. 7
( 12)


of sweetened tea at the core of the diet was signi¬cant in the transfor-
mation of household labour, in growing reliance on bought commodities
rather than self-produced goods, and the imperial twist to state policies of
taxation, protection and free trade affecting the prices of colonial goods.
New patterns of waged work in market-driven production, and the need
for working families and households to organise labour and meals around
the different working patterns of women, men and children, made the
easily produced and rapid infusion of energy, sweetness and warmth
which it provided attractive. In a context where the ingredients grew
cheaper in relation to other food products, and where there was growing
reliance on purchased rather than time-consumingly self-produced goods,
it was a welcome part of the diet. Interestingly, the use of statistics on the
lower-class turn to tea and sugar in historians™ debates on standards of
living in the later eighteenth and nineteenth centuries has constructed
them as part of the de¬nition of a ˜better™ life.28
Unlike the role of cups of tea in the domestic rituals of middle-class
and elite consumption, the growth of working-class consumption was
associated with work and wages. From employers™ use of sugar and tea as
forms of payment, to the institution of tea-breaks and canteens in
twentieth-century workplaces (bargained over by employers and workers),
and tea brought to workplaces in cans and ¬‚asks, it played its role in
shaping wage workers™ lives. Those lives also shaped and were shaped by
the development of urban communities, where by 1900 the sale of
colonial commodities structured both local retailers and major providers
(Liptons, the Co-op, Brooke Bond, Tate and Lyle) straddling national
and colonial commerce and corner shops and modest grocery stores.29
Beyond that, the provision and preparation of tea and sugar, supple-
mented later by sugar-fuelled jams, treacle and condensed milk as calori¬c
¬‚avourings for starch-based diets, shaped the domestic practices of
working women in their entwined roles as carers, budget managers and
earners. The establishment of ˜tea™ as the meal eaten on return from work,
the use of ˜sweets™ as rewards or treats for children, daily calculations of
money, credit or neighbourly support available to ensure supplies of these
key goods, shaped gender cultures and divisions of labour, parent“child

deVries, ˜Between Purchasing Power™; Mintz, Sweetness and Power and in Brewer and Porter (eds.),
Consumption; Burnett, Liquid Pleasures and Plenty and Want; Oddy and Miller, The Making of the
Modern British Diet; J. Mokyr, ˜Is There Still Life in the Pessimist Case? Consumption During the
Industrial Revolution™, Journal of Economic History, 48 (1988).
Fraser, Coming of the Mass Market; Mathias, Retail Revolution; Benson, Rise of Consumer Society.
relations and neighbourhood reputations.30 Like accounts of gender and
consumption, workplace experience and the collective practices of reli-
gion, leisure and politics, appreciation of the colonial presence of the cup
of tea, the ˜smoke™ and the jam sandwich enriches the analysis of working-
class cultures and communities.
Nor was working people™s tea consumption just a money matter. One
witness to the 1830 Select Committee on the East India Company™s tea
monopoly observed, ˜the best consumers of tea in this country . . . are the
servants in your own houses, for they drink black tea at 6 shillings and 8
shillings a pound when you may drink it in many instances at a shilling or
two less™. Preference and taste in¬‚uenced less well-off consumers, as was
recognised by agents buying tea in Canton for British tea dealers and
needing to be told that ˜the strong tarry Pekoe ¬‚avour is going out of
favour in London now but they still keep up their ¬‚avour in Leith™.31
The powerful association between tea and temperance, established from
the 1830s, ¬‚avoured the culture of colonial consumption with moral
improvement and plebeian self-respect. It mirrored early nineteenth-
century debates over slave-grown sugar and late nineteenth-century
arguments over the role of alcohol selling in colonial West Africa.32
Just as expanding consumption of tea, sugar and cotton clothing
during the eighteenth century stimulated anxieties about social mobility
and emulation by the ˜lower sort™, so it produced a parallel and entwined
set of concerns with gender roles and boundaries. A 1758 pamphlet
attacked the use of tea and sugar by ˜persons of an inferior rank and mean
abilities . . . of the lowest class™ who ˜vainly imitate their betters™, citing
˜tradesmen and wives and country dames™, and ˜every gammer [elderly

Ross, Love and Toil; Roberts, A Ragged Schooling; A. Davin, ˜Imperialism and Motherhood™,
History Workshop Journal, 5 (1978), 9“66; Pember Reeves, Round About a Pound; M. Llewelyn
Davies (ed.), Life As We Have Known It by Co-operative Working Women (London, 1931); Women™s
Co-operative Guild, Maternity: Letters from Working Women (London, 1915).
Report of the House of Commons Select Committee on the East India Company, 1830, vol. I, 53
(Mr Layton); William Melrose (Canton) to Mr Simpson (Leith), 1846, in H. and L. Mui, William
Melrose in China 1845“1855 (Edinburgh, 1973).
B. Harrison, Drink and the Victorians: The Temperance Question in England, 1815“1872 (rev. edn)

(Keele, 1994); L. Shiman, The Crusade Against Drink in Victorian England (Basingstoke, 1988);
A. Reade, Short Anecdotes on Temperance and Tea and Tea Drinking (London, 1884); C. Midgley,
Women Against Slavery (London, 1992); C. Sussman, Consuming Anxieties: Consumer Protest,
Gender, and British Society, 1713“1833 (Stanford, 2000); M. Kingsley, ˜The Liquor Trade in West
Africa™s Fortnightly Review (April 1898), 537“60; A. Olorunfemi, ˜The liquor traf¬c dilemma in
British West Africa™, International Journal of African Historical Studies, vol. 17, 1984, 229“41; W.
Ofonagoro, Trade and Imperialism in Southern Nigeria (New York, 1979); D. Birkett, Mary
Kingsley: Imperial Adventuress (London, 1992); M. Crowder, West Africa under Colonial Rule
(London, 1968).
Metropolitan desires and colonial connections 181
woman]™ in ˜every cottage™, and linking consumption of these goods to
the gender as well as the class order.33 Simon Mason associated tea-
drinking among ˜the lower set™ with the wives of labouring men, who ˜to
be fashionable and imitate their superiors™ spend men™s wages on tea, and
instead of attending to their children, spinning or knitting, indulge in
˜canvassing over the affairs of the whole town, making free with the good
name and reputation of their superiors™. Here tea consumption trans-
gresses both class and gender status quo as women imitate their ˜betters™
and neglect their ˜proper™ roles as wives and mothers.34 Jonas Hanway™s
criticisms of the spread of tea-drinking down the social scale associated
tea with effeminate and inferior peoples (the Chinese), who were con-
trasted with the ˜wise and warlike™ British nation, and saw a danger that
those British qualities would be emasculated “ an early instance of the
racialisation of gender images and the gendering of racial hierarchy.35 The
link of British tea consumption to British interests in the East India
Company™s management of the China tea trade (like links between slave
trading and the sugar colonies) gave it a homely as well as public and
global setting.
These polemics from the initial stages in the spread of tea-drinking
already link changes in daily diet to the changing social roles, relations
and identities which were part of emergent commercial and market-led
changes in work and family life, and continued through the next century
and a half. They were also associated with the growth of British global
colonial and commercial power and its impact on the emergence of
˜polite™ urban life, and of workforces and consumers whose experiences
were shaped by ties to distant markets. The demands of colonial trade
and settlement, of ¬nance and shipping, and of networks of production
and distribution, which made and moved Jamaican sugar, Birmingham
metal goods, Chinese tea, enslaved Africans or Lancashire fustians, in
pedlars™ packs or East India Company ¬‚eets, were met by people and
institutions adapted to these activities. In doing so they created not only
goods and services but also new social, public and household worlds and
cultures. The eighteenth-century coffee houses where commercial and
political issues were explored and contested by urban men in a changing
˜public™ sphere “ like the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century tea tables
where abolitionists and missionaries linked domestic consumption and

