Empire of Neglect

The West Indies in the Wake of British Liberalism

Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: Published: May 2018

Caribbean Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

Following the publication of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, nineteenth-century liberal economic thinkers insisted that a globally hegemonic Britain would profit only by abandoning the formal empire. British West Indians across the divides of race and class understood that, far from signaling an invitation to nationalist independence, this liberal economic discourse inaugurated a policy of imperial “neglect”—a way of ignoring the ties that obligated Britain to sustain the worlds of the empire’s distant fellow subjects. In Empire of Neglect Christopher Taylor examines this neglect’s cultural and literary ramifications, tracing how nineteenth-century British West Indians reoriented their affective, cultural, and political worlds toward the Americas as a response to the liberalization of the British Empire. Analyzing a wide array of sources, from plantation correspondence, political economy treatises, and novels to newspapers, socialist programs, and memoirs, Taylor shows how the Americas came to serve as a real and figurative site at which abandoned West Indians sought to imagine and invent postliberal forms of political subjecthood.


"Dexterously brings together a range of long-neglected texts and voices. . . . Empire of Neglect fruitfully adds to critical conversations about shifts in late coloniality in the long nineteenth century and will interest Americanists working in a variety of period subfields." — Duncan Faherty, American Literary History

"In Empire of Neglect, Christopher Taylor presents a compelling argument that free trade undermined not only the commercial protections the colonists expected but also the social contracts they felt they were owed. . . . Recommended. Graduate students, researchers, faculty." — W.T. Martin, Choice

"A brilliantly conceived and beautifully executed study. . . . Simply put, Empire of Neglect is a field-making book. Because it sets itself so resolutely against not only the methodological protocols, but even the typical discursive structures of work explicitly or tacitly aligned with economic liberalism, it is by no means an easy or accessible read. Rather, it insists upon the dissonance that comes with questioning the basic premises of existing Americanist and Victorianist understandings of the Atlantic and the Hemispheric discursive frames. But for that reason, this remarkable piece of scholarship rewards careful reading and rereading, and promises to gradually but inexorably shape all that comes after it." — Martha Schoolman, Review 19

"This startling work is the first study to examine the institutional effects of West Indian emancipation, which it does in systematic, insightful, and original ways. Christopher Taylor makes it impossible to think of nineteenth-century literature and culture by and about British West Indians as separate from its entanglement with the free trade policies predicated on West Indian neglect and abandonment. Empire of Neglect will be of enduring relevance and importance." — Sean X. Goudie, author of Creole America: The West Indies and the Formation of Literature and Culture in the New Republic

Empire of Neglect is a searching inquiry into one of the central paradoxes of British slave emancipation in the West Indies, namely, that the arrival of the seeming boon of liberal freedom was actively shaped by an imperial policy of racial disavowal and free market indifference. In its careful attention to the uneven terrain of the late colonial project, Christopher Taylor's book is also a study of how to properly rehistoricize liberalism's often contradictory governing powers. It is a fine achievement of scholarship and imagination.” — David Scott, Columbia University


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Open Access

Fall 2019 Sale
Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Christopher Taylor is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Chicago.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction  1
Part One: Managing Neglect
1. The Political Economy of Neglect  33
2. "Them Worthless Ones": Emancipatory Liberalism in Jamaica  72
Interregnum: Between Worlds
3. Imperial Abandonment and Hemispheric Alternatives  107
Part Two: Building New Worlds
4. Uncle Bolívar's Children  147
5. "A Purely 'Mercial Transaction"  187
Coda. Americas That Were and Americas to Come  229
Notes  239
Bibliography  275
Index  301
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-7115-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-7104-5
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