Phyllis Shand Allfrey: A Caribbean Life

Phyllis Shand Allfrey: A Caribbean Life

Phyllis Shand Allfrey: A Caribbean Life

Phyllis Shand Allfrey: A Caribbean Life


"Phyllis Shand Allfrey is the first biography of one of the Caribbean's most intriguing writers and politicians. Allfrey (1908-1986) is best known as the author of The Orchid House, a fictionalized account of her early life that was turned into a highly acclaimed film for British television. Born to a prominent family of formerly wealthy sugar planters in Dominica, Allfrey followed an unexpected path: a rising novelist (who is often paired with Jean Rhys in critical discussion) and Fabian socialist in England and the United States, she returned to Dominica to organize the peasantry and estate workers into the island's first political party. Ostracized by the white elite into which she was born, she led the Dominica Labour party to power and became the West Indian Federation's only woman (and only white) minister, only to find herself expelled from the party when the rise of black nationalism made it expedient. The biography recreates Allfrey's life as it unfolds against the background of twentieth-century Caribbean political and literary history, from the decline of the planter class through the rise of party politics and the efforts to join the anglophone West Indies into a federation, to the troubled sixties and seventies, decades marked by racial violence and the emergence of the former British territories from colonial control. This volume includes five autobiographical stories that have long been out of print." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


The road leading from the tiny village of Wotton Waven to the capital of Dominica meanders down the verdant mountains before beginning its steep descent into the Roseau River Valley and the town of Roseau in the distance. in the coolness of the early morning it teems with men, women, and children walking the long kilometers to town on their way to work, market, or school. the few fortunate enough to have caught a bumpy lift on the back of one of the ubiquitous small trucks cry out hurried greetings and messages to the walkers before they vanish around the next curve on the road.

In the early 1980s a bird-thin, quaintly dressed white woman was frequently among the walkers. "Good morning, Ma Allfrey," was an oft-heard welcome.

Ma Allfrey was a fixture of the valley landscape. She was universally known and, although considered a bit odd, equally universally respected and liked. Few of her walking companions may have remembered--many may have been too young to know--that the frail white woman sharing their walk and their poverty had founded Dominica's first political party; that she had written poetry, short stories, a classic West Indian novel; that she had been a Federation minister and had addressed large gatherings in places as far away as Geneva and Lagos; that the precarious existence she eked out was worlds removed from the opulence of her powerful planter ancestors; and that she could have prospered as a writer abroad, but was bound to them and to her island by ties stronger than any others she had known, ties that nurtured her poetry and her prose.

All this had been true, but now she lived as poorly as they did in a small sugar millhouse owned by a former plantation overseer. Her English-born husband, Robert, was ailing and too frail for the long walk to town for food. Her children were gone: her beloved firstborn, Phina, tragically dead in Africa; her son, Philip, in his thirtieth year of confinement in a psychiatric ward; her adopted Dominican children struggling abroad--Sonia and David in London, Robbie--the younger of her Carib sons--away on a training course. She and Robert had very little money; too often they had none.

Her spirit, however, was unbowed. She would comment on their "war of attrition" in a casual, offhand sort of way; their "severe bouts of poverty" being no worse than those of the people with whom she had thrown her lot. Every week had one "D. Day" (Deprivation Day) when food ran out, but she claimed it helped them stay slim and active. She struggled against her poverty with the same quiet dignity with which she had accepted triumphs and defeats. Above all, no degree of poverty could spoil the bounty--"the natural loveliness of Dominica, greatest of all consolations"-- surrounding her in her little paradise, the tiny millhouse at Copt Hall.

She seldom looked back, she welcomed no pity; indeed, it would have been misplaced. She had survived the ostracism of the white society against whose interests she had struggled; she had endured the betrayal of the party she had founded, when the demands of black nationalism made it expedient. She had helped found and bring to power a new party, offering greater promise to the poor; she had spear-

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