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The Shadowed Country

The Shadowed Country: Claude McKay and the Romance of the Victorians

Josh Gosciak
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    The Shadowed Country
    Book Description:

    In this unique and revealing examination of the life and works of this complex poet, novelist, journalist, and short story writer, Josh Gosciak sheds light on McKay's significant literary contributions beyond his interactions with Harlem Renaissance artists and writers. Trained as an English Romanticist and possessing a fine eye for literary detail, McKay crafted a verse out of hybridity and diaspora. Gosciak shows how he reinvigorated a modern pastoral through his encounters with some of the major aesthetic and political movements of the late Victorian and early modern periods: Fabianism, internationalism, pacifism, decadence, horticulture, the Arts and Crafts movement, and the vernacular.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4972-9
    Subjects: Sociology, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Chapter 1 A Poet in the Country
    (pp. 3-22)

    This work looks at the amazing times in the life of the poet Claude McKay, one of the important voices to come out of the Harlem Renaissance. I refract that voice, however, through some of the dominant discourses in the late Victorian and early modern periods, such as internationalism, pacifism, the Arts and Crafts movement, decadence, Fabian socialism, and sexual rebellion, to reach an interpretation of McKay as a modern English poet.

    The life of this author begins in the serene Jamaican hillside, where he grew up reading Shakespeare, Dickens, and mid-nineteenth-century popular romances and science books while apprenticing as...

  5. Chapter 2 The Muddle of Empire
    (pp. 23-45)

    As an intellectual of the African diaspora who touched upon and reinvigorated the cultures of America, England, Europe, and the Caribbean, Claude McKay had no desire to “write about Africa in its pure state.” He was a realist, as Carl Cowl, his literary agent, later explained, who lacked “the concerns of those who believe that every loose narrative thread must be neatly tied up in the end.”¹ He also did not share with other Europeans the utopian illusion about the perfect society anywhere—in the wilds or in one’s imagination. “I don’t believe that any such place exists,” McKay admitted,...

  6. Chapter 3 For the Love of “de Red Seam”
    (pp. 46-71)

    After living in Jamaica for some twenty years, childhood images of England as home still had an unshakable hold on Walter Jekyll, McKay’s Jamaican mentor, and on his sense of a Jamaican aesthetic. In fact, the island paradise was perceived with the same fervor by expatriates and romantics alike—the upper-class gentry such as Jekyll who had become alienated from English society, as well as colonial administrators such as Sydney Olivier who sought to ply their socialistic ideas. David Cannadine, inOrientalism: How the British Saw Their Empire, explains this in terms of a nostalgia for the idyllic. For these...

  7. Chapter 4 A Garden for All Reasons
    (pp. 72-98)

    In 1904, while Walter Jekyll was still researching his annancy tales, his sister Gertrude Jekyll publishedOld West Surrey: Some Notes and Memories. It was a chronicle of the pastoral world of West Surrey, a tiny hamlet on the outskirts of London. The book made note of English cottage gardening, a “precious heritage” that was threatened in the early modernist period of the twentieth century. “It is sad to think,” Gertrude Jekyll remarked, “that, within a few years, death will have claimed the few yet living of the old people who retain the speech and manner of the earlier part...

  8. Chapter 5 The Voyage In
    (pp. 99-123)

    Mckay waited until January 1920 before he sent a “letter of introduction” to C. K. Ogden, a Cambridge linguist, bibliophile, and editor, from the pacifist Walter Fuller, whom he met in America.¹ An English poet and the lover of Crystal Eastman, herself a pacifist, Fuller wanted McKay—who had been working as a reporter and editor for Sylvia Pankhurst’sWorkers’ Dreadnoughtin London’s gritty East End—to see, hear, and taste therealpower of England, and what better person, he surmised, than a contemporary, close in age and equal in rebellion?² It was Fuller’s letter that planted the seed...

  9. Chapter 6 Crossing the Shadow-Line
    (pp. 124-138)

    There seems to have been smoldering resentment from New York publishers and editors when McKay returned from London, in January 1921, with a chapbook of verse written in “literary English.” Which will it be, we hear the poet ask in the syncopated offbeat of his verse, New York or London? In that intellectually rich encounter with “Old England,” however, McKay finally bids farewell to the “menial task” of subsistence jobs, misunderstandings, and misidentifications, and steams off to his “longed-for port” of endearing truth and beauty, alone and against strong currents. From “Rest in Peace”:

    No more for you the city’s...

  10. Chapter 7 Postscript: 1848–1919
    (pp. 139-142)

    The baffling thing about internationalism is how vast it was in its reach and how anti-ideological in its insurgency, yet how unacknowledged it is today. Uniquely, as a fin-de-siècle movement, it synthesized traditions in the nineteenth century, such as abolition and suffrage, with newer ones in the twentieth, horticulture or pacifism, moving out into the colonies, as well as into the metropolis. This groundswell of activity, from the late Victorian era to the end of World War I, converged for the poet Claude McKay and others under a crimson banner of internationalism and pacifism—to ride out the turbulence of...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 143-188)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 189-198)
  13. Index
    (pp. 199-205)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 206-206)