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By means of a discussion of C. L. R. James’s interest in William Thackeray’s novel Vanity Fair, this chapter discusses “free trade,” commodification, and the representation of colonial trades in tea, chintz, calico, silk, and opium, which bring together colonialism in the West Indies and East Indies. Early nineteenth-century ideas of “free trade” were intrinsic both to economic liberty in England, and to the improvisation of new forms of sovereignty in the empire, as Britain moved from mercantilism to expanded worldwide trade, and integrated colonial practices of slavery and conquest with new forms of governance linked to the production of...

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