Writing of home, from a distance

The Politics of Home
May 28, 1999

From Homer to Derek Walcott, home has been a recurring concept in western literature's preoccupation with dislocation and exile. Even unconventional postmodernist writers such as Wilson Harris have found Odyssean voyages attractive, locating "home" as landing in a safe harbour, where "the beggar is king". In The Politics of Home , Rosemary Marangoly George interrogates the treatments given by various writers to this preoccupation. "Home," she writes, is "the very antithesis of travel." This is a highly theoretical book based on a considerable volume of reading with a selection of authors writing in English over the past 100 years who examine these issues of home, relocation, migration and post-colonialism. What gives value to George's analysis is her interest in these not merely as themes, but as theory, curiously using notions of where home is as a way of locating, if not defining, post-colonial literature.

George reads "all fiction in terms of home sickness" offering the explanation that the being of post-colonial literature depends on the writers' concept of home. This is "a way of establishing the difference" between English literature and post-colonial literature in English. She claims such literature has developed this century according to the (re)locations of home and the "notion of belonging" among English-born writers in the empire and among third-world writers in England. The challenges, reactions and resistance to the establishment have helped to form post-colonial literature.

This might not sound like a particularly startling revelation but its freshness lies in George's basic thesis about the writers' concept of home. Her theoretical definitions get good support from Homi Bhabha's idea of novels of immigration. He sees post-colonial space as supplementary to the metropolitan centre. In grappling with theory, The Politics of Home proceeds with generosity and thoroughness, but there are points at which these virtues begin to produce diminishing returns. Terms such as "colonial", "Commonwealth" and "third world" literature are discarded as being as outdated as "English literature". They are all literature in English, George suggests, best seen as "global English". This is difficult to accept considering the distinctly different regional varieties and the several varying ideas of home she discusses.

Another dimension is George's feminist reading of a wide range of literature by women, especially Anglo-Indian writing. She argues that the value of their labour in empire building has been unrecognised. The argument is commonplace but she makes the more interesting exploration of a close parallel between the women's role in public life and the critical place of the novel in nation building.

George's chapter on Conrad generates a bit more excitement. She regards Naipaul and Conrad as articulators of "masculine failure" and discusses what she sees as terrifying feminine spaces at the heart of their texts. Conrad, a writer of masculine colonial romances about failed men, is not only an early modernist or postmodernist, but also an early postcolonialist preoccupied with the Other. He reverses the common notion of "the horror" of the jungle into the real horror of European life.

The Politics of Home offers sound interrogation of strong theorists and writers such as Eagleton, Jameson and Rushdie, and is of value to those interested in literary criticism. There is much bewilderment surrounding the expanding field and many critics have wandered in and around postmodernism, post-colonialism and feminism, often without giving much help to lost students. But as a theorist who strives to answer the question of what post-colonialism is, George comes very close to home.

Al Creighton was a visiting fellow, Centre for Caribbean Studies, Warwick University.

The Politics of Home: Post-colonial Relocations in 20th-Century Fiction

Author - Rosemary Marangoly George
ISBN - 0 521 45950 8
Publisher - Cambridge University Press
Price - £32.50
Pages - 265

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