The ResurrectionistAuthor: James Bradley
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1. ‘We are born with the dead: See, they return, and bring us with them.' T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets.
2. Read James Bradley's two previous novels The Deep Field and Wrack and discuss them in relation to this work.
3. ‘There is kindness in you.' (p 318) Is it possible for a killer to be a kind person?
4. Bradley has written a novel which like Peter Carey's Jack Maggs is comparable to the work of Dickens in its evocation of this world. This is Dickensian London at its most graphic (for example, the operation conducted on Oliver (p 51) is appalling in the lack of hygiene which is hard to comprehend in our affluent society) and captures the sense of the desperate lives of these poor Londoners in a fashion which is equally powerful. Discuss.
5. Women in this novel are universally victims of the society in which they live. Swift's lover, Arabella, and those she holds most dear — Kitty, Amy and their servant Mary, and then in Australia, Miss Winter, the second love of Swift's life — have no real power and are forced to become whores, or slaves to their family's aspirations for them. Discuss.
6. The subject of resurrectionists or grave robbers is discussed on the Wikipedia website which gives some useful further activities and lists other novels which feature grave robbers. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resurrectionists. Choose one of the links there to read some background to this novel. For example, Dickens' character Jerry Cruncher in The Tale of Two Cities was a resurrectionist. Read more about the practice of grave robbing, and then discuss.
7. The subject of anatomical experimentation contains an ethical dilemma. See for example the description of ‘freaks of nature' (p 17) and Mr Tyne's monstrosities (pp 33-5). Do doctors and scientists still interfere with nature too much?
8. Poll's eulogy on the soul (pp 14-5) is the essence of scientific rationalism. Discuss his arguments.
9. What is lost when we reduce bodies to mere ‘meat'—things to be bought and sold? Are the consequences of that reduction purely ethical or do they involve a loss of something more profound? Can the idea of human beings as more than just the sum of our parts coexist with the scientific materialism of Mr Poll or are they fundamentally opposed? Do the book's final pages, and Gabriel's partial redemption, offer the beginning of an answer?
10. Gabriel's childhood memory of a boy killing a cat (pp 205-7) suggests that we are all innately capable of evil and cruelty. ‘And then he smiled, and all at once I understood the part I had played in this thing, the heat I felt not that of fear but recognition.' (p 207) Do you think this is so? Is Gabriel's complicity in the terrible acts which come later in his adulthood typical of what might have happened to anyone?
11. Chifley's grotesque dance with the corpses (pp 134-7) is horrifying. And yet we've seen similar grotesqueries in recent media coverage of the behaviour of armed personnel in the Iraq war. Is human nature so debased? Are we capable of literally anything when we think we're not being observed?
12. Although the novel argues that we're each capable of evil, there's also a suggestion that Gabriel had no real option. Orphaned early and at the mercy of his own poverty, perhaps this is why Gabriel is so easily corrupted? Does our background help to determine our futures? Or could he have had an alternative future, if for example, he'd gone away with Robert? Discuss.
13. Gabriel's love for Arabella is spoiled (p 149) before it begins. Discuss.
14. The murky world in which Gabriel finds himself is full of secrets and innuendo, and friendships rest on shifting ground. For example, it's never really explained what sort of relationship Charles has with the household of Kitty, Oliver and Arabella. Nor do we know what happened to May and Molly. Nor what sort of ‘other life' Arabella actually has. Read also for example, Gabriel's description of Charles de Mandeville and Chifley (p 78), or trace the subtle decline of Robert's respect for Gabriel, despite the fact that it is loyalty to Charles which leads to his lie. Is anyone to be trusted in this novel?
15. Read the passage describing Bourke and Gabriel's encounter with the ‘ghosts' in the landscape (pp 264-5). Compare this encounter with those described in other works such as Kate Grenville's The Secret River or David Malouf's Remembering Babylon. How much is Gabriel, as a ‘resurrectionist', a metaphor for the nature of the white Australian settler? Discuss.16. Miss Winter's terrible loss is described like Gabriel's: ‘I knew what had happened, that it could not be undone' (p 331). Is this human nature's darkest fear; that we cannot erase the things which are our deepest shames or losses? Discuss.