It is 1839. A young Aboriginal girl, Mathinna, is running through the long wet grass of an island at the end of the world to get help for her dying father, an Aboriginal chieftain. Twenty years later, on an island at the centre of the world, the most famous novelist of the day, Charles Dickens, realises he is about to abandon his wife, risk his name and forever after be altered because of his inability any longer to control his intense passion.
Connecting the two events are the most celebrated explorer of the age, Sir John Franklin - then governor of Van Diemen’s Land - and his wife, Lady Jane, who adopt Mathinna, seen as one of the last of a dying race, as an experiment. Lady Jane believes the distance between savagery and civilisation is the learned capacity to control Wanting. The experiment fails, Sir John disappears into the blue ice of the Arctic seeking the Northwest Passage, and a decade later Lady Jane enlists Dickens’ aid to put an end to the scandalous suggestions that Sir John’s expedition ended in cannibalism.
Dickens becomes ever more entranced in the story of men entombed in ice, recognising in its terrible image his own frozen inner life. He produces and stars in a play inspired by Franklin’s fate to give story to his central belief that discipline and will can conquer desire. And yet the play will bring him to the point where he is no longer able to control his own passion and the consequences it brings.
Inspired by historical events, Wanting is a novel about art, love, and the way in which life is finally determined never by reason, but only ever by Wanting.
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Comments about Wanting:
Wanting is the fifth novel by award-winning Australian author, Richard Flanagan. In 1841, Mathinna, an orphaned young Aboriginal girl, one of the remaining Van Diemen's Land indigenous who were kept on Flinders Island, was plucked from the "care" of George Augustus Robinson, the Chief Protector of Aborigines, to become the subject of an experiment in civilisation of the savage, conducted by the Governor of Van Diemen's Land, Sir John Franklin and his wife, Lady Jane Franklin.
Mathinna loved the red silk dress she was given, but hated wearing shoes. She wanted to learn to write because she knew there was magic in it. "Dear Father, I am a good little girl. I do love my father. ……come and see mee my father. ……I have got sore feet and shoes and stockings and I am very glad……..Please sir come back from the hunt. I am here yrs daughter MATHINNA". But when her (dead) father failed to come to her after several letters, her passion for writing faded. "And when she discovered her letters stashed in a pale wooden box….she felt not the pain of deceit for which she had no template, but the melancholy of disillusionment".
In tandem with Mathinna's story, Flanagan relates incidents in the life of Charles Dickens, some twenty years later. The tenuous link between the two narratives is this: when Sir John Franklin is missing in the Arctic on his search for the North West Passage, Lady Jane asks Dickens to help refute allegations of cannibalism made by explorer, Dr John Rae. Dickens also writes and stars in a play about Franklin's lost expedition, during which he meets Ellen Ternan, the woman for whom he leaves his wife.
Flanagan's interpretation of Mathinna's life is certainly interesting: his extensive research into the lifestyle and common practices in the colony in the mid-nineteenth century is apparent, and he portrays very powerfully the mindset that led to the virtual extermination of the native population. While the Dickens narrative does have interesting aspects, it is so far removed from the Tasmanian story as to seem somewhat irrelevant, more of an interruption than an enhancement.
Flanagan states in his Author's Note that "The stories of Mathinna and Dickens, with their odd but undeniable connection, suggested to me a meditation on desire-the cost of its denial, the centrality and force of its power in human affairs. That, and not history, is the true subject of Wanting". Perhaps this statement would be better placed in a preface so that readers do not find themselves distracted wondering about the relevance of the Dickens narrative. Excellent prose make this, nonetheless, a powerful read.
Comments about Wanting:
Flanagan doesn't spare your feelings - he tells it like it was - humanises Australia's early history - makes one question who were the savages!
'The best novel I have read this year or expect to read for several more' - Sydney Morning Herald.
For Ages: 15 - 18 years old
For Grades: 11 - 12
Number Of Pages: 272
Published: 1st February 2012
Publisher: Random House Australia
Country of Publication: AU
Dimensions (cm): 19.9 x 12.9 x 1.7
Weight (kg): 0.19
Edition Number: 3