Between the Bocas

BookBetween the Bocas

Between the Bocas

A Literary Geography of Western Trinidad

American Tropics: Towards a Literary Geography, 5


July 19th, 2017



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Situated opposite the mouth of the Orinoco River, western Trinidad has long been considered an entrepôt to mainland South America. Trinidad’s geographic position—seen as strategic by various imperial governments—led to many heterogeneous peoples from across the region and globe settling or being relocated there. The calm waters around the Gulf of Paria on the western fringes of Trinidad induced settlers to construct a harbour, Port of Spain, around which the modern capital has been formed. From its colonial roots into the postcolonial era, western Trinidad therefore has played an especial part in the shaping of the island’s literature. Viewed from one perspective, western Trinidad might be deemed as narrating the heart of the modern state’s national literature. Alternatively, the political threats posed around San Fernando in Trinidad’s southwest in the 1930s and from within the capital in the 1970s present a different picture of western Trinidad—one in which the fractures of Trinidad and Tobago’s projected nationalism are prevalent.
While sugar remains a dominant narrative in Caribbean literary studies, this book offers a unique literary perspective on matters too often perceived as the sole preserve of sociological, anthropological or geographical studies. The legacy of the oil industry and the development of the suburban commuter belt of East-West Corridor, therefore, form considerable discursive nodes, alongside other key Trinidadian sites, such as Woodford Square, colonial houses and the urban yards of Port of Spain. This study places works by well-known authors such as V. S. Naipaul and Samuel Selvon, alongside writing by Michel Maxwell Philip, Marcella Fanny Wilkins, E. L. Joseph, Earl Lovelace, Ismith Khan, Monique Roffey, Arthur Calder-Marshall and the largely neglected novelist, Yseult Bridges, who is almost entirely forgotten today. Using fiction, calypso, history, memoir, legal accounts, poetry, essays and journalism, this study opens with an analysis of Trinidad’s nineteenth century literature and offers twentieth century and more contemporary readings of the island in successive chapters. Chapters are roughly arranged in chronological order around particular sites and topoi, while literature from a variety of authors of British, Caribbean, Irish and Jewish descent is represented.

Author Information

Jak Peake is a Fulbright scholar and lecturer in American literature in the Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies at the University of Essex. He was a member of the American Tropics research project based at Essex and funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
A Geographic Reading of Trinidad’s West13
Tracing a Caribbean Literary Past and the Role of the Local19
Decoupling the Literary Map from the Modern State27
Beyond Sugar: Remapping Trinidad’s Literary History36
Traversing Trinidad’s Wild West (1783–1907)47
Charting the Terrain: Three Maps47
Mapping the Conquest and the Myth of Terra Cognita49
Uncultivated Lands and Wild Frontiers54
Conquistadors of Sense and Sensibilities69
The Wandering, Innocent Eye/I in the Tropical Picturesque75
Pirates, Revolution and Creole Consciousness88
Peeping Through the Partition (1927–1936)111
Modernist Visions, Porous Barrack-Yard Boundaries111
Privacy, Private Property and Rent125
The Gynocentric Yard128
Dangerous Transgressions134
Resisting Patriarchy and Colonialism140
Dark Thresholds in the Colonial House (1934)150
Setting Boundaries, Crossing Borders150
Policing the Perimeter157
Playing House in the Community173
Challenge from the South (1935–1945)183
Oil, Possession, Labour and the Yankee Dollar183
The Yankee Dollar215
The Sub-Urban Expansion (1940s–1950s)225
Views of the Port, City and Country225
Waterside Relations: The Port, Saga and Steel Band229
Myths of a City and Country238
From the Grass Roots to Woodford Square (1962–2010)260
Community, Nationhood and the Politics of Location260
From the University of Woodford Square to the People's Parliament269