The Narrative of Ann Pratt: Life-Writing, Genre and Bureaucracy in a Postemancipation Scandal

Fryar, CD ORCID: 0000-0001-7059-4463
(2018) The Narrative of Ann Pratt: Life-Writing, Genre and Bureaucracy in a Postemancipation Scandal. History Workshop Journal, 85 (Spring).

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The pamphlet Seven Months in the Kingston Lunatic Asylum, and What I Saw There detailed the experiences of Ann Pratt, a mixed-race Jamaican woman, during her months-long commitment to the facility. Seven Months portrayed the asylum as an institution failing its mission to care for some of the island’s most vulnerable inhabitants. A text produced in colonial Jamaica by a woman most likely born in enslavement, the pamphlet had an unusual career, moving from local island circuits to limited circulation within London’s political and philanthropic elite. There, in the metropole, it transformed Colonial Office bureaucrats’ understanding of a local scandal that had been brewing in Jamaica for two years over conditions in the asylum and adjoining hospital. Once they had read it, metropolitan officials demanded investigations into asylum conditions in Jamaica and, more broadly, across the empire. That Seven Months transformed imperial opinion to this degree was testament both to its fusion of life-writing genres and to the bureaucratic practices that elevated a specific version of this text to the attention of the Colonial Office. Seven Months was thus a bureaucratic artifact as much as a literary text. Drawing on historical and anthropological studies of paperwork, especially ‘the file’, and on literary analyses of nineteenth-century life-writing, this essay argues that the bureaucratic practices of collating and filing that colonial governors used produced a more powerful edition of the pamphlet, one that primed the Colonial Office for a positive reception of Ann Pratt’s claims.

Item Type: Article
Depositing User: Symplectic Admin
Date Deposited: 02 Aug 2018 11:39
Last Modified: 16 Apr 2021 11:50
DOI: 10.1093/hwj/dby001
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