To begin with, the two narratives of Ann and Seamus (Canada 2003), Kevin Major’s verse novel based on actual historical events also seems, seem to lack variational relationships,. A first reading of this novel suggests that it offers sections focalized successively through both of the two characters named in its title only so that readers can have insight into various dimensions of the shipwreck that leads to their meeting. The first part of the novel offer Ann’s perspective on her isolated life as the daughter of a cod fisher on Isle aux Morts on the bleak coast of Newfoundland in 1828, her hopes for a less constricted life elsewhere, and the discovery of the passengers from a wrecked ship stranded on a nearby shore. The point of view then switches to Seamus, a young Irish man who has been traveling on the ship to a new life in America. He describes the difficulties of the voyage, the horrors a storm and the havoc it wreaks, and then, finally, his sighting of Ann and her father and brother approaching in their boat that signals the beginning of their rescue efforts. Im a final third section, readers learn of the rescue itself from Ann’s point of view, as well as of the growing connection between her and Seamus, his wish that she accompany him in his new life in America, and her final decision not to leave.
All that would suggest that these two narrator’s tales lack a variational relationship with each other. But while Seamus’ narrative serves the primary purpose of offering relevant historical information about the sea voyage and its passengers, a comparison of its details with the details of Anne’s two narratives that frame it reveals that there are other, more thematic connections. Both Ann and Seamus are young people concerned with how they might choose to spend the rest of their lives. She has
a head full of notions
of other places
and other times
. . . .
and where will I come to rest
While Seamus vision of his future is more focussed, it nevertheless involves life in a new place:
My thirst is for a better life.
It fills my every passing hour.
Eventually, then, Seamus’ absolute conviction about the rightness of leaving a home that provides him with few opportunities provides a contrast to Ann’s indecisiveness about leaving her equally constricted home, and her final decision to stay. The difference between them is her need for the comfort of what she knows:
Seamus, you have nothing
and I nothing
but the solid rock of home.
As the “Historical Note” at the end of the novel reveals, Ann’s decision not to leave home accords with what history tells us about the real Ann Harvey, who was in fact involved in rescuing the victims of a shipwreck. But there is no evidence that real Ann met someone named Seamus or had to choose whether or not to accompany him on his voyage to a new land. That Major introduces Seamus and his voice and describes his wanderlust does much to shape the novel thematically. In understanding the implications of Ann’s choice, readers are invited to consider the related but contrasting ways in which Ann and Seamus think of their future. The events of the shipwreck come to seem less central, more of a background to the choice and its implications in terms of going and staying, love and home.
As far as we know, furthermore, the historical Ann stayed behind because the question of leaving had not arisen. Having made it so important then focuses attention on it, and the attention makes it seem decidedly peculiar. Neither Ann nor Seamus has suggested any way in which Isle aux Morts might be an attractive place to live, and Ann has made it clear that she has hopes for a less constricted intellectual life than her parents have there; and it seems that she does have feelings for Seamus:
I know I love the way
your hands press mine
and your lips press mine,
the way my heart
fills my chest
at the sight of you.
Will it fill a lifetime?
In the light of all this, it is hard to understand why the character Ann whom Major has imagined chooses to stay, or why Major might have introduced the question of her having to choose in the first place if it meant so strangely changing the meaning of the historical Ann’s continued life on Isle aux Morts.
My best guess is that the problems have emerged almost inevitably from the structural requirements of providing alternating narratives. Having seen the necessity of filling in the historical background with Seamus’ story, Major then had two separate threads of narrative, and I suspect that in these circumstances, it would be hard for any novelist with a sense of how literary texts are usually held together to achieve a conventional wholeness to resist providing the threads with binary and variational relationships with each other that would turn the two into one. History however, still demands that Ann remain at home and free to marry the man whom she actually did marry there, Paradoxically therefore, the story must end without the expected turn to oneness of an ongoing relationship between the two narrators and the connection of their previously isolated lives to each other. instead, as Ann and Seamus ends,
Seamus fades into my horizon
And I fade into his.
The novel them concludes with an ongoing separateness, a twoness that seems to undercut the expectations inevitably created by its binary narratives––an undercutting which might account for my initial sense that the two narratives seemed to be resisting the usual variational relationships.
Major, Kevin. Ann and Seamus. Toronto, Vancouver, Berkeley: Groundwood Douglas & McIntyre, 2003.