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On a single acre of land, in the Hambleton Hills in Yorkshire, on the western edge of the North York Moors, there is no house. There is a chapel. John Bunting was a sculptor. He built the chapel in , five miles from Oswaldkirk, where his family lived. His daughter discovers he first saw this plot of land as a year-old on 6 June — D-Day. Bunting dedicated the chapel to the memory of three Ampleforth boys he had become the school's art master who died during the second world war. The chapel, his daughter believes, was to some extent founded on a survivor's guilt.

As Madeleine writes: "Every time I visit, it snags the heart so violently that I'm left disorientated by the force of emotion… the land has always been a place full of dread and fear for me.


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It was a central piece of the mythology that sustained my family and it came to represent everything that failed. For 44 years, her father mowed the grass outside the chapel. But he was unable to give, it seems, comparably loving attention to his children. Yet do not expect the family failures to be dwelt upon. As the daughter of a Catholic, Bunting knows when to avoid the confessional.

It is the admirable, frustrating thing about The Plot that she is a tiny figure in its landscape. What, instead, she gives us is a startling, willed, one-off book, a memorial to her father that is in its own way every bit as eccentric as his chapel. What she sets out to do is to look at the acre of land "in the middle of nowhere", with scholarly zest, until it becomes no longer a nowhere but a somewhere, known and minutely understood. She is an exemplary guide. She goes back to the Iron Age.

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She brings Robert Bruce back to bellicose life. She contemplates a nearby Cistercian monastery. She describes sheep and is especially good on the way they graze like "thousands of conscientious park keepers" and even get into our language "on tenterhooks" is a reference to the stretching of woven wool.

Nor does she stop at sheep. One cannot pass over these years without making reference to the reality of World War II and the conflict between freedom-loving nations and nations bent upon conquest of other people and their lands. Although she is now considered a major twentieth-century writer, Dinesen was, for a time, essentially forgotten.

As a result, one cannot speak of a single critical reaction, but must instead consider two reactions: those of her contemporaries and those of the post-revival critics. Interestingly, each group seems to have seized upon very different facets of her writing as most worthy of comment. However, there are some points at which all critics seem to agree. Kippen is an educator and specialist on British colonial literature and twentieth-century South African fiction.

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Like fable, allegory describes one thing—usually something quite specific—to talk about something else that shares similar features or characteristics. These characters are representations of—or standing in for—what turns out to be a complex use of history. Unlike fable, however, allegory rarely presents a clearly discernible moral. Returning to Denmark after an extended stay abroad, Adam finds his homeland deeply familiar, but his absence gives him new vision, enabling him to stand outside this familiarity. He sees his homeland, and his hereditary place in it, as natural, but not inevitable.

He sees the windmill, the church, the manor—all of these give evidence of a process by which the land and the people who live on it have worked upon and shaped one another, in much the same manner as sea and seashore exist in simultaneous opposition and partnership, each defining itself against, but also through, the other. The universe, through them, had become infinitely wider to him. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.


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  7. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Perhaps it is the dissonance between this strident call of the future—a call for rulers to be accountable to the ruled—and the feudal, thousand-year past through which Adam finds himself walking that morning, that makes Adam speak to the.

    If the world might be brought to acknowledge that the virtue of our name does not belong to the past only, will it give you no satisfaction? Dinesen is not light-handed when she wishes to have her reader note an allusion to another text.

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    The word is creative, it is imagination, daring and passion. By it the world was made. I am old-fashioned, I have been quoting to you texts a thousand years old. We do not, perhaps, quite understand one another. According to Olga Anastasia Pelensky author of Isak Dinesen: The Life and Imagination of a Seducer, , the following passage was added when Dinesen rewrote the story in Danish, then added to the British edition, but was never incorporated into the American edition.

    Have patience, let me explain myself to you.

    But should we, in our concern, for le bien commun, gaze only at those human beings who happen to be about us today, and look neither before or after? But the coming generations, you will agree, must ever be in majority. And when we speak of the welfare of the many we must needs let them have the last word. King Pharaoh, I have been told, made a hundred thousands of his subjects slave for him and suffer great hardships, in order to build him a pyramid.