Quoted in D. Pigott, Two Centuries: The Story of David Lloyd Pigott and Company of London, Tea
and Coffee Merchants (London, 1960), 4.
S. Mason, The Good and Bad Effects of Tea Considered (London, 1745). 35 Ibid.
women™s agency to the moral and political challenges of imperial power “
were constituents of these worlds and cultures. Debates in educated,
dissenting and elite circles about the bene¬ts and dangers of consumption
(˜luxury™) often focused on the moral and social meanings of exotic and
increasingly widespread colonial imports, linking them to controversy
over colonial expansion itself, and to the ˜imperial™ characterisation of
˜British™ identity. Material goods and productive activity were infused
with a range of cultural and political meanings.
Like the spectacle of lower-class emulation of the tea-drinking habits of
their ˜betters™, the development of ˜respectable™ tea-drinking as part of a
new social sphere, based in households and supervised by women, gen-
erated reactions which developed particular gendered and spatial mean-
ings for colonial consumption. Pope™s image of Queen Anne taking tea
and counsel at Hampton Court, and the elite patrons of Ranelagh
Gardens, were early versions of the practice, but it rapidly became
associated with life in an expanding number of prosperous households.
When Addison in The Spectator recommended that ˜all well-regulated
families . . . set aside an hour every morning for tea and bread and but-
ter™, accompanied by reading of that paper which should ˜be looked upon
as a part of the tea equipage™, he evoked a household scene combining
colonial consumption, domestic virtue and self-improvement.36 It set a
template (breakfast with the newspaper) which con¬gured middle-class
life, spreading to other groups and taking changing forms in later periods.
This scene included both harmony and tension. The establishment of
the women-centred tea table for breakfast and for entertainment and
refreshment in the home in the evenings or afternoons became a focus for
the depiction and construction of gender and familial norms, identities
and differences, and for contests over them. It brought men and women
together in a new social setting, providing new opportunities for women
to organise and participate in gatherings which combined proper
domesticity, distinct from the masculinised spaces of political and com-
mercial activity ˜in public™, with a social activity linking home and family
to broader social networks. In doing so, notions of women and femininity
were ambiguously constructed in new ˜domestic™ discourses and practices
which de¬ned ˜differences™ from men and ˜masculinity™ in ways which
both constrained and empowered actual women. The spectacle of women
gathering either to supervise gatherings of men and women, or to talk
among themselves over those increasingly pervasive cups of tea, provoked
The Spectator, ed. D. Bond, 5 vols. (Oxford, 1965), vol. I, no. 10, 44“5.
Metropolitan desires and colonial connections 183
debate, satire and questioning. Was it a source of bene¬cial civilising and
domesticating in¬‚uences, of dangerously weakening unmanly and frivo-
lous habits or of subversive possibilities for challenge to accepted roles
and practices? It is notable that references to tea exempli¬ed these
questions. Eighteenth-century commentators focused on tea consump-
tion to convey concerns about the emergence of new social groupings and
practices, whether lower-class use of wages to emulate others, or women
expressing subversive judgements of husbands. There is also evidence for
men being drawn into the new forms of homely sociability centred
around tea tables during the nineteenth century.37 Just as the household
or public gathering to drink tea af¬rmed sociability among kin or pro-
fessional and entrepreneurial networks, or among supporters of particular
causes (anti-slavery, philanthropy, Chartism), it might also shape new
kinds of familial manliness.38
However, tea-drinking also produced male discomfort with the
restrictive or ˜weakening™ claims of domesticity. In the 1870s and 1880s
writers spoke of how ˜the acceptance gained by the rite of ¬ve-o™-clock tea
is the symbol of the ascendancy of the softer over the sterner sex™ “ a
restriction on masculine privilege and autonomy, from which male clubs,
or work in the Empire, where ˜there is no . . . having people fool around
you with a cup of tea™ offered escape.39 Whether or not this relationship
between the domestic and the masculine shifted over time, as Tosh
suggests, there was certainly cultural tension between the positive asso-
ciations of manliness with men™s presence at the tea table showing proper
concern with family and respectability and its negative associations with
female inferiority. The denigration of the social exchanges which
accompanied tea-drinking as ˜gossip™ about trivia, laden with petty spite
and competitiveness, or female emotionalism, was the obverse of positive
perceptions of those exchanges as part of a civilising and moralising
process in which virtue and reputation were tested, and conduct and
values appropriately regulated. As the satirical and advice literature of the
eighteenth century was replaced by ¬ctional portrayals of tea-drinking
gatherings, moral approval or censure of female conduct and in¬‚uence in

L. Davidoff and C. Hall, Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780“1850

(London, 1987), 436“45; P. Levine, ˜The Humanising In¬‚uences of Five O™clock Tea™, Victorian
Studies, 33 (1990); J. Tosh, A Man™s Place (New Haven, 1999), 23, 124.
E. Yeo, ˜Culture and Constraint in Working Class Movements™, in E. and S. Yeo, Popular Culture
and Class Con¬‚ict (Brighton, 1981); Northern Star, 29 September 1838, 8; 4 January 1840, 4; 20
February 1841, 1; 14 January 1843, 1.
T. H. Escott, England and its People, Polity, and Pursuits (London, 1879), vol. I, 17; B. Wilson
quoted in R. Hyam, Britain™s Imperial Century (London, 1974), 138; see Tosh, A Man™s Place, ch. 8.
the home or in society more generally was expressed in depictions of tea-
party scenes in Dickens sketches or Punch cartoons.
Movements in the consumption of colonial groceries from elite gath-
erings to the homes of the middling sort, and from wage workers™ pay-
ment to daily use in working-class households did not end there. At the
end of the nineteenth century the development of the tea shop established
a new location for public consumption, suitable for respectable family
and female use and modest, affordable pleasure and relaxation for
shoppers and others on urban streets. They were distinct from the pubs,
clubs and eating places associated with the provision of refreshment for
manual workers during their working day, with elite masculine gatherings
and restaurants for the af¬‚uent, or with ˜unrespectable™ lower-class
sociability. Interestingly, they served colonial products and also deployed
other colonial associations, making early appearances as stalls at the
colonial exhibitions of the 1880s. The Times commentator on the Colo-
nial and Indian Exhibition of 1886 noted how ˜weary afternoon visitors
and dangling couples enjoy their tea all the more because it is served to
them by white-robed Sinhalese with their jet-black heads coronetted with
a cross-comb™.40 When the successful tobacconists Salmon and Gluck-
stein embarked on selling cups of tea to a wide public, which gave rise to
the ubiquitous Lyons Corner Houses of the early twentieth century, their
¬rst venture was with an associate, Joseph Lyons, who ran a refreshment
stall at the Liverpool colonial exhibition of 1887, an experiment repeated
at a similar exhibition in Glasgow in 1888. The prelude to the opening of
their ¬rst tea shop in 1894 was an 1893 catering contract with the Imperial
Institution and an agreement with the Ceylon tea producers for a £300
subsidy for supplying and advertising Ceylon tea ˜and none other™. At the
Liverpool exhibition too were sold the ¬rst cups of ˜Kardomah™ tea, whose
exotic name became that of a chain of cafeterias.41 The use of Indian,
Chinese and other ˜oriental™ images in the sale of tea, whether as a grocery
or as refreshment, continued to reproduce cultural constructions of its
colonial character.
A signi¬cant feature of the new chains of tea shops (Lyons, Kardomah,
ABC) founded from the 1880s on was their combination of affordability,
menu and ambience, aimed at those of modest means who sought
refreshment as part of a new pattern of urban activity which was neither

Times, 18 August 1886, p. 13, column 6.
Forrest, Tea for the British, 182“5 and A Hundred Years of Ceylon Tea, 172, 199“200; E. Rappoport,
Shopping for Pleasure (Princeton, 2000), 102“5.
Metropolitan desires and colonial connections 185
that of the sophisticated (and suspect) ¬‚aneur, nor of boisterous street life
and manual labour. ˜The natural habitat of the teashop was . . . in the less
exclusive shopping streets . . . and in those business and commercial
quarters where lady ˜˜typewriters™™ and other feminine staff were already
making their presence felt.™42 The ABC shops, started in 1884, were often
situated near the transport which took commuting of¬ce workers and
shoppers to and from home. The provision of two-penny cups of tea and
˜light™ food in a setting with ˜waitress service™ and modestly attractive
decor met the needs and tastes of women and families on shopping
excursions, and of the new ˜pink collar™ workforce of female shop and
of¬ce staff. The tea-shop atmosphere of propriety and restraint matched
lifestyles developing among wider sections of the urban population, and
was associated with the larger white- and pink-collar workforce, the
growth of suburban communities and widespread aspirations to
respectability. This shift can be compared to shifts in attitudes to female
tobacco smoking as ˜fast™ or ˜lower class™ to being ¬rst daring and
bohemian, and then acceptable and even stylish (modelled by Hollywood
stars) by the mid-twentieth century. Tobacco use also became a marker of
generational tension and self-de¬nition as adolescent challenges to par-
ental or social authority were expressed by illicit smoking. Access to this
colonial product was a mode of youthful self-assertion from the 1890s,
when youth organisations were proffered as a ˜healthy™ alternative for
unruly boys loitering with cigarettes in their mouths, to the 1950s and
1960s, when the media demonised ˜rebellious™ cigarette-smoking youth.
Aspirations embodying conventions of family and female proper con-
duct were themselves being modi¬ed by changing patterns of education,
expectation and occupation for women. On the one hand approval for
married women occupying themselves with household and family
responsibilities and in domestic spaces was in¬‚uential among class-
conscious skilled workers and new service workers, as well as more
˜middle-class™ people. On the other hand the experiences and interests of
young women who might be teachers, telephone operators, shop assistants
or of¬ce workers, and who, when married, looked to provide their
households with furnishings, clothing or crockery from the new kinds of
shops catering to their modest budgets, produced new practices. The tea
shop could be an appropriate setting for such women, who were more at
home in various urban spaces than their fore-sisters, while looking
to sustain feminine respectability in new and proper public social
Ibid., 184.
consumption. As late nineteenth-century male radicals in Halifax com-
memorated surviving Chartists with tea and food at the Temperance
Hotel, their daughters before the First World War visited tea shops with
workmates, with children, after a shopping trip or as a sociable treat.43
The story of tea-drinking is a many-sided narrative of the embedding
of social practices and cultural meanings in the physical consumption of a
product which emerged from a network of material processes linking
peasant labour in ˜the East™ to slave or free producers of West Indian
sugar, British entrepreneurs and shopkeepers, and consumers in kitchens,
workshops, cafes and drawing rooms. As Sidney Mintz eloquently shows,
the spread of sugar as the normal sweetener of ˜bitter™ drinks in the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as a key ingredient in widely eaten
biscuits, jams and tinned goods from the later nineteenth century, and as
a cheap pleasure in twentieth-century confectionery, is a story with
similar features.44 The consumption of colonial products like tobacco,
rubber, tinned ˜tropical™ fruit and cocoa products similarly made material
contributions to everyday culture and embedded colonial meanings as
well as colonial trade in ordinary lives. Beyond that there is the presence
of goods brought back from the Empire to ornament British homes,
whether the carpets, shawls and brasses in the houses of the prosperous
and privileged or smaller objects which soldiers, sailors and missionaries
could afford to bring to their families. This moves discussion into the
arena of cultural consumption through images, ideas and entertainment,
which connect material choice both to social meanings and to cultural
practice more speci¬cally de¬ned, and to the market for ˜imperial™ cul-
ture, as well as the use of ˜empire™ to market goods.

interactions of the exotic and the everyday
When colonial goods ¬rst entered British markets, their ˜exotic™ character
gave them prestige associated with elite consumption and luxury. Their
glamorous provenance from faraway, unfamiliar and hence mysterious
societies, known through legend and colourful reportage, was part of their
attraction and value which was translated into a means of marketing. The
process whereby products like tobacco, tea, sugar and Indian textiles

