Pirates, Runaways, and Long-Lost Princes: Race and National Identity in Transatlantic Adventure Fiction Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Ficke, Sarah H.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
  • This project brings together adventure novels by white British authors, like Frederick Marryat, Mary Elizabeth Braddon and H. Rider Haggard, and African American and Afro-Caribbean texts by authors like Frederick Douglass, Pauline Hopkins, and Maxwell Philip, to argue that the sensational elements of the adventure genre that were so effective in developing British national identity were appropriated by African American and Afro-Caribbean authors to re-imagine national identity as a flexible and multi-ethnic concept. This project extends previous scholarship on the genre by placing white British adventure novels in the transatlantic context demanded by both the genre's subject matter - the Caribbean, Africa, the wilds of the United States - and publishing history in order to demonstrate that the adventurous vision of national identity featured in those novels was part of a larger, multi-vocal conversation through which national identity was constantly being redefined. I argue that adventure novels were open to this type of rewriting because they were popular and accessible, and because they define national identity at the point where it is most vulnerable: on the nation's frontier. This project focuses on three characters who exist on the margins of the nation - pirates, runaway slaves, and long-lost princes - and the ways that they and the plot elements surrounding them are used to affirm or challenge the nation's physical, legal, and imaginative boundaries. More than just melodramatic window-dressing, these elements - such as a birthmark that identifies an ordinary man as a long-lost prince - provide an imaginative framework through which authors could engage with serious debates over race, kinship, and national belonging. Though we may be hesitant to connect literary figures like William Wells Brown, Frederick Douglass, or even Mary Elizabeth Braddon to this most popular of popular genres, adventure fiction deserves recognition for its important role in shaping transatlantic and transracial perceptions of what it meant to be Afro-British, Afro-Caribbean, or African American in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
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  • In Copyright
  • Andrews, William L.
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Place of publication
  • Chapel Hill, NC
  • Open access

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