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 We have seen how English language has spread across the
world through such factors as migration and the educational
policies of different countries. This spread has inevitable
economic, political and social implication. Accompanying the
language is an English literature which has acquired different
accents and cultural flavors in different parts of the world.
 This unit looks at these various English literary canons which
also carry political, economic, social and personal ramifications
for the people of the countries where they have established
 Here, I explore what happens when literary texts, novels, plays
and poems, in the English language, travel to and from nonAnglophone countries. I consider the body of literary works by
writers in English from non-English dominant countries.
 Such literary works are a consequence of the global spread of
the English language that accompanied the British Empire in
the nineteenth century and the American Empire in the
twentieth and twenty-first century.
 We discover that the economic, political and military conflicts
that characterize the colonial and postcolonial histories of the
British and American empires extend to the literatures and
literary debates of former colonies.
 Main learning points include:
 The relationship between literary canons and ideas of national
 The historical, social and political motivations that lie behind
the development of English literary canons in British colonies.
 The significant developments that have occurred in the nature
of the canons in the countries of the old British Empire during
the post-colonial period.
 Some reasons authors are motivated to write in the language of
the ex-colonial power.
 An understanding of the term “world canons”.
 To think about as you read chapter 5:
 Consider the following points:
 The extent to which the concept of the canon, and especially
the English literary canon, has promoted as a moral guide.
 The degree to which English literature has been a threat to
indigenous literatures.
 The various visions presented of future literary canons.
 Models of the national literary canon:
 The concept of the literary canon has a long history, and I start
by examining how it emerged in Europe in the eighteenth
century, was consolidated in the nineteenth century, and
continues to influence how we think about literature in the
twenty-first century.
 What is English Literature?
 The answer to this deceptively simple question lies not in
England, but in eighteenth-century Germany, where an
influential generation of philosophers insisted on the
connection between the rise of modern nation states, national
languages and national literatures.
 That now common phrase, English literature, is itself part of
a crucial development. English literature appears to have
followed these …. The sense of a nation having a literature
is a crucial social and cultural, probably also political,
 All the literatures of Europe’s nations were organized largely
along national lines, and in the nineteenth century, the
process was consolidated with the publication of further
national literary histories.
 The eighteenth-century invention of national literatures and their
nineteenth-century consolidation continues to exert a powerful
influence today. The first activity in this chapter invites you to think
about whether we have moved beyond the habit of thinking about
literary works in terms of their nationality.
 How do we decide which writers or literary texts should be included
under the definition of English literature? The writers who are
included constitute what we term the canon of English literature or
the English literary canon, and my list above headed by Shakespeare
might serve as a convenient shorthand for the English literary canon
is the product of a lengthy and contested historical process.
 The canonization of Shakespeare:
 The conventional wisdom is that Shakespeare’s plays and poetry
have always enjoyed universal acclaim. However, a more careful
look at the history of Shakespeare’s journey to the summit of the
English literary canon suggests a more complicated and
contradictory picture.
 Three stages in Shakespeare’s rise can be identified.
 Stage one: successful playwright:
 During his own lifetime (1564-1616), Shakespeare enjoyed
popularity as a playwright, but after his death, and especially in
the final third of the seventeenth century, his reputation declined.
 By the end of the seventeenth century, Shakespeare was regarded
as one of a number of talented English playwrights, and he
contributed as one-among-many to English theatre companies’
 Stage two: national playwright:
 The eighteenth century saw a rise in Shakespeare’s reputation and
by about 1750, he was established as the National Playwright.
Two contexts were especially important in establishing
Shakespeare’s pre-eminence, namely the theatres, and the literary
magazines and newspapers reviewing his plays.
 Theatre audiences expanded rapidly in the eighteenth
century, as the number and size of the theatres increased. The
link between nation and literature was especially strong in the
theatres in moments of political crisis.
 As in the theatres, so too in the reviews, a strong sense of
national pride is evident. Shakespeare was at least the equal
of – if not better than –the classical Greek and Roman writers.
