When I began working on this book in 2011, the 2007 bicentennial of the abolition of the slave trade still felt recent.Footnote 1 There were new films, exhibitions, and a plethora of events commemorating and reflecting Britain’s involvement in this global system of injustice on a larger national scale. More than a decade after these events, the country appeared to have moved on being consumed by the internal fallout and ongoing tensions around Brexit. However, in 2020, the commemoration of enslavement again entered the public spotlight invigorated by the anti-racist protests in reaction to police violence in the United States and across the globe. More and more vocal groups like Black Lives Matter no longer accept the unchallenged adulation of slaveholders and those who profited from colonial exploitation in the form of statues and monuments. In Bristol protesters took matters into their own hands toppling the statue of Edward Colston and throwing it into the harbour. Similar acts can be witnessed worldwide. These demonstrations show how powerful cultural relics are in shaping notions of national belonging and how they continue to impact the devaluation of Black lives. This is why many believe such monuments should no longer have an uncontested place in the public sphere.

For the (now revived) debate on memorial culture and racism, the bicentenary of 2007 marked a turning point in Britain. In that context many politicians struggled to find the right tone to commemorate slavery and the transatlantic trade, specifically in relation to Britain’s (historical and contemporary) self-understanding. Then Prime Minister Tony Blair was criticised for not offering a proper apology by circumventing the word “sorry”, instead speaking only of “our deep sorrow”. It seemed easier for Blair to delegate the cruelties of slavery to the far-away shores of the Caribbean and focus more on the abolitionist campaign at home. He also avoided the topic of possible reparations by emphasising the “better times of today”, showing little understanding of the ongoing global economic repercussions that the trade in human beings and colonial exploitation in its aftermath have produced in the Global South.Footnote 2 Moreover, the simplifying juxtaposition of the shameful slavers versus the noble abolitionists overlooks the fact that historically there was often a much subtler ameliorationist discourse at work which, while indeed becoming increasingly intolerant of chattel slavery during the eighteenth century, nonetheless dehumanised people of African descent. The tension of addressing Black agency and white benevolence is also palpable in The International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, opened in 2007.Footnote 3 The exhibition puts great emphasis on Black contributions to the fight against slavery and educates visitors not only about slavery but also about West African culture. The celebratory endpoint of the display is a so-called Black Achievers Wall. Visitors to the museum and the museum’s website are encouraged to interact with the exhibit by suggesting additions to the wall, be it “a sports person, a writer, an activist, a television personality—anyone just as long as they are inspirational”.Footnote 4 Yet outside the museum, more recently, the achievements of Black British inhabitants were once more violently overlooked. In April 2018, Theresa May was criticised heavily for the way in which children of the so-called Windrush generation, Caribbean commonwealth migrants who legally entered the country after World War II, had been targeted by immigration authorities. Several people, whose documentation did not meet official criteria through no fault of their own, were threatened with or actually deported, despite having lived in Britain for more than fifty years. In addition to Home Secretary Amber Rush having to ultimately resign, this scandal also forced the then Prime Minister to issue an apology that emphasised the valuable contribution of the Windrush generation and their rightful place in the United Kingdom.Footnote 5 This discourse, in turn, seemed to rely heavily on conceptions of the “good migrant” who is never simply accepted as belonging and worthy of the protection of the nation state per se but continuously has to prove their “worth”.

I am using these three seemingly divergent examples—Blair’s failed apology for Britain’s involvement in the slave trade, the celebratory “Black Achievers Wall” in The International Slavery Museum, and May’s government’s eventual attempts to appease in the so-called Windrush generation controversy by evoking the image of the “good migrant”—as entry points into my study of the literary archive of writing which made Blackness discursively compatible with Britishness. I want to show that the terms, the different tones, employed in shaping national belonging in canonical literary fiction and in the first written documents by Black Atlantic authors, a discourse that I describe as “familial feeling” in this book, have always relied on transnational entanglements. Individual words like “sorry” but also “inspirational”, which figure prominently in the three short contemporary vignettes, demonstrate that the way Blackness and Britishness are interrelated is also a matter of tone.

