Friendship, Self-Discovery and Conflict in Kate Grenville's The Lieutenant
The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville: A Review
If you are looking for a historical novel that explores the themes of language, culture and identity, you might want to check out The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville. This book tells the story of Daniel Rooke, a young English astronomer who travels to New South Wales as part of the First Fleet in 1788. There, he encounters the native people and develops a friendship with a young girl named Tagaran, who teaches him her language and culture. But as tensions rise between the colonists and the indigenous people, Rooke faces a dilemma: should he stay loyal to his own people or follow his heart?
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What is the book about?
The Lieutenant is a historical novel by Australian author Kate Grenville, published in 2008. It is loosely based on the life of William Dawes, an astronomer and linguist who was part of the First Fleet that established the British colony in Australia in 1788. The book follows the fictional character of Daniel Rooke, who shares many similarities with Dawes, as he observes the stars, learns the language of the native people and falls in love with a young girl named Tagaran.
Who is the author?
Kate Grenville is one of Australia's most acclaimed writers, who has won several awards for her novels, short stories and essays. She was born in Sydney in 1950 and studied literature at the University of Sydney and creative writing at Stanford University. She has taught writing at various universities and institutions, and has been a judge for literary prizes. Some of her best-known works include Lilian's Story (1985), The Secret River (2005), The Idea of Perfection (1999) and A Room Made of Leaves (2020).
Why is the book relevant today?
The Lieutenant is relevant today because it explores some of the issues that still affect Australia and other countries that have a history of colonization and cultural diversity. The book raises questions about how we communicate with people who are different from us, how we respect their traditions and values, how we deal with conflict and violence, and how we find our own identity and place in the world. The book also celebrates the beauty and richness of language, both spoken and written, as a way of connecting with others and expressing ourselves.
Summary of the book
Part 1: The young lieutenant
The book begins with a flashback to Daniel Rooke's childhood in England, where he shows a talent for mathematics and astronomy. He attends the Portsmouth Naval Academy and becomes a lieutenant in the Royal Navy. He is assigned to join an expedition to New South Wales, led by Captain Arthur Phillip, to establish a penal colony there. He hopes to observe the transit of Venus from this location, which would help calculate the distance between the Earth and the Sun.
Part 2: The astronomer
Rooke arrives in New South Wales in January 1788 and sets up his observatory on a hill near the settlement. He is fascinated by the unfamiliar landscape and wildlife, and by the native people who live nearby. He tries to communicate with them using gestures and objects, and learns some of their words. He meets a young girl named Tagaran, who shows curiosity and intelligence. She becomes his main teacher and friend, and he gives her a notebook and a pencil to write down the words she learns.
Part 3: The names of things
Rooke spends more time with Tagaran and her people, who belong to the Cadigal clan of the Eora nation. He learns more about their culture, customs and beliefs, and feels a sense of belonging and joy. He also observes the growing tension and hostility between the colonists and the natives, who are often mistreated, exploited and killed by the former. He witnesses a violent incident where a group of marines shoot at some natives who were fishing, and he is shocked and disgusted.
Part 4: To be of the party
Rooke's relationship with Tagaran deepens, and he realizes that he loves her. He also faces a moral dilemma when he is ordered by Major Robert Ross, the commander of the marines, to join a punitive expedition against the natives, who are accused of killing a convict. Rooke is reluctant to participate, but he feels obliged by his duty and loyalty to his fellow officers. He hopes to prevent further bloodshed by using his knowledge of the native language and culture.
Part 5: Antigua, 1836
The book ends with another flashback to Rooke's later life in Antigua, where he moved after leaving New South Wales. He became a plantation owner and an abolitionist, who freed his slaves and educated them. He also continued his astronomical studies and corresponded with other scientists. He never forgot Tagaran, who remained in his heart and mind. He died in 1836, leaving behind his notebooks, which contained his observations of the stars and the native language.
Analysis of the book
The themes of language, culture and identity
One of the main themes of The Lieutenant is language, which is portrayed as a powerful tool for communication, understanding and expression. Rooke's interest in language stems from his passion for mathematics and astronomy, which are also forms of language that convey meaning and order. He is fascinated by the native language, which he sees as a window into their culture and worldview. He learns that language is not only a collection of words, but also a way of naming things, making sense of reality and relating to others.
