Slavery and the Romantic Imagination
Winner of the 2003 Susanne M. Glasscock Humanities Book Prize for Interdisciplinary Scholarship
"Intelligent and carefully researched. . . . Strongly recommended."—Choice
"This lively new study explores the diverse ways in which British Romantic writers responded to the 'great moral question' of their era, that of slavery. . . . A valuable reconstruction of a key aspect of the cultural imagination of the Romantic period."—Times Literary Supplement
"A major contribution to the cultural understanding of Romanticism. Though there have been studies of Romanticism and slavery, none has the range of historical reference and the broad interpretive contexts provided by Lee."—Alan Bewell, University of Toronto
Selected by Choice magazine as an Outstanding Academic Title
The Romantic movement had profound social implications for nineteenth-century British culture. Among the most significant, Debbie Lee contends, was the change it wrought to insular Britons' ability to distance themselves from the brutalities of chattel slavery. In the broadest sense, she asks what the relationship is between the artist and the most hideous crimes of his or her era. In dealing with the Romantic period, this question becomes more specific: what is the relationship between the nation's greatest writers and the epic violence of slavery? In answer, Slavery and the Romantic Imagination provides a fully historicized and theorized account of the intimate relationship between slavery, African exploration, "the Romantic imagination," and the literary works produced by this conjunction.
Though the topics of race, slavery, exploration, and empire have come to shape literary criticism and cultural studies over the past two decades, slavery has, surprisingly, not been widely examined in the most iconic literary texts of nineteenth-century Britain, even though emancipation efforts coincide almost exactly with the Romantic movement. This study opens up new perspectives on Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, Keats, and Mary Prince by setting their works in the context of political writings, antislavery literature, medicinal tracts, travel writings, cartography, ethnographic treatises, parliamentary records, philosophical papers, and iconography.
Debbie Lee teaches English at Washington State University. She is general editor (with Peter Kitson) of the eight-volume work Slavery, Abolition, and Emancipation: Writings in the British Romantic Period.