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Novel Bondage

Slavery, Marriage, and Freedom in Nineteenth-Century America

Tess Chakkalakal

Publication Year: 2011

Novel Bondage unravels the interconnections between marriage, slavery, and freedom through renewed readings of canonical nineteenth-century novels and short stories by black and white authors. Situating close readings of fiction alongside archival material concerning the actual marriages of authors such as Lydia Maria Child, Harriet Beecher Stowe, William Wells Brown, and Frank J. Webb, Chakkalakal examines how these early novels established literary conventions for describing the domestic lives of American slaves in describing their aspirations for personal and civic freedom. Exploring this theme in post-Civil War works by Frances E. W. Harper and Charles Chesnutt, she further reveals how the slave-marriage plot served as a fictional model for reforming marriage laws. Chakkalakal invites readers to rethink the "marital work" of nineteenth-century fiction and the historical role it played in shaping our understanding of the literary and political meaning of marriage, then and now.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

This project first took shape at Williams College. Allison Case, Theo Davis, John Kleiner, Gretchen Long, and Carol Ockman provided crucial feedback in the early stages of the project. It was during my brief, but enormously fruitful, time at Bowling Green State University where the project transformed into a book. ...

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Introduction: The Slave-Marriage Plot

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pp. 1-14

What is a “slave-marriage” and what relationship does it bear to a legal marriage? Hidden from law and subject to separation, a slave-marriage was considered in nineteenth-century America to be so far outside the purview of legal forms of marriage that it seemed hardly worth mentioning. ...

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1. Between Fiction and Experience: William Wells Brown's Clotel

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pp. 15-30

One of the earliest historical accounts of slave-marriage appears in The Narrative of William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave, Written by Himself (1847).1 Marking the beginning of Brown’s remarkable literary career that spanned several decades and genres, the Narrative introduces readers to a singular personality that was shaped by slavery and a long struggle to acquire freedom. ...

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2. Dred and the Freedom of Marriage: Harriet Beecher Stowe's Fiction of Law

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pp. 31-46

Echoing Brown’s critique of southern religious teachers who act against the principle of marriage in their support of slavery, Harriet Beecher Stowe draws a similar connection in her 1856 novel, Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp. Quoting from the “Rev. Robert J. Breckenridge, D.D. a member of the Old School Assembly” ...

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3. Free, Black, and Married: Frank J. Webb's The Garies and Their Friends

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pp. 47-63

While considering Mr. Walters’s marriage proposal, Esther Ellis, the heroine of Frank J. Webb’s 1857 novel of black Philadelphia,The Garies and Their Friends, sees one “great stumbling block.”1 It is not her lack of affection for her suitor. She loves him. The obstacle is his wealth. ...

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4. "A Legally Unmarried Race": Frances Harper's Marital Mission

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pp. 64-82

Writing to antebellum African Americans of the free middle class, Frances E. W. Harper’s 1859 short story, “The Two Offers,” dissolves the distinction between free and slave-marriage so powerfully presented in The Garies and Their Friends. Like Frank Webb’s underappreciated antebellum novel of free black marriage, ...

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5. Wedded to Race: Charles Chesnutt's Stories of the Color Line

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pp. 83-106

Uncle Wellington, the title character of Charles W. Chesnutt’s 1899 short story, “Uncle Wellington’s Wives,” must grapple with an unusual marital problem.1 It is a problem absent from most nineteenth-century fictions regarding marriage, and yet it was confronted by thousands of those whom Chesnutt called “the newly emancipated race.” ...

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Conclusion: Reading Hannah Crafts in the Twenty-First Century

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pp. 107-112

The uneasy connection between race and marriage Chesnutt develops in his fiction is drawn, as I argue in chapter 5, upon his attempt to grapple with the intimate dimension of the history of slavery. Writing well after the end of legal slavery in the United States, Chesnutt remains fascinated and troubled by its lingering social effects during his lifetime. ...


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pp. 113-132

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 133-138


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pp. 139-145

About the Author, Publication Information

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E-ISBN-13: 9780252093388
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252036330

Page Count: 160
Publication Year: 2011