B. Wilson, Struggles of an Old Chartist (1887) in D. Vincent (ed.), Testaments of Radicalism
(London, 1977), 241“2; diary of Ruth Slate, 7 February 1907, 19 and 29 April 1908, 19 August 1908,
in T. Thompson (ed.), Dear Girl: The Diaries and Letters of Two Working Women (London, 1987),
99, 116, 127.
Mintz, Sweetness and Power.
Metropolitan desires and colonial connections 187
became available as well as attractive involved extending those exotic
associations in to the ¬eld of public advertising and selling. On the streets
of eighteenth-century London, displays of shop signboards associated
˜blackamoors™ with sugar, coffee and tobacco, Chinamen with tea and
groceries, ˜Sultans™ and ˜Turks™ with coffee and textiles, and ˜Sultanesses™
and ˜Indian Queens™ with textiles and China goods.45 The expansion of
consumption and the search for new markets were entwined with the
imaging of increasingly familiar products as appealingly exotic but
potentially accessible commodities for purchase and possession.
This predictable linking of the marketing of products to images with
recognised connections to their West Indian, Chinese or Indian origins
did not exhaust their potential. The glamour of exotic images was used to
sell a wider range of products, so that ˜Indian Queens™ were used to
advertise card makers™ shops, ˜Turks™ for stationers, and ˜blackamoors™ for
sign-painters and coat shops. The commercialisation of the exotic and the
exoticisation of consumption spread beyond the trade in speci¬cally exotic
goods, just as terms like chintz, taffeta, muslin, calico, dimity and ging-
ham, originally names for particular Asian fabrics, entered the everyday
language of making and buying/selling textiles in Britain. One strand in
the development of modern commodity culture was the evocation of the
exotic as desirable, accessible and an effective lever of marketing and
consumer demand. From oriental depictions selling eighteenth-century
textiles, to eastern and African images used to market confectionery, soap
and medicine, as well as colonial products, in the twentieth century the
colonial entered the repertoire of commercial and public representation.
Some of the accepted images of people and places in India, the West
Indies, the Middle East and Africa (Fry™s Turkish Delight, Robertson™s
˜golliwog™ jam label) owe their familiarity to wide commercial use. The
public and visible character of this repertoire gave it a more general role in
bringing the colonial exotic into everyday ideas and experience in Britain,
and added further dimensions to the interplay of commerce and culture.
The in¬‚uence and transmission of the imperial images used to sell pro-
ducts were not con¬ned to those who bought or sold them, since they
became part of a shared visual culture in the streets and media.
The role of such images is often depicted as the creation of naturalised,
¬xed and essentialised representations which establish ˜difference™ by
repeating and transmitting particular forms and ideas, creating imperial,
often racialised, ˜knowledges™. These processes can also be seen as relations
A. Heal, The Signboards of Old London Shops (London, 1947).
of power, linking material and political dominance to the making and
maintenance of ideas and images.46 Critiques of over-homogeneous
and totalising versions of these arguments focus on the complexity and
instability of meaning and representation in general, and, in the context of
race and empire, examining cultural practices in speci¬c contexts.47 Other
issues emerge when these broad questions are brought in to discussions of
the role of images in consumer culture and in successful marketing
of speci¬c commodities. Some studies treat advertising as ˜a capitalist form
of representation™, constitutive both of capitalism “ through its intimate
relationship to commodi¬cation and commerce “ and of representation,
through its verbal and visual forms. For some analysts, advertising is
˜parasitic work™ compared to the ˜useful work™ of production, while for
others it actively forms cultures of capitalism, connecting commodities
and desires as well as in¬‚uencing markets.48 Other debates focus on dis-
course and signi¬cation, seeing advertising as a distinctive mode of making
meanings which organise knowledge, perception and understanding of the
world, interacting with the world of consumption and with other areas of
cultural production.49 The former line of enquiry emphasises how exotic
representations of everyday products obscure the ˜real™ conditions of
production and exchange joining them to the consumer, while the latter
examines how such representations give commodities some of their
inherent character. Images of elegant sari-clad tea pickers and orderly tea
plantations on tea packets and posters might conceal the character of
labour conditions in Sri Lanka or the role of retail chains and oligopoly;
they equally gave the familiar domestic consumption of tea imperial and
exotic associations, underlining popular views of the Empire and its
peoples found elsewhere. The Lipton slogan ˜from the tea garden to the
teapot™, accompanying the image, projected an illusory vertical integration

See J. Pieterse, White on Black: Images of Africa and Blacks in Western Popular Culture (New
Haven, 1992); A. McClintock, Imperial Leather (London, 1995); Said, Orientalism; M. Alloula, The
Colonial Harem (Manchester, 1986); A. Coombes, Reinventing Africa: Museums, Material Culture
and Popular Imagination in Late Victorian and Edwardian England (New Haven, 1994);
T. Richards, The Commodity Culture of Victorian England: Advertising and Spectacle 1851“1914
(London, 1991).
See Ahmad et al., Commodity Culture; McClintock, Imperial Leather, ch. 5; Ramamurthy, Imperial
Richards, Commodity Culture; Ramamurthy, Imperial Persuaders; S. Jhally, The Codes of
Advertising: Fetishism and the Political Economy of Meaning in Consumer Society (London, 1987).
R. Barthes, Mythologies (London, 1973), The Empire of Signs (London, 1983); Richards, Commodity
Culture; G. Debord, The Society of the Spectacle (New York, 1974); J. Baudrillard, For a Critique of
the Political Economy of the Sign (London, 1983), The System of Objects (London, 1996).
Metropolitan desires and colonial connections 189
of the tea trade (most tea sold by Lipton was not grown on its estates),
re¬guring it as a domesticated colonial exchange.50
The addition of visual to verbal advertising in the later nineteenth cen-
tury intensi¬ed the process whereby images of ˜exotic™ colonial peoples
entered the circuit of everyday British culture. If the street signs, coffee-
house names and traders™ cards of eighteenth-century London, like the
stylish engravings of Chinese men offering tea used by tea dealers elsewhere,
spoke of urban sophistication, commerce and re¬nement, nineteenth-
century posters and newspaper advertisements had wider audiences and
references. The use of black women and babies to advertise the new com-
mercial soaps, like that of ˜orientals™ to market tea and coffee, had imperial
as well as exotic and ethnic characteristics, as traders, producers and
advertisers reached new mass markets of potential purchasers. Images of
white people washing black children dramatised the improving and morally
˜cleansing™ mission of empire in relation to the cleansing role of soap, itself
part of the ˜improving™ aspirations of groups of Britons.
While Ramamurthy™s reading of late nineteenth-century soap advertise-
ments focuses on racial stereotyping as a feature of imperial control of
colonies (in this case West Africa),51 it is equally worth noting how these
images of ˜Africans™ played a role in shaping British perceptions of their
˜imperial™ selves. They were part of a web of popular song, children™s toys and
pantomime and cartoon characters which positioned ˜white™ British people
as powerful, responsible, improving and regulating in relation to ˜black™
colonial subjects. Similarly the pantomime ¬gures of Aladdin and Widow
Twankey, a name derived from an old term for a Chinese tea sold in Britain
(twankay), linked the world of seasonal popular entertainment with an
imperial exotic repertoire in which ˜Chinamen™ and ˜negros™ were still used to
sell tea in the Edwardian period. ˜Loyal Indian servants™ offering refresh-
ment to of¬cers on coffee-essence labels, and supposed testimonies from
explorers in Malaya, doctors in Kenya and soldiers in Afghanistan about
the restorative powers of Eno™s Salts for both Britons and locals, signi¬ed
the strength and virtue of British culture, identity and imperial mission.

The world where Cadbury™s chocolate and Brooke Bond tea were part of
everyday British experience, and tobacco ¬rms attracted boys to smoking
Ramamurthy, Imperial Persuaders, 107, 111, illustrating advertisements in The Graphic from 1892
and 1896.
Ramamurthy, Imperial Persuaders, ch. 2.
with cigarette cards depicting ˜Heroes of the Transvaal War™ or ˜Maori
chiefs™,52 was very different from the eighteenth-century world of coffee
houses and tea tables. There were, however, connecting threads of con-
sumption, the exotic and the shaping of racialised/ethnicised cultures and
social relations in Britain. For historians of ˜empire in the metropole™,
study of the interweaving of these threads with each other and with
threads of urbanisation, political reform or gender and class formations
reveals how intimate and domestic activities interacted with global
structures of power and exchange. While the connections were in some
ways invisible, or actively concealed, the persistence of exotic imagery in
everyday consumer settings af¬rmed them, and translated the harsh
aspects of imperial dominance into picturesque and pleasing forms. The
consumability of empire in foods, entertainment, political gatherings or
advertising, involved both pleasure and practical need, and cultural
meanings as well as monetary calculations. Whether unre¬‚ective (as in
daily routines) or politically and culturally self-conscious (for aboli-
tionists, free traders, temperance reformers, imperial preference cam-
paigners), consumption placed ˜British™ homes in an imperial world.
A. Cruse, Cigarette Card Cavalcade (London, 1948), 54“7, 70, ¬gs. 83“4.
c h ap t e r ni n e

