Updated 20:45, October 26, 2020.
WHAT DO PHYLLIS SHAND ALLFREY, ELMA NAPIER AND JEAN RHYS HAVE IN COMMON. They all shared a deep appreciation for the island called Dominica.
In March last year, Dr. Lennox Honychurch, Dominica’s foremost historian, whose work is well recognised, and who just happens to be the grandson of Elma Napier, renewed calls for the authorities to rename the recently, constructed Roseau West Bridge in honour of Phyllis Shand Allfrey. Honychurch in reminding his audience while addressing a forum to commemorate 52 years of self-government, the theme of which was, “March 1967-March 2019: Remembering some early pioneers” said that it would be fitting that the name of Phyllis Shand Allfrey, alongside that of EC Loblack whose name adorns the East Bridge, “it would be fitting in the center of the capital that those two names stand next to each other.” He was speaking of the pioneering role that Allfrey and Loblack played in the establishment of trade unions in Dominica, and the founding of the Dominica Labour Party (DLP).
The under-study of these works is to feel the ethos of the British empire in decline. To enter feet of first into the milieu of the complex social order of Dominica — that prized British possession on the far-flung edges of the of the British Empire.
To read of Rhys, Napier and Allfrey, is to absorb oneself in a genre of writing, that reflects a rich heritage. It is a study into the perspectives of what outsiders thought about the island, and how the Creoles thought about themselves. This writer, is of the opinion, that the full importance, and the impact that this trio of female, white Dominicans have had, and are still having in academic circles. I think that one’s understanding of history of the Dominica is enhanced through reading their works, and entices one to think beyond the cold text written by outsiders, to the warm memoirs and creative masterpieces by persons who were born there, in the case of Rhys and Alfrey. Napier who as we will learn, turned her back on empire and all its trappings for the rustic life of Dominica, and in the process, like Allfrey and Rhys, contributed to the lasting legacy, to not only the political life of the island, but the consummate literary heritage that has come down to us.
In this blog, I suggest that ’21st-century Dominica’ has not caught up and bought into the literary achievements of these daughters of the country. Despite the huge amount of critical literary acclaim, and a train of scholastic exegesis, in particular that of the works of Jean Rhys, the country has not fully embraced the memory of these celebrated authors. The argument that they are ‘white’ is ridiculous, inasmuch, that the white colonial elite, just like the negro population of the enslaved, were both imported ethnic groups into the island from elsewhere a point not lost by Allfrey.
Furthermore, since the black population were not openly allowed education, or to learn to read and write as the norm during the centuries slavery, it was not only until well into the 20th century that the first publications by Dominicans, about Dominica, of any colour began to emerge. Early residents of Dominica who did write about the country such as Dr Imray, and Thomas Atwood were among the few. Elma Napier, A Scottish socialite and aristocratic who in the 1930s while on a cruise of the possessions of the British empire fell in love with Dominica and returned there a year late to take up residence in a remote part of the island. She would go on to play a significant role in social change in the colony, and go on to represent the island in the first novel set in Dominica, written by a resident in Dominica.