Research in African Literatures 33.4 (2002) 203-204
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Out of Place:
Englishness, Empire, and the Locations of Identity
Out of Place: Englishness, Empire, and the Locations of Identity, by Ian Baucom. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1999. 249 pp. ISBN 0-0691-00403 X paper.
This excellent book will remain on my desktop for as long as I teach postcolonial literatures, and it was a great resource from which I read and quoted regularly in my recent graduate seminar on texts from Conrad to Naipaul. Ian Baucom writes a history of imperial and postimperial England that includes analyses of cultures and of literatures written in English from Ruskin, Ford Maddox Ford, Kipling, Forster, Jean Rhys, C.L.R. James, and, finally, Naipaul and Rushdie, and he sees these works against a background of symbolic, psychological, and architectural statements: the country houses in Jane Austen's works, Wordsworthian concepts of nature as they are again imagined in Naipaul's The Enigma of Arrival, the cricket field and its images of "manliness" for the English public school, the Victorian Gothic railway station in Bombay, all, finally, set in contrast to the battle grounds of uprisings in India, in Jamaica, and in the streets of London. As one reviewer quoted on the cover summarizes, Baucom's book is an analysis "of imperial crisis zones."
The greatest crisis was the imperialist project itself, the aftermath of which has radically changed England's politics and its population, the racial configuration, the sense of identity, the reality of a concept of "Englishness." For Naipaul, whose origins in India translated to Trinidad, to London, and then to rural England, it was, as Baucom explains, "the domestic imprint of an empire" (177) that led him to the new world of his birth, to the language in which he wrote, and finally to the idyllic English valley, disturbed though it is by military drills and the pervasive sense of impending decay and death, not only of the author himself, but of the "manor house" where he stays and of England as he had imagined it.
The imperial architecture of the manor house, built by the proceeds of what Baucom describes as the trade in slaves and rum, is also represented [End Page 203] in Rhys's novel in which the Romantic English house becomes a mad house, a "prison house of memory" (172). Baucom's analysis of Rhys's novel is the best I have read, and my comparison includes an essay by Gayatri Spivak, who currently ranks in critical circles with Homi Bhabha, Frantz Fanon, Edward Said, and Salman Rushdie, among others, whom Baucom consults and understands, in my opinion, better than they understand themselves.
Throughout my reading of this text, I wondered why the author had seemingly neglected Shakespeare, that standard of "Englishness" and the English language, itself historically seen as an argument for imperialism. In the last chapter, however, Baucom makes impressive political and poetic use of Shakespeare's The Tempest to illustrate his own political argument, that England is not doomed or damned but benefited by the "sea change" of its immigrant population from the "Empire," which becomes "a continuing liquid principle of cultural exchange" (219) that will, I think Baucom believes, lead to the "something rich and strange" that Shakespeare imagined for England and for the world.
Barbara Hill Rigney
Barbara Hill Rigney is Professor of English at The Ohio State University.