“Disgrace” in Disgrace.

As the word “Disgrace” is used heavily in Disgrace and Coetzee has chosen “Disgrace” as the sole inhabitant of his book’s title, it may be important to pay special attention to the connotations “Disgrace” carries with it. Indeed, Coetzee and his Lurie are both students of English, and Lurie is a student of English poetry. Lurie himself asks his class, “‘Did anyone look [‘usurp upon’] up in a dictionary?'” (page 21 of Penguin ed). What I am getting at is that the prominent position of the single word “Disgrace” and the relative importance given to words in the text both demand the reader to “‘look it up'”. I think the use that the class settled on in discussion was the primary English definition that one would look up, “the loss of respect, honor, or esteem; ignominy; shame” (Dictionary.com). While this definition is the obvious choice to use in every day life, it is incomplete. After all, Coetzee could have as well used the word “Shame” to title his novel. So we must look to secondary definitions if we are comply to the author’s demands. The common secondary definition one will find is “the state of being out of favor; exclusion from favor,confidence, or trust” (Dictionary.com). Now we must try and incorporate “being out of favor” with our reading of the novel. Literally, Lurie is out of favor, but there is something figurative going on as well. Yet we still have not captured the essence of “Disgrace” because we have not considered its etymology. Indeed, Lurie himself will digress into the origin of words (for instance “friend” on p. 102 in the Peguin ed). “Disgrace” is from French, and in French it originally meant “the opposite of grace” (Dictionary.com). Now what is the origin of “Grace”? It was from the Latin “gratia” for “favor”, traditionally “God’s favor” (Dictionary.com). This association to the loss of God’s grace strengthens the ties between Lurie and Byron’s Lucifer (and possibly Faust). And “Grace” was introduced into English by Edmund Spenser (Dictionary.com). This tie to Spenser may have been unintentional, but if it were intentional, it would beg comparisons to Spenser’s epic The Faerie Queene, a work that centers around English imperialism in Ireland. I hope we might keep these connections in mind while we finish the novel.


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