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Barry Unsworth and the Arts of Power: Historical Memory, Utopian Fictions

Barry Unsworth and the Arts of Power: Historical Memory, Utopian Fictions GREG FORTER oward the middle of Sacred Hunger, Barry Unsworth's 1992 novel about the Atlantic slave trade, a portrait painter attached to one of Britain's colonial outposts in West Africa unveils a picture he has done of the outpost's governor. "I am fair sick of what I am doing and assisting in here," says Delblanc, the painter. "For eighteen months now I have been painting likenesses of company officials and agents and resident merchants up and down from James Fort to Elmina. . . . And now [in the portrait of the governor] I have come upon their collective face" (327­28). Matthew Paris, the book's protagonist, finds the portrait both apt and chilling: "The likeness was remarkable: the artist had perfectly caught the highbridged, disdainful nose, the languid eyelids; but the eyes were fixed, the bloodless mouth frozen in avarice and the whole face stark with ultimate composure. It was a mask of death that looked at him" (326). This death mask is not what Delblanc had set out to paint. "It only happened in these last two days," he muses. "The portrait was finished, or so I thought, he had done his sittings. I was intending only http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Contemporary Literature University of Wisconsin Press

Barry Unsworth and the Arts of Power: Historical Memory, Utopian Fictions

Contemporary Literature , Volume 51 (4) – Apr 2, 2011

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University of Wisconsin Press
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Copyright © University of Wisconsin Press
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1548-9949
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Abstract

GREG FORTER oward the middle of Sacred Hunger, Barry Unsworth's 1992 novel about the Atlantic slave trade, a portrait painter attached to one of Britain's colonial outposts in West Africa unveils a picture he has done of the outpost's governor. "I am fair sick of what I am doing and assisting in here," says Delblanc, the painter. "For eighteen months now I have been painting likenesses of company officials and agents and resident merchants up and down from James Fort to Elmina. . . . And now [in the portrait of the governor] I have come upon their collective face" (327­28). Matthew Paris, the book's protagonist, finds the portrait both apt and chilling: "The likeness was remarkable: the artist had perfectly caught the highbridged, disdainful nose, the languid eyelids; but the eyes were fixed, the bloodless mouth frozen in avarice and the whole face stark with ultimate composure. It was a mask of death that looked at him" (326). This death mask is not what Delblanc had set out to paint. "It only happened in these last two days," he muses. "The portrait was finished, or so I thought, he had done his sittings. I was intending only

Journal

Contemporary LiteratureUniversity of Wisconsin Press

Published: Apr 2, 2011

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