chapter  21
8 Pages

Caribbean Ecopoetics

While the precise origins of anglophone Caribbean literature remain a subject of debate, there is little doubt that the period between the 1940s and 1960s saw both a literary renaissance and the emergence of a canon that would be unchallenged for several decades. These were the years in which unique talents like Wilson Harris, George Lamming, Edgar Mittelholzer, V.S. Naipaul, Andrew Salkey and Samuel Selvon appeared in the English publishing world, although not without trouble and even tragedy in the case of Mittelholzer, who burnt himself to death in despair over publication difficulties. Phyllis Shand Allfrey, Una Marson and Jean Rhys also published around this time, but they were generally eclipsed by the unequal weight given then to canonizing the male writers. Virginia Woolf, who committed suicide in 1941, spoke famously of a ‘room of one’s own’ for women writers of her generation, implying that freedom from financial and domestic obligations would expand the asymmetrically nurtured, even unrecognized, creative potential of her sex (Woolf 1929). Neither her suicidal thoughts nor her anguished sense of going insane (like the notorious Creole woman trapped in the attic in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, a condition Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar (1979) would identify with the historical constraints of the English woman writer a century earlier) were restricted to the British modernist or the female author. The particular context of Caribbean writers who came into the scene largely via London, the literary centre of the anglophone world in the mid-twentieth century, would produce an equally urgent need for a room of their own, nuanced somewhat differently from Woolf’s feminist demand. Their anxiety over claiming a specific space and their determination to build their own literary tradition responsive to Caribbean realities, however entangled with their mixed colonial heritage and overwhelmed in many cases by physical exile, mark the literally ground-breaking creative fiction of this period.