Literature of the British Caribbean

Tim Watson

in Atlantic History

ISBN: 9780199730414
Published online January 2013 | | DOI:
Literature of the British Caribbean

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Until recently, Caribbean literature in English before 1850 has received relatively little attention from critics and historians of British and American literature—and even from critics of 20th- and 21st-century Caribbean literature, who have tended to reject an affiliation with a set of texts that, for the most part, were written by Creole (Caribbean-born or resident) whites who either took slavery for granted or positively endorsed it. (In this bibliography, “Caribbean literature” refers to writing produced by authors with first-hand, nontrivial experience of the Caribbean, including nonfictional works that evince an interest in language use and rhetorical form.) Whether their relationship to the slave systems of the Caribbean precluded those writers from producing esthetically interesting works of literature, or whether these literary texts have been overlooked by later critics because those Caribbean authors now appear to have been on the wrong side of history, are questions for scholars and students to consider. In the last twenty years, however, as the study of literature in general has come to emphasize historical, rather than formal or esthetic, questions, these early Caribbean texts have generated more interest; critics no longer have to make evaluative esthetic claims for them but can make powerful claims for their richness in historically ambiguous, contradictory figures and themes that embed and represent some of the most important historical processes of the modern world: empire, slavery, race, sexuality, natural history and the environment, etc. These works have also shown themselves to be important historical and cultural documents—despite their tendentious origins—for the recovery of the experiences and voices of those at the bottom of the power structure of the colonial Caribbean, who left few archival documents and records to which the historian might otherwise turn. The shift away from national frameworks for literary study in general has also drawn early Caribbean literature into the ambit of research projects that would previously have been exclusively either “British” or “American.” At the same time, however, this transnational turn has militated against the development of a specifically Caribbean literary history before 1850. The Early Caribbean Society is beginning the process of remedying this and plans to publish a general literary history of the early English-speaking Caribbean.

Article.  11748 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; European History ; African History ; History ; Regional and National History

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