Freedom′s Empire

Race and the Rise of the Novel in Atlantic Modernity, 1640-1940

Freedom′s Empire

Book Pages: 592 Illustrations: Published: January 2008

Author: Laura Doyle

Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Theory, Theory and Philosophy > Race and Indigeneity

In this pathbreaking work of scholarship, Laura Doyle reveals the central, formative role of race in the development of a transnational, English-language literature over three centuries. Identifying a recurring freedom plot organized around an Atlantic Ocean crossing, Doyle shows how this plot structures the texts of both African-Atlantic and Anglo-Atlantic writers and how it takes shape by way of submerged intertextual exchanges between the two traditions. For Anglo-Atlantic writers, Doyle locates the origins of this narrative in the seventeenth century. She argues that members of Parliament, religious refugees, and new Atlantic merchants together generated a racial rhetoric by which the English fashioned themselves as a “native,” “freedom-loving,” “Anglo-Saxon” people struggling against a tyrannical foreign king. Stories of a near ruinous yet triumphant Atlantic passage to freedom came to provide the narrative expression of this heroic Anglo-Saxon identity—in novels, memoirs, pamphlets, and national histories. At the same time, as Doyle traces through figures such as Friday in Robinson Crusoe, and through gothic and seduction narratives of ruin and captivity, these texts covertly register, distort, or appropriate the black Atlantic experience. African-Atlantic authors seize back the freedom plot, placing their agency at the origin of both their own and whites’ survival on the Atlantic. They also shrewdly expose the ways that their narratives have been “framed” by the Anglo-Atlantic tradition, even though their labor has provided the enabling condition for that tradition.

Doyle brings together authors often separated by nation, race, and period, including Aphra Behn, Eliza Haywood, Olaudah Equiano, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Harriet Wilson, Pauline Hopkins, George Eliot, and Nella Larsen. In so doing, she reassesses the strategies of early women novelists, reinterprets the significance of rape and incest in the novel, and measures the power of race in the modern English-language imagination.


Freedom’s Empire persuasively argues for a three-hundred-year history of the Anglophone Atlantic novel. . . . No summary can do justice to the breadth of Doyle’s argument.” — Lloyd Pratt, Novel

Freedom’s Empire stands up admirably to its central test: its sustains a vast array of interpretive acts over the course of some 500 page and 300 years, brings literary works and historical events that rarely share the same pages into conversation with one another , and illuminates them from new and unexpected angles. Its broad argumentative sequence is sustained by strong connecting threads and a coherent central argument.” — Ezra Tawil, Diaspora

“[A]mbitious and engaging. . . . Doyle’s transnational method of reading both demystifies and challenges this logic by attending to the interlocking dependency of Angloand African-Atlantic literary histories. Her study is a rich example of the work that should emerge from the burgeoning field of ‘Atlantic Studies.’” — Aarthi Vadde, Interventions

“Contribute[s] usefully to the study of race in a transatlantic context. Doyle’s argument about the imperial lineage of ‘liberty’ resonates profoundly with current global politics. Her book will definitely interest literary scholars, as well as those working in the fields of globalization and political rhetoric.” — Alisa Kay, Eighteenth-Century Fiction

“[T]his is a book which is well worth reading and which will have something to offer almost anyone seriously interested in English literature.” — Judie Newman, English

“Atlantic studies is a nascent field, and Freedom’s Empire makes a significant contribution to it. . . . In exposing the racial genealogy of freedom, Doyle asks whether freedom is in fact the unmitigated good that we often unthinkingly take it for, or whether we might not want to explore interdependency and mutuality — values that will require articulation through a different kind of plot.” — Juliet Shields, MLQ

“Doyle’s striking vision of race and freedom as conjoined ideals makes conscious the cultural narrative of liberty’s limits as defined through bodies and identities. . . . Essential.” — Choice

“The past several years have seen multiple attempts to define and understand the intellectual peripheries of race in the Atlantic World. Laura Doyle’s ambitious study of the racial implications of modernity is a welcome addition to this discussion.” — Jessica M. Parr, Atlantic Studies

“The virtue of Doyle's study . . . lies in her far-reaching aims, her ability to tie so many different strands together to exemplify what she understands as the Atlantic liberty plot. The connections she draws are impressive and helpful in understanding how an Atlantic approach to British and American literature of the last three centuries is crucial to understanding how race plays out in these texts. . . .” — Molly O'Hagan Hardy, Eighteenth-Century Studies

