Study Guide

Disgrace Chapter 1

By J.M. Coetzee

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Chapter 1

  • The narrator introduces us to David Lurie as a fifty-two-year-old divorced man who has "solved the problem of sex rather well." Subtle, right?
  • We learn that, every Thursday at 2pm, David visits a prostitute named Soraya and they do their thing.
  • The narrator tells us more about David's life: he sort of walks the middle ground. He's happy enough as far as he's concerned; his sex life is okay; his job is okay; he is financially stable – "he lives within his income, within his temperament, within his emotional means" (1.2).
  • We find out more about David's job. He's a professor at Cape Technical University, which used to be Cape Town University College. He used to be a Professor of Modern Languages (sort of like a literature professor), but they closed down that department, so now he is a professor of Communications. He's offering Romantic Poetry this semester.
  • We learn that David has written three scholarly books, but now he wants to turn things around and write an opera about Byron.
  • David isn't really that into his job. He considers himself a scholar and only teaches because it helps him make a living. He doesn't make an impression on his students: "they look through him when he speaks, forget his name" (1.20).
  • David thinks about how 90 minutes of sex every week is enough for him – he doesn't see the need for a relationship or to be married, though he's been married twice before.
  • One Saturday morning David sees Soraya walking into a seafood restaurant. Turns out she has two small sons! David feels weird because he hasn't thought about her having a life outside of their Thursday "meetings."
  • Soraya notices him looking at her through the restaurant window with her sons. Their next hookup is awkward.
  • We learn that David's whole family life has revolved around women. He's had lots of aunts and sisters, he's been married twice, and he has a daughter. He thinks that this female company has made him love women but has also made him a womanizer (1.34).
  • We find out that David's good looks have gotten him a lot of ladies in the past, but now that he's older he's lost his game.
  • David notices that Soraya is starting to act coldly towards him when they meet. He imagines her talking trash about him behind his back to other prostitutes.
  • One week, Soraya cancels their appointment for the next week and says that she has to go visit her sick mother. David asks if he'll see her the week after. She tells him to phone the agency. It's pretty clear to him that he's being blown off for good. When he calls the agency, they say that she's left the agency and that they can't put him in touch with her.
  • They do, however, get him a new girl named Soraya! Except this Soraya is much younger – "no more than eighteen, unpractised, to his mind coarse" (1.47). He sleeps with her but he doesn't have a great time.
  • David notices Dawn, the new secretary in the English department. They go out to lunch and she inadvertently calls him old.
  • David takes Dawn out again, and they sleep together. She gets really, really into it, and this turns him off. When he starts ignoring her at the office, she gets pouty but then snubs him. David thinks giving up sex entirely and muses about castration.
  • David pays a detective to find Soraya and calls her one morning when he figures her family will be gone. She pretends not to know who he is; the chapter ends with David feeling jealous of Soraya's husband.

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