Monday, September 06, 2004

How old is Lucy?

After reading J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace, this seemed a natural question to ask. Lucy, protagonist David Lurie's daughter, is an important character in Disgrace. The question gets all the more interesting once you agree to believe that the author had a particular age in mind for Lucy, which he did not explicitly write down. And such a belief on the reader's part cannot be too much off the mark, since some of the other characters do have specific numbers attached to them, for instance David Lurie is fifty two (curiously page threes of the newspapers always have it as 53), Melanie Isaac is twenty etc.

I would like to believe that Lucy is twenty four. First the facts. Coetzee himself mentions that she is in her middle twenties. Twenty four is alright as a first candidate therefore. We also know from various parts of the story that:

  • David's last intimate memory of Lucy as a child is when she was six years old.
  • after David's divorce with Evelina, Lucy's mother, Lucy was with her mom in Holland until her return to South Africa much later.
  • David was married to Rosalind for ten years (after his divorce with Evelina), and it is eight years since they got separated, at the time of the narration.
Now grant yourself certain obvious simplifying assumptions, and Lucy's age adds up to twenty four.

There is another way, perhaps a better way, of arguing/asserting that Lucy is twenty four. Twenty four seems to be Coetzee's favourite number, a number that is full of meanings and possibilities for him. As a scholar/creative writer who has spent a whole lot of time on Robinson Crusoe, and his twenty four years' solitude on a deserted island, this affinity is only natural. In the context of Disgrace, the number twenty four acquires even more significance, as the Faust legend is in the background of the novel from the beginning to the end. Indeed, the first book that David Lurie authors is on this topic. As several reviewers have attempted, David Lurie can actually be thought of as a modern day Faustus. Marlowe's Faustus had to give up his soul to Lucifer at the end of the twenty fourth year of their deal; David Lurie has to give up his soul at the end of the twenty fourth (and final) chapter of Disgrace. Lurie's soul represented by the twenty fourth dog--the scholarly dog, the dog that could appreciate Byron, the dog with an ear to music--that gets a mercy killing on the last day in the narrative. Thus the number twenty four resonates throughout the book, and if an important character of this work is in her mid-twenties, then let her age better be twenty four!

Maybe one can stretch the parallels a bit more and conclude that Lucy is the Lucifer in Disgrace, and that David Lurie is giving up his soul to Lucy--in the sense that towards the end of the novel Lurie is able to comprehend Lucy's stand on the complex issues dealt with in this novel.


At 10:20 PM, Blogger sisyphus said...

whoever you are, thanks for linking to my blog :)
and i think j.m.coetzee rocks! and you're argument for the pivotal 24 is pretty cool.

At 3:20 AM, Blogger uma said...

hey, this is an interesting tangent about disgrace. i somehow thought of lucy as in her thirties - i wonder why.

At 7:58 PM, Blogger Oz said...

I too think Lucy is in her middle thirties.


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