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Herbert’s Career: H. G. de Lisser and the Business of National Literature

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Nationalism and the Formation of Caribbean Literature

Abstract

Between 1913 and 1944, Herbert George de Lisser, a brown Jamaican who left school at the age of fourteen, was the single most powerful man in the world of Jamaican print media, political debate, and national literature. Having begun his career as a writer for the Jamaica Times, de Lisser served as editor of Jamaica’s most influential paper, the Daily Gleaner, from 1904 until his death in 1944. This position gave him a near monopoly on the manufacture of public opinion. His position as secretary of the Jamaica Imperial Association enhanced his political power. As secretary, he acted as a trade ambassador for Jamaican business interests in the United Kingdom.1 His support was critical to politicians; his condemnation could endanger even the governor’s power.2 While he often dismissed English officials as patently incompetent, he devoted most of his energy to furthering the interests of Jamaica’s business class and opposing working-class political and economic power.

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Notes

  1. Walter Adolphe Roberts, Six Great Jamaicans (Kingston, Jamaica: Pioneer Press, 1952), 110–113

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  2. Rhonda Cobham-Sander, “The Literary Side of H. G. de Lisser (1878–1944),” Jamaica Journal 17, no. 4 (1984–1985), 6

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  3. James Carnegie, Some Aspects of Jamaica’s Politics: 1918–1937 (Kingston, Jamaica: Institute of Jamaica, 1973), 172–173.

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  4. I am relying on Ramchand’s “Year by Year Bibliography,” which is incomplete, so the number 10 is approximate. See Kenneth Ramchand, The West Indian Novel and Its Background (London: Faber and Faber, 1970), 282–283.

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  5. De Lisser changed the title to Jane’s Career when the novel was published in England in 1914 (Mervyn Morris, “H. G. de Lisser: The First Competent Caribbean Novelist in English,” Carib 1 [1979], 18).

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  6. De Lisser, Twentieth Century Jamaica (Kingston, Jamaica: Jamaica Times Printery, 1913), 6.

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  7. Sydney Olivier, White Capital and Coloured labour (London: Independent Labour Party, 1906).

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  8. Glyne Griffith, Deconstruction Imperialism and the West Indian Novel (Mona, Jamaica: University of West Indies Press, 1996), 28.

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  9. Rupert Lewis, Marcus Garvey: Anti-Colonial Champion (London: Karia Press, 1987), 41.

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  10. In 1921, “colored” and black Jamaicans constituted 95.3% of the population, whites made up 1.7%, Indians 2.2%, and Chinese 0.4%. See Gisela Eisner, Jamaica, 1830–1930: A Study in Economic Growth (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1961), 153.

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  11. De Lisser, “Duchess and Jamaica Ladies,” Planters’ Punch 2, no. 3 (1929), 1.

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  12. Laura Lomas, “Mystifying Mystery: Inscriptions of the Oral the Legend of Rose Hall,” Journal of West Indian Literature 6, no. 2 (1994), 70–87.

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  13. Castello, “Legend,” 9; Joseph Shore, In Old St. James, ed. John Stewart (London: Bodley Head, 1911), 49–50.

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  14. Holt, The Problem of Freedom: Race, Labor, and Politics in Jamaica and Britain, 1832–1938 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), 14.

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  15. See J(ohn) Stewart, An Account of Jamaica and Its Inhabitants (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees and Orme, 1808), 161–162

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  16. Charles Kingsley, At Last a Christmas in the West Lndies (London: Macmillan, 1889), 72.

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  17. J. Michael Dash, Haiti and the United States: National Stereotypes and the Literary Imagination, 2nd ed. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997), 22

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  18. Joan Dayan, Haiti, history, and the gods (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995) 287–288.

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  19. Richard Allsopp, Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 194.

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  20. See de Lisser, Triumphant Squalitone (Kingston, Jamaica: Gleaner Company, 1916)

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© 2007 Leah Reade Rosenberg

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Rosenberg, L.R. (2007). Herbert’s Career: H. G. de Lisser and the Business of National Literature. In: Nationalism and the Formation of Caribbean Literature. Palgrave Macmillan, New York. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-137-09922-8_4

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