Circulations: Romanticism and the Black Atlantic
Paul Youngquist and Frances Botkin, "Introduction: Black Romanticism: Romantic Circulations"
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.
Lindsay J. Twa, "Jean-Jacques Dessalines: Demon, Demigod, and Everything in Between"
This essay examines how popular representations of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, a Haitian Revolutionary general and Haiti’s first head of state, have shaped his legacy for various political, creative, and ritualistic purposes. After an overview of Dessalines’s biography, the essay examines negative representations of Dessalines, from nineteenth-century pro-slavery tracts, to twentieth-century publications during the U.S. Occupation of Haiti. These representations are then compared against those created by African American writers who, in particular, represent Dessalines as a dramatic and powerful black hero, but omit from their accounts his more brutal actions. The essay concludes with an examination of the Haitian folk religion, Vodou, and how it is one of the few arenas that actually recognizes and celebrates the contradictory nature of this mercurial historic figure.
Lissette Lopez Szwydky, "Rewriting the History of Black Resistance: The Haitian Revolution, Jamaican Maroons and the 'History' of Three-Fingered Jack in English Popular Culture, 1799-1830"
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. These adaptations included Benjamin Moseley’s Treatise on Sugar (1799), William Earle’s novella Obi; or, The History of Three-Fingered Jack (1800), a pantomime by John Fawcett titled Obi; or, Three-Finger’d Jack (1800), a sixty-page pamphlet by William Burdett titled Life and Exploits of Mansong, Commonly Called Three-Finger’d Jack, the Terror of Jamaica (1800), and finally Obi; or , Three-Fingered Jack, a melodrama by William Murray (1830). Although different in their respective politics and approaches, these five nineteenth-century versions of the story deemphasized the collective threat that underlies Three-Fingered Jack’s exploits in 1780-81, during a time of several slave uprisings in the Caribbean, including the Haitian Revolution. The English adaptations misrepresented the history of collective resistance in Jamaica in two major ways. First, Three-Fingered Jack, the leader of a gang of sixty rebels, became a lone rebel. Stripping Jack of his followers made the story appear to be an isolated incident, as opposed to a collective effort. The second way that Three-Fingered Jack’s popular history in England ignored the actual history of black resistance and independence in Jamaica was by changing the identity of Jack’s captor from a Maroon to a slave. All of the nineteenth-century adaptations of the story of Three-Fingered Jack misrepresent the identity of Jack’s killer. Whether intentional or not, this change completely distorted the story of Three-Fingered Jack by ignoring the role that free blacks played in restoring order to the island.
Joselyn Almeida, "Translating a Slave’s Life: Richard Robert Madden and the Post-Abolition Trafficking of Juan Manzano’s Poems by a Slave in the Island of Cuba"
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).
Dustin Kennedy, "Going Viral: Stedman's Narrative, Textual Variation, and Life in Atlantic Studies"
The current multiplex configuration of Stedman's Narrative emerged in 1988, the result of Richard and Sally Price's new scholarly edition. The Prices' text transcribed Stedman's 1790 manuscript version aiming to restore his original authorial intent and exposing the extent to which the text had been altered by Stedman's first editor, Joseph Johnson. Both versions of the Narrative are troubled by what they cannot contain, whether it be the sexual exploitation made possible by plantation-slavery, or the inter-racial desire that would eventually mark Stedman's Narrative as a singular example of resistance to the exploitations inherent in the eighteenth-century Atlantic world. Stedman was more than a traveler in Surinam, and he was also more than a colonial agent and oppressor. The Narrative can be read as the outgrowth of social subjectivity categories that typify the operation of the larger plantation slavery system in the West Indies and South America, but it must also be recognized in its particularity. In the following sections, I will consider what happens when Stedman's authorship becomes displaced in the larger archive – how critics rewrite what they read, how an author becomes a character, and above all else, how textual changes challenge criticism's reduction of Stedman to imperialist.
Michele Speitz, "Blood Sugar and Salt Licks: Corroding Bodies and Preserving Nations in The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave, Related by Herself"
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.