materialist reading. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988.

Dyer, G. "Anglo-English Attitudes," in M. Bradbury and J. Cooke, eds. New Writing. London: Minerva, 1992.

Forster, E.M. Howards End. London: Edward Arnold, 1973.

Foucault, M. "Space, Knowledge and Power," in P. Rabinow, ed. The Foucault Reader. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984.

Heaney, S. Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968-1978, London: Faber and Faber, 1980.

Ignatieff, M. "The Europe of the Mind," in M. Bradbury and J. Cooke, eds. New Writing. London: Minerva, 1992.

Ishiguro, K. The Remains of the Day. London: Faber and Faber, 1989.

Kemp, P. "British Fiction of the 1980s," in M. Bradbury and J. Cooke eds, New Writing. London: Minerva, 1992.

Girouard, M. Life in the English Country House: A Social and architectural history. London: Yale University Press, 1978.

Mo, T. Sour Sweet. London: Abacus/Sphere Books, 1982

Naipaul, V.S. An Area of Darkness. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968.

_____________ The Enigma of Arrival. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987.

Rushdie, S. Imaginary Homelands:Essays and criticism, 1981-1991. London: Granta, 1991.

Tindall, G. Countries of the Mind: The meaning of place to writers. London: Hogarth Press, 1991.

Williams, R. "The Country and the City." An interview in Politics and Letters. London: Verso/New Left Books, 1979.

Monash University


1. K. Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day (London: Faber and Faber, 1989). Quotations are from this edition.

2. V. S. Naipaul, The En igma of Arrival (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987). Quotations are from this edition.

3. Peter Kemp, "British Fiction of the 1980s," in New Writing, ed. M. Bradbury and J. Cooke (London: Minerva, 1992) 216.

4. Raymond Williams interviewed by New Left Review in 1977 on The Country and the City commented on his "profoundly ambivalent" attitude to the country house presented as "our heritage." For Williams, the beauty of the structures did not prevent a recognition of the exploitation needed to produce them. In the power they continue to exert to induce "a particular way of seeing and relating to the world" they demonstrate that the past does not end "tidily" with the end of an epoch. Raymond Williams, "The Country and the City," interview in Politics and Letters (London: Verso/New Left Books, 1979) 303-323.

5. Mark Girouard, Life in the English Country House: A Social dna Architectural History, Preface (London: Yale University Press, 1978).

6. Salman Rushdie, "Outside the Whale," in Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism, 1981-1991 (London: Granta, 1991) 91.

7. Rushdie, 91.

8. Michel Foucault, "Space, Knowledge and Power," in The Foucault Reader, ed. P. Rabinow (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984) 239.

9. In Howards End, for example, the conflicting claims of capital and art to represent the national good at that time are worked through to the ironic conclusion. The house has an unexpected heir.

10. For this writer the term "postcolonial" is limited and unhelpful if it implies that oppositional discourse only exists in sites which are geographically and historically tied to "colonized" groups outside the former centre of the imperium.

11. Rushdie, 91.

12. Timothy Mo, Sour Sweet (London: Sphere Books, 1982) 15.

13. Stevens' father demonstrates this role when he silently, but effectively, reprimands his employer's unruly and disloyal guests.

14. Gillian Tindall argues that the descriptions of landscape in Howards End, which shares the same location as the two texts under discussion, contain many of the ideas still marshalled in debates over "rurality versus urbanisation, class and moral values" in contemporary Britain. See the chapter entitled "Versions of Paradise," in Countries of the Mind: the meaning of place to writers (London: Hogarth Press, 1991).

15. Selwyn R. Cudjoe, V. S. Naipaul: A materialist reading, Preface (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988).

16 . The first enigma which must be solved is the identity of the narrator. Cudjoe argues that in calling the work a fiction Naipaul is unwilling to expose himself to the "unblinding light of day" but I think that the closest analogy is to the "autofictography" of Maxine Hong Kingston in which the girl narrator re-makes herself in many Chinese and hybrid-American versions of her identity in the metafiction of The Woman Warrior. In The Enigma of Arrival the identity of the narrative voice is blurred rather than controlled. The issues of the personal and cultural burdens that writers bear are confronted explicitly, however, developing Naipaul's initial gesture begun in Finding the Centre. For the purposes of this paper the Naipaul of The Enigma of Arrival is a fictional character.

17. Homi K. Bhabha, Nation and Narration (London: Routledge, 1990) 293.

18. Compare Ishiguro, 26, with Forster, Howard's End (London: Edward Arnold, 1973) 164.

19. Cudjoe, 223.

20. V. S. Naipaul, An Area of Darkness (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968) 196.

21. Roland Barthes, Mythologies (St. Albans: Paladin, 1973) 144.

22. G. Dyer, "Anglo-English Attitudes," in New Writing, 144.

23. E. M. Forster, Howard's End, 254.

24. Ross Chambers, Room for Maneuver: Reading [the] oppositional [in] Narrative. London: University of Chicago Press, 1991.

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