Empire of Neglect: The West Indies in the Wake of British Liberalism.
Taylor, Christopher, Empire of Neglect: The West Indies in the Wake of British Liberalism. Durham: Duke University Press, 2018. ix+320 pages. Paperback, 27.95.
In Jane Austen's novel, Persuasion, an admiral's wife describes her travels throughout the Atlantic with her husband, and laments that she has never been to the West Indies because, "We do not call Bermuda or Bahama, you know, the West Indies." In response her dinner companion confesses, internally at least, "she could not accuse herself of having ever called them any thing in the whole course of her life." This snippet of the novel captures one of the contradictions at the heart of British identity and history--empire is both the heart of Britain and easily erased or forgotten by the British themselves. Christopher Taylor's Empire of Neglect examines this story from a new angle, namely how does it feel to be forgotten? How did West Indians attempt to reinsert themselves in the narrative and force the British to consider their place in empire? Neglected by the British, Taylor argues that West Indian authors turned instead to a new empire--the United States. These writers could not imagine a world without imperialism, and so they sought any port in the storm while the British blithely turned away, seduced by the lure of free trade.
In theory Taylor's book is about the ways in which West Indian writers responded to British neglect and sought to return to the friendly folds of an earlier form of mercantilist empire, but at several critical junctures Taylor finds himself more interested in critiquing free trade liberalism and highlighting the ways in which it failed as an economic principle. The West Indies simply become a useful case study against capitalism, as opposed to complex societies dealing with massive changes in real time. The book is divided into five chapters and a coda. In each chapter Taylor provides a close reading of a series of texts, highlighting the ways in which authors responded to the feelings of neglect they felt from the metropole. These texts range from letters sent between a widow who owns a plantation in Jamaica to Anthony Trollope's travelogue, The West Indies and the Spanish Main. The book is generally chronologically divided and roughly covers the nineteenth century, but the chapters are not deeply connected, which means the reader can pick up and read almost any chapter independently. Although many of the texts he uses sound positively horrendous to...
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