This is a body of literature of which I was completely ignorant until about 10 years ago. It was never mentioned let alone studied during my literature degree course. But then feminist readings and Marxist literary theories weren’t much in evidence either all those years ago. It wasn’t until I took an Open University literature model ten years ago that the terms post colonial literature and post colonial criticism actually reared their heads.
Until that time it seemed that I had only read one post colonial novel – Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea but over the the years since, and particularly since I started reading novels by writers outside of USA and UK, I’ve read significantly more titles that deal with the issue of problems caused by colonisation and imperialism. Of them, the ones that stand out are Petals of Blood by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o which is a remarkable passionate story about the aftermath of independence from colonial rule in Kenya and The Siege of Krishnapur by J G Farrell in which a British colonial outpost in India comes under attack from natives.
I think I relate more to the literature which looks at the experience of colonised peoples than to the academics whose work examines literature from a point of view of how reflects the attitudes of the colonisers and the colonised. Some of their perspectives of classic works do provide food for thought but you have to penetrate through layers of dense writing to get to the insights. My worst experience has to be reading an essay on Jane Eyre by Gayatri Spivak who maintained that Bronte’s novel was an example of “an unquestioned ideology of imperialism” and proceeded to make a complex argument that Bertha had to be positioned as the ‘oppressed other’ so that Jane could be positioned as the heroine of feminist individualism. If you ever come across an essay or article by Spivak be warned – she will cause you to think very differently about some books that you thought you understood well but, it will take you many strong cups of coffee or a glasses of wine to understand her convoluted language.