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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Reconstructions of the rural homeland in novels by Thomas Hardy, Shen Congwen, and Mo Yan He, Donghui

Abstract

This thesis studies fictional narratives of the countryside by writers of rural origin in English and Chinese literature in relation to the "countryside ideal." The term, borrowed from Michael Bunce, describes an ancient as well as modern theme in literature, which sees the countryside as a desirable "home." The conventional construction of the countryside by urban writers sustains this ideal with simplistic and static images. My thesis extends the discussion beyond the idyllic countryside in the mainstream of Anglo-American culture and the genteel culture in China to concentrate on Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), Shen Congwen (1902-1988), and Mo Yan (b. 1956), who all have personal relations with the countryside and who enrich its image with accounts of actual life, reconnecting it to authentic home place. I discuss fictional narratives of the rural homelands of the three writers not as unmediated transcriptions but as cultural constructs, which are shaped by different literary traditions and responsive to specific historical contexts. My approach is mainly text-based, but supplemented by references to each writer's cultural and historical contexts. The Introduction situates these writers and their rural homelands in relation to the specific interest in the countryside in each writer's cultural milieu. Chapter One reads Hardy's reconstruction of the countryside in light of the struggle for existence in a Darwinian natural world. Hardy's sombre-looking rural landscapes highlight the complex difficulties of rural life and the moral and intellectual qualities required to survive in such a world. Chapter Two studies Shen Congwen's justification of rural culture in the midst of nationalist aspirations for globalization. His multi-layered fictionalization of the rural homeland centres on the image of water, a root symbol of Chinese culture, merging traditional Chinese culture with modernist vitalism. Chapter three examines Mo Yan's reconstruction of the rural homeland after the severe disruption of Chinese culture during the Mao era. Mo Yan's magic realist reconstruction testifies to the repression of the genius loci of his rural homeland by politics and expresses a desire to be reconnected with the original homeland through sensual bonds rather than detached observations. These writers' narratives redefine the countryside in relation to "home" as a centre for meaningful activities. The fact that they reappropriate and situate rural life and work in specific cultural traditions and diverse forms of modernity is manifested in their unique and irreplaceable literary constructions. I will offset Hardy's writing against that of the two Chinese writers, in order to clarify their rich and diverse cultural implications. Whereas Hardy subjects his fictional rural landscape to a scientific approach, Shen Congwen reconfirms traditional Chinese culture, linking it with the ideals of the May Fourth movement for renewal and revitalization. Mo Yan, for his part, combines the rural perspective and faith in the land with a modernist use of magic realism. Fictionalizations of the rural homeland thus reveal complex interactions with modernity.

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