That there is a substantial fiction from the West Indies and that a relatively
high proportion of it is of good quality} these are the premises with which this study
began and which it must in part substantiate. But there are problems to be coped
with. The lack of basic information about writers, works and periods; and the
absence of a West Indian critical tradition are more acutely felt because most West
Indian writers live in London and have their works published and read in England.
This circumstance encourages the documentary tendency already noted to the extent
that the novels become primary evidence for theories about West Indian society.
Meanwhile, the fiction is not felt in the West Indies as part of the social and
cultural life of the islands.
This study tries to deal with the whole nexus of problems in a crossdisciplinary fashion. On one level it tries to trace the growth of West Indian
fiction and to illuminate its background, thus placing it in its proper social context
and preparing the way for informed critical appreciation by its largely non-vest
Indian readers. This provides the outer frame for the thesis and determines the
Chapter headings. Chapter II Life without Fiction ranges from the eighteenth century
to the 1940's tracing the growth of writing in the islands in relation to the
development of West Indian society and charting the inevitable drift of the present
generation of novelists to London. In Chapters III, IV and V the critical problems
raised by this exile situation are approached under the broad headings 'Race',
'Language* and 'Society'. Finally in Chapter VI, 'Precursors', a resume of the
continuing significance of older West Indian writers is followed by an account of the
life and career of Claude McKay (1890-1948) the first West Indian Negro novelist and
the first to go into exile, but paradigmatic in even deeper critical senses than
Such is the outer shape of the thesis, ithin the chapters lie seemingly
digressive pockets of literary criticism and literary history. These are important
as part of the informational load. But it is felt that coming alongside the
background elements, they would both engage with problems of art and serve as exercises
in the critical use of background.
Instead of an essay type conclusion, hardly practicable in view of the kind of
argument being pursued, there will be a select list divided into (A) and (B)
categories, of the novels judged to be outstanding as a result of this study.