Interracial Sex and Narrative Crisis in The Woman of Colour

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As an epistolary novel, The Woman of Colour (1808) sets certain formal expectations, but strikingly fails to fulfill them. At its climax, the letters of its biracial protagonist Olivia Fairfield come to an end and are replaced by a correspondence between the book's editor and his friend. This essay argues that readers' loss of access to Olivia's innermost thoughts and feelings is the formal manifestation of the novel's inability to imagine a future for her in English society. Its choice of a literary form already out of fashion by its publication in 1808 speaks to a desire to return to a notional time before the extent of empire's moral costs, which included the sexual abuse of enslaved women like Olivia's mother Marcia, were fully known. In search of plausible deniability about slavery and the operations of capital, the novel finally exiles knowledge of those costs from its domestic sphere back across the Atlantic, when Olivia returns alone to Jamaica.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65-80
Number of pages16
JournalEighteenth-Century Fiction
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2023

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Literature and Literary Theory


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