Spheres of Existence What Maisie Knew
Read, read, read. Read till your eyes swim; get yourselves right.
C. L. R. James, The C. L. R. James Reader
When C. L. R. James wrote a mock autobiography in 1944, parodically headed "Autobiography of a Man by Him," among the first memories he recorded, as he would again years later in the autobiographical opening pages of Beyond a Boundary was the vision of his mother reading. His mother did have more material interests; James recalls that "she had a passion for dress," but it is the reading that seems truly to be a passion. In this early, humorous stab at a memoir, sent in a letter to Constance Webb, whom he was later to marry, James says of his mother, "She was a reader. She read everything that came her way. I can see her now, sitting very straight with the book held high, her pince-nez on her Caucasian nose, reading till long after midnight. If I got up there she was, reading, the book still held high. As she read a book and put it down I picked it up" ( Buhle and Henry19). James first book, The Life of Captain Cipriani, was dedicated to the man most responsible for getting James to England and for getting his book into print, Learie Constantine, but James first, and only, novel, Minty Alley, is dedicated to the same woman who had read and criticized his first childhood efforts at fiction, his mother. In an interview with Paul Buhle, James says that his mother was "the center" of his life, and that he "followed literature because of her" ( Buhle and Henry 56). When James mother read Minty Alley, her response was considerably more encouraging than when she read his earlier imitations of The Last of the Mohicans. "She thought it was fine. She read it and she was very pleased. To write for black people in the Caribbean was a distinction. And here I was writing well, and she was very pleased" ( Buhle and Henry57).