(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Although it depicts in realistic terms the lives of West Indian immigrants newly arrived in England, the terms in which it does so are so lyrical in language and lighthearted in attitude that The Lonely Londoners seems less a conventional novel than a cavalcade of humors and manners, a Mardi Gras of misadventure or, to use one of the novel’s own terms, a “fete.” Its structure is episodic, possibly a result of the author’s well-known ability as a short-story writer and radio dramatist. This structure has the effect of making the work’s sense of time seasonal rather than social. The characters do not have the space in which to develop. In addition, the novel is written for the most part in the English of the author’s native Trinidad, reverting to standard usage only at points when some conceptual dimension needs to be invoked in order to clarify a character’s state of mind.

Instead of limiting the work’s appeal, however, these features subtly convey the implications of the title. Even the unfamiliar constructions of the author’s English are rich in cultural undertones of various kinds, while remaining for the uninitiated reader quite easy to understand. The attempt to preserve the character of the uncertainty, vitality, and foreignness that the immigrants bring, along with the addictive attractions and possibilities of London life, fuels The Lonely Londoners, making it more a fascinating document with strong ethnographic tendencies than a well-made novel in the conventional mode.

Despite the author’s clear understanding of the economic, racial, and political components of his characters’ social existence, the sense of the social that emerges is that which derives from leisure activities and the pursuit of happiness, particularly the variety that, it is believed, the female form embodies. This emphasis does not overlook other, more pressing, areas of immigrant experience. Subjection to prejudice by employers, labor unions, landlords, and various other social structures is deftly but...

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(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Moses Aloetta emigrated to England from his native Trinidad soon after the end of World War II and before the larger waves of West Indian immigration which were to follow. Moses had to struggle with racial discrimination and the difficulty of finding lodging and steady work. At the beginning of the novel he has been in London for six or seven years and is still having a hard time; he is known, however, to have a soft heart and is often called upon to help newer arrivals. The novel consists of a loosely structured series of anecdotes and episodes involving a shifting cast of mainly West Indian characters with Moses and the London setting as common links.

The novel opens with Moses heading off through the fog and cold of a London winter night to greet the boat-train and Henry Oliver, a Trinidadian whom he does not know. Moses’ return to the site of his own arrival prompts an expression of ambivalence which pervades the novel: “Perhaps he was thinking is time to go back to the tropics, that’s why he feeling sort of lonely and miserable.” Moses does not believe that he has made any real progress during his time in London and has never been able to see his stay as anything more than temporary; the flood of new arrivals, however, makes him think that it would be foolish to return home because if so many people are leaving, conditions there must be bad.

Moses dubs the brashly overconfident Henry “Sir Galahad,” and his initiation of Galahad into the methods of survival in London provides a chastening picture of the conditions faced by the mainly poor, unskilled and semi-educated West Indian immigrants; it also sets up a series of flashbacks to...

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(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Davies, Barrie. “The Sense of Abroad: Aspects of the West Indian Novel in England,” in World Literature Written in English. XI, no. 2 (1972), pp. 67-80.

Fabre, Michel. “Moses and the Queen’s English: Dialect and Narrative Voice in Samuel Selvon’s London Novels,” in World Literature Written in English. XXI, no. 2 (1982), pp. 385-392.

Gikandi, Simon. Writing in Limbo: Modernism and Caribbean Literature. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1992. Using contemporary literary and cultural theory, this work examines the destiny of Caribbean literature in the light of the modernist movement and postcolonial political reality. Selvon’s sense of displacement as a central element of West Indian experience is evaluated.

Nasta, Susheila, ed. Critical Perspectives on Sam Selvon, 1986.

Ramchand, Kenneth. “Sam Selvon Talking.” Canadian Literature 95 (Winter, 1982): 56-64. An informative overview of the author’s career and artistic outlook, containing much that is relevant to establishing a context for The Lonely Londoners.

Ramchand, Kenneth. “Song of Innocence, Song of Experience: Samuel Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners as a Literary Work.” World Literature Written in English 21 (Autumn, 1982): 644-654. An article that details the artistic elements of The Lonely Londoners and sees it in the context of Selvon’s other fiction.

Ramchand, Kenneth. The West Indian Novel and Its Background. 2d ed. London: Heinemann, 1983. Provides an introduction to the world of West Indian fiction, with particular emphasis on its socioeconomic and linguistic aspects, the latter crucial to any study of Selvon. Contains an extensive bibliography.

Ramjaj, Victor. “Selvon’s Londoners: From the Centre to the Periphery.” In Language and Literature in Multicultural Context, edited by Satendra Nandan. Suva, Fiji: University of the South Pacific, 1983. Establishes a cultural context in which Selvon’s literature of immigration can be appreciated. Includes material on The Lonely Londoners.