Imagining empire: history, fantasy
and literature
Cora Kaplan

How did imaginative literature make the Empire both vivid and legible to
readers in Britain? In what ways did the language and narratives of ¬ction,
poetry and other popular genres “ from travel writing to anti-slavery polemic “
represent the everyday relations of metropole and colony, of domestic and
imperial subjects? What sort of dreams and nightmares did they evoke? In
thinking about the shifting role which literary production has played in the
imaginative construction of the Empire at home across two centuries this
chapter will argue for the uses of literature by historians, by drawing on two
exemplary instances from discrete historical periods “ the critical decades
leading up to and following the abolition of colonial slavery in 1834 and the
years from the 1950s through to the millennium. In the ¬rst and much more
detailed case, it will explore some of the ways in which the colonial con-
nection was imagined in ¬ction and in anti-slavery writing up to and after
the abolition of colonial slavery. The British campaign to end slavery was
never free of hierarchical distinctions “ historians and critics have long noted
the ordering of peoples and cultures immanent in the imaginative and
polemical literature associated with it. Less recognised perhaps is that in the
two decades following abolition literary texts also played a central role in a
retrospective critique of the Christian humanitarianism and/or liberal uni-
versalism that had inspired an earlier radical moment. After abolition, the
ambiguity of the status of ex-slaves and the future of the colonies made more,
not less, urgent the fashioning by white British writers of geopolitical and
racially distinct hierarchies, reordering both domestic and colonial spaces,
subjects and cultures. Postcolonial writers of the past half century, rewriting
the history of British slavery, its overthrow and its long-term effects in ¬ction
and poetry, have been acutely aware of this disturbing trajectory. The
understanding of its legacies for twentieth-century Atlantic societies
experiencing the effects of decolonisation and the movement of populations
from the former colonies to the metropole is nowhere more evident than in
their powerful imaginative rendering of the postwar Caribbean emigration to
Britain. My chapter ends with a coda “ a very brief exploration of four key
novels of emigration by Samuel Selvon, George Lamming, Caryl Phillips and
Andrea Levy “ written between the mid-1950s and the noughts of the new
millennium, narratives which would profoundly disrupt both prior de¬nitions
of, and ¬xed divisions between, ˜home™ and ˜empire™.
Few literary critics today would deny the importance of historicising
literary studies and theorising that process. But if one were to turn the
question around, asking whether, and in what ways, historians should go
about integrating the literary, the answer is rarely straightforward. And while
many historians, particularly social and cultural historians, use literary
example as a matter of course, it is telling that there is no analogous verb to
˜historicise™ that sums up the articulation of literary texts to historical nar-
rative, an absence that is perhaps indicative of a certain level of unease with
its presence there at all. Indeed both integrative moves raise interesting and,
by their very nature, unresolved issues within and across the disciplines
about causality, evidence, referentiality, aesthetics and authorship.
Even so the literary can be a creative resource for the writing of history,
especially if it ventures beyond the illustrative model that is the most
typical use of the literary for historians “ the dramatisation for the reader
of a case already made through other more factually based materials.
Offered a more dynamical role, literature can point towards new historical
questions, rather than simply glossing existing ones. I want to suggest,
perhaps provocatively, that literary texts are not only, or even primarily, a
body of evidence that supplements or supports social and political history,
although of course they may quite properly and usefully act in that way,
but should be of most interest to historians because of their very generic
speci¬city, the ways in which they give free “ and freely acknowledged “
reign to the space of imagination and of fantasy, a discursive mode where
both the utopian and dystopian sides of imperial relations can be elabo-
rated. I am using fantasy here not in its common-sense de¬nition as
something private or essentially sexual, ˜the dirty tricks of the mind™, but in
its psychoanalytic sense as many cultural critics do, and as Jacqueline Rose
has de¬ned it in States of Fantasy (1996) “ something not ˜antagonistic to social
reality™ but ˜its precondition or psychic glue™, something that ˜plays a central,
constitutive role in the modern world of states and nations™. If we follow Rose
we might also emphasise the way in which fantasies of nationhood, of
identities, both serve to bar memories and to re-elaborate memories
struggling to ˜be heard™.1 It is by reading literature historically with
Jacqueline Rose, States of Fantasy (Oxford, 1996), 5.
Imagining empire: history, fantasy and literature 193
attention to the register of fantasy “ the hopeful and fearful projections of
the political and social relations of metropole and colony “ that historians
as well as critics can best trace the shifting imaginative terms of that
˜Did you not hear me ask him about the slave trade last night?™
˜I did “ and was in hopes the question would be followed up by others.
It would have pleased your uncle to be inquired of farther.™
˜And I longed to do it “ but there was such a dead silence!™2
This brief exchange between Fanny Price and her cousin Edmund Ber-
tram from Jane Austen™s Mans¬eld Park (1814) has become a much dis-
puted literary moment in a wide-ranging debate about the writing of
empire in imaginative literature, a debate certainly not initiated but
energetically renewed in Edward Said™s Culture and Imperialism (1993), a
study which extends Benedict Anderson™s argument about the novel as a
key element in nineteenth-century nation building to the relation of
empire. In this study Said uses Austen™s ˜casual references to Antigua™,
where Mans¬eld™s patriarch, Sir Thomas Bertram, owns estates, to con-
struct a genealogy of ¬ctional texts from Austen through Jean Rhys in
which a ˜usable colony™ like Antigua becomes a resource ˜to be visited,
talked about, described, or appreciated for domestic reasons, for local
metropolitan bene¬t™.3 Like Chinua Achebe™s eloquent critique (1977) of
the imperialist trajectory in Conrad™s Heart of Darkness and Gayatri
Chakravorty Spivak™s provocative essay on Jane Eyre in ˜Three Women™s
Texts and a Critique of Imperialism™ (1985),4 Said challenged readings of
Mans¬eld Park that were so fully embedded in a metropolitan perspective
that the colonial or imperial reference went unremarked. He asked that
critics historicise rather than ˜jettison™ Austen. They should begin ˜to deal
with as much of the evidence as possible, fully and actually, to read what
is there or not there, above all, to see complementarity and inter-
dependence instead of isolated, venerated, or formalised experience that
excludes and forbids the hybridizing intrusions of human history™.5
Critics have responded to this call by placing the moment of Mans¬eld
Park™s likely composition in relation to the debate on colonial slavery and
Jane Austen, Mans¬eld Park, ed. Claudia L. Johnson (New York, 1998), 136.
Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (New York, 1993), 93 and see 80“97.
Chinua Achebe, ˜An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad™s Heart of Darkness™, Massachusetts Review,
18 (1977), 782“94; Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, ˜Three Women™s Texts and a Critique of
Imperialism™, in Henry Louis Gates (ed.), ˜Race™, Writing, and Difference (Chicago, 1985), 262“80.
Said, Culture and Imperialism, 96.
exploring Austen™s family connections with Britain™s overseas empire.
(Her father, the Reverend George Austen, was a principal trustee of
slaveholding estates in Antigua owned by James Langford Nibbs who
became godfather to Jane™s brother James.)6 They have also gone back to
the novel to rethink Austen™s treatment of the problematic ¬gure of
Sir Thomas Bertram, exploring in great detail the social and ethical
implications of his multiple roles, as father, uncle, domestic patriarch,
master of Mans¬eld Park and slaveowner.7
Yet for literary critics, and not only Austen specialists, the reclamation
of Austen™s own ethical position and that of her heroine in terms of
modern political sensibilities is a factor even in the most sophisticated
analyses of Mans¬eld Park. Austen™s iconic and fetishised place in any
account of the origins of the modern novel and of female authorship only
intensi¬es this effect. However it is one that historians might well ignore
in favour of the wider point made by Said, Southam, Lew and others
about the undoubted fact that the novel is implicated, and deliberately so,
in questions relating to empire and slavery, metropole and colony. The
interest of Mans¬eld Park for historians might be, as Southam suggests, in
the radical ambiguity of the relationship between home and empire for
the Austen family, for the ¬ctional Bertrams and for England in 1811“14.
Rather than impugning or defending Austen or her characters, historians
might dig deeper into the implications of the narrative aporia posed by
Fanny™s question and the social silence that ensues. Its twofold lack of
overt narrative consequence “ for the novel repeats the dinner-table
silence by not allowing Fanny to ask her question again, in spite of her
cousin Edmund™s encouragement “ leads back to the question about what
gets left in and out of discourse. Its structure as an incident follows the
psychoanalytic form of negation, a wish brought to consciousness, but
spoken only to be immediately denied. Freud argues interestingly that
this seemingly perverse action is in fact a half-move towards bringing an
issue to consciousness, for it represents ˜a kind of intellectual acceptance
of the repressed, while at the same time what is essential to the repression
persists™.8 Reading Mans¬eld Park and the moment of its production in
these terms, as a psychic effect ˜constituent of social reality™, makes both
historical and psychological sense of a novel whose main thrust is the

See Brian Southam, ˜The Silence of the Bertrams™, Times Literary Supplement, 17 February 1995.
See Joseph Lew, ˜ ˜˜That Abominable Traf¬c™™: Mans¬eld Park and the Dynamics of Slavery™, in
Beth Fowkes Tobin (ed.), History, Gender and Eighteenth Century Literature (Athens, GA, 1994),
Cited in J. Laplanche and J.-B. Pontalis, The Language of Psychoanalysis (London, 1983), 263.
Imagining empire: history, fantasy and literature 195
reform and moralisation of the metropole, but which paradoxically
chooses to highlight without being willing to explore one of its central
ethical contradictions.9 The economic dependence of England on a slave
economy was an issue vividly present in anti-slave-trade polemic and
poetry of the period leading up to 1807, but one that, as was clear by the
time of Mans¬eld Park™s composition, such partial legislation could not
resolve, but only deepen.
Considering Austen™s novel in relation to the anti-slavery poetry and
prose of the period 1788“1807 gives it one kind of resonance, while reading
it as a precursor to the critical mass of anti-slavery writing of the 1820s in
the lead-up to abolition gives it another. If Mans¬eld Park™s agonistic
˜silence™ is precisely historically situated, then did an earlier period ¬nd
speaking of the relationship between metropole and colony less proble-
matic? If we work backwards, focusing on the ¬rst set of dates, Mans¬eld
Park™s fragmentary allusions to the slavery debate and Sir Thomas™s West
Indian plantations might be compared to the much more overt treatment
offered in Amelia Anderson Opie™s Adeline Mowbray (1805). Opie was a
friend of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft and in the early
nineties shared many of their views; her novel however was a roman-a-clef
about Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft™s experimentation with ˜free™
love, but, as Opie™s own social politics altered in line with the late nineties™
rejection of feminism and republicanism, so her novel evoked the
seductive appeal of radical social ideas for an idealistic but wrongly edu-
cated young woman while mounting a blistering attack on them. Anti-
slavery sentiment crossed political lines, and Adeline Mowbray makes it
clear how humanitarianism and hierarchy would come, for many, to be
integrated in the English imagination at the beginning of the nineteenth
century. Playing on the negative representations of the West Indies, cer-
tainly the dominant metropolitan view of colonial life in the eighteenth
and nineteenth centuries, Jamaica is represented as a source of unearned
wealth accrued through the evils of chattel slavery, a haven for European
rogues of all kinds, including unfaithful, absconding husbands. The
degeneration of European society in the metropole and the colony are
narratively, if not quite causally, linked. England “ as in Austen™s ¬ction

