Red Letters, White Paper, Black Ink: Race, Writing, Colors, and Characters in 1850s America
Turner, Samuel, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Lott, Eric, Department of English, University of Virginia
Wicke, Jennifer, Department of English, University of Virginia
Flatley, Jonathan, English, Wayne State University
“Red Letters, White Paper, Black Ink” concerns the relationship between the visibility of written language and the spectacle of the racial body in nineteenth-century America. The first two chapters present an extended case study of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, and consider how Hawthorne’s preoccupation with an alphabetic body serves to refract an ideological project which Hawthorne resists articulating explicitly. The latter chapters focus on several works by fugitive slave and activist William Wells Brown, and consider how the relationship between race and writing is negotiated by an author who, like his own books, has experienced the world not just as a text but as a textual commodity. A coda discusses Edward Prime-Stevenson’s Imre and explores the changes this relationship between the page and the body underwent when race’s hegemony began to be displaced by more avowedly psychological fin de siècle models of the subject – models that placed sexuality and desire at their core.
PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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