The Writing of Mabel Dove Danquah

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It is common knowledge among intellectuals that much more of the world’s literary creations and memorabilia are lost than are presently extant. Africans in particular are still very far from knowing everything there is to know about both the remote and immediate genesis of modern literary works of Africans. In Ghana in particular, apart from the problem of loss or potential loss of the largely undocumented oral traditional literature, a very significant volume of our more recent written literature remains precariously in danger of loss. At risk of loss is a significant number of written literatures in manuscript, in old magazines or in newspapers which are out of print and circulation. The danger becomes particularly real when one considers the pathetic attempts Ghanaians make at preserving memorabilia in our libraries and museums. Thus, a significant portion of our history, particularly our literary history persists in obscurity, at least for the moment. Even though the history of the modern literature of Ghana does not date farther back than a century, very little is known about the pioneer artists, even of such artists as J.B. Danquah, Gladys Casely-Hayford, Raphael Grail Armattoe and others who are readily cited as Ghana’s trail-blazing writers of literature. This means that a significant number of Ghana’s pioneering literary creators and their creations continue to be buried deep in obscurity. Indeed, there is an apparent lack of interest, even among intellectuals or professionals, in discovering what lies underneath this morass of obscurity - the literary creators who have through our neglect, lain buried with the very legacies they had left their surviving countrymen. This lack of interest is largely blameable on critics whose crippling disparagement of the value of the works of our pioneers of written literature has stifled further study of such writers and their contemporaries. For instance, because of the researches of earlier critics on the major writers of the colonial period, it is often erroneously assumed that any author emerging within the colonial period will have politics as the preponderant theme of his works. Moreover, the focus of initial research has mainly been on poetry and the novel to the neglect of other genres such as drama, the short story and the essay. The objective of my research has been to update the literary history of Ghana by making one addition to the national list of writers and to the known volume of Ghana’s literary works. Especially likely to gain from this exposure is the educational sector which remains in need of indigenous literary material and an authentication or updating of the nation’s literary history. Thus the scope of the research has been to search for and retrieve, document and review the literary works of Mabel Dove Danquah, one of the neglected pioneer writers who has been revealed by preliminary research as possessing such vitality and scope as to merit a more thorough study. Women writers do not abound in Ghana’s literary history and it is envisaged that the revelation of one of the pioneer writers of that sex will shed brighter light on the genesis of Ghanaian literary writing, particularly of female writers and of literary feminism in Ghana of which Mabel Dove is a strong pillar. For, before the emergence of such strong exponents of literary feminism as Theodora Efua Sutherland and 1-\ma Ata Aidoo, there was Mabel Dove Danquah, the trail-blazing feminist. Thus, the first leg of this research was the quest for material, a search which proved to be as arduous as it was expensive and often very frustrating. The search through libraries and archives revealed very little more than works and information that were known to exist. But this meant that one had to read or, at least, scan through and sometimes copy or newspapers and journals covering much of the period between 1931 and the period of independence in the late 1950’s. The next leg of the quest took the researcher to the field to probe, from family and other sources, for documents, manuscripts and other writings and for biographical information about the writer. If the first leg was tiring and dirty, this leg proved the more frustrating. For a very long period, none of the surviving family relations of the deceased writer would admit or assume responsibility over the writer’s estate and make the relevant material available to the researcher. In the resulting “passing the buck” game the researcher had to shuttle from one relation to the other, sometimes across the breadth of the country. But when the perseverance and endurance finally paid off, the result was the satisfying discovery of new material and manuscripts that have made the research worthwhile. The only disappointment has been the researcher’s inability to locate even a fragment of the part-extant Naadu, a play which, from the indications of its tiny portion that is extant, was likely to be one of the most enduring works of Mabel Dove Danquah. In any literary study two things stand out as the most important; the work itself, and the principles and criteria that inform and describe the work. By this differentiation we distinguish an aesthetic study of the work as art in its autonomous existence from the perception of the work in terms of its genesis. The expository review of the works of such a writer must of necessity be more of a contextual study than a monographic one in order not to impose an optical illusion of totality on what is in reality only an artificial isolation. The experiences that constitute the content and theme of her works are in reality mediations of the processes in the macro- society as perceived and presented from the particular consciousness of the writer. Every literary work belongs to its age, to its environment, and depends on the particular historical and sociological ideas and aims of society. It is the consciousness of society that solidifies into its identifiable culture, and since it is the socio-historical circumstances and ideas that determine the consciousness of any people, it is the logical consequence that a literary work which is culturally based is sociological in essence. For, a literary work is a summation of the artist’s biographically unique identity and the general convictions and ideologies of the society recreated in the universality of art. It is for these convictions and ideologies that the critical methodology of Hippolyte-Adoiphe Tame comes handy in the review of the works of Mabel Dove Danquah. Tame sees the critical work to be not simply an elucidation of the work, but the elucidation of the work in what he regards as its most essential characteristic, its unique quality of pastness. Thus the immediate concerns and focus of the Tainean critic become: i) The scholarly attempt to recreate the conditions under which the author worked. ii) The characteristic philosophical thought that he sees as a determining force for the literary work produced in that age. iii) The literary sources and influences of the work. iv) The text. v) The dating of the work. vi) The intellectual convictions of the writer. vii) The biography of the writer. All these help to bring the past before us in order that we may better judge the text. However, in order to escape Tame’s over-emphasis of the national psychology to the detriment of the individual’s psychology, we have turned to naturalism for inspiration from the arguments that sociological and, indeed biological factors determine the life of the individual. Thus the critical methodology of Charles-Augustine Sainte-Beuve which sees a critical study as a research into biology, environment and sociology, has proved tremendously useful. By his method the critic becomes a naturalist of the mind in his attempt to fully understand the psychological motivations and mental inclinations; what critics call the pathology of the literary work. For the sake of convenience, this review of Mabel Dove Danquah’s literary works is divided into four main sections. The introductory section (Chapter One) investigates the early life of Mabel Dove Danquah with particular emphasis on the preparation towards her literary career. Emphasis is also placed in this section on the social context within which the author’s works evolved. The subsequent sections present the contextual study of the works in a generic order.
A thesis submitted to the Board of Postgraduate Studies, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, in partial fulfilment of the requirement for the award of the Degree of Master of Arts in Comparative Literature, 1996