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British and African Literature in Transnational Context

Simon Lewis

Publication Year: 2011

African identities have been written and rewritten in both British and African literature for decades. These revisions have opened up new formulations of what it really means to be British or African.

By comparing texts by authors from African and British backgrounds across a wide variety of political orientations, Simon Lewis analyzes the deeper relationships between colonizer and colonized. He brings issues of race, gender, class, and sexuality into the analysis, providing new ways for cultural scholars to think about how empire and colony have impacted one another from the late eighteenth century through the decades following World War II.

In his comparisons, Lewis focuses on commonalities rather than differences. By examining the work of writers including Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, T. S. Eliot, Abdulrazak Gurnah, Zoe Wicomb, Yvette Christianse, and Chris van Wyk, he demonstrates how Britain’s former African colonies influence British culture just as much as African culture was influenced by British colonization.

Lewis brings a uniquely informed perspective to the topic, having lived in South Africa, Tanzania, and Great Britain, and having taught African literature for over a decade. The book demonstrates his expert knowledge of local cultural history from 1945 to the present, in both Africa and Britain.

Published by: University Press of Florida


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Title Page, Copyright

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-ix

In February 1990 I was fortunate enough to be part of the enormous crowd of well-wishers lining the triumphant route of Nelson Mandela’s drive from the Dar es Salaam International Airport downtown to the president’s house. It was a euphoric moment, and part of a welling-up of...

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pp. 1-21

The second half of the twentieth century saw two (at least two) massive shifts in global political alignment and power: the end of World War II ushered in both the period known as the Cold War and, almost coterminously, the process of decolonization. But to say that the Cold War...

Part I. Postcolonial Geographies: The Spatial Shuttling of Indigenes and Immigrants

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1. From Igboland to the East End: Recasting African Identity from Olaudah Equiano to Buchi Emecheta

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pp. 25-48

Probably the most obvious starting point for looking at Anglo-African literature would be an examination of Chinua Achebe’s work as a response to Joseph Conrad’s African-set writing, notably Heart of Darkness. Indeed, like many who teach African literature in English to students unacquainted...

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2. “The House I Live in . . . a Language which Barks and Scorns at Me behind Every Corner”

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pp. 49-72

In “The World and the Home,” Homi Bhabha “wrestle[s] with the wisdom of Iris Murdoch’s laudable pronouncement, ‘A novel must be a house for free people to live in’” (142). Considering the difficulty of fitting the “political, cultural, or chronological experience of [V. S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr. Biswas] into the...

Part II. Colonial Histories: Class, Gender, Sexuality, and Racial Violence in Anglo-African Writing

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3. The Silence of the Askaris: William Boyd’s An Ice-Cream War and the European History of the First World War in East Africa

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pp. 75-90

Despite their tendency to melancholy aporia, Gurnah’s novels still do political work in unwriting the nation and creating autonomous space for subjects frequently overlooked by colonial discourse and excluded by anticolonial nationalism. Indeed, in line with both George’s and Gikandi’s...

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4. Raids on the Inarticulate: Alan Hollinghurst’s The Swimming-Pool Library and the Closets of Imperial and Postimperial British History

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pp. 91-108

Although still locked in the colonial archive, Boyd’s book offers, nonetheless, an interesting critique of Englishness, which appears in An Ice-Cream War as an exclusively male construction based on an amalgam of public school attitudes toward others—whether their otherness is defined in...

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5. Sacrifice, Ritual, and Canonical Violence in the British/African Drama of T. S. Eliot, Caryl Churchill, and Wole Soyinka

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pp. 109-123

Up to this point, most of my critique has been directed at authors’ representation of Africa and Africans and, in the last two chapters especially, the readiness with which British authors have tended to reproduce generalizing tropes of African otherness at the expense of attention to local...

Part III. Mayibuye iAfrika: Reconstituting African Nationalism in the New Transnational South

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6. Embodying Black Ways of Being in the World in the Spatialized Historiography of Postapartheid Literature

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pp. 127-158

Clive’s rueful comment at the end of Cloud Nine that Africa will probably become communist once colonial rule is over returns us to the questions of periodization, of beginnings and endings of historical processes, raised in the Introduction. With a slight detour in the previous chapter, the texts analyzed so far...

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7. Shades of Feminist Nationalism in Recent Zimbabwean and South African Fiction

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pp. 159-180

As the attention to publishing history in the previous chapter indicates, the long history of settler colonialism in the extreme south of the continent means that approaches to South and southern African literatures in English have perhaps always been even more complicatedly transnational than...


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pp. 181-234

Works Cited

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pp. 235-252


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pp. 253-257

E-ISBN-13: 9780813045238
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813036021
Print-ISBN-10: 081303602X

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 801842243
MUSE Marc Record: Download for British and African Literature in Transnational Context

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • African literature (English) -- History and criticism.
  • English literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Postcolonialism -- Africa -- History -- 20th century.
  • Literature, Modern ‡x History and criticism.
  • British -- Africa.
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