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Transatlantic Spectacles of Race

Transatlantic Spectacles of Race: The Tragic Mulatta and the Tragic Muse

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Transatlantic Spectacles of Race
    Book Description:

    The tragic mulatta was a stock figure in nineteenth-century American literature, an attractive mixed-race woman who became a casualty of the color line. The tragic muse was an equally familiar figure in Victorian British culture, an exotic and alluring Jewish actress whose profession placed her alongside the "fallen woman."

    InTransatlantic Spectacles of Race,Kimberly Manganelli argues that the tragic mulatta and tragic muse, who have heretofore been read separately, must be understood as two sides of the same phenomenon. In both cases, the eroticized and racialized female body is put on public display, as a highly enticing commodity in the nineteenth-century marketplace. Tracing these figures through American, British, and French literature and culture, Manganelli constructs a host of surprising literary genealogies, fromZelicatoDaniel Deronda, fromUncle Tom's CabintoLady Audley's Secret.Bringing together an impressive array of cultural texts that includes novels, melodramas, travel narratives, diaries, and illustrations,Transatlantic Spectacles of Racereveals the value of transcending literary, national, and racial boundaries.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4991-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. IX-XIV)
  4. Introduction: “I Thought That to Seem Was to Be”: Spectacles of Race in the Nineteenth-Century Transatlantic Imaginary
    (pp. 1-16)

    In early July 1862, the American actress and poet Adah Isaacs Menken had just completed a successful run at the Bowery Theater in New York City, where she captivated audiences in a range of productions, includingThe Three Fast Women, or the Female Robinson Crusoes, The French Spy, Joan of Arc, Lola Montez,and the play adaptation of Byron’sMazeppa.¹ As the Tartar prince inMazeppa, the role that would make her an international sensation, she cross-dressed, performed death-defying stunts on the trick horse Zofloie, and at the play’s climax was stripped down to a nude bodysuit by enemy soldiers...

  5. 1 “Stamped and Molded by Pleasure”: The Transnational Mulatta in Jamaica and Saint-Domingue
    (pp. 17-36)

    In February 1789, three years before the Saint-Domingue Revolution began, Baron de Wimpffen made the following appeal in his travel narrative: “Let us introduce good morals into Saint Domingo. Let the planters, instead of attaching themselves to those black, yellow, livid complexioned mistresses, who brutify, and deceive them; marry women of their own colour; and we shall soon see the country assume, in the eyes of the observer, a very different aspect.”¹ Wimpffen, who later settled on a coffee plantation near Jacmel, cites the prevalent custom of concubinage between white colonists and free women of color as the source of...

  6. 2 “Fascinating Allurements of Gold”: New Orleans’s “Copper-Colored Nymphs” and the Tragic Mulatta
    (pp. 37-64)

    If the ship carrying Zelica and her betrothed, Lastour, had docked in New Orleans in April 1804, the couple from Leonara Sansay’s novel might not have been allowed to disembark immediately. Like many other refugees from Saint-Domingue who immigrated to New Orleans in the early 1800s to escape the aftermath of the revolution, Zelica and Lastour might have been forced to stay on board as officials inspected the ship “in order to prevent ‘the illicit entrance of negroes and colored people, coming from the Antilles, and particularly from San Domingo.’”¹ Jennifer M. Spear explains that members of the New Orleans...

  7. 3 “Oh Heavens! What Am I?”: The Tragic Mulatta as Sensation Heroine
    (pp. 65-91)

    Published the year beforeLady Audley’s Secret, Mary Elizabeth Braddon’sThe Octoroon; or, The Lily of Louisiana(1861) opens in a crowded ballroom during the London season of 1860. Cora Leslie, an American girl born on a plantation near New Orleans but educated in England, has attracted the interest of Gilbert Margrave, a British engineer celebrated for inventing machinery to replace slave labor. Pointing out Cora’s beauty to Mortimer Percy, an American planter, Gilbert asks his acquaintance if he knows who the lovely beauty is. Mortimer responds: “No. But I can do more. I can tell youwhatshe is.”...

  8. 4 “I Wonder What Market He Means That Daughter For”: The Beautiful Jewess and the Tragic Muse
    (pp. 92-127)

    Before the Jewish actress Rachel Félix debuted at the Théâtre-Français in 1838, the title “Tragic Muse” stood for a figure English, white, chaste, and matronly. These traits were embodied by the famous tragic actress Mrs. Sarah Siddons, who became “‘the most public woman of the day’ without sacrificing her claim to private respectability.” Unlike most actresses or “public women” who were tainted by their profession, Mrs. Siddons deflected this stigma through the title of wife and mother: “In 1786, following a particularly brilliant performance as Belvidera inVenice Preserv’d, she was discovered at home, ‘at her sick child’s cot, rocking...

  9. 5 “After All, Living Is but to Play a Part”: The Tragic Mulatta Plays the Tragic Muse
    (pp. 128-158)

    Marie Lavington, the runaway octoroon slave in Charles Kingsley’s little-read novelTwo Years Ago, makes the above declaration of independence in a letter to Tom Thurnall, the novel’s hero. Though Tom helped her escape to a Canadian Quaker community, Marie has tired of the “staid and sober” lifestyle of a Quakeress.¹ She reenters the public marketplace by refashioning herself into an Italian diva, La Cordifiamma. Marie’s ascent to the stage as La Cordifiamma marks the construction of a new female body in the mid-nineteenth century: the Tragic Mulatta who becomes a Tragic Muse.

    This may seem an unlikely transformation, but...

  10. Conclusion: “I Know What I Am”: Race and the Triumphant “New Woman”
    (pp. 159-188)

    Although Charles Kingsley and Lydia Maria Child redefine Victorian womanhood so that it encompasses nonwhite women who previously circulated as commodities in the public sphere, their texts conclude with the mixed-race heroines passing, or at the very least, evading questions about their racial origins. However, Henry James and his Jewish and African American contemporaries Emily Harris, Frances Harper, and Pauline Hopkins do not conceal the racial identities of their heroines, and thereby dramatize relations between race and domesticity, and between race and the public sphere. While the Jewish and African American heroines in Harris’sEstelle(1878), James’sThe Tragic Muse...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 189-218)
  12. Index
    (pp. 219-224)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 225-225)