Lucy’s “What if we don’t call it a visit? What if we call it refuge?” and the novel’s themes of comfort, roles, and existence inspired me to consider David’s relationship with Lucy and the University as places for him to inhabit (Coetzee 65). During her introduction, she appears as a relatively comfortable postcard of vintage countryside life, but, in accordance with the system around her, she changes into something distressing to Lurie. In this way, I believe she undergoes a change similar to the one Lurie experiences professionally. As a professor, David is no longer wholly a professor in the field of European Romanticism—his published scholarship and the one themed class per semester he is allotted are the only remainders. For the most part, he has to function as an adjunct communications instructor. Lurie’s professional transition from romantic and abstract to vocational or technical is mirrored, in my opinion, by Lucy’s changes as a refuge for David.
Lucy, pre-chapter eleven, can function as a pleasant historical throwback for David in that she and her simple farm life, while different from him, are a kind of different he seems to appreciate. After chapter eleven, Lucy’s behavior and decisions aim to ensure some safety and survival, so that she can have a place within the new South Africa’s system. Similarly, departments and professors make adjustments in order to continue, in some form, within an academy with dynamic goals and agendas. Like his relationship with the “emasculated institution of learning”, David’s bond with Lucy becomes somewhat strained; he still hangs in there when it comes to Lucy, but her decisions and situation don’t sit well with him (4). Just as the modification in Lurie’s work and his feelings towards said work are marked by changes in the University, the shift with Lucy is sparked by the attack on the farm house. This is, of course, not equating the two changes or any aspect of them in terms of weight, only linking them because they both seem to be points at which an order (in this case, the curriculum and social systems of the University and Lurie farm respectively) is challenged or reacted to in a way that leads to reversals or alterations in said order.
I think one of the reasons this interests me is that I, not unlike Attridge when he questions paths to grace in “Age of Bronze, State of Grace: Music and Dogs in Coetzee’s Disgrace”, feel the urge to think about the relatively positive avenues and refuges available to Lurie. By the end of the novel, he seems to have come to gain peace with Lucy’s situation internally since his final scene with her is picaresque and romantic even though he’s recognized as a visitor. This, in conjunction with his willingness to let go of a dog he was starting to like, leads me to feel that a part of the peace he seems to find is somewhat due to the idea that he doesn’t seek or take root in refuges.
Note: Penguin Books 1999 version