Collective Commerce and the Problem of Autobiography in Olaudah Equiano’s Narrative
Abstract

Abstract:

This essay examines Olaudah Equiano’s use of novelistic types in light of his vision for collective commerce between Britain and Africa. Both in Equiano’s own day and in our own, criticism of his Narrative (1789) has emphasized his transition from the general to the particular, from the slave to the subject. Engaging the longstanding autobiographical reading, this essay identifies instead Equiano’s interests in types of and groups of people. In doing so, it finds the transformation from a pre-commercial type of African to a commercial one that occurs in the text to reflect Equiano’s economic worldview. As it draws on what one scholar terms the “speculative discourse” of eighteenth-century finance, a discourse that was linked with the early realist novel, the Narrative helps us to apprehend how Equiano hoped to change the terms of global commerce.