Said suggests that the silence emanates from the fact that ˜one world could not be connected with
the other™ and argues that a ˜postcolonial consciousness™ would come to see ˜works like Mans¬eld
Park™ as ˜in the main . . . resisting or avoiding that other setting, which their formal inclusiveness,
historical honesty, and prophetic suggestiveness cannot completely hide™: Culture and Imperialism,
96. This passage, and others in his discussion, leans towards an ethical defence of canonical authors
that goes beyond existing evidence.
but more melodramatically “ is a breeding ground for louche masculi-
nity “ regency rakes and common cads who can interpret Adeline™s
principled refusal to marry her lover only as a free invitation for them to
make crude sexual advances to her. But after Adeline™s philosopher lover,
Glenmurray, dies she is increasingly imperilled by the harassment her
tarnished reputation provokes and rashly marries a per¬dious friend of his,
Berrendale, whose deceased ¬rst wife was a Jamaican colonial. Berrendale,
like Sir Thomas, leaves his English household to attend to his ¬nancial
interests in Jamaica, but unlike Mans¬eld™s master he dies there after
bigamously marrying another rich European woman. The problematic
movement of imperial men between metropole and colony is present in
both Opie and Austen, but in the former the social anarchy of the sla-
veholding colony is foregrounded. In its negative representation of
Jamaica, so typical in metropolitan writing, Adeline Mowbray throws light
on the refusal of Mans¬eld Park to paint Antigua in similar terms “ indeed
we might see Austen™s novel, in contrast, not as actively contesting, but
perhaps implicitly resisting, such stereotypes.
However, Adeline Mowbray™s much more discursively elaborated
account of the human and economic traf¬c between home and empire
centres on the presence in England of nominally free persons of colour. A
key ¬gure in the novel is a mulatto ex-slave from Jamaica, Savanna, whose
ailing husband William “ whose race the novel never speci¬es “ Adeline
saves from debtor™s prison. In gratitude, Savanna becomes Adeline™s
devoted servant and her outspoken champion. Adeline™s altruistic beha-
viour in rescuing Savanna™s husband “ she uses money that should have
purchased the dying Glenmurray a longed-for pineapple “ is presented as
evidence of her altruism. The forfeit of the tropical luxury of the pine-
apple, associated with slavery, for the well-being of an ex-slave, underlines
the novel™s anti-slavery message. Adeline™s sympathy is motivated in large
part not by Savanna™s colour, which, virtuously colour blind, she ˜had not
recollected™, but by the ugly sentiments it aroused “ ˜a circumstance
which made her an object of greater interest to Adeline™, an interest
intensi¬ed by the racist slurs “ ˜black bitch™ “ directed at her unoffending
person, slurs that have a corollary with Adeline™s own treatment by
England™s male population.10 Opie frames Adeline and the reader™s
sympathy with Savanna™s plight in terms of the integrity of the mulatto™s
family, which includes a young son known to the reader only as ˜the
tawny boy™, but in order that Savanna™s ¬delity to Adeline should be
Amelia Opie, Adeline Mowbray, ed. Shelly King and John B. Pierce (Oxford, 1999), 138.
Imagining empire: history, fantasy and literature 197
absolute, Opie takes care to disperse them: the son is taken up by an
English benefactor, and Savanna™s husband William ¬nds a place as a
manservant to a gentleman en route to Jamaica. This cavalier narrative
separation from her chosen partner and biological child permits Savan-
na™s attention to be almost wholly focused on her mistress who comes to
depend on her servant as ˜the only person in the world . . . who loves me
with sincere and faithful affection™.11 Savanna leaves Adeline for a short
time only, to visit her husband in Jamaica; here she is brie¬‚y recaptured
by her former owner, but returns to England to serve her mistress, and,
after Adeline™s death, her orphaned daughter.12
Published in 1805, two years before the abolition of the slave trade,
Adeline Mowbray sets up deliberate parallels between the social rebel
Adeline and the more sexually conventional but outspoken ex-slave
Savanna. Savanna™s married state and distaste for the adulterous rela-
tionships she observes silently confront the stereotype of mulatto
West Indians as sexually promiscuous almost by virtue of their mixed-
race status, just as Opie™s portrait of Adeline makes her an essentially
feminine and nurturing woman in spite of her heterodox views, a far cry
from the cruel contemporary caricature of Wollstonecraft as a ˜hyena in
petticoats™. But the fate that the novel invents for the independent women
it has created underlines the intimate relationship between the con-
servative turn in English gender politics from the late 1790s, in which a
domestic, maternalist rhetoric supplants the idea of female autonomy and
equality, and the hierarchical and familial nature of much anti-slavery
discourse. The so-called ˜love™ between Savanna and Adeline is structured
through debt and dependence “ when the servant extravagantly promises
to return from Jamaica and ˜die wid™ her mistress, Adeline reminds
Savanna in a deliberate if shocking turn of phrase which equates subaltern
gratitude with slavery that ˜you have given me the right to claim your life
as mine; nor can I allow you to throw away my property in fruitless
lamentations™.13 And just as Adeline, in the ¬nal pages of the novel
suddenly (and for modern readers, unconvincingly) renounces and
repents of her youthful, principled rejection of marriage “ so Savanna
seems to escape involuntary servitude in Jamaica only to re-enslave herself
Ibid., 188.
For an excellent analysis of empire and abolitionism in Adeline Mowbray see Carol Howard, ˜ ˜˜The
Story of the Pineapple™™: Sentimental Abolitionism and Moral Motherhood in Amelia Opie™s
Adeline Mowbray™, Studies in the Novel, 30 (1998), 355“76.
Opie, Adeline Mowbray, 194. For a reading that sees a more radical imperative in the novel™s
maternalism, see Roxanne Eberle, ˜Amelia Opie™s Adeline Mowbray: Diverting the Libertine Gaze;
or, The Vindication of a Fallen Woman™, Studies in the Novel, 26 (1994), 121“52.
through a debt of gratitude that has no term of payment and which
supplants her freely chosen familial ties.
Read in the register of fantasy, Adeline Mowbray not only highlights an
anxiety about the status of free blacks that would percolate through the
anti-slavery writing of the twenties and surfaces in ¬ction and poetry after
1834, but ties that anxiety closely to a conservative, post-revolutionary
agenda for women. In the narrative resolution of Adeline and Savanna™s
parallel, linked but distinct histories we can see the rejection of the right to
individual autonomy that the republicanism, abolitionism and feminism
from the late 1780s through the mid-nineties brie¬‚y fostered. Adeline™s
threat to social order is seemingly the more extreme, since perhaps she has
potentially the most ideological and social power “ her detailed repentance
of her youthful radicalism does not avert an authorial death sentence. But
the novel takes equivalent steps to curtail Savanna™s liberty in Britain, and
in doing so pre-emptively defends itself against the notion of black
autonomy for free persons of colour “ whether in the metropole or in the
colonies “ disarming and containing these ¬gures within an English
familial order and economy before they become dangerous or threatening.
Neither Adeline Mowbray nor Mans¬eld Park is primarily about slavery
or empire, yet the insistent inclusion of its themes and anxieties in texts
whose main thrust is the reformation of English society is neither acci-
dental nor trivial. It provides evidence for the argument made throughout
this volume about the centrality rather than the marginality of the rela-
tions of empire to the British imagination. And in Opie™s creation of the
feisty ¬gure of Savanna we see the emergence of a condensed, gendered
representation of those anxieties about black autonomy that would
become a recurring motif in nineteenth-century British writing about
home and empire. The imagined black female subject of African descent
who arrives on British soil is almost always a paradoxical ¬gure, signalling
both the humanitarian and the repressive impulses of that society,
de¬ning, if you will, the limits of both.
For if we move backwards in time once again to 1803, to Wordsworth™s
two resonant sonnets ˜To Toussaint L™Ouverture™ and ˜September 1, 1802™,
both published ¬rst in February 1803 in the Morning Post, we encounter an
earlier representation of this ¬gure, now paired with a heroic masculine
counterpart. The ¬rst sonnet is a celebratory, but prematurely elegiac, tri-
bute to St Domingue™s revolutionary black leader whose betrayal, capture
and imprisonment by Napoleon provided Wordsworth with a further
instance of his disillusion with Bonaparte, aligning Toussaint with poetic
liberty, the powers of ˜air, earth and skies™ and the immortality of ˜Man™s
Imagining empire: history, fantasy and literature 199
unconquerable mind™.14 The second, equally motivated by Wordsworth™s
belief that France had rejected the humanitarian universalism that was part
of his hopes for the early moments of the French Revolution and for
Bonaparte™s ascent to power, tells the story of an anonymous Negro woman
encountered by William and his sister Dorothy as they travelled back from
France in September 1802. She like ˜all others of that race™ had been sum-
marily ejected from the country by the statute of 2 July 1802, which forbade
people of colour from entering the continental territories of France and
warned that any residing there without government approval would be
expelled. Published initially as ˜The Banished Negroes™, this poem was
frequently revised between its ¬rst publication and 1845. In its ¬rst form the
woman is a ¬gure of utter abjection “ ˜silent™, ˜fearing blame™. ˜Dejected,
meek, yea pitiably tame™ unable even to ˜murmur™ ˜at the unfeeling Ordi-
nance™; she is a feminine counterpart to the safely incarcerated Toussaint of
1803.15 The defeat and abjection of men and women of African descent at
the hands of the French provide the occasion for poetics and pity,
emphasising also Wordsworth™s reawakened patriotism through the repre-
sentation of Britain as a more racially tolerant nation. By the 1820s, however,
Toussaint is long dead, Haiti™s black leadership is in deep trouble and the
campaign to abolish slavery in British colonies is in full swing. Words-
worth™s mid-life anxieties about postcolonial Haiti were expressed as early as
1821 in a comic poem, composed with his sister-in-law Sara Hutchinson,
which mocked, in egregiously racist terms, the supposed pretensions of the
widow of the deposed and dead King of Haiti, Henri Christophe, who with
her children were guests of the Wordsworths™ friends, the British abolitionist
Thomas Clarkson and his wife Catherine, with whom they had close ties.
The poem, a parody of Ben Jonson™s ˜Queen and Huntress, Chaste and
Fair™, suggests that the very idea of a ˜Queen and Negress, chaste and fair™ is a
double oxymoron, and that her presence in a ˜British chair™ in Clarkson™s
household “ indeed in Britain at all, it is implied “ is more than a little
ridiculous, matter out of place. The poem, injudiciously sent to the
Clarksons by Dorothy Wordsworth, caused considerable offence, and
forced a very grudging half-apology from the Wordsworth household about
their joke on ˜poor fallen royalty™.16 The shift in Wordsworth™s sentiments
William Wordsworth, ˜Poems in Two Volumes™, and Other Poems, 1800“1807, ed. Jared Curtis

