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Race, Romance, and Rebellion

Literatures of the Americas in the Nineteenth Century

Colleen C. O'Brien

Publication Year: 2013

As in many literatures of the New World grappling with issues of slavery and freedom, stories of racial insurrection frequently coincided with stories of cross-racial romance in nineteenth-century U.S. print culture. Colleen O’Brien explores how authors such as Harriet Jacobs, Elizabeth Livermore, and Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda imagined the expansion of race and gender-based rights as a hemispheric affair, drawing together the United States with Africa, Cuba, and other parts of the Caribbean. Placing less familiar women writers in conversation with their more famous contemporaries—Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, and Lydia Maria Child—O’Brien traces the transnational progress of freedom through the antebellum cultural fascination with cross-racial relationships and insurrections. Her book mines a variety of sources—fiction, political rhetoric, popular journalism, race science, and biblical treatises—to reveal a common concern: a future in which romance and rebellion engender radical social and political transformation.

Published by: University of Virginia Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, About the Series, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xvi

This book is about romance and rebellion, amalgamation and expansion, a set of interrelated terms that reshape the way we might think about race, gender, sex, and the revolutionary concept of rights that emerged in the New World in the long eighteenth century. The idea of equality, which evolved in the Americas as colonies became states...

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pp. 1-10

Even in one of the best-known romances of the American Revolution—Abigail and John Adams’s marriage—we find the threat of rebellion. As Abigail reminds her husband, the potential to “foment a Rebelion” is a universal human right, not just an exceptional project that he and his cohorts undertook to break ties with King George. Therefore...

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1. “What Mischief Would Follow?”

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pp. 11-27

In a letter dated October 17, 1849, Wendell Phillips thanked Ralph Waldo Emerson for the use of a set of volumes that he described as a “valuable contribution to the scanty stores of Haytian history.”1 Phillips’s apparent claim that “Haytian history” existed only in “scanty stores” is interesting, not only because African American newspapers...

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2. Colored Carpenters and White Gentlemen

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pp. 28-55

Harriet Jacobs’s narrative is a fascinating example of the coincidence of cross-racial relationships and incidents of rebellion. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl contests the manifestations of cross-racial sexual violence that contaminate all unions, personal and national. In fact, cross-racial sexual violence in the United States served...

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3. Desire, Conquest, and Insurrection in Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda’s Sab

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pp. 56-81

The eponymous hero of Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda y Arteaga’s 1841 novel Sab is a former slave with the potential to level social hierarchies in racially striated Cuba and, supposedly, “avenge” the conquest and genocide of Cuba’s First Nations. His musings about equality, however, are inspired by his love for his former master’s daughter...

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4. Republicanism and Soul Philosophy in Elizabeth Livermore’s Zoë

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pp. 82-109

In the mid-1850s, the wife of a prominent pacifist Unitarian minister moved into Harriet Beecher Stowe’s old haunts in Cincinnati, Ohio. This preacher’s wife also had authorial aspirations and antislavery inclinations, but rather than write a novel about a nation that had been morally polluted by slavery, she wrote a novel that is not really about any...

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5. Reconstruction Optimism in Julia Collins’s The Curse of Caste

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pp. 110-131

The Curse of Caste; or the Slave Bride seems like an ominous title, even for a story that begins with a tragic cross-racial affair that took place in the antebellum period and concludes with a happy postwar family reunion. This novel’s author, Julia C. Collins, began contributing essays and a serialized novel to the African Methodist Episcopal Church...

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6. The End of Romance in Frances Watkins Harper’s Minnie’s Sacrifice

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pp. 132-156

Shortly after Julia Collins passed away, her Reconstruction optimism—the hope that the end of slavery would signal a new era of citizenship and radical equality—died away too. Readers might imagine that her heroine, Claire Neville—the offspring of a union between a Louisiana Creole and a blue-blooded Yankee—could symbolize an amalgamated...

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pp. 157-162

After the Civil War, Lydia Maria Child attempted to convert the genre of tragedy—the tragic mulatta story that she helped shape in her short story “The Quadroons”—into a historical romance that resolved the problems of slavery. But as Frances Harper’s Minnie’s Sacrifice clearly articulates, the romantic ideals of racial and gender...


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pp. 163-178


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pp. 179-194


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pp. 195-200

E-ISBN-13: 9780813934907
E-ISBN-10: 0813934907
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813934884
Print-ISBN-10: 0813934885

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • America -- Literatures -- History and criticism.
  • Race relations in literature.
  • Insurgency in literature.
  • America -- Ethnic relations -- History -- 19th century.
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