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Dark Victorians

Vanessa D. Dickerson

Publication Year: 2008

Dark Victorians illuminates the cross-cultural influences between white Britons and black Americans during the Victorian age. In carefully analyzing literature and travel narratives by Ida B. Wells, Harriet Martineau, Charles Dickens, Frederick Douglass, Thomas Carlyle, W. E. B. Du Bois, and others, Vanessa D. Dickerson reveals the profound political, racial, and rhetorical exchanges between the groups. From the nineteenth-century black nationalist David Walker, who urged emigrating African Americans to turn to England, to the twentieth-century writer Maya Angelou, who recalls how those she knew in her childhood aspired to Victorian ideas of conduct, black Americans have consistently embraced Victorian England. At a time when scholars of black studies are exploring the relations between diasporic blacks, and postcolonialists are taking imperialism to task, Dickerson considers how Britons negotiated their support of African Americans with the controlling policies they used to govern a growing empire of often dark-skinned peoples, and how philanthropic and abolitionist Victorian discourses influenced black identity, prejudice, and racism in America.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

front cover

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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

I wish here to acknowledge the investment others have made in this work and in me. This book would not have been possible without the instruction of U. C. Knoepflmacher who trained me as a Victorianist. The book was arguably under way as soon as I stepped into his classroom at Princeton. ...

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Introduction: Crossing the Big Water between White Victorians and Black Americans

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pp. 1-12

In The Wind Done Gone (2001), Alice Randall’s parody of Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 plantation novel Gone With the Wind, the female protagonist Cynara sums up the black experience in an assertion as historical as it is poetic in its impetus. “We are a sailed people,” Cynara explains in the diary in which she proposes “to write down everything. ...

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1. On Coming to America: The British Subject and the African American Slave

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pp. 13-43

The primary objective of most early nineteenth-century British travelers to the United States was not to take tea with the country’s slaves. However, upon their arrival, these visitors inevitably came face to face with the institution of slavery and the blacks subjected to that institution. ...

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2. Hail Britannia: African Americans Abroad in Victorian England

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pp. 44-73

For nineteenth-century British travelers, the United States of America was a brave new world, and for African Americans, England was the land situated somewhere near the second star to the right. This perception of England and of Europe as a kind of Neverland, a cherished place to which travel was an extraordinary venture, ...

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3. Thomas Carlyle: Case Study of a Dark Victorian

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pp. 74-94

The presence of African Americans abroad advanced neither their emancipatory missions nor their human status in the hearts and minds of some British Victorians. Preeminent among those Victorians who proved unsympathetic to the condition and plight of blacks in England or the Americas was social and moral critic ..

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4. W. E. B. Du Bois and the Victorian Soul of Black Folk

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pp. 95-126

If Thomas Carlyle may be aptly described as one of Britain’s preeminent dark Victorians, then African American historian, sociologist, editor, and race man William Edward Burghardt Du Bois may fairly be characterized as one of America’s consummate black Victorians. ...

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Conclusion: Reconsidering Victorian Britain and African America

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pp. 127-136

In the nineteenth century, neither Britain’s soil nor its soul was as hardened by slavery as America’s was, or at least not hardened in the same ways. Victorian England radiated a morality, a confidence, a commitment to reform and to social responsibility that a number of African Americans found appealing and inspiring. ...


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pp. 137-142

Works Cited

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pp. 143-153


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pp. 166-177

E-ISBN-13: 9780252090981
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252032561

Page Count: 176
Publication Year: 2008

OCLC Number: 785781174
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Dark Victorians

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • African Americans -- Relations with British -- History.
  • African Americans -- Great Britain -- History -- 19th century.
  • African Americans -- Intellectual life -- 19th century.
  • African Americans -- Attitudes -- History -- 19th century.
  • British -- Attitudes -- History -- 19th century.
  • Great Britain -- Intellectual life -- 19th century.
  • Transnationalism.
  • Du Bois, W. E. B. -- (William Edward Burghardt), -- 1868-1963 -- Political and social views.
  • Carlyle, Thomas, 1795-1881 -- Political and social views.
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