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The Oxford History of the Novel in EnglishVolume 2: English and British Fiction 1750-1820$
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Peter Garside and Karen O'Brien

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780199574803

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: June 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199574803.001.0001

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Imperial Commerce, Gender, and Slavery

Imperial Commerce, Gender, and Slavery

(p.442) 24 Imperial Commerce, Gender, and Slavery
The Oxford History of the Novel in English

Deirdre Coleman

Oxford University Press

This chapter explores the twinned emergence in the British novel of a critique of plantation slavery and commercial imperialism with a proto-feminist questioning of the ‘commerce of the sexes’. The discourses of racial and sexual oppression resonate with one another, helping to establish connections between inequalities at home and the sufferings of distant others. It has been argued that novelistic representations of violence and suffering are central to an ‘imagined empathy’ which in turn assisted the development in the eighteenth century of humanitarian sentiment. While it might be charged that the mid-eighteenth-century novel failed to grant full humanity to the enslaved and that it was somewhat instrumentalist in its handling of slavery reform, it can be demonstrated that the versatility of the figure of slavery enabled fuller characterization of the colonized and enslaved, as well as the more explicit imagining of colonial violence.

Keywords:   British novel, slavery, commercial imperialism, racial oppression, sexual oppression, humanitarian sentiment, slavery reform, colonial violence

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