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Transatlantic Spectacles of Race

The Tragic Mulatta and the Tragic Muse

Kimberly Manganelli

Publication Year: 2012

The tragic mulatta was a stock figure in nineteenth-century American literature, an attractive mixed-race woman who became a casualty of the color line. The tragic muse was an equally familiar figure in Victorian British culture, an exotic and alluring Jewish actress whose profession placed her alongside the “fallen woman.”In Transatlantic Spectacles of Race, Kimberly Manganelli argues that the tragic mulatta and tragic muse, who have heretofore been read separately, must be understood as two sides of the same phenomenon. In both cases, the eroticized and racialized female body is put on public display, as a highly enticing commodity in the nineteenth-century marketplace. Tracing these figures through American, British, and French literature and culture, Manganelli constructs a host of surprising literary genealogies, from Zelica to Daniel Deronda, from Uncle Tom’s Cabin to Lady Audley’s Secret. Bringing together an impressive array of cultural texts that includes novels, melodramas, travel narratives, diaries, and illustrations, Transatlantic Spectacles of Race reveals the value of transcending literary, national, and racial boundaries.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Series: The American Literatures Initiative

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xi

Tracing the textual genealogies of the Tragic Mulatta and Tragic Muse has taken me from archives in Charleston and New Orleans to libraries in London and Paris. It would have been impossible to study the transatlantic circulation of textual bodies...

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Introduction: "I Thought That to Seem Was to Be": Spectacles of Race in the Nineteenth-Century Transatlantic Imaginary

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pp. 1-16

In early July 1862, the American actress and poet Adah Isaacs Menken had just completed a successful run at the Bowery Theater in New York City, where she captivated audiences in a range of productions, including...

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1. "Stamped and Molded by Pleasure": The Transnational Mulatta in Jamaica and Saint-Domingue

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pp. 17-36

In February 1789, three years before the Saint-Domingue Revolution began, Baron de Wimpffen made the following appeal in his travel narrative: “Let us introduce good morals into Saint Domingo. Let the planters, instead of attaching themselves to those black...

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2. "Fascinating Allurements of Gold": New Orleans's "Copper-Colored Nymphs" and the Tragic Mulatta

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pp. 37-64

If the ship carrying Zelica and her betrothed, Lastour, had docked in New Orleans in April 1804, the couple from Leonara Sansay’s novel might not have been allowed to disembark immediately. Like many other refugees from Saint-Domingue who immigrated...

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3. "Oh Heavens! What Am I?": The Tragic Mulatta as Sensation Heroine

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pp. 65-91

Published the year before Lady Audley’s Secret, Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s The Octoroon; or, The Lily of Louisiana (1861) opens in a crowded ballroom during the London season of 1860. Cora Leslie, an American girl born on a plantation near...

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4. "I Wonder What Market He Means That Daughter For": The Beautiful Jewess and the Tragic Muse

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pp. 92-127

Before the Jewish actress Rachel Félix debuted at the Théâtre-Français in 1838, the title “Tragic Muse” stood for a figure English, white, chaste, and matronly. These traits were embodied by the famous tragic actress Mrs. Sarah Siddons...

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5. "After All, Living Is but to Play a Part": The Tragic Mulatta Plays the Tragic Muse

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pp. 128-157

Marie Lavington, the runaway octoroon slave in Charles Kingsley’s littleread novel Two Years Ago, makes the above declaration of independence in a letter to Tom Thurnall, the novel’s hero. Though Tom helped her escape to a Canadian Quaker...

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Conclusion: “I Know What I Am”: Race and the Triumphant “New Woman”

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pp. 159-187

Although Charles Kingsley and Lydia Maria Child redefine Victorian womanhood so that it encompasses nonwhite women who previously circulated as commodities in the public sphere, their texts conclude with the mixed-race heroines passing, or at the very least...


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pp. 189-218


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pp. 219-224

About the Author

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E-ISBN-13: 9780813549910
E-ISBN-10: 0813549914
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813549873
Print-ISBN-10: 0813549876

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 13 photogrpahs
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: The American Literatures Initiative