    He might at the same cost, have distributed bread and wine amongst his people, have fed and clothed them, and have been blessed by them. Still even so things would have been with them, today, what they are now: they would all be dead and gone. And a hundred generations have, since the days of King Pharaoh, lifted their eyes to the pyramids with pride and joy, and acclaimed them their own.

    A great deed, my nephew,—be it even brought forth with tears, even with blood,—is a fund of resource, a treasure for the coming generations to live on, it is, within hard times and the hour of need, bread to the people. Nay, my nephew, it is our affair and our responsibility, we, who have inherited from the past and who know that we are to live on, in name and blood, through the coming centuries.

    These humble peasants, whose life is one with the life of the earth, and of whom you have spoken with so much fervency, what good are we to them but this: that they may trust you to look after le bien commun, not at the moment only, but in the future? And see you now, my good. Why, one wonders, did Dinesen add this passage?

    What does the story gain by this addition? Adam has a chance to escape the tradition of arbitrary punishment masquerading as justice by leaving Denmark for America, but in order to do so, he would have to sacrifice not only his ancestral home but also a conceptual framework that, at the most profound level, makes sense to him. All day long, as Anne-Marie makes her slow passage back and forth across the Rye field, the landscape silently waits for him to decide between the freedom of the unknown and the security of the morally repugnant known, and to declare his decision.

    I shall stay here.

    Welsh anthem (Land of my fathers)

    Or her plots, rather. Anne-Marie pleads with the old lord to save her son, and the old lord offers her a bargain: if she will mow in one day a rye-field that would be work for three men, he will let her son go; if she fails, the boy will be sent away to be judged and she will never see him again. On the day set for the ordeal, Anne-Marie begins mowing the field, quickly at first, then ever more slowly as her strength ebbs and as the heat of the day takes its toll. In the presence of a crowd of peasants gathered to commiserate with and encourage her, and in the presence of the son for whom she made the bargain, Anne-Marie finishes the field just at sunset, only to collapse, dead from exhaustion.

    This takes the shape of a debate between the old lord and his young nephew, Adam, whom most commentators correctly take to be the focal character of the story. On the day set for the mowing, Adam has just returned to his ancestral estate from England, where he has absorbed the liberal and humanitarian values current there in intellectual circles, and which we today would associate with Jefferson or Rousseau.

    The old lord is immovable, his fortress of reasons impregnable, and Adam is finally driven to declare that, rather than stay in a land where such brutality must be, he will leave Denmark and go, not to England, where the feudal structures are incompletely eradicated, but to America, in whose fields and forests his more modern ideas reign supreme. But this is not where Dinesen leaves the matter. And as Adam contemplates his uncle with pity and forgiveness, he recognizes that beneath his liberal values was a stronger, universal vision which determines him not to leave but to stay.

    To make this vision comprehensible it must be quoted at some length:. He saw the ways of life, he thought, as a twined and tangled design, complicated and mazy; it was not given him or any mortal to command or control it. Life and death, happiness and woe, the past and the present, were interlaced within the pattern. Yet to the initiated it might be read as easily as our ciphers—which to the savage must seem confused and incomprehensible—will be read by the schoolboy.

    And out of the contrasting elements concord arose. All that lived must suffer; the old man, whom he had judged hardly, had suffered, as he had watched his son die, and had dreaded the obliteration of his being. He himself would come to know ache, tears and remorse, and, even through these, the fullness of life.

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    So might now, to the woman in the rye-field, her ordeal be a triumphant procession. For to die for the one you loved was an effort too sweet for words. As now he thought of it, he knew that all his life he had sought the unity of things. Where other young people, in their pleasures or their amours, had searched for contrast and variety, he himself had yearned only to comprehend in full the oneness of the world.

    If things had come differently to him, if his young cousin had not died, and the events that followed his death had not brought him to Denmark, his search for understanding and harmony might have taken him to America.


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    Now they have been disclosed to him today, in the place where he had played as a child. As the song is one with the voice that sings it, as the road is one with the goal, as lovers are made one in their embrace, so is man one with his destiny, and he shall love it as himself. Now what must come must come. What is the fate that Adam has accepted with such gravity?

    Contemplating either destiny would require little in the way of amorfati. Such was the compact. But there are other hints as well.