(Ithaca, 1983), 160“1.
Ibid., 161“2. For discussion of ˜The Banished Negroes™ see Judith W. Page, Wordsworth and the
Cultivation of Women (Berkeley, 1994), 67“76.
Dorothy Wordsworth to Catherine Clarkson, 24 October 1821 and D. W. to C. C., 16 January 1822.
The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, ed. Alan G. Hill (Oxford, 1978), vol. III, 87“91. See
my longer discussion of sonnet and parody in ˜Black Heroes/White Writers: Toussaint L™Ouverture
are apparent in both this graphic ˜private™ composition and in his 1827
revisions of ˜The Banished Negroes™, now retitled, ˜September 1, 1802™.
Where the unnamed woman of the 1803 sonnet was already so humbled as
to present no possible threat to England as a refugee, Christophe™s royal
widow is not considered such an object of pity, and must be rendered
harmless through ridicule. And by 1827 the ˜woman™ passenger had become
a less digni¬ed ˜female™; at once less passive and more unstable, she might
also be threatening if she weren™t presented as tragic-comic. Unlike the
Queen of Haiti she does not require the poet™s parodic scorn since he now
sets her up as an object of self-derision, the contrast between her hope-
lessness and mad ˜eyes™ ˜burning independent of the mind, / Joined with the
lustre of her rich attire / To mock the outcast™.17
The undoubted presence of black women in England in eighteenth-
and nineteenth-century Britain, some of them ex-slaves who became
servants, grounds the ¬gure of Savanna in history. Dorothy and William
Wordsworth are unlikely to have invented the unnamed woman
on the cross-Channel boat, however embroidered her character became
over the years, and Christophe™s widow and her children were real
enough. But the questions they pose for the history of empire cannot be
framed or answered by tracing their supposed models or actual prove-
nance. Symbolic ¬gures, they represent at once the humane and eman-
cipatory impulses in British liberal thought and its domestic and imperial
fear of social anarchy, an anarchy that is displaced and projected as
racialised female excess, de¬ned here as a desire for independence as much
as unrestrained sexuality. What becomes ideologically excluded from
virtuous European femininity “ a radical autonomy of mind and beha-
viour, whose dangerous bottom line is the will and capacity to rebel “ is
relocated in the ¬gure of the black woman. Women of mixed race,
however virtuous, like the ¬ctional Savanna, are also the visible evidence
of transgressive European male behaviour, so that their intrusion in to the
metropolitan space is an unwelcome reminder of the inevitable perme-
ability of social and moral borders between empire and ˜home™.18
I have suggested above that modern literary criticism™s disciplinary
inclination to repudiate, rationalise or reclaim the imperial politics of
canonical authors often obscures the wider historical signi¬cance of

and the Literary Imagination™, History Workshop Journal, 46 (1998), 33“62, also Debbie Lee, Slavery
and the Romantic Imagination (Philadelphia, 2002), 202“7 and Marcus Wood, ˜Slavery and
Romantic Poetry™, in Slavery, Empathy and Pornography (Oxford, 2002), 233“9.
Wordsworth, ˜Poems in Two Volumes™, 162“3.
The French statute went so far as to outlaw intermarriage between races.
Imagining empire: history, fantasy and literature 201
imaginative literature. Different but not unrelated issues affect the
interpretation of other key texts of empire. In the case of early black
diasporan literature, memoir and slave narrative in particular, the pro-
blem of the authenticity of factual detail and narrative voice has, in the
¬rst instance, been the leading concern of historians and critics. The
current debate about the veracity of Olauda Equiano™s Interesting Nar-
rative (1789) is a case in point.19 Similar concerns dog the discussion of
The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave, Related by Herself (1831),
one of the earliest accounts of slavery by a black woman, and which in
its length, detail and rhetorical power remains a uniquely important
document.20 Mary Prince™s published narrative was dictated to Susanna
Strickland while Mary was a servant in the London house of the Scottish
poet Thomas Pringle, the secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society from 1827
and responsible in that role for much of the huge output of abolitionist
propaganda in the last years of the campaign to abolish slavery. Part of
this propaganda campaign, and tailored by Strickland and Pringle for
a white British audience, the History excluded elements of Prince™s life
which would damage its case, for example Prince™s long liaison with a
Captain Abbott, together with other evidence of her sexuality prior to
conversion and marriage. Presented to parliament on behalf of the anti-
slavery lobby, the History rapidly went through three editions in that year,
subsequently becoming the subject of two bitter legal disputes between
Pringle and the History™s detractors, including Wood himself.
Many of the same strictures that shaped Adeline Mowbray™s depiction
of Savanna, hover over Mary Prince™s History, which emphasised
her innate modesty, her probity and her Christian conversion by the
Moravians as the moral elements which support her story. Like Savanna
in her confrontations on Adeline™s behalf with the abusive Berrendale, but
in defence of herself against Mr and Mrs Woods, the owners she
accompanied to London, and in her critique of slavery to her reading
public, Mary is heard by her sympathetic readers as speaking truth to
power “ according to Pringle, ˜in her own words as far as possible™. While

See Vincent Carretta, Equiano the African: Biography of a Self-made Man (Athens, GA, 2005).
Carretta has strong evidence that Equiano was born in Carolina and never visited Africa. David
Dabydeen argues for the historical signi¬cance of the ¬ctional elements of the text in his review of
Carretta, The Guardian, 3 December 2005.
Mary Prince, The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave, Related by Herself, ed. and intr.
Moira Ferguson, rev. edn (Ann Arbor, 1997). My discussion of the historical context of the
production and reception of the History is indebted to Ferguson™s introduction to this edition and
the section on Prince in her monograph Subject to Others: British Women Writers and Colonial
Slavery, 1670“1834 (New York, 1992), 281“98.
it is clear that the History was pruned and shaped for its intended audi-
ence, containing what amounts to a checklist of the everyday sadism that
the Anti-Slavery Society conventionally highlighted in its attack on
slavery, Mary is depicted as an unwilling and never passive victim, a
survivor. The History represents her as an entrepreneurial, resourceful and
strategically resistant woman throughout her life, in opposition to Mr and
Mrs Wood of Antigua who are painted, as Moira Ferguson says, as
˜typical representations of the anti-emancipationist plantocracy™.21 Prin-
ce™s History closes with an unambiguous assertion that ˜all slaves want to
be free™, and anyone ˜buckra™ or slave who says otherwise are liars. The
advantages of freedom that she says she hopes for in her History are
modest and class bound but remarkably free of the kind of dependent
attachment or speechless abjection found in Opie or Wordsworth: chief
among them is the pragmatic right to ˜give warning™ to a bad master and
˜hire™ to a better one. ˜We don™t mind hard work, if we had proper
treatment, and proper wages like English servants.™22
Mary in this guise, as a gutsy, independent woman, capable not only of
agency but of a sharp, effective critique of the cruelty and hypocrisy of
slaveholding whites, is just the kind of black heroine for our own times, a
woman that twentieth- and twenty-¬rst-century historians and critics
wish to discover, and much of the excellent and nuanced research on and
discussion of the History has attempted to rescue and separate this ˜true™
character, so much to our taste, from the con¬nes of the Anti-Slavery
Society™s bowdlerising editorship. But this desire to ¬nd an objective
correlative to our modern idea of resistant subjectivity creates a problem:
the more Moira Ferguson, the History™s ¬rst unsurpassed modern editor
and analyst, and others that follow her meticulously analyse the historical
evidence and pursue with subtlety and skill the stylistic, rhetorical and
ideological clues that will differentiate Mary™s ˜own™ language and desires
from that of her anti-slavery minders, the more the search for the real
Mary Prince seems oddly to duplicate, albeit in modern anti-racist terms,
the dispute over authenticity, character and motive from the 1830s, as if it
were still necessary to prove, through this process, the independent
humanity of non-white subjects.
If, however, we step back from the attempt to unpick the distinct
strands of white and black anti-slavery discourse, admitting that we can
never quite disentangle them, another and perhaps more illuminating
mise-en-scene appears. The surviving documents published with the text of
21 22
Prince, The History of Mary Prince, ˜Introduction™, 1. Ibid., 94.
Imagining empire: history, fantasy and literature 203
the History, which include extracts from the court cases, letters etc.,
suggest that all parties involved in Prince™s story “ herself, her previous
owners and current employers, the Pringles “ were impelled to defend,
and in doing so rhetorically to construct, their characters both as indi-
viduals and as types: slave, slaveowners, abolitionists. Rather than
allowing us to judge the ˜truth™ of Mary™s story, the thicket of charges and
countercharges involving the idealisation and the defamation of all three
of the leading players, reveals the ¬ctional nature of each of these iden-
tities, and the melodramatic conventions to which they must adhere.
In his ˜Supplement™ published with his narrative, Pringle emphasises his
personal knowledge of Mary™s character as he observed it in his household,
shoring up the conventionally virtuous elements of her self-portrait but
with a clever touch of tactical realism. He comments on her relatively
untutored Christian piety and her capacity for ˜strong attachments™, adding
that she felt ˜deep, but unobtrusive, gratitude for real kindness shown
her™, a formulation that attempts to con¬rm her capacity for attachment
to whites, a sentiment under-represented in the History.23 Her virtues, her
˜discretion and ¬delity™, her ˜quickness of observation™, her ˜decency and
propriety of conduct “ and her delicacy even in tri¬‚ing minutiae™, were,
Pringle says, specially remarked ˜by the females™ of his family; they out-
weighed her observed ˜faults™ which were ˜a somewhat violent and hasty
temper, and considerable share of natural pride and self-importance™.24 But
even as Pringle carefully defends Mary against her would-be defamers he
seems to reach a point where his patience with the whole enterprise of
devising a persona acceptable to his pious audience seems to run out:
But after all, Mary™s character, important though its exculpation be to her, is not
really the point of chief practical interest in this case. Suppose all Mr Wood™s
defamatory allegations to be true “ suppose him to be able to rake up against her
out of the records of the Antigua police, or from the veracious testimony of his
brother colonists, twenty stories as bad or worse than what he insinuates “
suppose the whole of her own statement to be false, and even the whole of her
conduct since she came under our observation here to be a tissue of hypocrisy; “
suppose all this “ and leave the negro woman as black in character as in com-
plexion, “ yet it would not affect the main facts “ which are these.25
And here Pringle details the dilemma in which Mary Prince found
herself, because Wood, ˜not daring in England to punish this woman
arbitrarily, as he would have done in the West Indies™, gave her the
Hobson™s choice of submitting to ˜intolerable usage™ in England or an

