C. L. R. James in Imperial Britain

C. L. R. James in Imperial Britain

The C. L. R. James Archives

More about this series

Book Pages: 312 Illustrations: 10 illustrations Published: March 2014

Subjects
Caribbean Studies, Cultural Studies, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

C. L. R. James in Imperial Britain chronicles the life and work of the Trinidadian intellectual and writer C. L. R. James during his first extended stay in Britain, from 1932 to 1938. It reveals the radicalizing effect of this critical period on James's intellectual and political trajectory. During this time, James turned from liberal humanism to revolutionary socialism. Rejecting the "imperial Britishness" he had absorbed growing up in a crown colony in the British West Indies, he became a leading anticolonial activist and Pan-Africanist thinker. Christian Høgsbjerg reconstructs the circumstances and milieus in which James wrote works including his magisterial study The Black Jacobins. First published in 1938, James's examination of the dynamics of anticolonial revolution in Haiti continues to influence scholarship on Atlantic slavery and abolition. Høgsbjerg contends that during the Depression C. L. R. James advanced public understanding of the African diaspora and emerged as one of the most significant and creative revolutionary Marxists in Britain.
 

Praise

"Høgsbjerg has produced an invaluable addition to both British and Caribbean labour scholarship and has written it in such an accessible way that its stirring and provocative narrative ought to inspire thought and action." — Chris Searle, Morning Star

"This impressively researched, well-written and accessible book demonstrates that James's time in Britain was a period of fertile intellectual growth for this inspirational writer and activist." — Brian Richardson, Socialist Review

"Christian Høgsbjerg’s C.L.R. James in Imperial Britain sets a new standard in James Studies for he has combed key archival sources bringing increased insight and factual detail to considerations of his life and work. . . . We find Christian Høgsbjerg’s C.L.R. James in his study literally on fire, not merely researching revolutionary history and writing cricket columns. With his sweater accidentally aflame from the heater in his small room, smoke fills the home where he is a guest but he doesn’t notice. Someone has to tell him: 'Nello you are on fire.' James doesn’t understand at first, and then anxiously replies: 'Oh my goodness, oh my goodness!' This is an apt tale to advertise the vibrant quality of C.L.R. James in Imperial Britain." — Matthew Quest, Insurgent Notes

"More than any other contemporary writer on James, Christian Høgsbjerg appreciates how provisional and incomplete our understanding of this intellectual agenda has actually been. . . . Anyone with an interest in black protest, literary London, and/or left politics in the 1930s will enjoy this smart, factually grounded yet thematically rich biographical study."  — Kent Worcester, New Politics

"Høgsbjerg does a masterful job of recounting this history in tremendous detail. James himself is now an increasingly well-known figure, particularly in the fields of literary and postcolonial studies. Yet, as Høgsbjerg argues, the details of his life, particularly his political transformations and commitments, have preoccupied recent scholars rather less, and often to the detriment of their scholarship. It seems remarkable, indeed, that Høgsbjerg’s is the first detailed study of James’s years in Britain. . . ." — Daniel Whittall, Antipode

“Høgsbjerg’s biography is an essential piece of the history of C.L.R. James. It is first and foremost an intellectual history which demonstrates how both theory and politics form and are formulated over years. And it provides proof that the revolution will not come without sustained intellectual engagement.” — Yasmin Nair, Monthly Review

“This is an exceptional study and a necessary book for anyone concerned with understanding James’ life and work, or interested in the wider history of black radical and socialist politics in the twentieth century. As Høgsbjerg rightly concludes, James’ life and work remains, in many respects, an important resource of hope and inspiration for contemporary readers.” — Andrew Smith, Race and Class

“There is a great deal to commend in this book — to both the expert and those newly introduced to James and his work. Thankfully, Høgsbjerg takes us from James’s classrooms in Trinidad to pub-crawls in London, and ultimately, to a world of exceedingly rich political activism and thought that often defies easy categorization. … For those looking to grasp today’s interconnected travails of racial, class, and cultural alienation brought about by the shortcomings of global capitalism and hyper-nationalism, they would do well to add Høgsbjerg’s delightful and poignant history to their shelves.” — Saladin Ambar, Canadian Journal of History

“The narrative of C.L.R. James in Imperial Britain is infused with an active rather than passive force. James chooses to leave Bloomsbury in 1932, where Hogsbjerg notes that he very likely could have established a literary career. The climate of the rise of fascism, the Great Depression, the Italo-Abyssinian crisis and the relative popularity of communism among literary circles in 1930s Britain meant that James very likely would have come to a kind of pan-African socialism in any case. But equally, through this book we are able to appreciate the immense intellectual commitment and, crucially, tenacity of James in seeking to understand the world that he inhabited. The context of 1930s imperial Britain radicalized many individuals.” — Leslie James, Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History

"When James left Britain for the United States in 1938 he had moved from Victorian elitism to revolutionary socialism. This book expertly charts his development. It will not only be of value to C L R James scholars but to anyone who has an interest in British history." — Rhys Williams, International Socialism

"Drawing upon under-utilized and newly-released sources, C. L. R. James in Imperial Britain interweaves the diverse strands of James’s thought and activism in a lucid account of this important moment in the life of one of the twentieth century’s most creative and original thinkers.... C. L. R. James in Imperial Britain offers further confirmation of the centrality of James’s writings to the archives of decolonization in the twentieth century." — Marc Matera, Anthurium

“A magnificent contribution to our understanding of the twentieth-century Caribbean.” — Bill Schwarz, Wasafiri

"Christian Høgsbjerg's book is going to make a very significant impact on the community of C. L. R. James scholars and beyond. Høgsbjerg has thoroughly combed the key archival sources to generate a comprehensive, lively, and insightful portrait of James's intellectual and political life during his first sojourn in Britain. In doing so, he has filled in many key details and fleshed out many important events in James's life in Britain." — Paget Henry, coeditor of C. L. R. James's Carribbean


"When C. L. R. James left Trinidad for England in 1932, it was a kind of homecoming: A connoisseur of cricket, immersed in the works of Shakespeare and Thackeray almost from birth, James was the consummate Afro-Saxon intellectual long before setting foot in London. In C. L. R. James in Imperial Britain, Christian Høgsbjerg follows him into the meeting halls and radical bookstores, the cricket grounds and bohemian haunts, where this displaced 'Victorian with the rebel seed' emerged as a leading figure in the Trotskyist and Pan-Africanist movements. The fusion of insight with command of factual detail sets the new standard by which serious work on C. L. R. James must be judged." — Scott McLemee, editor of C. L. R. James on the "Negro Question"


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Christian Høgsbjerg is a Teaching Fellow in the Department of History at the University of York. He is the editor of a recent edition of C. L. R. James's play Toussaint Louverture: The Story of the Only Successful Slave Revolt in History, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Abbreviations xi

Introduction. Revolutionaries, Artists, and Wicket-Keepers: C. L. R. James's Place in History 1

1. We Lived According to the Tenets of Matthew Arnold: Colonial Victorianism and the Creative Realism of the Young C. L. R. James 17

2. Red Nelson: The English Working Class and the Making of C. L. R. James 38

3. Imperialism Must Be Destroyed: C. L. R. James, Race, and Revolutionary Politics 65

4. The Humbler Type of Cricket Scribe: C. L. R. James on Sport, Culture, and Society 125

5. There Is No Drama Like the Drama of History: The Black Jacobins, Toussaint Louverture, and the Haitian Revolution 158

Conclusion. To Exploit a Larger World to Conquer: C. L. R. James's Intellectual Conquest of Imperial Britain 199

Notes 217

Bibliography 259

Index 283
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5618-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5612-7
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