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Marguerite Poland


Chapter 3:
Questions to challenge you!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 4 March 2014
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Walter becomes infatuated with Frances, but this blossoming romance is quickly torn asunder by Victor.

Walter purchases Boggis and the horse becomes an intimate and vital companion to the priest.


Marguerite Poland's Shades begins with a brief hint about the "Shades" or Ancestors and their influence upon the life of a group of people at St Matthias Mission somewhere beyond the Keiskamma Hoek area of the Eastern Cape.

It is a work of art and, as with all works of art, it does not do to compare the accuracy of the background to real history or to the real culture of the Xhosa people. It is roughly correct but not necessarily fully so.

Indeed, you will always find discrepancies. It is better to accept the story for what it is: an imaginary tale that has a semi-real historical and cultural milieu as its backdrop.

The Shades or Shadows are the spirits of the ancestors which are capable of influencing the fortunes of the people still living upon this earth.

It is a point made later in the novel that, upon the death of someone, his or her body -- or at least the spirit of that dead person -- must be transported back to its ancestral home.

Failure to do this would cause the spirit to wander aimlessly, causing mischief to all concerned.

The story opens with a graphic description of Walter Brownley's emotions upon his arrival in the Keiskamma Hoek area. He feels abandoned.

In his first journal entry, he speaks of "an odd sense of predestination". He is determined to leave before it controls him. "I shall leave before I am its victim," he writes.

What was it that caused this fear? The novel only hints at the historical circumstances.

Back in the early 19th century, warfare devastated this region that was formerly a frontier between the Xhosa and the Cape Colony.

The conflict was brutal. British superiority in weaponry was matched by the sheer weight of Xhosa numbers.

The battles, however, left thousands of dead bodies strewn across the countryside -- bodies that would never be buried but would be left as the prey of hyenas and other predators.

According to the novel, if the bones remained thus unclaimed -- and the spirits of the dead were not taken back to their ancestral homes -- then they would continue to haunt the region, bringing about the mischief of the "Shades".

It would seem that it is the presence of these Shades which affects Walter's mood as he approaches St Matthias. He feels them. He becomes vaguely aware of their closeness to him, and perceives their power to meddle in his life, to control him.

In short, they have become agents of fate and predestination which he is determined not to allow into his life.

The novel often alludes to this mischief: the drought, the rinderpest, the ghosts which terrify Hector the horse and cause him to bolt. Are not the leading characters also controlled by these forces?

As you read the book, you must be able to answer such questions as:

  • To what extent do the Shades influence Frances's life?
  • Is Victor merely an agent in the meddling influence of the Shades?
  • To what extent is it the meddling of the Shades which causes Crispin's downfall?
  • Does Walter's emotional anguish arise from the influence of the Shades?
  • How do the Shades influence the other people at the mission: the Pumani brothers, Helmina Smythe, the Farboroughs, Benedict Matiwane?

Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:


"Charles," said Emily Farborough, "I have this idea that Walter Brownley might court Helmina. It would be very appropriate." Father Charles smiled down at her and squeezed her hand but he said nothing: he had seen Walter Brownley's face as he had lifted Frances from the horse."
  • What does this passage tell you about Emily's poor perception? (4)

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  • Be able to explain what happened at the river crossing. (4)

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  • How was Helmina's reaction to being carried across the river on Walter's horse very different to that of Frances's crossing? (6)

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Be knowledgeable of Helmina's failed attempt at love. (6)

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  • Why would Helmina have been a poor marital partner for Walter? Why would Frances have made a better wife for him? (10)

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Comment on how Walter's infatuation with Frances affected his short stay at Keiskamma Hoek. (6)

[Need help?]

Explain the role played by Boggis in Walter's life. (5)

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What actually happened between Victor and Frances that day when Walter surprised them at the river? (6)

[Need help?]

How did Walter interpret this event? (6)

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