Gioia Angeletti

Subversive Reticence and Gender Negotiations in the Colonial Contact Zone: Lady Anne Barnard’s “Cape” Writings

The Romantic-period Scottish poet Thomas Pringle is still regarded by the majority of scholars as the first South African writer in English. However, recent studies have shown that, many years before the publication of his major works in 1834, another Scot had written extensively about the life, culture and colonial situation in the Cape Colony between the end of the eighteenth- and the beginning of the nineteenth-century. Lady Anne Lindsay, wife to the colonial secretary Andrew Barnard, resided with him in South Africa from 1797 to 1802, and from there she wrote poetry, diaries and letters (to Henry Dundas, then British Secretary of State for War), which deserve more critical attention than they have so far received. Generally remembered as the author of the ballad “Auld Robin Gray”, included in an 1825 collection edited by Walter Scott for the Bannatyne Club, Lady Barnard should in fact be reassessed as a travel writer whose narratives of exile provide invaluable evidence of the kind of negotiations and compromises that women in colonial contexts had to make in order to preserve their reputation as “bearers of culture” and “mediators” between Self and Other. The fact that Lady Barnard prohibited the publication of both her poems and journals about South Africa is definitely a sign of her deference to the contemporary gender-normative codes, which required feminine reticence, especially on subjects concerning the political, public sphere. However, the aim of the paper will be to show how this reticence can in fact be latently subversive. Lady Barnard’s Cape writings are marked by a dialectics of the said and unsaid, an ironic tone and a semantics or poetics of silence that reveal her (deliberately) ambiguous position as to colonial relations, racial otherness, and slavery, thus ultimately challenging (albeit indirectly) official colonial discourses.

Gioia Angeletti, University of Parma, Italy