The Booker Prize and the legacy of empire
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This thesis is about the Booker Prize—the London-based literary award given annually to "the best novel written in English" chosen from writers from countries which are part of or have been part of the British Commonwealth. The approach to the Prize is thematically but not chronologically historical, spanning twenty-six years of award-winning novels from the Prize's inauguration in 1969 to a cut-off point of 1995. The twenty-nine novels which have won or shared the Prize in this period are examined within a theoretical framework intended to map out the literary terrain which the novels inhabit. More specifically, the thesis is arranged in chapters which explore individually themes that occur within the larger narrative that is formed by this body of novels. The chapters, which are prefaced with thematic introductions and framed by theoretical commentary, explore aspects of the cultures, social trends, and movements that the novels invoke collectively, spanning the stages of British Empire perceived by their authors over the last three decades. Individually and collectively the novels provide a reflection, often in terms of more than a single static image, of British imperial culture after empire, contesting, and reinterpreting perceptions of the historical moment of the British Empire and its legacy in contemporary culture. It is my thesis that the body of Booker Prize winning novels from 1969 to 1995 narrates the ending of British Empire and the emergence of different cultural formations in its aftermath. This idea is pursued in the seven chapters of the thesis which discretely explore groups of novels which deal with aspects of the transition from empire to a post-imperial culture-the stages from early imperial expansion, to colonisation, to retrenchment, decolonisation and post-colonial pessimism, to the emergence of tribal nationalisms and post-imperial nation-states in the aftermath of empire. Throughout this thesis the focus is primarily literary and contingently cultural.