In the early twentieth century, the widespread belief that young white women were at risk of being captured and forced into sex work led to significant legislative victories, and this crisis also shaped US literature in surprising ways. When writing about so-called white slavery crossed over from the spheres of journalism, social reform, and the law into fiction, authors devised a suite of quasi-empirical literary techniques that turned the dubious facts of white slavery into the stuff of popular art. Novelists drew heavily on juridical and social scientific evidence to lend authority and specificity to stories that they insisted (counterfactually) were gravely true. White slavery fiction marries empiricism with sensationalism, data with melodrama, cold statistics with exaggeration and falsehood. This essay examines the literary empiricism of Reginald Wright Kauffman's 1910 novel The House of Bondage and the amateur literary criticism of progressive anti-vice reformers to examine a tradition of mutual borrowing between nonfictional genres such as the report, tract, and newsletter and modern US fiction. An analogy between slavery and forced sex work was pivotal to the social critique that white slavery novels existed to forward. Yet the genre's catalyzing metaphor circulated a radically dehistoricized, racist conception of enslavement for a twentieth-century white readership, drawing its figurative vocabulary and sense of political urgency from chattel slavery while eliminating any concern with Black men, women, or children.


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pp. 29-49
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