Caryl Phillips’s Rewriting of the Canonical Romance as a Genre
The paper considers Phillips’s rewriting of the canonical nineteenth-century romances in three of his novels – A State of Independence (1986), The Lost Child (2015), and A View of the Empire at Sunset (2018). The three texts resettle the romance genre through the postcolonial concept of ‘home’. In A State of Independence, Phillips rearranges the role of one of Jane Austen’s most orthodox characters, the landowner Sir Thomas Bertram of Mansfield Park (1814), by transposing the Austenian character’s features to his protagonist Bertram Francis, a Caribbean man who comes back to his ancestral homeland after twenty years in Britain. In The Lost Child, chronicling literary-historical events in the present tense by transferring the life of the Brontë family into the protagonists of Wuthering Heights (1847) is for the author one way of calling into question the real sense of literature. It is for this reason that Phillips constructs a cyclic narration around the figure of Branwell Brontë, fictionalised by his sister Emily in the romance protagonist Heathcliff, and mirrored in The Lost Child in the character of Tommy Wilson. In A View of the Empire at Sunset, Phillips definitely overturns the colonial and genre categories by reassessing the in-between life of the Dominican-born writer Jean Rhys through her personal return journey to Dominica: as a result, the author of Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) (an intense rewriting of Jane Eyre) becomes a fictional character, and the literary events of her life sum up the vicissitudes both of the two ‘Bertrams’ – of Mansfield Park and A State of Independence – and the protagonists of Wuthering Heights and The Lost Child.
Keywords: Caryl Phillips • Brontë sisters • Jean Rhys • Romance genre • Postcolonial literature • Postcolonial rewriting