"Accidents of terrain": The native and foreign worlds of David Plante

Susan L Aylward, University of Rhode Island


David Plante, an American writer born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1940, examines the inextricable connection between space and time, place and identity in his most important work, a series of semi-autobiographical novels and short stories about the Francoeur family. This study follows Daniel Francoeur, Plante's principal recurring character and fictional counterpart, on a journey of self-discovery in five novels that are representative of the three decades of Plante's career and illustrative of experiences located in both the native and foreign environments of his fictional world. In these five novels: The Family, The Woods, The Country, The Foreigner, and The Accident, Plante maps a terrain that extends in time and space from the insular French Canadian, Catholic parish in Providence where Daniel Francoeur grows up to the cities of Europe where he spends his late adolescence. Plante describes the Providence parish of his own youth as being surrounded by circles within circles, where the inward circles concentrate on the past of the parish in the forests of North America and the outward circles expand the parish into the future of twentieth-century America where Plante says it will disappear. This evocative image of concentricity appears throughout the Francoeur series as a leitmotif that characterizes Daniel's search to locate and define his life. According to Daniel's view of the world, everything outside the inner circle of his native world is "foreign," promising newness and difference from the insular world of his family. However, the motif of concentricity implies that each successive circle incorporates all of the previously drawn and smaller circles. As much as Daniel wants to escape from his family, the time and space of his native world are incorporate in all his experiences beyond the horizon of that inner circle. His identity is as deep in an inward direction as it is limitless in an outward direction. Ultimately, Daniel finds that his identity is drawn from paradoxical and colliding elements, accidental terrains that remain in the dreaming part of his mind to produce a multi-dimensional, fragmented, contradictory, and profoundly rich sense of self.

Subject Area

American literature

Recommended Citation

Susan L Aylward, ""Accidents of terrain": The native and foreign worlds of David Plante" (1998). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI9902552.