Freedom’s Empire offers a unique perspective on Atlantic modernity. . . . Doyle shows that challenging the prevailing structures of literary criticism is imperative to a more nuanced understanding of what in an earlier collection Doyle termed ‘geomodernisms’. . . . Doyle’s study succeeds in its argument. . . . Impressively written and wide in scope, Freedom’s Empire shows persuasively how ‘novels and histories became partners in the project of narrativizing racial liberty.’” — Marisa Huerta, African American Review

Freedom's Empire is the most ambitious study of the novel and empire since Edward Said's Culture and Imperialism. . . . Freedom's Empire is a provocative history of the simultaneous articulation of race, freedom and empire in English-language literary and political practice.” — Corey Capers, Journal of Colonialism & Colonial History

“[I]nvigorate[s] the Atlantic as a category of literary and cultural study in the West. In an effort to reconceptualize the abstract idea of freedom in the Atlantic world, Doyle demonstrates something fundamental to modern liberty—that at its foundation, it is a race myth. . . . Freedom’s Empire generates crucial questions and insights that substantively complicate the intellectual invention of Atlantic modernity and its literary history.” — Christopher C. Freeburg, American Literature

“Laura Doyle’s project in Freedom’s Empire is nothing short of upending the ways in which we have grown accustomed to reading, writing, and talking about the development of the English-language novel. It is an ambitious project, to say the least, and yet one in which Doyle is entirely successful. This is one of the most exciting literary studies’ interventions I have encountered in a long time, and my guess is that it will further alter the way in which we think about the seemingly discrete categories of the British and American novel. . . . This is a remarkable book, one that I would encourage any scholar of the novel in English to make space for on his or her bookshelf.” — Sarah Gleeson-White, Rocky Mountain Review

Freedom’s Empire is a bold, exciting book. Laura Doyle shows how the call to move past the framing terms of nation and historical period will result in different readings not only of novels but also of the issues with which they engage. She demonstrates how challenging the structures of literary criticism can lead to a new transatlantic cultural history.” — Priscilla Wald, author of Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative

Freedom’s Empire is a truly excellent work of scholarship, an important contribution to the study of the English-language novel, and a significant addition to the critical examination of the deep and varying entanglements of the discourses of race and modernity. It vitally enriches the growing field of Atlantic literary studies and will, I suspect, become one of the keystone texts of that field.” — Ian Baucom, author of Specters of the Atlantic: Finance Capital, Slavery, and the Philosophy of History

“Laura Doyle’s study provides a powerful and persuasive historical ‘Atlantic world’ recontextualization of the dialectical relation of African American and Anglo-American narrative traditions. This imaginative reframing complicates and deepens our understanding of the ‘Black Atlantic’ and energizes her readings of black authors, including Pauline Hopkins, Nella Larsen, and others.” — Kevin K. Gaines, author of American Africans in Ghana: Black Expatriates and the Civil Rights Era


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Laura Doyle is Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She is the author of Bordering on the Body: The Racial Matrix of Modern Fiction and Culture; editor of Bodies of Resistance: New Phenomenologies of Politics, Agency, and Culture; and coeditor of Geomodernisms: Race, Modernism, Modernity.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments xi

Introduction 1

I. Race and Liberty in the Atlantic Economy

1. Atlantic Horizon, Interior Turn: Seventeenth-Century Racial Revolution 27

2. Liberty’s Historiography: James Harrington to Mercy Otis Warrren 57

3. The Poetics of Liberty and the Racial Sublime 79

II. Founding Fictions of Liberty

4. Entering Atlantic History: Oroonoko, Imoinda, and Behn 97

5. Rape as Entry into Liberty: Haywood and Richardson 118

6. Transatlantic Seductions: Defoe, Rowson, Brown, and Wilson 145

7. Middle-Passage Plots: Defoe, Equiano, Melville 183

III. Atlantic Gothic

8. At Liberty’s Limits: Walpole and Lewis 215

9. Saxon Dissociation in Brockdon Brown 231

10. Dispossession in Jacobs and Hopkins 255

IV. Liberty as Race Epic

11. Freedom by Removal in Sedgwick 277

12. “A” for Atlantic in Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter 301

13. Freedom’s Eastward Turn in Eliot’s Daniel Deronda 311

14. Trickster Epic in Hopkin’s Contending Forces 369

V. Liberty’s Ruin in Atlantic Modernism

15. Queering Freedom’s Theft in Nella Larsen 393

16. Woolf’s Queer Atlantic Oeuvre 413

Conclusion 445

Notes 455

Bibliography 507

Index 555
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4159-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4135-2