Contrary Voices

ISBN-13: 978-9766402082

Published by University of the West Indies Press, 2008

Highlights variations in representations of West Indian slavery by drawing on a range of testimonies, especially those of the enslaved themselves. This work focuses on representations based principally on first-hand experience or observation of slavery in the then British West Indies.

‘Karina Williamson’s anthology Contrary Voices is, as the book jacket claims, unprecedented in anthologies on slavery. Although there have been a number of recent ones on slavery in the English speaking world – including a six-volume collection from Pickering and Chatto – none attempt such comprehensiveness. Indeed, the range of texts here is staggering, running the gamut from widely reprinted texts (Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko, Olaudah Equiano’s Interesting Narrative) to ephemera including unpublished manuscript letters, excerpts of legal testimony and the surviving records of slave songs. Williamson, inarguably, has assembled a bibliographic treasure trove; her anthology will introduce students to the full scope of texts on British West Indian slavery published between 1657 and 1834. Indeed, even the most ardent scholar of the archive of British West Indian slavery will be introduced to new texts and new aspects of long familiar ones. Of course, given the subject matter, and the format, few readers will attempt to read the book in total; to do so is to be plunged into a relentlessly disturbing, disheartening world, despite the evidence of the spirit, survival skills and even the sense of humour of the enslaved. Indeed, most disturbing may be the defences of slavery offered, especially the repeated dismissiveness of the notion that Africans could even desire to be free … Ultimately, this is a book that one would like to see included in every decent college or university library. Its range and suggestiveness in a single volume make it a wonderful place to get oriented in the sea of original texts on British West Indian slavery. However, one must also hope that its readers will find their way to more complete, and more deeply contextualised, versions of the texts of which it offers such intriguing samples.’

From George E. Boulukos’ Review

Karina Williamson

Karina Williamson, born 1928, was educated in England and has degrees from the universities of Oxford and Stirling. She taught at the universities of Uppsala, Oxford, New Mexico (briefly), and Edinburgh, and is now Honorary Fellow in English Literature at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities in Edinburgh and Supernumerary Fellow of St Hilda’s College, Oxford. She has produced editions of the Poetical Works of Christopher Smart (1980-96), the 1828 novel Marly; or, A Planter’s Life in Jamaica, (2005), and Contrary Voices: Representations of West Indian Slavery, 1657-1834 (2008), besides endless articles on English, Scottish and Caribbean writing. She is now engaged on a biography of Bryan Edwards, 18c historian of the West Indies. She was married to Colin Williamson (d. 1983) and Angus McIntosh (d. 2005) and has a daughter and two sons.