 Shakespeare could even serve as a secular religion, as Murphy
explained in 1753: with us islanders, Shakespeare is a kind of
establish’d religion in Poetry’.
 Monuments to Shakespeare were erected in places of national
importance, and Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford-uponAvon, became a site of secular pilgrimage after 1769. By the
end of the eighteenth century, Shakespeare had become
England’s greatest literary asset, a source of unqualified
national pride.
 Stage three: Universal Genius:
 Shakespeare’s
stature was enhanced even further by
developments in late eighteenth-century
 The establishment view was that only the literature of
antiquity, and particularly Homer and Virgil, deserved the
title of Universal Literature. The German Romantics attacked
this view, and pressed the claims of modern literature, with
Shakespeare thrust forward as the most persuasive example of
a modern writer worthy of the title Universal Genius. That
Shakespeare wrote in the English language was on barrier to
these young German critics recruiting him in their battle
against literary-critical orthodoxy.
 English Romantic poets and critics like Samuel Taylor happily
accepted German applause for Shakespeare, and popularized
his ascension to the status of Universal Genius.
 The English literary canon and colonialism:
 Having examined the emergence of the English literary canon in
Britain itself, we turn now to two episodes in the journeys of
English literature to non-Anglophone nations under Britain’s
colonial empire. The first is in India in the nineteenth century,
and the second is in Africa in the twentieth century.
 Nineteenth-century India:
 To analyze the travels of the English literary canon to non-
Anglophone contexts requires both an appreciation of the
affective power of literature, and an understanding of the social,
political and educational mission of English literature beyond
Britain’s borders. British rule in India under Hastings, from 1774
to 1785, was guided by an official policy known as Orientalism.
 In the words of one cultural historian, the goal of Orientalism
was “to train British administrators and civil servants to fit into
the culture of the ruled and to assimilate them thoroughly into
the native way of life.”
 However, the policy of Orientalism was challenged and
gradually superseded by the alternative policy of Anglicism.
Anglicism reacted against Orientalism by advocating
Western culture at the expense of Eastern culture.
Specifically, this meant that English literature was to be
promoted over Indian literatures, a policy the Anglicists
justified on two grounds. First, they argued that English
literature was simply better than Indian literature.
 The second reason Britain’s colonial administrators promoted
English above Indian literature was to do with their need to
educate and recruit Indians to serve in the lower reaches of
the colonial bureaucracy.
 The British were unable to introduce the same Christianbased education package that served the purpose of
educating junior bureaucrats in Britain because of the
unshakeable hold of Hinduism.
 As an alternative, they introduced instead the teaching of
English literature as a substitute for Bible-based instruction.
 The vernacular dialects of India will be united among
themselves. This diversity among languages is one of the greatest
living obstacles to improvement in India. But when English shall
everywhere be established as the language of education, when
the vernacular literature shall everywhere be formed from
materials drawn from this source a strong tendency to
assimilation will be created. Both the matter and the manner will
be the same.
 Trevelyan argues that before the coming of the British to India,
India was frustrated by its many competing languages and
literatures. Trevelyan solution? Establish the English language
and English literature as the source, models and the prototype
for the Indian education system. The consequences of pursuing
this policy will be positive, with the diverse Indian languages and
literatures united, assimilated and consolidated.
 As we will return to these debates, it is useful to be clear
about the stages in Trevelyan’s argument: (1) a negative
characterization of Indian linguistic and literary diversity
before British rule; (2) positive claims for the progressive
effects of the English language and literature; and (3) a
narrative of progress which insists on a journey from
Oriental backwardness to Western modernity.
 Notwithstanding their differences over language policy, the
Orientalists and the Anglicits shared the same ambition: to
recruit literate clerks and minor officials to administer the
colonial civil service.
