Abstract

This essay reads a little-studied, probably white-authored abolitionist children’s novel in which white parents adopt a black child and love her as much as they would a white child. Harriet and Ellen; or, The Orphan Girls by “Lois” (1856), depicts interracial kinship predicated on familial love and backed by radical abolitionist and antiracist politics. The novel is a test case against which to evaluate both proslavery and mainstream abolitionist representations of interracial kinship. While pro-slavery literature dubiously likened the system of plantation paternalism to kinship, white mainstream abolitionist literature perpetuated a similar model of white supremacist stewardship. Interracial kinship through adoption is therefore foreclosed in most white-authored abolitionist literature. In Harriet and Ellen, one white and one black child are adopted into white families who love them without distinction of biological parenthood or race. This essay reads the novel’s representation of interracial adoption as a model of radical love, in which black and white parents do not simply love their children similarly, but white parents love their black, adopted child. In Harriet and Ellen’s representation of adoption, interracial kinship more closely resembles African American depictions of valuing nonbio-logical black children, challenging the prioritization of biological kinship for familial love.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-0895
Print ISSN
1543-4273
Pages
pp. 749-780
Launched on MUSE
2016-11-03
Open Access
No
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