Beyond a Boundary

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Beyond a Boundary
Beyond a Boundary.jpg
2005 UK Printing
AuthorC. L. R. James
CountryTrinidad / United Kingdom
PublisherHutchinson (1963)
Publication date
1963, 2005 (US 1982, 1993)
LC ClassGV917 .J27 2005
Preceded byParty Politics in the West Indies (1962) 
Followed byA History of Pan-African Revolt (1969) 

Beyond a Boundary (1963) is a memoir on cricket written by the Trinidadian Marxist intellectual C. L. R. James,[1] which he described as "neither cricket reminiscences nor autobiography".[2] It mixes social commentary, particularly on the place of cricket in the West Indies and England, with commentary on the game, arguing that what happened inside the "Boundary Line" in cricket affected life beyond it, as well as the converse. The book is in a sense a response to a quote from Rudyard Kipling's poem "The English Flag": "What should they know of England who only England know?", which James in his Preface revised to: "What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?"


James recounts the role cricket played in his family's history, and his meetings with such early West Indian players as George John, Wilton St Hill, the great batsman George Headley and the all-rounder Learie Constantine, but focuses on the importance of the game and its players to society, specifically to colonial era Trinidad. James argues for the importance of sport in history, and refers to its roots in the Olympic Games of Ancient Greece. He documents the primacy of W. G. Grace in the development of modern cricket, and the values embraced by cricket in the development of the cultures of the British Empire. He approaches cricket as an art form, as well as discussing its political impact – particularly the role of race and class in early West Indian cricket. "Cricket", he writes, "had plunged me into politics long before I was aware of it. When I did turn to politics, I did not have too much to learn." Cricket is approached as a method of examining the formation of national culture, society in the West Indies, the United Kingdom, and Trinidad. Education, family, national culture, class, race, colonialism, and the process of decolonisation are all examined through the prism of contemporary West Indian cricket, the history of cricket, and James's life as a player of—and commentator and writer on—the sport of cricket.

James was born and educated in Port of Spain, Trinidad. He recounts the importance of cricket to himself and his community, the role it played in his education, and the disapproval from his family of his attempt to follow a sporting life along with his academic career, whom he describes as "Puritan". This too, he relates to cricket. James returns to the values imbued with cricket, first into the 19th-century English bourgeois culture of the British public school, and then out into the colonies. He contrasts this with American culture, his own growing radicalism, and the fact that the values of fair play and acceptance of arbitration without complaint rarely applies in the world beyond the cricket pitch.

After university, he played first-class cricket for a year in the Trinidad league. Having to choose from clubs divided by class, race and skin-tone, James writes of his recruitment as a dark-skinned university-educated player to Maple, a club of the light-skinned lower middle class. He writes, in a chapter entitled "The Light and the Dark": "...faced with the fundamental divisions in the island, I had gone to the right and, by cutting myself off from the popular side, delayed my political development for years."[3]

In 1932, James travelled to Britain to join Learie Constantine (a much more successful cricketer, who played as a professional in the Lancashire League), and was able to earn a living as cricket correspondent of the Manchester Guardian, also helping Constantine to write his memoir Cricket and I (1933). James recounts the lessons he learned from cricket about race and class in Britain, and the perspective that cricket gave him on the independence struggle in Trinidad, and the short-lived West Indies Federation, which he witnessed after his return in 1958. An advocate of Pan-Africanism, James examines the relationships of the unified West Indies cricket team through independence, nationalism of particular islands, and in interaction with other colonial and post-colonial national teams (such as West Indian tours of Australia and England).

Reputation and legacy[edit]

James initially had difficulty finding a publisher, according to his widow Selma James, but on its publication by Hutchinson Beyond a Boundary was well received, and John Arlott wrote in Wisden:

"1963 has been marked by the publication of a cricket book so outstanding as to compel any reviewer to check his adjectives several times before he describes it and, since he is likely to be dealing in superlatives, to measure them carefully to avoid over-praise – which this book does not need … in the opinion of the reviewer, it is the finest book written about the game of cricket."[4]

The book is widely recognised as one of the best and most important books on cricket. V. S. Naipaul wrote that it was "one of the finest and most finished books to come out of the West Indies."[5] In 2005, The Observer ranked the book as the third best book on sport ever written,[6] and Nicholas Lezard reviewing an earlier re-issue for The Guardian wrote: "To say 'the best cricket book ever written' is pifflingly inadequate praise."[7] Another appraisal of the book (by historian Dave Renton, who calls it "by common consent, the greatest book about cricket ever written")[8] observes: "The genius of Beyond a Boundary lies in its strong literary quality: almost unique among those who write about sport James had a theory of cricket, one that took in history and politics as well as memoir."[9]

In 1976 Mike Dibb made a film about C. L. R. James entitled Beyond a Boundary for the BBC television series Omnibus.[10]

In August 1996, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a five-part abridgement (by Margaret Busby) of Beyond a Boundary, read by Trevor McDonald, and produced by Pam Fraser Solomon.[11][12]

A conference at the University of Glasgow to mark the 50th anniversary of its first publication took place in May 2013.[13][14] Some of the proceedings of this conference, including contributions from Selma James and Mike Brearley together with other contributions such as those from Hilary Beckles, have been edited for publication in the first edited collection solely to be devoted to the study of James's work, Marxism, Colonialism and Cricket: C.L.R. James's Beyond a Boundary, published in 2018 by Duke University Press. This volume includes a previously unpublished first draft of Beyond a Boundary's conclusion.[15]


Other cricket writings by James[edit]

For his non-cricket writing, see main entry for C. L. R. James

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Stephen Fay, "A life beyond the boundary", The Wisden Cricketer, 6 January 2008.
  2. ^ James, Beyond a Boundary (1963), Preface.
  3. ^ Beyond a Boundary, p. 53 (1993 US edn).
  4. ^ John Arlott in Wisden, 1964 edition, quoted by Selma James, "How Beyond a Boundary broke down the barriers of race, class and empire", The Guardian, 2 April 2013.
  5. ^ Joseph O'Neill, "Bowling Alone: Beyond a Boundary by C. L. R. James" Archived 25 January 2008 at the Wayback Machine. The Atlantic Monthly, 11 September 2007.
  6. ^ "Top 50 sports books: The countdown: 2–10" Sport |The Observer, 8 May 2005.
  7. ^ "How to have a fight about sport", Tim Franks' Blog, 27 September 2011.
  8. ^ "C. L. R. James" Archived 6 January 2009 at the Wayback Machine page at
  9. ^ D. K. Renton, "CLR James's Beyond a Boundary" Archived 16 June 2013 at the Wayback Machine, 15 March 2007.
  10. ^ "Beyond a Boundary", Omnibus film, directed by Michael Dibb, 1976. Via YouTube.
  11. ^ Margaret Busby, "Storming the pavilion of prejudice", The Guardian, 3 August 1993, p. 29.
  12. ^ "Beyond a Boundary", BBC, Radio Times, Issue 3787, 22 August 1996: Abridged in five parts (25–30 August 1996) by Margaret Busby, produced by Pam Fraser Solomon.
  13. ^ "C.L.R. James's Beyond a Boundary: 50th anniversary conference", London Socialist Historians Group, 18 May 2012.
  14. ^ Rob Steen, "A classic turns fifty", ESPN Cricinfo, 9 May 2013.
  15. ^ "Marxism, Colonialism and Cricket", Duke University Press.
  16. ^ "Beyond a Boundary: 50th Anniversary Edition" Archived 29 November 2014 at the Wayback Machine, Duke University Press, 2013. ISBN 978-0822355632

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]