Garden Variety Holiness: Bessie Head’s “reverence for ordinary people” in <i>A Question of Power</i>


  • Denae Dyck University of Victoria
  • Tim Heath Lethbridge College


Head, Bessie, A Question of Power, Ndebele, Njabulo S., ordinary, spectacular, holy fool, garden, ludic


To unfold the “reverence for ordinary people” that Bessie Head says animates her writings, the present study considers A Question of Power in light of Njabulo S. Ndebele’s theories of the spectacular and the ordinary. By aligning Ndebele’s religious ideal of redemptive transformation with Head’s use of reverence, this essay argues that A Question of Power deploys at once spectacle—particularly in its guise of madness—and ordinariness. This combination of the spectacular and the ordinary manifests itself in the prophetic figure of the holy fool, the garden of Motabeng village, and the people whom the garden gathers together. A Question of Power thus displays Head’s ludic energy as she creates a garden variety holiness that emerges in virtually all of the novel’s aesthetic elements. 

Author Biographies

Denae Dyck, University of Victoria

Denae Dyck is completing a SSHRC-funded PhD at the University of Victoria. Her research interests include nineteenth-century literature, literature and religion, and ecocriticism. Her work has appeared in Christianity and Literature and BRANCH: Britain, Representation, and Nineteenth-Century History.

Tim Heath, Lethbridge College

Tim Heath is Dean of the Centre for Applied Arts and Sciences at Lethbridge College. His research interests include Canadian literature, ecocriticism, postcolonial literature, and Victorian literature. His work has appeared in Canadian Poetry and in the Reappraisals: Canadian Writers series published by the University of Ottawa Press.