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Women of the House: Race-Mixing, Mistresses, and Servants in Plantation Literature of the Americas, 1839-2009

Sparks, KE; (2017) Women of the House: Race-Mixing, Mistresses, and Servants in Plantation Literature of the Americas, 1839-2009. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

This study traces literary representations of race-mixing in the Americas as informed by the paradigms of the true Plantation, the nostalgic Plantation, and the post-Plantation, especially through the figure of the black and mixed-race female domestic servant and the potential for darkening she continues to embody. A comparison of US texts with their contemporary counterparts in Latin America focuses on differing ideologies of race-mixing that resulted in divergent representations of black and mixed-race women by Plantation writers, especially in regard to their sexuality. The works analyzed here include: the nineteenth-century abolitionist novels Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda’s Sab, Cirilo Villaverde’s Cecilia Valdés, and Bernardo Guimarães’s A Escrava Isaura; the interwar works Las memorias de Mamá Blanca by Teresa de la Parra and Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind; and turn-of-the-century novels Como agua para chocolate by Laura Esquivel, Mario Vargas Llosa’s Elogio de la madrastra and Los cuadernos de don Rigoberto, and Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. The representations of black and mixed-race female servants reveal an erasure of race-mixing in US literature that results in the figure’s relegation to a sexless mammy type. Alternatively, Latin America’s relative embrace of mixing results in a different fate for the servant; though granted greater agency and complexity in the literature, she is ascribed an aggressive or hyperactive sexuality that exposes more nuanced regional anxieties about race-mixing and the female body. This study argues that these differences originate in a foundational religious belief in the US’s unique spiritual project, which has worked to exclude the female subaltern from the national identity. Ultimately, this taboo mindset surrounding race-mixing manifests in US post-Plantation literature in an eradication of normative black sexuality unparalleled in contemporary Latin American texts, and condemns its female servant characters to a dehumanizing fate: unwanted, ignored, silenced, unpersoned.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Women of the House: Race-Mixing, Mistresses, and Servants in Plantation Literature of the Americas, 1839-2009
Event: University College London
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Keywords: Plantation literature, female slave, slavery
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > SELCS
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1558344
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