ABSTRACT

As the British Empire broke up and attempted to sustain an illusion of unity under the euphemistic title of 'Commonwealth', a new object appeared on the margins of departments of English Literature: 'Commonwealth literature'. The ambiguous politics of the term was inscribed in the field that it called into being. 'Commonwealth literature' did not include the literature of the centre, which acted as the impossible absent standard by which it should be judged. The term also occluded the crucial differences between the 'old' and the 'new' Commonwealth, between White settler colonies and Black nations that typically had a very different and more difficult route into a different kind of independence.