 Satisfied that the Indian experiment was a success, British
educators from the 1850s onwards also introduced English
literature as an examination subject in Britain for
candidates seeking entry into the civil service and the
 Twentieth-century Africa:
 Education policy in Britain’s African colonies had proceeded up
until the 1920s in laissez-faire fashion, with missioners
entrusted with the responsibility for education. However, the
increasing demands of the expanding colonial economics, and
the perceived failures of the existing education system to meet
those demands, led to new initiatives.
 The educational policy makers in the 1920s committed
themselves to greater investment in African education in
pursuance of the following guiding principles: education
should take into account the needs of Africans; vocational and
industrial education should only be superseded at secondary
level by English; religious and moral instruction should be at
the centre of the curriculum; girls should have the same access
to schooling as boys; and finally, a literary education should
always be available to the minority who are required to fill
posts in the administrative and technical services as well as.
Activity 5.4:
In a similar spirit to the nineteenth-century British colonial
officials in India, like Trevelyan, who promoted the English
language and English literature, so too in Africa a century later,
another generation of officials made plans for educating
Mayhew registers that the necessary economic conditions must
obtain before cultural advancement can take place. He notes
that the existing education system for Africans is based on
teaching them the English language and English literature and
culture. He acknowledges that this system of education has not
been entirely successful: indigenous African culture has been
neglected, and school-educated Africans have been distanced
from “local and racial life”. He recognizes further that “local
languages and literatures” are important, but that they have to
date been subordinated within the curriculum to the teaching
of the English language and literature.
 Let us tease out in a little more detail a couple of Mayhew’s
assumptions. First, he assumes that the English language and
literature are superior to primitive African languages and
literatures. Second, Mayhew appears to treat the question of
colonial education policy as one of strategy rather than of
 Trevelyan and Mayhew are similar in their assumptions of British
cultural superiority over Indians and Africans respectively, and
their convictions that a British education will inevitably lead
them to progress and advancement. Based simply on the
evidence of these two passages, Mayhew differs from Trevelyan
in certain respects. First, he is more willing than Trevelyan to
acknowledge the economic motives which underwrite British
colonial education policies. Second, he is more willing than
Trevelyan, as he recognizes the potential limitations of an
exclusively Anglophone education model for Africans, and
contemplates including elements of African languages and
literatures in the curriculum.
 The English literary canon and postcolonialism:
 The military, political and economic anti-colonial struggles were
accompanied by cultural resistance to British rule, and in the
immediate aftermath of independence, there were efforts to
replace the English literary canons based on local writers and
their work. Three case studies illustrate the different
arguments which have dictated the constitution of postcolonial
literary canons in India, Kenya and South Africa.
 Postcolonial India:
 Trevelyan’s and Macaulay’s plans for introducing an English
education in India did not succeed in producing a docile proBritish Indian workforce to help run the colony. Instead, in the
years to follow, there were successive waves of resistance to
British rule, from the British-Sikh and the Great Indian
Rebellion to the Quit India movement from 1942 through strikes,
demonstrations and mass protests, to expel the British from
 Under colonialism, English was the language of the
colonialist. It was introduced into the education system in
order to create a babu class; that is, a class of Englishspeaking civil servants who would serve the British colonial
administration in India.
 Accordingly, in postcolonial India, nationalists no longer
argue for the removal of English from the education system or
other forums of official, commercial or technological use.
English is used by a small percentage of the population, and is
characteristically the second language of the educated elite.
 Postcolonial Kenya:
 Like Trevelyan’s plans, Mayhew’s education model for
Africans failed to produce an obedient pro-British workforce,
and in the 1940s and 1950s, resistance to colonial rule
gathered momentum across the continent. What did
literature have to do with Kenya’s colonial and anti-colonial
 Literature was integral to the confrontation between the
British colonizer and the Kenyan colonized. The
consequences of such an education were that African children
who encountered English literature in colonial schools and
universities were thus experiencing the world as defined and
reflected in the European experience of history, such an
education in the English literary canon therefore functioned
as the cultural complement of Britain’s political and economic
domination of Kenyan society, and helped to create an
African elite loyal to their British masters.
