‘I have so many truths to tell’ : Randolph Stow’s Visitants and The Girl Green as Elderflower

At the core of Randolph Stow's The Girl Green as Elderflower is a story of loss and exile. In one of the protagonist Crispin Clare's quasi-medieval framed tales, the green girl Mirabel tells a wounded knight a version of her origins: "'We are people", she said, "of the land of the Antipodes. ... . Michael and I, straying into a cave and wandering far through the darkness, found ourselves at length ... in Suffolk, in great affright and in mourning for our land which will never see us again"' (127-28).

As a version of transition from the Antipodes to the other World, the green girl's story, adapted from the medieval historian Ralph of Coggeshall, is not only demonstrably unreliable, swaddled in layer on layer of fiction, but unassimilable to the traditional modes of modern medievalism. In particular, it has little association with the common idea of the medieval past as heritage, nostalgia and genealogy, as exemplified by the dust-jacket notes of the original Seeker and Warburg edition of this novel in 1980, probably supplied by the author, who claimed 'I usually design my own jackets' (Kuch and Kavanagh 443). The notes speak of Stow's 'forebears, East Anglian on both sides of the family', and state that 'much of his adult life has been passed in his ancestral county, of which his great-great-grandfather was an industrious historian'. That strain is continued in the novel's opening pages by references to 'generations of Clares' and their fifteenth-century house with 'another quality that money could buy, a high-handed stance towards time' (7- 8). Amidst all this talk of forebears and inheritance, repeated in one of Stow's interviews about the book (Kinross-Smith 19-20), though thoughtfully qualified in another (Hassall319), it is worth remembering that the Australian family dynasties in Stow's earlier novels are mainly very unhappy: there, ancestry is trauma.

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Published 1 May 2011 in Volume 26 No. 1. Subjects: Cultural & national identity, Literary influences, Medievalism.

Cite as: Lynch, Andrew. ‘‘I have so many truths to tell’ : Randolph Stow’s Visitants and The Girl Green as Elderflower.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 26, no. 1, 2011, doi: 10.20314/als.ddb41c538d.