23 24 25
Ibid., 115. Ibid. Ibid., 116.
immediate return to slavery in Antigua.26 Pringle makes no attempt to
reverse the moral associations of colour, yet in arguing that the ˜blackness™
or ˜whiteness™ of Mary™s character is irrelevant to the ethics of her case “
ethics which are grounded in the absolute wrongness not only of chattel
slavery and its effects, but of the kind of extra-legal arbitrary power of
employers “ he comes dangerously close not only to collapsing the care-
fully edited narrative he has fostered, but of admitting to the self-conscious
level of fabrication at the heart of much anti-slavery discourse, which seeks
always to produce an appropriately idealised subject to support its claim
for authenticity. Pringle™s ˜outburst™, which concedes for the sake of
argument that the accusations against Mary of wicked slaveholders might
be supported by evidence, is as rhetorically strategic as the rest of his
˜Supplement™ which aims to meet the pro-slavery attacks through a range
of counter-arguments that in themselves may be contradictory.
The Anti-Slavery Reporter detailed many cases of the abuse of women
slaves in the West Indies. Mary Prince™s story is explosive because it
situates the abuse of slavery in Britain itself, dramatically reducing for its
readers geopolitical and emotional distance between metropole and slave
colony, locating slavery™s refugees and their problems at empire™s own
doorstep. It was by then a cliche, articulated in Pringle™s poetry as well as in
much abolitionist literature “ see for example the introduction to Harriet
Martineau™s Demerara published in the same year as Prince™s History “ that
the ˜bitter draught™ of slavery taints the character of slaveholder and slave,
but it was more comfortable to position one as a ˜demon™ of ˜avarice, rage
or lust™ and the other as a sinking ˜victim™.27 Mary™s supposed ˜violent
temper™ and ˜pride™ may be noted as character ˜¬‚aws™ in a female servant in
Pringle™s supplement, but overall the documents do underline the neces-
sity and capacity to resist abuse even for subaltern women. An essential
element in liberal ideas of personhood, the innate longing for liberty “ as
opposed to acute pain at separation from child, partner or ˜home™ or
horror at sexual abuse “ is more frequently and easily ascribed to male
slaves; when women are allowed to speak in such ˜masculine™ terms their
testimony suggests both their extremity and their transgression of social
norms.28 Unlike the self-immolating or infanticidal black female subject of

Ibid., 117.
Mary Prince, The History of Mary Prince, ed. Sara Salih (London, 2000), ˜Appendix One™, 97.
See, in particular, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, ˜The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim™s Point™, The Poetry
of Slavery, ed. Marcus Wood (Oxford, 2003), 356“63. Published in 1848 in the Boston Anti-Slavery
annual, The Liberty Bell, its Promethian black female speaker combines the masculine and
feminine characteristics of the rebel slave subject in abolitionist literature.
Imagining empire: history, fantasy and literature 205
Romantic and Victorian poetry, Mary Prince is presented “ perhaps as
much by Pringle and Strickland as by herself: we cannot know “ as
someone demanding a better life, perhaps even in Britain, not salvation
through death. In this fantasmatic guise, she represents a paradox, an
implicit threat to social order, as well as a case of injustice for the British
state to answer.
In the decade in which the fragile anti-slavery consensus that enabled
abolition fragments, and in which the economic and social autonomy of
the free population is heavily criticised in the metropole, racial thinking
takes on a new life.29 No longer tied to the crime of chattel slavery, but an
easy rationale for the lesser humanity of non-white subjects, racism,
overtly or subliminally in¬‚uenced by widely disseminated popular racial
science, becomes a common strand in political and social commentary.
Two related ¬ctions by women writers from the late 1840s rework the
¬gure of the black woman and the unhappy relationship between
metropole and West Indian colony. Charlotte Bronte™s Jane Eyre (1847) is
the novel which most fully represents the ideological turn in post-
abolition British culture. Empire dominates its plot, and no leading
character can evade its reach: orphan Jane™s employer and suitor Edward
Fairfax Rochester is a younger son sent out to Jamaica to marry money
and becomes tied, almost fatally, to a mad, bad colonial heiress whose
family, the Masons, reproduce the cliche about the moral and physical
degeneration of colonial Europeans. Jane™s cousin, the cold and ambitious
St John Rivers, becomes a missionary in India, and dies there. Near the
end of the novel impoverished Jane learns that she has inherited her
Madeira uncle™s fortune, made in the triangular trade. As in Adeline
Mowbray and Mary Prince, empire in Jane Eyre gets a poor press. It is at
best a necessary evil in Bronte™s novel, at worst a source of moral and
physical contagion, its climate and environment “ in Rochester™s graphic
imagery of Jamaica presided over by a ˜broad and red™ moon with a
˜bloody glance™ “ as a crazed, racialised woman.30
Yet, and here we might remember the signi¬cant silence in Mans¬eld
Park, race and especially slavery, classical and oriental as well as trans-
atlantic, are only metaphorically and metonymically ¬gured in the novel,
heavily structuring its language and controlling its affect but not overtly
part of its story. The novel™s rough time-span covers the transition from

See Catherine Hall, Civilising Subjects: Metropole and Colony in the English Imagination, 1830“1867

(Cambridge, 2002), ch. 6, 338“79.
Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre, Norton Critical Edition (New York, 1987), 271.
slavery to freedom in Jamaica, but these events are, strangely, never
highlighted. The child Jane, in her rage and fantasies of revenge against
her appalling Aunt Reed and her cousins, aligns herself mentally with
˜any other rebel slave™.31 Her story of childhood abuse by family and
institutions, her gradual conversion to a more Christian “ if still rebel-
lious “ character, her attempted seduction and betrayal by Rochester and
her escape from his household and rescue by her clergyman cousin who
¬nds her employment, have an eerie resemblance to the ordering of slave
narrative “ bearing some relationship even to Mary Prince™s History.
Jane™s slave imaginary is, we might say, that of an earlier abolitionist
moment, committed to the view that all humans ˜want to be free™, but
interpreted by the mediating voice of the adult Jane who tells the story, as
an innocent™s imperative that always threatens the family and polity with
anarchic violence. This dangerous if necessary imaginary is therefore
compromised and conditioned by post-abolitionist racial thinking.
On the other side we have the novel™s more unforgiving and racially
problematic representation of a white creole with a violent temper,
unspeakable ˜giant propensities™ and ˜pygmy intellect™,32 Bertha Mason,
brought to England by Rochester in the hold of a ship, transformed from
pale beauty to an animalistic ¬gure with a ˜fearful blackened in¬‚ation of
the lineaments™,33 incarcerated murderously mad in Thorn¬eld™s attic.
Bertha escapes to threaten Jane, eventually burning down the house,
built “ like Mans¬eld Park we might hazard, but the novel will stub-
bornly not say “ on the economics of slavery. Bertha Mason is a grotesque
condensation of white colonial degenerate and subhuman racial other “
she is ¬gured ¬nally as an anomalous beast of indeterminate gender. (In
her representation there is an echo too of a familiar type in anti-slavery
literature normally represented by the vengeful male slaves determined to
slaughter their white masters.) Bertha is never a fully realised character in
the novel; she functions more as a nightmarish representation of the evil
dynamic of master/slave feminised and undead “ Jane compares her to a
˜vampyre™ “ colonialism™s immoral social and economic legacy returned
to haunt and wreak what havoc it could in the metropole.
And yet, for all its deep immersion in the tropes and narrative of
empire, Jane Eyre is not ˜about™ these questions, but ˜about™ Jane™s very
English progress from abused orphan to rich, happily married mother:
something it seems she cannot do without the novel™s imaginative
engagement with empire. The novel™s closing fantasy, related but distinct
31 32 33
Ibid., 9. Ibid., 269. Ibid., 249.
Imagining empire: history, fantasy and literature 207
to those imagined in Adeline Mowbray and Mans¬eld Park, is that Britain
could magically evade and reject the negative aspects of slavery™s legacy,
retreating, as Jane and the crippled and blinded Rochester do, to some
˜green heart of England™ for repair and regeneration, while sending
St John Rivers out to India as a sacri¬cial agent for and a victim of the
Christianising ethical impulse of empire.
These very limited comments on a complex novel are intended as a
symptomatic reading of Jane Eyre, a twenty-¬rst-century historical and
cultural re¬‚ection directed at wider questions about the shifting, uneven
and contradictory terms of racial and imperial thinking in Britain in the
1840s.34 The novel™s manifest investment in the context of empire toge-
ther with its evasions and incoherence about it provide, I would offer, a
suggestive line of historical enquiry about the soured sense, in some parts
of British society in this decade, that abolition had let loose a Pandora™s
Box of problems that the metropole could not solve, a naive idealism
gone wrong.
That the shadowy ¬gure of a black woman, at once childlike, abused,
heroically resistant, monstrous, mad, vengeful, dead and magically vin-
dicated, is part of the representation of both Jane and Bertha is reinforced
in a novel published only a few years later by a young novelist, Dinah
Mulock Craik. Olive35 boldly borrows from and recasts the themes of
empire and race in Jane Eyre, outing its racial subtext by giving literal
embodiment to what is ¬guratively rendered in Bronte™s novel. The
heroine, Olive Rothesay, is an angelic, artistically talented but crippled
daughter of a misalliance between an Englishwoman and a Scotsman with
estates in the West Indies. Angus Rothesay is an adulterer with a bitter,
discarded quadroon mistress, Celia Manners, who follows him to
England and dies in poverty there, and her virtually white illegitimate
daughter Christal, proud, beautiful and ¬‚irtatious. Christal™s mixed-racial
inheritance is revealed to her only as an adult, knowledge that makes her
attack her half-sister Olive in a temporary but racially coded ¬t of
insanity. Christal retreats to a religious order, a move which places her
safely outside the civil society her status and temperament would disrupt.
In a seemingly reciprocal development, Olive™s deformity disappears and

