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  • Crossing the Line: Early Creole Novels and Anglophone Caribbean Culture in the Age of Emancipation by Candace Ward
  • Barbara Lalla (bio)
Crossing the Line: Early Creole Novels and Anglophone Caribbean Culture in the Age of Emancipation candace ward Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2017 225 pp.

This innovative and well-researched study sets out to reexamine the role played by early white Creole writers of the Caribbean in a cultural labor that reconstructs understandings of Caribbean reality. Ward gathers as a describable body of fiction nineteenth-century writing in English that is distinguished from other writing of its time by its Creole viewpoint. The writing appears to otherwise defy taxonomy although the texts selected at least approximate to the novel form. Ward analyses this writing within a framework of ceremonial inversions of order associated with crossing the line—inversions that produce what the writer terms a "transatlantic dialectic between anticolonial and metropolitan writers" (26).

In so doing, she demonstrates how these novels were new in both entertaining and informative ways (as acknowledged by nineteenth-century reviewers, [1]), but also how they were new in perspective—not only physically but ideologically oriented from a Caribbean viewing position. It is on this basis that the study takes as its point of departure the concept "Creole," understood as one bred or reared in the Caribbean rather than Africa or Europe. The discussion is well framed in literary, historical, and sociological [End Page 988] sources, and, although without making detailed reference to the implications of the term in language study, the argument demonstrates sensitivity to issues of discourse in discussing the unsilencing of these local voices.

The analysis supports a lucid portrayal of the conflicted sensibilities of Caribbean whites who drove the plantation system that enriched the empire, even as growing disrepute destabilized the system and moralists who proclaimed its degrading influence on white masters effectively disowned the slaveholders. As such arguments shifted focus to the predicament of masters versus slaves, the very discussions that focused on the moral bankruptcy of the system also held up the danger of miscegenation, of crossing racial lines. Such are the contradictory circumstances of history that, in Ward's view, lend themselves to fiction in the books examined.

Drawing on José de Piérola's vision of the historical novel as not a genre but a "mode of writing" that "creates and sustains an unresolved tension between history and fiction," Ward calls the area she selects for study a "meta-and intratextual terrain" (143). The critique shows romanticized and sentimental portraits in Montgomery; or, The West Indian Adventurer (anonymous, 1812−13) to make sense only in the violent context of the plantation. So this novel, produced and printed in Jamaica for proprietors, emerges as part of a print culture that cohered in a project for redefining and for validating white society, for showing a society sanitized and picturesque—rather like those early nineteenth-century drawings that present spotlessly clean city streets with orderly and contented looking denizens. Yet in Montgomery, the inquisitive gaze encounters other scenes. An emaciated slave constitutes a body of evidence that, Ward argues, shows "sentimental culture" to be insufficient in the Jamaican setting (48). So Crossing the Line points out a dialectic of sentimental Caribbean fiction by insiders—for example, by reference to the idyllic gardens of Montgomery—and observations of depravity by fascinated outsiders like J. B. Moreton. Particularly incisive observations note Montgomery's translations of plantation violence to redefined visions of an alternative and benign civilization.

In view of such defining contradictions in the portrayal of nineteenth-century Jamaican settings and characters, it is not surprising that Hamel, the Obeah Man (Cynric Williams, [1827] 2010) offers up no consistent or smoothly describable landscape—or mindscape—not only because of the [End Page 989] novel's more overt violence and revolutionary ethos but also because the strongly individuated character of Hamel tends to take over perspective and plot in a way that projects the novelist's ambivalence. The analogy that Ward traces between geological time and the strata of the novel is startling but, to my mind, convincing, and rather elegantly illuminates the ways in which the antislavery writing is permeated...


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