“Little Brown Girl” in a “White, White City”: Una Marson and London

Anna Snaith, King’s College, London
Vol. 27, No. 1 (Spring 2008), 93-114

This essay treats the black Jamaican poet, dramatist, broadcaster, journalist, and activist Una Marson, as part of a more general reconsideration of the role of colonial intellectuals in modernist London. The article places her involvement in the cultural politics of 1930s and 1940s London in the context of pan-Africanism, colonial nationalism, and a shifting empire. More specifically the paper addresses her work for the League of Coloured Peoples and the Gold Coast delegation in 1934; her involvement with the Italo-Ethiopian war and her work with Haile Selassie; and her position at the BBC participating in George Orwell’s radio magazine, “Voice,” and then as the founder of “Caribbean Voices.” Her literary output—two of her plays, London Calling (1937) and Pocomania (1938), and selected poems—are read as arising out of these experiences in complex and uneven ways. Marson’s experience in the metropolis took her to the heart of institutions and organizations that upheld notions of Englishness, but it also offered her spaces for protest and facilitated her anti-imperialism and her feminism. As, arguably, the first black, British feminist, her constant attention to the gender politics of empire offers a new perspective on accounts of pan-Africanism and diasporic Caribbean writing prior to the World War II.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]