Posted by: koolwine | November 13, 2011

Barbados: The Polished Hoe

A  black woman details why she murdered the white plantation owner who was both her provider and debaucher.

Country Focus: Barbados

The Polished Hoe
By Austin Clarke
Originally published by HarperCollins, 2003.
My edition: Amistad, 2004.
462 pgs.

Acclaim: Winner of the Giller Prize, The Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book, and The Trillium Prize; finalist for The Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Legacy Award; Nominated for the 2004 IMPAC Award

Genre: Fiction
Time period:
1940s

To make a long story short:  Like Sandor Marai’s Embers (Hungary), The Polished Hoe takes place during the course of one night, during which one of two distant friends goes on at length about the past and reveals a secret.

The talkative character in this case is Mary-Mathilda, who has called the authorities to come out to her home in the Plantation’s Great House.  Both the Constable, who arrives first, and the Sargeant, who takes over, assume that she has murdered the much-despised plantation owner Mr. Bellfeels.   Percy, the Sargeant, dreads taking her statement – he has secretly desired her since he was ten years old.  Mary-Mathilda would never be his or any other black man’s.  Mr. Bellfeels laid claim to her at an early age, just as he had claimed her mother.

In exchange for making her his whore,  Mr. Bellfeels gave Mary-Mathilda the luxurious Great House to live in,  a personal maid, and the best education for their son Wilberforce.  Mary-Mathilda describes the lonliness and the vulnerability of her everyday life to Percy and attempts to seduce him.  Torn between his lust and his official duty,  Percy discreetly suggests a cover up of her crime.   What will the dawn bring?

Quote: 

“There was no feminine-suffrages in my time, Constable.  But we still knew what was happening to us, in this Island.  As women, we didn’t comport ourselves with the talk of English suffrages-women.  But that voice was buried inside our hearts.  And although we could not, dare not, shout-0ut a dirty word in Mr. Bellfeels face, or pick up a rock-stone and pelt it at Mr. Bellfeels, and break his arse … pardon my French! …  and watch his head burst open like a watermelon, and watch blood spurt-0ut like the water from a water coconut, all those thoughts and buried acts, and stifled wishes concealed in our craw, were always near the top, near to erupting.  We couldn’t act like this modern generation of dark-skin women I see walking-’bout this Village, in dresses of African print; and wearing their hair natural; uncomb.  But the plot of defiant words and Africa was already hatching inside our heads.  Yes.”

The author:

Austin Clarke

Austin Clarke was born in Barbados in 1934 and lived there until he was 21.  Clarke was named the Cultural Attaché of Barbados in Washington in 1973 and  Acting General Manager of the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation in Barbados in 1975.  He has written several other fiction and nonfiction books set in Barbados.

Overall Rating:

(On a scale of 1-5, with 1 book = turned off and  5 books = lit up)

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