In the first thirty years of this century histories of colonial literature enjoyed a vogue. Literary historians, particularly in France and Germany, would collect and classify every page penned in the colonies and mould their material into a ‘history of literature’ with autonomous movements and trends just like those established in the larger literary scene in Europe. These histories of colonial literature invariably shared much of the ethos of their subject-matter, and often were written with direct political intent: to express nationalism, nostalgia or resentment over the loss of empire. At the same time, however, these works were monuments to an excessive confidence in literary history as such, inheritors of a generation of literary criticism holding to what Rene Wellek has called the ‘ingenuous belief in the accumulation of facts’.( 1 ) Certainly these histories are still informative, but they argue for colonial literature as a genre only by the dead-weight of the material they cite. Like a coral reef, colonial literature emerges from the pages of these histories only as an accumulation of corpses.