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The Village in the Jungle Paperback – November 12, 2009
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"It is a pleasure to read Leonard Woolf's novel The Village in the Jungle in this new edition compiled by Yasmine Gooneratne. First of all, it makes good reading because the author, who was at the beginning of his writing career when he published it for the first time with Edward Arnold in London in 1913, displayed a strong and experienced voice with a convincing and persuasive literary style. The story takes the reader behind the orderly facade of colonial Ceylon to the rural milieu in which clashes of emotions and cultures occur. Secondly, it reveals the conflicts which the imperial power of Britain inflicted on an indigenous people, and which determined the lives and fortunes of many an individual torn between tradition and innovation. Succeeding the works of Rudyard Kipling and preceding those of Joseph Conrad and E.M. Forster, The Village in the Jungle occupies an important place in the history of English colonial literature... Yasmine Gooneratne presents a convincing scholarly edition of this classic of colonial literature. Being of Sri Lankan origin herself, she knows the setting of the plot from her own childhood experience; and as an experienced author of two postcolonial novels, A Change of Skies (1991) and The Pleasures of Conquest (1996), she possesses the necessary insights into the narratological and academic demands of such an enterprise. In her persuasive introduction she deploys all these skills, beginning by explaining to the reader the biographical background of Leonard Woolf, whose life was darkened by his wife's ill health while his life's work was overshadowed by her literary fame. She draws our attention to the novel's implied criticism of British imperial policy, and points out analogies with T.S. Eliot's famous poetical sequence The Waste Land (1922), which owes so much to Leonard Woolf's prophetic inspiration anticipating the destructive powers of the Great War. Her fresh evaluation of the symbolic strengths which underscore on a fictional level the gap of two narrative discourses, those of the colonial and postcolonial phases in recent British history, rightly locates Woolf's novel as an important text amidst Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Books, Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and E.M. Forster's A Passage to India. In doing so she picks up on research lines of Basil Mendis, Peter Elkin and Mervyn de Silva, who had previously analysed the novel along critical assumptions now dated, her scholarly acumen and credo prompting her to return to the novel's source, i.e., to the 264-page manuscript which reposes in the steel safe of the Librarian of the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka. She conducted this archival research to mark the passages which vary substantially and significantly from the printed editions of the book, thus enabling the reader to observe and participate in the creative process which the author underwent in writing his novel... It would have been difficult for a Western reader to follow the plot of this intriguing novel without the understanding of certain Sinhala words and a knowledge of some indigenous myths. Yasmine Gooneratne, with her academic expertise in oriental and Western culture, guarantees the necessary insights into the intricate and conflicting traditions which meet in this novel. A comprehensive bibliography invites further research on this seminal book. This careful edition of The Village in the Jungle will, one hopes, restore the novel's literary reputation and help to establish its proper profile in the field of literary studies." - Professor Rudiger Ahrens, Institute of English and American Studies, University of Wurzburg, Germany "The Village in the Jungle is a novel that should be far better known. One may hope that now, in this fully restored edition. it will find a readership moved by its carefully developed tragic narrative and challenged by its prescient political analysis. It is a fiction whose human drama is driven by the economic motor of imperial policy, its enforcement, its interests. self interests and murderous entanglements... One of the many benefits offered by this scrupulously annotated scholarly edition is that. by providing cancelled passages as well as other emendations and substitutions in the Notes, it enables us to watch the narrator in this act of disappearing. As one reads, one gradually enters a text that seems to be happening outside the narrator's earshot, beyond his power to influence or control. It becomes as a result a witness text by the voiceless. The village world, the jungle landscape are their own space, not symbols of the writer's metaphysical anxieties. The western presence is there, but only at the margins, in the brief appearances of the magistrate. Constructed directly out of Woolf's own experiences in that role, he is a reluctant but complicit imperial agent, what Woolf came to understand his own role to have been in the imperial system... In detail after detail, this remarkable novel's analysis of imperialism is grounded in the process of its repudiation." - (from the Foreword) Professor Judith Scherer Herz, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada "Professor Yasmine Gooneratne has edited Leonard Woolf's novel with the meticulous care it deserves, taking into consideration the entire range of critical interpretations the text has generated in the ninety years of its existence. The extensive notes at the end provide