 The economic control of the African people was effected
through politics and culture. Economic and political control
of a people can never be complete without cultural control.
 The streams of Western literatures would be included within
a Kenyan university literary education, but only as one among
many literatures.
 Of particular importance in forging a postcolonial Kenyan
literary education is the inclusion of the African oral tradition
to supplement modern African literature. By transforming the
Kenyan literary education along these lines, Kenyans will
acquire a better knowledge of themselves, they will appreciate
their own literature in its appropriate context, and they will
remain connected with their pre-colonial roots.
 Postcolonial/post-apartheid South Africa:
 There are at least three complications to note at the outset in
introducing the South African case study. Dating South
Africa’s transition to a postcolonial society is complicated by
its relatively large white settler population. In One sense,
South Africa ceased to be a colony of Britain either in 1910
when it was declared the Union of South Africa, or in 1961
when it left the British Commonwealth to become the
Republic of South Africa.
 In the Second sense, South Africa therefore only became
postcolonial in 1994 with the first free elections after the end
of apartheid. A second complications that English was not the
only European language imposed in South Africa: the
majority of white South Africans speak Afrikaans (derived
from Dutch, but also influenced by French, German,
indigenous and slave languages). Third, like India and Kenya,
South Africa has numerous language groups and literatures
within its boarders, and arguments about the bond between
Nation-language-Literature, must therefore be re-thought to
accommodate such complexity.
 The search for alternatives to the English literary canon began
in the late nineteenth century, a certain scholars turned their
attention to literatures in African languages, including oral
literatures. A number of books and articles on Africanlanguage folklore and proverbs appeared, accompanied by
reviews in newspapers of new works by African writers.
 Further impetus towards developing a South African
literature independent of Afrikaans or English linguistic and
literary models was provided in the 1970 by the Black
Consciousness Movement. The leading theorist of this
movement is Steve Biko who emphasized the need to reserve
European cultural imperialism and proclaim African culture.
He affirmed the need for a “culture of defiance, self-assertion
and group pride and solidarity.
 With the release of Nelson Mandela and other political
prisoners in 1990, and the first free elections in 1994, debates
about constructing a new literature to serve the new nation
intensified. The rhetoric of these debates was not always
matched by actual changes in the teaching of literature in
South Africa.
 The shackles of the British colonial domination of South
Africa’s literary landscape should be broken, and a literary
canon rooted in South African writing constructed.
 A second appealing aspect of Lindfors’s dream of rainbow
literature is that the history of literature in South Africa has
compartmentalization and conflict.
 What the post-apartheid political dispensation offers is the
opportunity to imagine a national literary canon that
represents the literatures of all the nation’s racial and
linguistic communities.
 The future of the literary canons?
 The concerns expressed about the exclusions inscribed in
the South African national literary canon have also been
expressed in relation to the literary canons of other
nations. One important response in recent years has been
to search for ways of configuring literary canons other than
in relation to the nation and national languages
 In the United States, the most powerful alternative
proposed to the national literary canon has been the
concept of a canon of “world literature”.
 The positive conclusion one might draw from these
developments is that the Eurocentric canon of world
literature has been dismantled.
 Damrosch (an American literary critic) argues that
whereas there used to be a two-tier model of organizing
literature into major and minor authors, there are now
three tiers: a hypercanon (made up of the major
writers); a countercanon (made up of writers from nonWestern nations outside the literatures of the greatpower languages); and a shadow canon (made up of the
former minor authors, who have faded from
 Damrosch’s judgment on the fate of literary canons
will certainly not be the last word on the subject.
Viewed in historical perspective, the most striking
aspect is the variety of ways in which literary canons
have been constructed and understood: from the
exclusionary national literary canons of Europe in the
eighteenth century to the anti-colonial literary canons
of the postcolonial period, and to the “postcolonial”
contemporary US universities.
 In all these different contexts, literature written in
English has provoked conflicting opinions, and it
continues to be at the heart of such critical debates.