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February 26 , 2008

The American Slave Narrative and the Victorian Novel


Conceived as a literary form to aggressively publicize the abolitionist cause in the United States, the African American slave narrative remains a powerful and illuminating demonstration of America's dark history. Yet the genre's impact extended far beyond the borders of the U.S. The American Slave Narrative and the Victorian Novel investigates the shaping influence of writings by Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, and other former slaves on British fiction in the years between the Abolition Act and the Emancipation Proclamation. Julia Sun-Joo Lee argues that novelists such as Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Charles Dickens integrated into their works generic elements of the slave narrative-from the emphasis on literacy as a tool of liberation, to the teleological journey from slavery to freedom, to the ethics of resistance over submission. It contends that Victorian novelists used these tropes in an attempt to access the slave narrative's paradigm of resistance, illuminate the transnational dimension of slavery, and articulate Britain's role in the global community. Through a deft use of disparate sources, Lee reveals how the slave narrative becomes part of the textual network of the English novel, making visible how black literary, as well as economic, production contributed to British culture.
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