New Day

Reid, V. S.

Published by Knopf, 1949
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Bibliographic Details


Title: New Day

Publisher: Knopf

Publication Date: 1949

Binding: hardcover

Book Condition: Very Good In Dustjacket

Edition: 1st Edition.

Description:

New York. 1949. Knopf. 1st American Edition. Very Good In Dustjacket. 374 pages. hardcover. Cover by Joseph Low. keywords: Literature Jamaica Caribbean Black. inventory # 6274. FROM THE PUBLISHER - ‘First published in 1949, Victor Stafford Reid’s New Day was written during the period of political tumult that preceded the constitutional change. The 1930s and 40s were decades of intense social confrontation, as the island’s poor majority, badly affected by the worldwide Depression, fought for trade union and political rights. Riots shook Jamaica and many other Caribbean territories, while charismatic leaders like Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamante emerged from the arena of class conflict. Reid, a journalist, was clearly an admirer of Manley and his brand of nationalism (he later wrote a biography of him). In the fight for political self-determination he also saw a longer process of struggle, leading back to one of the key moments in Jamaican history: the Morant Bay Rebellion of 1865, when an uprising of landless peasants in the southern town of Morant Bay was savagely repressed by the colonial government, with some 450 people executed or otherwise killed in reprisals. His novel accordingly spans an 80-year period between rebellion and the New Constitution, stretching between two turning points - one positive, one negative - in Jamaica’s eventful history. Campbell begins his narrative as an old man awaiting the ‘new day’. It is the night before the New Constitution is to be brought into force, and his mind goes back to the earlier events of 1865. This was a time of great hardship, only three decades after the end of slavery, when land was scarce and hunger widespread. Peaceful attempts to wring concessions from the planters led nowhere; a petition sent by the populace to Queen Victoria asking for help brought only a curt rebuff. Revolt was brewing, led by churchmen such as Paul Bogle, a Baptist preacher. The young John Campbell is not only a witness to these ominous events, but is also an active participant. His father, a respectable landowner of mostly white parentage, sympathises with the grievances expressed by Bogle, but is resolutely opposed to violent action. His brother Davie, on the other hand, is attracted to the message of radical social justice. As tensions rise, we see through John’s eyes the characters and events that led to the uprising, the murder of some local dignitaries and militiamen by Bogle’s followers, and the terrible response meted out by Governor John Eyre. At one point John is in the main square at Morant Bay when the militia opens fire on the protestors: Then over the shouts o’ the people I hear the muskets talking again. This time in the silence I do no’ hear any heartbeats. Neither the muskets as they reload. Then, God O, I come back to myself. I am lying on the ground in the square and a dead man is on me. What the massacre reveals is the barbarity of Eyre and the colonial authorities (strangely, Governor Eyre received a message of support from Charles Dickens when later hauled before a public inquiry in London), but, at the same time, it suggests that the rioters made a fatal mistake in resorting to force. The rebellion spells the end of John’s childhood, the destruction of his family (his father is wrongly shot as an alleged Bogle sympathiser) and a long period of hiding. The conclusion drawn from the bloody events of 1865 makes sense of what happens many years later, when John’s grandson, Garth, rises to prominence as a leader of the working class in the 1930s. And it is here that Reid’s none-too-subtle political message is hammered home: violence is pointless and self-destructive, negotiation and guile are the way forward. And so we see Garth (like Manley, a London-trained barrister) bamboozling the conservative colonial authorities with his superior knowledge of the law. Where the hotheaded leaders of the Morant Bay rebellion had charged into a futile confrontation with the authorities, Gart. Bookseller Inventory # 6274

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