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Imagining London

Imagining London: Postcolonial Fiction and the Transnational Metropolis

John Clement Ball
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 265
  • Book Info
    Imagining London
    Book Description:

    London was once the hub of an empire on which 'the sun never set.' After the second world war, as Britain withdrew from most of its colonies, the city that once possessed the world began to contain a diasporic world that was increasingly taking possession of it. Drawing on postcolonial theories - as well as interdisciplinary perspectives from cultural geography, urban theory, history, and sociology -Imagining Londonexamines representations of the English metropolis in Canadian, West Indian, South Asian, and second-generation 'black British' novels written in the last half of the twentieth century. It analyzes the diverse ways in which London is experienced and portrayed as a transnational space by Commonwealth expatriates and migrants.

    As the former 'heart of empire' and a contemporary 'world city,' London metonymically represents the British Empire in two distinct ways. In the early years of decolonization, it is a primarily white city that symbolizes imperial power and history. Over time, as migrants from former colonies have 'reinvaded the centre' and changed its demographic and cultural constitution, it has come to represent empire geographically and spatially as a global microcosm. John Clement Ball examines the work of more than twenty writers, including established authors such as Robertson Davies, Mordecai Richler, Jean Rhys, Sam Selvon, V.S. Naipaul, Anita Desai, and Salman Rushdie, and newer voices such as Catherine Bush, David Dabydeen, Amitav Ghosh, Hanif Kureishi, and Zadie Smith.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7601-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. chapter one Introduction: The Key to the Capital
    (pp. 3-40)

    In Arundhati Roy’s novelThe God of Small Things(1997), the ill-fated English girl Sophie Mol arrives in Ayemenem from London with gifts for her Indian cousins. Prominent among them are ‘two ballpoint pens – the top halves filled with water in which a cut-out collage of a London streetscape was suspended. Buckingham Palace and Big Ben. Shops and people. A red double-decker bus propelled by an air bubble floated up and down the silent street’ (253). The reader may go on to imagine that when Rahel or Estha takes one of these pens in hand, ‘London’ will accompany every...

  5. chapter two London North-West: The Broader Borders of Metropolitan Canadianness
    (pp. 41-100)

    In 1965 Northrop Frye made the influential statement that the sensibility informing Canadian literature ‘is less perplexed by the question “Who am I?” than by some such riddle as “Where is here?”’ (222). While Frye’s thematic thumbnail appeared to abandon a question of identity for one of place – turning from psychology to geography – it actually served to link the two, as he and the critics he inspired made clear in their paradigms: ‘the garrison mentality,’ ‘isolation,’ ‘survival.’¹ Frye’s questions are therefore best understood not preferentially but relationally: conflated into something like ‘Who am I (now that I’m) here?’...

  6. chapter three London South-West: Caribbean Fiction and Metropolitan Life
    (pp. 101-173)

    It has become a commonplace of Caribbean literary history to locate the ‘explosion’ of the region’s writing during the 1950s in London. Kenneth Ramchand wrote in 1970 that since most West Indian novels of the previous two decades had been published in the metropolis, and since most of the novelists were living there, ‘London is indisputably the West Indian literary capital’ (West63). More recently, the editors ofThe Routledge Reader in Caribbean Literaturehave identified London as ‘the “literary capital” of the West Indies’ (Donnell and Welsh 206), and Louis James writes in a book published in 1999 that...

  7. chapter four London South-East: Metropolitan (Un)realities in Indian Fiction
    (pp. 174-221)

    In the first chapter ofA Passage to India(1924), the most famous English novel to contemplate the Indian subcontinent, E.M. Forster presents a meticulous depiction of urban social space. He divides his fictitious city of Chandrapore into three geographically and socially distinct zones: a riverside area inhabited by colonized Indians and characterized by rubbish, rot, and visual monotony; high ground near the railway station where the racially in-between Eurasians live; and the more distant heights of the nondescript British civil station, which unlike the city below ‘provokes no emotion’ and ‘has nothing hideous in it.’ The station is quite...

  8. chapter five London Centre: The Familial Urban World of Recent ʻBlack Britishʼ Writing
    (pp. 222-246)

    In her novelTransmission(1992), Atima Srivastava tells the story of a twentysomething Londoner who, like herself, migrated from India as a small girl. Angie is a contemporary woman working in the media and romantically involved with a young white man; despite occasional encounters with racists, she moves about London with the confident ease of the native she almost is. Contrasting the worldly ambitions and urban street smarts of Angie and her wheeler-dealer brother are her unacculturated parents, who irritate her by continuing to behave ‘as if we were not living in a different country, in a different world’; indeed,...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 247-266)
  10. Works Cited
    (pp. 267-282)
  11. Index
    (pp. 283-295)