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Letters from London by C. L. R. James

Letters from London (1932)

by C. L. R. James

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C.L.R. James (1901-1989) was a famous historian, Marxist, and postcolonial theorist, as well as an avid cricket enthusiast. He was born and educated in Trinidad, and worked as a teacher, journalist, and writer. He traveled to England in 1932 on the request of a good friend, the Trinidadian cricketeer Learie Constantine, and initially spent several weeks living in Bloomsbury in London. He wrote nine essays for the Port of Spain Guardian about his visit to the capital; seven of these essays are contained in Letters from London.

James has a classical English education and a great love of literature, and he fits in with Bloomsbury life "as naturally as a pencil fits into a sharpener." He is befriended by English, Indian and West Indian students, intellectuals and writers, including the poet Edith Sitwell, and he fondly describes these meetings in two of the essays. Other pieces describe his visits to the Victoria and Albert and the Science Museums, the Bohemian life of those who live in Bloomsbury, the cramped yet cozy living conditions of his rooming house, and his interactions with the young, educated, independent and open-minded London women that he meets. The essays provide a vivid insight into Bloomsbury life and 1930s London, and this book was a quick and pleasurable read. ( )
2 vote kidzdoc | May 6, 2010 |
A young CLR James sailed to London from Trinidad in 1932, and wrote nine essays recording his responses for the Port of Spain Gazette. You could hardly imagine anything more ephemeral, more tied to its place and time, less likely to achieve the reaction "blimey, this could have been written yesterday". And on the surface it is very much of its time. The prose may have been written by an intellectual, but it is simple to the point of artlessness. It describes the present and is not primarily given to making timeless statements that will ring down the ages. It is as concerned as a photograph with what is going on. James's task is to be a meticulous observer. Yet this is what makes the book seem, by the end, strikingly contemporary.
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I hadn't intended to spend much time there. I was on my way to the Victoria and Albert Museum. But one of the men I was with, John Ince, is clever at engines and, at least to an ignoramus like myself, learned in the mysteries of mechanics. He persuaded me to go in and, I do not know why, the place had a surprising effect on me. "Why haven't we got such a place at home; or at least something like it?"
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