Note: The formatting of the following program follows the original. We have made only minor changes throughout, correcting obvious errors and making some listings more uniform to facilitate electronic searching.
This Romantic Circles Praxis Volume moves the perspective of critical inquiry into British Romanticism from the Island (England) to the Islands (West Indies), considering the particular significance of the Atlantic—watery vortex of myriad economic and cultural exchanges, roaring multiplicity of agencies, and vast whirlpool of creative powers. Black Romanticism remembers a forgotten ancestry of British culture, recovering the vital agencies of diasporic Africans and creole cultures of the West Indies. It does so by practicing counter-literacy, reading the works of nation, empire, and colony against themselves to liberate the common cultures they occlude. The five essays presented here examine texts by or about Jean Jacque Dessalines, Juan Manzano, Jack Mansong, Mary Prince, and John Gabriel Stedman, following a circuitous route that begins in Africa and travels from Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba, Suriname, Bermuda, and Antigua to corresponding points in England, America, and the continent. The circulation of radically different adaptations of the “same” material provides new ways to understand the colonial Caribbean.
The story of Three-Fingered Jack (the escaped slave who terrorized the British colonists in Jamaica from 1780 to 1781) appeared in England in at least five major versions between 1799 and 1830. Although different in their respective politics and approaches, these five nineteenth-century version of the story deemphasized the collective threat that underlies Three-Fingered Jack’s exploits in 1780-81, during an time of several slave uprisings in the Caribbean, including the Haitian Revolution.
Speitz reveals how Prince’s narrative attests to the importance of salt, a central product of slave labor in the British-held West Indies. Although its overall value is largely ignored in literary scholarship, Speitz demonstrates how harvesting salt proved harmful enough to inspire Prince’s rendition of a horrific contortion of being. Her repeated detrimental exposure to salt transforms Prince’s body, consciousness, and ultimately, of course, her narrative--making it tantamount to a material history and psychological case study of a forced merger of landscape, labor, body, and mind. Prince’s text records how lethal amounts of salt seep through the skin, forging a visceral, literal, and grotesque union between salt, the commodified substance, and the slave, the commodified worker. Further, buttressing the vast amount of scholarship on the historical significance of luxury consumables which could easily impede international or regional revenue streams if boycotted, Speitz brings to light the unacknowledged history of Caribbean salt raking relative to not only British colonial economies and politics, but also to the revolutionary history of the United States, in which it plays a pivotal role.
Almeida examines the translations of Juan Manzano’s Poems, a manuscript that followed a labyrinthine route before its eventual publication. Almeida suggests that the translation provided British abolitionists with the cultural capital necessary to “ensure a future beyond 1840 given the realignment of geopolitical and economic power in the Atlantic” (11). Madden’s translation functions, she argues, “as a sign of appropriated cultural labor, and performs an ideological accommodation of slavery within the free market/free labor system” (3).
Although radicals and economists had been attacking the fiscal “speculation” of the credit economy since the seventeenth century as akin to forgery and theft, many conservative commentators on Britain’s financial affairs embraced it as the source of the heroic and imaginative power of debt and credit. This essay reads Walter Scott’s Letters of Malachi Malagrowther and The Chronicles of the Canongate as “speculative” responses to the financial crisis of 1825. Following a period of intense economic expansion, primarily in Latin America and mostly based on highly speculative development plans, and facing a sudden loss of confidence in the banking sectors, the British government and the Bank of England tested various forms of economic diversification. Rather than assuming total responsibility for the new debt loads, the banks, supported by legislation, converted it into a variety of repayment and deposit schemes in smaller institutions, including, for the first time, bank branches. But in Scotland, such schemes also entailed replacing an autonomous and thriving financial community. In the letters, Scott attempts to revive the idea of “speculation”—which I define as both an act of imagination and an act of seeing—against English models of economic diversification. Chronicles documents the failure of this speculative economy and replaces it with a tenuous if critical mode of socio-economic comparison.