London via the Caribbean : migration narratives and the city in postwar British fiction

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2002-05

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Abstract

Although a number of critics have analyzed nineteenth and twentieth century British authors’ portrayals of London, there has been neither a sustained treatment of colonial migrants’ use of the city as setting and subject, nor have critics sufficiently addressed the significance of London to the men and women who were educated in the British colonies. This dissertation focuses on the London-set works of four authors who migrated from the British West Indies to England after World War II: Barbados-born George Lamming; Trinidad natives V. S. Naipaul and Sam Selvon; and Beryl Gilroy, who was born and raised in British Guiana. This postwar migrant generation’s fiction, which straddles the colonial and the postcolonial eras, reveals the concrete and lasting effects of colonial education, particularly of literary studies. Despite these four authors’ having been taught to value all-things-British, their London narratives—written post-migration—often resist and complicate previous literary representations of the city while also revising their own earlier ideas of the place. I focus in particular on issues such as Caribbean authors’ reception (literary and otherwise) within the new location, the effects that this location has on their or their characters’ identity, politics, ideas of “home,” and memory, as well as the varying ways in which the trauma and exhilaration of migrating are depicted. I ask whether literature, specifically the London-set fiction of these four authors, can affect the way the city is imagined and experienced and whether they have effectively revised that literary space by creating a new urban “text,” one that is not racially or culturally homogenous and that is glossed with Caribbean migrants’ narratives of their homelands’ colonial histories and their own departures, voyages, and arrivals, both literal and figurative. In the epilogue, I discuss the literary legacy of these migrants of the 1950s. I argue that the London-set works of Victor Headley and Zadie Smith, who are contemporary British novelists of Jamaican descent, build on the foundation laid by the generation of writers who migrated to Britain from the Caribbean during the postwar years.

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