This article argues that transatlantic readings of Romanticism must go beyond the limits imposed by a monolingual, Anglophone definition of the transatlantic. An analysis of the bilingual presentation of Simón Bolívar's persona and writings for a London public in publications such as the Jamaica Gazette, Variedades, and the New Monthly Magazine shows how this amplified notion of the transatlantic helps us better understand Britain's political and literary interests in the Americas. This essay appears in _Sullen Fires Across the Atlantic: Essays in Transatlantic Romanticism_, a volume of _Romantic Circles Praxis Series_, prepared exclusively for Romantic Circles (http://www.rc.umd.edu/), University of Maryland.
The essay explores the notion of masochist nationalism through a reading of a brief passage in Equiano's Interesting Narrative in which Equiano engages with a young Musquito man named George. Equiano's attempt to convert George is tied to a mutual reading of Fox's Book of Martyrs which posits a community of aggrieved souls who will enact vengeance on the slave holders and on those who sanction slavery. The argument pays particular attention to how Equiano figures George in a complex economy of humiliation and revenge. This revenge becomes highly sexualized when Equiano shifts his allusions from Fox's Book of Martyrs to The Book of Judges. From this point onward Equiano's text is thoroughly involved in a series of rape fantasies which have important nationalist implications. Ultimately, the essay suggests that Equiano's most radical gesture in this scene is to stage politics from the ground of the object, but it also demonstrates how such a politics is susceptible to unforeseen consequences.
The pantomime and melodrama versions of Obi, or Three-finger'd Jack played an important role in abolition debates and in the career of Ira Aldridge, the first African-American actor of international stature. This Praxis volume includes essays by preeminent scholars of English Romanticism, theater, and music history on the evolution, performance history, and social and cultural impact of the Obi plays, as well as illustrations and modern video reproductions of scenes from both the pantomime and melodrama versions. This volume also contains the complete text of the melodrama version of Obi.
The paper explores the complex ways in which Ira Aldridge, in the role of Jack, brought together the rich cultural symbols of slaves, tigers, sugar and blood. It begins by tracing the play to its source in Benjamin Moseley's Treatise on Sugar. Against Mosely's treatise, where sugar is seen as a cure to the diseases of Western culture, the paper uncovers the debates on slavery where the slave trade, not sugar, is called a disease. Further, by examining the rituals of "obi," especially death and reanimation, the paper investigates how obi actually mocks the experience of slavery. Since the centerpiece of the practice was the charm, or obi bag, the paper pays particular attention to the bag's contents, which had the ability to evoke both the brokenness and the power of the rebel slave experience. The paper claims that Aldridge, by acting in the play, performed the rituals of obi-death and reanimation, brokenness and power, and made obi a cure to the disease of slavery.
John Fawcett's Obi; or, Three-Finger'd Jack in its various versions offers one way to gauge the response of English audiences to slavery and to those it oppressed. More particularly, Obi can reveal how difficult it was to find an appropriate form for bodying forth upon stage the horrors of slavery, as the genres and the institutional structure of the British theater worked to control a potentially radical message. The story of Jack Mansong, a slave in revolt, had the potential to bring a radically anti-slavery message to the stage. While the play's initial staging as a melodrama certainly did not embrace Mansong's revolt, various features of the pantomime did serve to give Mansong and the Afro-Caribbean culture he represented power on stage. Rewritten as a melodrama with spoken dialogue, the play might seem to have lost some its radical potential, but the great actor Ira Aldridge, through what Henry Louis Gates calls "signifyin[g]," managed to create in Jack one of the key theatrical images of a man of African descent.