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Reviewed by:
  • Freedom's Empire: Race and the Rise of the Novel in Atlantic Modernity, 1640-1940
  • Marisa Huerta
Laura Doyle . Freedom's Empire: Race and the Rise of the Novel in Atlantic Modernity, 1640-1940. Durham: Duke UP, 2008. 592 pp. $99.95 cloth/$27.95 paper.

Freedom's Empire is a valuable, wide-ranging interdisciplinary study that foregrounds the centrality of race in both Atlantic and African modernities and argues for the need to read the interconnections in these often separate traditions of modernism. By forging provocative connections between the "radical unhinging" of violent political revolution as a "race plot" in historical and literary narratives, and the experience of personal trauma in the English-language novel, Freedom's Empire offers a unique perspective on Atlantic modernity. Building on Margaret Doody's work on the influence of the classical tradition of captivity, rape, and escape on the genre of the novel, and Ed White's work on the novel's role as a genre ideally suited for the heteroglossia of the colonial context, Doyle explores how a "uniquely Saxonist" legacy of personal freedom familiar from Whig narrative of the seventeenth century was racialized as Anglo-Saxon, and then encoded in what she calls the liberty plots of novels from Aphra Behn's Oroonoko through Nella Larsen's Quicksand. Doyle concludes with a consideration of how African Atlantic writers such as Pauline Hopkins and Nella Larsen reclaim the freedom plot and construct meta-narratives of modernism that expose their own framing by the Anglo-Atlantic tradition.

In part one, "Race and Liberty in the Atlantic Economy," Doyle draws a link between seventeenth-century political pamphleteers' myth of an unravished and unconquered Saxon England and the story of "ravishment" that becomes a race plot for the novel in English. In part two, "Founding Fictions of Liberty," Doyle brings together paradigmatic transatlantic literary texts by Aphra Behn, Eliza Haywood, Samuel Richardson, Daniel Defoe, Susanna Rowson, William Hill Brown, Harriet Wilson, Olaudah Equiano, and Herman Melville. Her analysis highlights the trope of "the swoon" that, according to Doyle, shows the "undoing" effects of crossing the Atlantic and entering the allegedly "free" spaces of "Atlantic modernity." Building on criticism of the gothic by Teresa Goddu, Cannon Schmitt, and Peter Garrett, Doyle establishes a link between bodily and psychic violations in the gothic's imagined ancient, remote past and contemporary historical violations in part three, "Atlantic Gothic." Here, Doyle contends that the political violence of Atlanticism appears in traces in the "Anglo-Atlantic gothic" fiction by Horace Walpole and Matthew Lewis but implodes in the Anglo-Saxonist world imagined, on the other side of the Atlantic, in Charles Brockden Brown's Wieland. This part concludes with a discussion of the "African-Atlantic gothic" by Harriet Jacobs and Pauline Hopkins that, Doyle argues, turns Anglo-Atlantic gothic "inside out" by employing the voice and vocabulary of the gothic to speak to the trauma of African slavery. In part four, "Liberty as Race Epic," Doyle analyzes the key role of "epic narrators" that "stand aside and create continuity across the ruptures and violence of the Anglo-Atlantic legacy" (277) in fiction by Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Nathaniel Hawthorne, George Eliot, and Pauline Hopkins. Lastly, in part five, "Liberty's Ruin in Atlantic Modernism," Doyle examines the "metafictions of Atlantic modernity" by Nella Larsen and Virginia Woolf, contending that these works collapse the novel's—and the nation's—freedom narrative by queering/questioning the racial and sexual matrix of modernity/coloniality.

Freedom's Empire is perhaps understandably stronger in its readings of modernist texts than in its treatment of seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century texts. The near-omission of Milton's work, in a study of liberty rhetoric that developed in the seventeenth century, is surprising. Other genealogies of the English novel, such as Nancy Armstrong and Leonard Tennenhouse's The Imaginary Puritan, foregrounded [End Page 512] Milton's work in its study of "personal life," captivity and seduction narratives, and the New World origins of the English novel. The longest discussion of Milton in Freedom's Empire enters via Doyle's discussion of a secondary reading of Paradise Lost by William Spengemann. Furthermore, despite calling out historians...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-6182
Print ISSN
1062-4783
Pages
pp. 512-513
Launched on MUSE
2011-09-23
Open Access
No
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