Rum Histories: Decolonizing the Narratives of Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea and Sylvia Townsend Warner’s The Flint Anchor

Jennifer P. Nesbitt, Penn State York
Vol. 26, No. 2 (Fall 2007), 309-330

This essay argues that rum is a crucial component in materializing feminist and postcolonial analyses of race and gender in literary texts. As international commodity, as addictive substance, as signifier and trigger of moral corruption, rum instantiates the economic imperatives driving the depiction of white women as both victims and implicated beneficiaries of an imperialist economy with plantation slave labor at its core. Focusing on two women’s novels set in the West Indies shortly after emancipation and written during the turbulent post-World War II era of decolonization, the essay examines rum’s function as a metonym of imperial domination and an instrument of white, male entitlement. Facilitating both Antoinette’s spiral into madness in Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea and Julia Barnard’s slip toward alcoholism in Sylvia Townsend Warner’s The Flint Anchor, rum both reinforces stereotypes of female corruption and stands for the broader moral degradation that Britain suffered from its oppression of distant others. Simultaneously, however, rum leaves traces of an alternate set of material relationships forged among oppressed groups, a counterplot to the grand narrative of imperial oppression articulated in the main plot.

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]