For longer discussions of the role of empire in Jane Eyre, see Spivak, ˜Three Women™s Texts™;
Susan Meyer, Imperialism at Home: Race and Victorian Women™s Fiction (Ithaca, 1996), 60“95;
Cora Kaplan, ˜ ˜˜A Heterogeneous Thing™™: Female Childhood and the Rise of Racial Thinking in
Victorian Britain™, in Diana Fuss (ed.), Human, All Too Human (London and New York, 1996),
Dinah Mulock Craik, Olive, ed. and intro. Cora Kaplan (Oxford, 1999).
she marries the man she loves. Craik™s attitudes towards empire are as
ambivalent as Bronte™s, but her views on race in Olive are at once more
simply humanitarian and more explicitly grounded in biology than in
Jane Eyre. The close pairing of these two novels and their relation to the
earlier texts I have discussed, suggest how intimately connected, in the
political and literary imagination of Britain in the ¬rst half of the empire,
were the relations of metropole and colony and the dangers of female and
non-white autonomy.

A discursive ¬gure, a trope such as the one I have been tracing “ the
invasive and disturbing presence of a woman of African or partly African
descent on English soil “ emerges, I have been arguing, at particular
historical moments, giving narrative shape and virtual embodiment to
temporarily speci¬c constellations of hopes, fears and anxieties. The
activity of condensation and projection that go in to their articulation
turns the question back to history as to why such associations should take
place: why these, and not others? Why is the menacing racialised ¬gure in
Bronte and Craik female and not male? Why is this ¬gure in Words-
worth, Opie, Bronte and Craik so metonymically tied to the political and
moral integrity of the metropole™s relationship to the Empire on the one
hand and, in the latter three texts, the imperilled and disputed status of
femininity “ of every class and ethnicity “ within it? Why is this nine-
teenth-century ¬gure “ and here Mary Prince™s History is a key text “
doomed to oscillate between perfect victim and transgressive agent? The
answers are not obvious, but the questions remain compelling.
What does seem to be true is that gender continues to be a primary
part of the post-imperial imaginary, working overtime, one might say, to
embody the hopes, disillusion and feeling tone of the period of decolo-
nisation and of its aftermath: the experience of emigration from ex-colony
to England. For when the Empire writes back, it trans¬gures the affective
and social implications of the relations between the metropole and its
former Caribbean colonies, rede¬ning identities and place “ and the space
between. The ¬rst wave of novels written about that immigrant experi-
ence is very focused on the experience and feelings of male immigrants. In
what is now the best-known and loved text, Sam Selvon™s The Lonely
Londoners (1956), women are altogether marginal ¬gures. A nameless cast
of white women who become casual lovers of the men seem largely to
exist as sexual partners, answering a mutual desire and need, but also
Imagining empire: history, fantasy and literature 209
exploited and exploiting. The few black women “ Lewis™ abused wife,
Agnes, Tolroy™s mother and Tanty Bessie “ seem unwanted burdens in
the men™s new life, whose fragile infrastructure is based on a homosocial
network that depends, and in some sense thrives, on the initial absence
of women and family ties. George Lamming™s brilliantly bitter The
Emigrants (1954) includes a few women on his ¬ctional voyage from the
Caribbean to England, but either these women play a subsidiary role in
the story of the encounter with English life “ taken on as partners to
de¬‚ect the all-encompassing loneliness of voluntary exile “ or they
represent more fully the general perils of emigration in a disturbingly
negative and misogynist register: Queenie becomes a prostitute who
sleeps with women, and the socially aspirant, near white Miss Bis sheds
her old identity, changes her name and her style, transforming herself
in to a wholly amoral ¬gure, not only sexually perverse but capable of
murder, the worst sort of rootless cosmopolitan.36
These two remarkable novels are most interesting in what they have to
say about the masculine imaginary in these ¬rst decades of postwar
immigration: what they also reveal is a radical ambivalence about the
relocation of a family-based community in England “ one which might
be, although always with a sense of difference and alienation, ˜home™. As
if conscious of this absence in the 1950s™ ¬ction of Caribbean immigra-
tion, the writer Caryl Phillips, born in St Kitts in 1958 and brought up in
Leeds, retells the story, putting a woman at the centre in his ¬rst major
work of ¬ction. The Final Passage (1985), written in the heyday of
Thatcher™s reign, is a sympathetic but wholly bleak account of a clever
young woman, Leila, in a troubled cross-class marriage, emigrating with
her baby son and husband to a cold and ˜overcast™ racist London. Leila™s
passage is paid for by her mother who has gone before her and whose
hopes were set on England, but the ˜passage™ proves fatal for the mother
who dies defeated in a London hospital, telling Leila ˜London is not my
home™.37 It is nearly fatal too for the deserted, bereaved and pregnant
Leila who, isolated and nearly mad, plans to return to the Caribbean
where at least she has one close friend, but not for her more working-class
husband Michael, who, like the men in Lamming and Selvon™s ¬ction,
rise above the anomie and hostility of England, hoping still to advance
themselves and to escape from marriage and fatherhood. Phillips™ novel
For a very subtle analysis of Miss Bis™s complex role in The Emigrants see A. J. Simoes da Silva, The
Luxury of Nationalist Despair: George Lamming™s Fiction as Decolonizing Project (Amsterdam,
2000), 111“23.
Caryl Phillips, The Final Passage (London, 1985), 124.
highlights the uneven and antagonistic relations of gender that, together
with the climate and xenophobic culture of Britain, make emigration such
a different and dif¬cult experience for men and women. In all three men™s
novels Britain is represented as an anti-domestic space for Caribbean
emigrants, signalling, for men at least, something more than a desire to
leave the limited economic and cultural opportunities of the Caribbean.
The imagined marginality or failure to thrive of emigrant women in
Britain is a sign of both the metropole™s ingrained racism and xenophobia,
its inhospitability which takes the form of a resolute resistance to the
establishment and reproduction of an immigrant community: the negative
pole of diaspora “ and a more intractable incommensurability of the
expectations and desires of men and women.
Two decades later, Andrea Levy™s Whitbread award-winning novel
Small Island (2004) returns to that ¬rst generation of postwar immi-
grants, revisiting not just their experience but the highly gendered ima-
gined worlds of Selvon, Lamming and Phillips which have by now
become part of the cultural memory of those early years of arrival. Levy,
Phillips™ contemporary, the only one of these four novelists to be born in
Britain, rewrites, in a more hopeful but never sentimental key, their
narratives of the encounter with England. London with its ˜no coloureds™
signs is not signi¬cantly altered in Levy™s ¬ctional world, but she makes
room for a more emotionally positive encounter between black men and
white women, and gives her white characters, both the sympathetic
Queenie and her racist husband Bernard, a generous and rounded ¬c-
tional treatment. In Small Island, a description that might now just
as aptly be applied to England as to Jamaica, the emigrating couple,
Hortense and her husband Gilbert “ as ill matched a pair in terms of
class, complexion and expectations of England as Michael and Leila in
The Final Passage “ ¬nd that emigration makes, not breaks, their mar-
riage; they adopt the illegitimate, mixed-race child of their landlady and
friend Queenie and move to Finsbury Park, accepting with an optimism
without illusions the racially freighted and divided metropole. Levy™s
rendering of that experience is not without its own fatalism. By making
Queenie give up her child because she hasn™t got ˜the guts™ for ˜that ¬ght™
against everyday racism, the novel seems to exclude from the positive
possibilities it foreshadows the complex and often positive history of
cross-racial partnerships and families in this period, one of the many
distinctive characteristics of today™s British population.38 Nevertheless, in
Andrea Levy, Small Island (London, 2004), 521.
Imagining empire: history, fantasy and literature 211
Levy™s historical imaginary, from the perspective of the new millennium
and several generations on from the late forties and ¬fties, Britain,
unwelcoming and dif¬cult as it was, could and would be made ˜home™ to
the mixed and merged descendants of the former colonies.39
In these two long periods, 1800“50 and 1950“2005, I have been pursuing
through literary sources the shifts and changes in the social and political
imaginary of empire and home, suggesting that in the fantasmatic register
in which literature operates an alternative history opens up, with a com-
plicated narrative of its own, but one that is at the same time constitutive
of the social real, representing most eloquently and sometimes scarily its
affective dimensions. If historians can draw that poetic register into their
˜everyday™ discussions, both the story and the interpretation of empire™s
resonance in Britain will be greatly enriched.


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