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Harold Bloom (ed.), Caribbean Women Writers. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 1997. 163 pages. hc.

The voices of Caribbean women are no longer silent. This seems to be the testament of Caribbean Women Writers edited by Harold Bloom. Bloom has collected an extensive and diverse array of criticism from literary figures that span different continents and different movements: feminists, post-colonialists, post-modernists, Caribbeanists, Africanists, etc., male and female. It is no longer the women telling their story, as in a few recent works, but the certainty that their story has been heard and is worthy of discussion. The collection includes reviews from The Caribbean Writer, from University of the Virgin Islands faculty Dr. Roberta Q. Knowles and Dr. Erika J. Waters. Extracts of Dr. Waters's publications from three other journals are also quoted.

Yet, despite this impressive array of criticism that Bloom has collected, he himself seems to be attempting his own brand of silencing of those Caribbean female voices. His initial claim, that there is general critical consent that the principal women writers in English from the Caribbean are Jamaica Kincaid, Paule Marshall, and Jean Rhys, is arguable at best. He then proceeds to damn with faint praise the work of Kincaid, conceding that while her ideology may be "explicitly subversive of all Caribbean neocolonialism," her stance as a literary artist, with respect to form and style, is only an extension of an already "complex and multiform. . .literary tradition." He is even less complimentary of Marshall, seeing her work as having value only for the purposes of literary history. Is he attempting to put Caribbean women on the same plane as black women authors in the United States? And finding them wanting? Or is he placing them some place else? His undisguised regard for the work of Rhys is interesting, especially since the themes in the work of Rhys, as a Creole who lived mostly in Paris and England, are more in common with those of British writers and are not as representative of themes in the works of most other Caribbean women writers.

The questions raised by Bloom in his introduction to the series, Women Writers of English and Their Works, in which this volume is placed, are perhaps even more troubling. Is the admittedly dinosaurian patriarchal critic attempting to delimit the contributions of Caribbean women writers by locating them within his own challenge of the feminist literary tradition? Is he arguing for their inclusion into the Western cannon? Is his use of the biographical criticism form an attempt to limit the contribution of these writers by giving more credit to geography and gender than to aesthetic value?

Bloom frames this discussion in a way that suggests that he has not paid strict enough attention to the role and contributions of the Caribbean woman writer. There seems a need for an initial or pre- discussion of Caribbean women writers in the literary tradition. How is the Caribbean woman's text defined in and through the discussions of a range of critics?

Nonetheless, by pulling together criticisms that have already appeared in peer reviewed journals and other texts, Bloom has achieved a collection of literary criticism, biography and bibliography that should greatly facilitate further research and discussion of the Caribbean woman writer.

Jennifer Jackson

Copyright ©  Harold Bloom

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The Caribbean Writer publishes its Volume 27 issue, dedicated to highlighting music and visual arts

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