'We Lived According to the Tenets of Matthew Arnold’: Reflections on the ‘colonial Victorianism’ of the young C.L.R. James

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Abstract

The late Trinidadian intellectual and activist C. L. R. James made a profound contribution to, among other things, the shaping of modern multicultural, ‘post-colonial’ Britain. This essay explores some of the complexities of James’s early ingrained identification with ‘imperial Britishness’ while growing to intellectual maturity as a black colonial subject. In particular, it examines in detail the influence of the Victorian cultural theorist Matthew Arnold on the young James, and his circle of implicitly anti-colonial writers who formed around independent journals such as The Beacon. James’s sincere attempt to live by the ideals of liberal humanism exposed the hypocrisy at the dark heart of colonial rule, and he developed Arnold’s method of understanding metropolitan British society to analyse society in the Caribbean. James’s admiration for such ‘Victorian critics of Victorianism’, and the complex ways in which he imitated, transformed, and reinvented the liberal humanism of Arnold in the context of inter-war colonial Trinidad deserve more critical attention from historians than it has yet received in the growing literature of scholarship on James and the project of ‘intellectual decolonisation’ in general.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)201-223
JournalTwentieth Century British History
Volume24
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Keywords

  • C.L.R. James
  • Matthew Arnold
  • British Empire
  • Caribbean
  • Victorian period
  • Colonialism
  • Trinidad and Tobago

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