Reading List: Postcolonial Rewritings of the Imperial Canon

After my reviews of Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (here) and On Beauty by Zadie Smith (here), I decided to dedicate a full post to postcolonial rewritings and reworkings of the Western literary canon.

These are some works that I could think of off the top of my head, but if there are any more out there that I should know about, please let me know in the comments!

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Book Review: “On Beauty” (2005) by Zadie Smith

"Belle" Portraits - 2013 Toronto International Film Festival

Gugu Mbatha-Raw.


It should be obvious from the first line that this novel is inspired by a love of E.M. Forster, to whom all my fiction is indebted, one way or the other. This time I wanted to repay the debt with hommage.

So let’s talk about E.M. Forster’s Howards End (1910), one of the last great “condition of England” novels. In this genre, the writer draws a picture of English society and its many problems, often showing that change is necessary for a better future. In this book, Forster examines class relations in particular and argues that the strict social hierarchy of the Victorian age has no place in the modern world. He is critical of Edwardian society, but also seems hopeful that these issues can be resolved and that people will be able to find a way to connect despite their differences.

In On Beauty, Zadie Smith takes the plot of Howards End into the twenty-first century. There are still two families, one liberal and one conservative, who find their fates intertwined by a sudden engagement. There is still a young man looking to climb up the social ladder and, like Forster, Smith asks the reader to rethink the meaning of identity in a multicultural world. However, she adds an extra dimension, one that makes this novel instantly relevant to today’s society: race.

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Reading List: Mansions and Estates


Lyme Park (Pemberley House in the 1995 “Pride and Prejudice” mini series).

After discussing Downton Abbey and class differences in my review of the RSC’s 2014 production of Love’s Labour’s Lost, I thought that it would be a good idea to take a closer look at the quintessential English estate in literature. They have become an object of nostalgia, a romanticised vision of a time gone by when men were gentlemen, women were ladies, and life was all beautiful gowns and dancing with handsome counts at the ball. Or was it? …No, of course not. And in a future post on the Merchant-Ivory film adaptations of the works of E.M. Forster and the heritage industry under Margaret Thatcher, I will tell you how these buildings became the chosen icon of a glorified British past and the old world order.

For now, here is an overview of some of the most famous fictional estates in British literature.

Look for the cracks in the wall.

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