useful textual as well as cultural information, and a fascinating Appendix brings to the notice of the reader a film version of The Village in the Jungle made in Sri Lanka and a somewhat curious reading of the novel by a recent biographer of Virginia Woolf who holds Leonard Woolf responsible for his wife's suicide. Complete with a detailed Introduction and an exhaustive bibliography, this is likely to become the definitive edition of this twentieth century classic. The novel may be a minor classic as far as mainstream English literature is concerned, but in the context of Sri Lanka it occupies a prominent position, somewhat similar to the position of E.M. Forster's A Passage to India in India. The two novels, written within a few years of each other, are both attempts by unusually perceptive British writers to understand the countries ruled by Britain. Both have been widely read and discussed in the respective countries, and often prescribed in courses of study. Leonard Woolf's novel has an elemental quality about it. The paradigmatic story of a simple village community disintegrating under the multiple assaults of 'civilization', inclement nature and hostile fate has been told in diverse ways in several non-Western cultures later in the century (e.g., Chinua Achebe's Thing.s- Fall Apart or Gopinath Mohanty's Paraja) but this book is unique in having been written by an 'outsider' who had empathy with the village people as well as an ironic realization of the limitations of a colonial legal system (of which he himself was a part) in providing justice to them." - Professor Meenakshi Mukherjee, University of Hyderabad, India" --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
About the Author
Emeritus Professor Yasmine Gooneratne, D.Litt. (Macquarie), Ph.D. (Cambridge), BA Hons. (Ceylon), is a poet, novelist and author of studies of Jane Austen, Alexander Pope, Ruth Jhabvala and Leonard Woolf. Professor Gooneratne has been awarded honours including the Marjorie Barnard Prize for Fiction, India's Raja Rao Award for her outstanding contribution to the literature of the South Asian diaspora, and the Order of Australia for her services to literature and education. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Professor Gananath Obeyesekere
Home: 61 West 62nd street, #22A, NY, NY 10023
Love, hatred, greed, plotting, religion, superstition all come into this tale; and over it all the British administration, whose taxes and permits make life that bit harder for the peasants.
Having recently visited this area of Sri Lanka, I really felt Woolf's writing brought the area to life ;
'The jungle surged forward over and blotted out the village up to the very walls of her hut...Its breath was hot and heavy...it closed with its shrubs and bushes and trees, with the impenetrable disorder of its thorns and its creepers, over the rice-fields and the tanks.'
In a short story, 'Pearls and Swine' which appears in my (Eland) edition, Woolf expresses some of his opinions on the shortcomings of colonial rule.
A Woolf-like magistrate appears in the novel, booking a self-confessed murderer from the jungle. The magistrate is shown in a flattering light: he's intelligent and perceptive, speaking fluent Sinhalese. As the exhausted man sleeps in front of him, the magistrate asks his assistant's opinion of the case. His assistant replies that the jungle people are ignorant savages. Then the Woolf character says: "I rather doubt it. You don't help the psychologist much. This man now: I expect he's a quiet sort of man. All he wanted was to be left alone, poor devil." Psychologist! Woolf wrote this in 1912, the year he resigned from colonial service to marry Virginia Stephen, who encouraged him to write this book. Woolf and the other Apostles at Cambridge were early converts to Freud. The Hogarth Press published the first English translations of Freud's works.
I believe this book is the earliest literary work to break from the Victorian glorification of imperialism, trumpeted so successfully by Rudyard Kipling. Far from being 'the white man's burden,' colonialism is here just another burden on natives already struggling with plenty of troubles of their own. Woolf's jungle is Darwin's 'survival of the fittest' come to life, for the people as well as for the animals. The people are never far from starvation. "For the rule of the jungle is first fear... and behind the fear is always the hunger and the thirst, and behind the hunger and the thirst fear again." But Woolf incorporates another level as well, beyond the objective Darwinian reality. He shows the natives' feelings about the jungle, their behavioral adjustments: their psychology! It's quite remarkable. And hugely successful.
This book must have had a big impact on Joyce Cary, who served as District Officer in Nigeria (1914-1920), and also came to see colonialism from the native's perspective. It's especially evident in "The African Witch" (1936). In "An American Visitor" (1933) the colonial administrator is determined not to allow Christian missionaries into the country, as they would only debase and destroy the philosophical underpinnings so crucial to maintaining the coherence of society. (It is extremely unfortunate that the British, trying to maintain their hold on Ceylon, deliberately set the Tamils and the Sinhalese against each other. The upshot was the brutal, incredibly destructive, civil war that lasted 26 years.)
It is interesting that this novel has never achieved classic status, probably because there are no western heroes, and nothing really redemptive. But parts of it are in the same league as A Passage to India.