Title

William

Date of Award

1-1-2013

Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Department

English Language and Literatures

Sub-Department

Creative Writing

First Advisor

David Bajo

Abstract

William is a novel that examines the lives of a pair of protagonists who are separated by approximately three hundred years of history. Liam is a modern history PhD who studies the colonial south, specializing in the years immediately following the pioneering period of Carolana rice cultivation around the turn of the eighteenth century; this is the middle ground after survival in the colony was largely secured, but when social hierarchies and racial allegiances were still in flux as the cash crop best suited to the coastal settlements had only just been discovered. Will is Liam's historical counterpart and lives during the time period that Liam, in the twenty-first century, is studying. Born in Barbados in the late seventeenth century, Will moved with his family when he was a young child (six-seven years old) to the North American mainland where it was far easier for new arrivals to gain footholds and prosper than it was in the already long-established and incredibly insular Barbadian sugar economy. The price of this economic and social opportunity, however, is having to cope with the inherent dangers of an unsettled land, and Will grows up with the constant awareness that everything his family is struggling to build is fragile and that it can easily be eradicated by threats ranging from American Indian raids, to hurricanes, to something as probable and simple as a bad harvest. The constant worry that results from this vulnerability produces in the adult Will a desire to build something that will last far beyond his own lifetime and that will be impermeable to both the changeable elements and, impossibly, to time itself. The project he ultimately focuses this determination on is the transformation of his family's property--a small sea island several miles outside of Charleston--from undeveloped grazing land to an operational (and profitable) rice plantation.

Going far beyond sharing an emotional and intellectual entanglement (or obsession) with the same period of history, Liam and Will are linked by a shared consciousness as well, and thus both men are essentially living two lives at once. Liam exists in the modern world and is enveloped in academia, but whenever he falls asleep he becomes Will and wakes immediately in Will's body at the turn of the eighteenth century, which is where he remains as Will until Will falls asleep, and thereafter Liam immediately wakens back in the twenty-first century. Neither one ever really sleeps, and by the time my novel opens (when they are in their late twenties), exhaustion from such incessant living has started to take its toll.

Both because he is incapable of thinking about anything else and because he has firsthand knowledge that no one else in his field possesses--which thus gives him a leg-up over his peers--Liam tracks down the ruins of an abandoned and previously unheard-of rice plantation on a tiny, uninhabited sea island outside of Charleston, which he believes is where Will is living in the past. Using his unique and unrivaled knowledge of this site, Liam is able to obtain a grant and is working, along with his colleague Bram, to restore and return to working order for educational-tourism purposes the same plantation that Will is struggling to build for survival. While Liam exploits and profits from Will's knowledge of history, Will himself is attempting to profit from Liam's knowledge of more advanced rice-growing techniques (specifically the controlled use of inter-coastal tidal rivers) that were not used historically until the mid-eighteenth century. Theirs is a symbiotic and mutually abusive relationship via which I hope to raise the chicken-and-the-egg question of which came first: the history or the historiography?

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