Culture is another theme that shapes the characters' identities and actions. Rooke is exposed to a different culture than his own, which challenges his assumptions and prejudices. He discovers that the natives have their own history, values and spirituality, which are often misunderstood or ignored by the colonists. He respects their culture and tries to learn from it, rather than imposing his own. He also questions his own culture, which is based on hierarchy, violence and domination.
Identity is another theme that explores how the characters define themselves and their roles in society. Rooke struggles to find his identity as an astronomer, a soldier, a friend and a lover. He feels alienated from his own people, who do not share his interests or ideals. He feels more connected to Tagaran and her people, who accept him as one of them. He also faces a conflict between his personal feelings and his professional duty, which forces him to make a difficult choice.
The historical context and accuracy
The Lieutenant is set in a historical period that marked the beginning of Australia's colonization by Britain. The book depicts some of the events and figures that shaped this history, such as the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, the establishment of the penal colony in Sydney Cove, the relations between the colonists and the natives, and the transit of Venus observation. The book also draws on historical sources, such as journals, letters and documents that recorded these events.
The literary style and techniques
The Lieutenant is written in a simple and clear style, which reflects Rooke's personality and voice. The book uses the third-person limited point of view, which allows the reader to follow Rooke's thoughts and feelings, but also to see him from an external perspective. The book also uses dialogue, description and narration to convey the characters' interactions, emotions and actions.
The book employs some literary techniques to enhance its meaning and effect. For example, the book uses flashbacks to show Rooke's past and present, and to contrast his different experiences and choices. The book also uses symbolism and imagery to express some of the themes and messages of the story. For instance, the stars represent Rooke's passion and curiosity, but also his isolation and distance from others. The notebook represents his connection and communication with Tagaran, but also his attempt to preserve and record her language and culture.
The main points and takeaways
In conclusion, The Lieutenant is a historical novel that tells the story of Daniel Rooke, a young English astronomer who travels to New South Wales in 1788 and befriends a native girl named Tagaran. The book explores the themes of language, culture and identity, as well as the historical context and accuracy of the period. The book also uses a simple and clear style, and some literary techniques to convey its meaning and effect.
The strengths and weaknesses of the book
Some of the strengths of the book are its engaging and realistic characters, its vivid and detailed setting, its original and insightful perspective on history, and its emotional and thought-provoking plot. Some of the weaknesses of the book are its slow and uneven pace, its lack of action and suspense, its predictable and unsatisfying ending, and its occasional inaccuracies or inconsistencies.
The recommendation and rating
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, especially those who are interested in Australia's history and culture. I would also recommend this book to anyone who loves language and astronomy, or who wants to learn more about them. I would rate this book 4 out of 5 stars, because I think it is a well-written and meaningful book, but it could have been more exciting and surprising.
What is an epub file?
An epub file is a type of digital file format that is used for ebooks. It stands for electronic publication, and it can be read on various devices such as computers, tablets, smartphones and e-readers. An epub file can contain text, images, audio, video and interactive elements.
Who is William Dawes?
William Dawes was a real person who inspired the character of Daniel Rooke in The Lieutenant. He was an astronomer and linguist who was part of the First Fleet that arrived in Australia in 1788. He observed the transit of Venus from a hut on a hill near Sydney Cove, where he also befriended a native girl named Patyegarang. He recorded some of their conversations in his notebooks, which are considered one of the earliest sources of information on the native language and culture.
What is the transit of Venus?
The transit of Venus is a rare astronomical phenomenon that occurs when Venus passes between the Earth and the Sun, appearing as a small black dot on the Sun's disk. The transit of Venus can be used to measure the distance between the Earth and the Sun, which is important for understanding the size and scale of the solar system. The transit of Venus has occurred eight times since 1639, with the most recent one in 2012.
What is the Eora nation?
The Eora nation is a collective name for the Aboriginal people who lived in the area around Sydney before and after the arrival of the British colonists. The word Eora means "people" or "here" in their language. The Eora nation consisted of several clans or groups, such as the Cadigal, Wangal, Cammeraygal, Wallumedegal and others. Each clan had its own territory, leader, laws and customs.
What is an abolitionist?
An abolitionist is someone who opposes slavery and supports its abolition or end. Abolitionism was a social and political movement that emerged in the 18th and 19th centuries, especially in Britain and the United States. Abolitionists campaigned for the rights and freedom of enslaved people, and fought against the slave trade and the slave system. Some of the famous abolitionists include William Wilberforce, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. 71b2f0854b