Marriage Interruptus: Black Marriage Interrupted in the British Novel, 1791-1810
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CitationCarpenter, Olivia. 2021. Marriage Interruptus: Black Marriage Interrupted in the British Novel, 1791-1810. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
AbstractQuestions of race, slavery, and empire at the heart of several eighteenth-century British novels brought the problems of plantations in the British West Indies to British readers at home. Throughout the period scholars call the “long eighteenth century,” roughly spanning 1650-1820, British novels depict Black characters as slaves, servants, friends, and sometimes even romantic rivals to white characters. I take particular interest in matters of romance as I examine Black characters in late eighteenth-century British marriage plots.
I coin the term “marriage interruptus plot” to describe a set of novels which present Black protagonists in the attitude of “almost spouse,” placing them in a narrative arc in which they come close to marriage but never quite achieve the traditional (white) marriage plot’s culmination in a companionate union. I argue that these plots crucially withhold marriage from Black characters as a means of disciplining and containing Blackness at the height of the British Abolition era and its fierce public debates about both the institution of slavery and the nature of enslaved Black people. The marriage interruptus plots in my project are all anti-slavery texts that critique the institution. However, I contend that their anxious reconfiguration of the marriage plot along racial lines takes place precisely because these novels depict worries about what Abolition could mean for relationships between Black and white people. These novels comfortably espouse anti-slavery values, but they cannot so easily take up anti-racist values.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37370251
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