Empire of Neglect

The West Indies in the Wake of British Liberalism

Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: Published: May 2018

Caribbean Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

Following the publication of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, nineteenth-century liberal economic thinkers insisted that a globally hegemonic Britain would profit only by abandoning the formal empire. British West Indians across the divides of race and class understood that, far from signaling an invitation to nationalist independence, this liberal economic discourse inaugurated a policy of imperial “neglect”—a way of ignoring the ties that obligated Britain to sustain the worlds of the empire’s distant fellow subjects. In Empire of Neglect Christopher Taylor examines this neglect’s cultural and literary ramifications, tracing how nineteenth-century British West Indians reoriented their affective, cultural, and political worlds toward the Americas as a response to the liberalization of the British Empire. Analyzing a wide array of sources, from plantation correspondence, political economy treatises, and novels to newspapers, socialist programs, and memoirs, Taylor shows how the Americas came to serve as a real and figurative site at which abandoned West Indians sought to imagine and invent postliberal forms of political subjecthood.


"Dexterously brings together a range of long-neglected texts and voices. . . . Empire of Neglect fruitfully adds to critical conversations about shifts in late coloniality in the long nineteenth century and will interest Americanists working in a variety of period subfields." — Duncan Faherty, American Literary History

"In Empire of Neglect, Christopher Taylor presents a compelling argument that free trade undermined not only the commercial protections the colonists expected but also the social contracts they felt they were owed. . . . Recommended. Graduate students, researchers, faculty." — W.T. Martin, Choice

"A brilliantly conceived and beautifully executed study. . . . Simply put, Empire of Neglect is a field-making book. Because it sets itself so resolutely against not only the methodological protocols, but even the typical discursive structures of work explicitly or tacitly aligned with economic liberalism, it is by no means an easy or accessible read. Rather, it insists upon the dissonance that comes with questioning the basic premises of existing Americanist and Victorianist understandings of the Atlantic and the Hemispheric discursive frames. But for that reason, this remarkable piece of scholarship rewards careful reading and rereading, and promises to gradually but inexorably shape all that comes after it." — Martha Schoolman, Review 19

"Taylor models a provocative constellation of arguments. Reading with and against empire as the normative horizon of political belonging in the post-emancipation British West Indies, he situates the relative deficit of nationalist sentiment among West Indian writers as testimony to their desire to 'reanimate the empire as a political world.'" — Utathya Chattopadhyaya, Victorian Literature and Culture

"Empire of Neglect is exemplary for the ways it illustrates the worlds of critique and self-fashioning that are opened when we look elsewhere and otherwise." — Adom Getachew, Small Axe

"One of Empire of Neglect’s most compelling interventions is its precise engagement with 'practical enactments' of liberalization’s free market logics, resisting scholarly attempts to 'save . . . liberalism from itself.'" — Petal Samuel, Small Axe

"In strange and positively uncomfortable ways, the marginalized subjects of his archive thus allow Taylor to reconfigure our understanding of empire, colonialism, and the (pre-)national imagination. Empire of Neglect should be high up on the reading lists of those interested in postcolonial theory, histories of liberalism, political economy, and fieldchanging books." — Carolin Benack, American Literature

"In a world dominated by the competitive logic of free trade, what happens to those groups and places whose diminished profitability consigns them to feelings of abandonment and neglect? Christopher Taylor’s Empire of Neglect gives that question a hefty dose of historical depth. ... His book will be of interest not only to specialists but also to anyone who is receptive to a set of sensitive reflections on the price that has been paid by any group or region that loses its centrality because the logic of market capitalism has passed it by." — Theodore Koditschek, Victorian Studies

"This startling work is the first study to examine the institutional effects of West Indian emancipation, which it does in systematic, insightful, and original ways. Christopher Taylor makes it impossible to think of nineteenth-century literature and culture by and about British West Indians as separate from its entanglement with the free trade policies predicated on West Indian neglect and abandonment. Empire of Neglect will be of enduring relevance and importance." — Sean X. Goudie, author of Creole America: The West Indies and the Formation of Literature and Culture in the New Republic

Empire of Neglect is a searching inquiry into one of the central paradoxes of British slave emancipation in the West Indies, namely, that the arrival of the seeming boon of liberal freedom was actively shaped by an imperial policy of racial disavowal and free market indifference. In its careful attention to the uneven terrain of the late colonial project, Christopher Taylor's book is also a study of how to properly rehistoricize liberalism's often contradictory governing powers. It is a fine achievement of scholarship and imagination.” — David Scott, Columbia University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Christopher Taylor is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Chicago.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction  1
Part One: Managing Neglect
1. The Political Economy of Neglect  33
2. "Them Worthless Ones": Emancipatory Liberalism in Jamaica  72
Interregnum: Between Worlds
3. Imperial Abandonment and Hemispheric Alternatives  107
Part Two: Building New Worlds
4. Uncle Bolívar's Children  147
5. "A Purely 'Mercial Transaction"  187
Coda. Americas That Were and Americas to Come  229
Notes  239
Bibliography  275
Index  301
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Winner of the 2019 Lora Romero First Book Publication Prize, presented by the American Studies Association

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-7115-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-7104-5
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