Consequently, despite the prominence of the Windrush generation, entanglements between British and other cultures are not only the result of the migration following World War II but begin much earlier. The formation of the British nation in the seventeenth and eighteenth century was inextricably linked to the transatlantic economy and slavery in the Americas. The concomitant financial gain bolstered modern Great Britain’s status as the most important imperial power of the time (cf. Walvin 2007: 8). However, within this formation slavery was not an uncontested status quo. The controversial public discourse ranged from the unapologetic pro-slavery plantocracy to the, often Evangelical, abolitionists, and positions in-between. While Britain’s financial wealth still depended significantly on the slave trade, the campaign for abolition also became an unprecedented media success (cf. Wood 2002: 9). Gaining momentum in the late 1780s, the debate on the abolition of the slave trade was influential for the British enlightenment and the emergence of the middle class. Accordingly, in this book I look back at the historical archive of English literature, specifically at narrative texts by Black transatlantic authors and canonical British writers from the eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century to discuss how ideas of familiarity, of becoming part of the nation, were navigated by variously positioned subjects. In the two main sections of this study, I trace a shift in discourses on familial feeling, from the eighteenth-century emphasis on moral sentiment and sentimentalism as the predominant mode in fiction to social reform and realism that was to become characteristic of Victorian writing. This also changed public discourse from focusing on abolition and the aftermath of slavery in the Caribbean to a reinvention of the British empire and its enlightened New Imperialism that was no longer built on enslaved labour but territorial expansion in Asia and Africa. It was in competition with several European powers in the second half of the nineteenth century when the British empire had, in fact, reached its greatest extent. Thus, the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 and the Indian Rebellion of 1857 are indicators of discursive turning points in these debates that mark the end dates of the two sections in this book.

This particular spatio-temporal framework of Familial Feeling, I argue, also promotes a reassessment of the so-called rise of the (British)Footnote 6 novel account that has been variously discussed ever since Ian Watt’s eponymous path-breaking study in 1957. Reframed here as a story of entangled tonalities, considering both the generic aesthetic ideals underlying the novel form, understood first and foremost as prose writing that depicts realistic affective individualism, and notions of Englishness and Britishness as products of transatlantic negotiation. The rise of the novel can thus be related to a process by which modern Britishness is consolidated as inclusive of the formerly enslaved in the eighteenth century. This, however, gives way to greater colonial ambitions in the course of the nineteenth century. Accordingly, the novel form of writing prose that emerged in the eighteenth century and became more established in the nineteenth century modified the registers of how readers thought about families and belonging and who was included in communities of the familiar. In order to grasp these modified registers of familiarity in this book, I will discuss four different tonalities in the work of eight authors that shaped conceptions of the human in relation to the debates around British national identity, the abolition of slavery, and the emergence of the British empire, beginning with the foundational tone of Daniel Defoe and Olaudah Equiano, followed by the digressive tone of Ignatius Sancho and Laurence Sterne and the resisting tonality of Jane Austen and Robert Wedderburn and finally the consolidating tone of Charles Dickens and Mary Seacole. Literary scholar Sianne Ngai employs the concept of tone as a way “to account for the affective dimension of literature” (2007: 44), to bridge formal and political analysis of literary discourse, and I will return to this idea in explaining entangled tonalities in greater detail.

This project is admittedly ambitious. It operates on at least three different but interrelated levels. In concert with more recent approaches in the historiography of the British empire, I firstly hope to foster a view of British literature as part of a global network that can only be told as a story of entangled modernities. Such a temporal framing stands in contrast to the strong focus on the late nineteenth and twentieth century in postcolonial studies and the model of “writing back”. Traditionally, English studies of the novel, on the one hand, concentrate on the aesthetic and narrative development of the genre or, owing to Edward Said’s interventions that I discuss in greater detail in the chapter on Austen and Wedderburn, examine colonial influences on canonical sources (or, as a third independent branch of research, analyse the “new” global Anglophone literatures in the former colonies). In this study however, the literature of marginalised subjects is not to be simply added to the established canon. Rather, the focus is on the simultaneous and intertwined marginalised and hegemonic claim to literature as a transatlantic sphere of subjectification. Literature therefore functions as the medium of middle-class self-assertion and of the emotive access to subject status by those who have been excluded from the realm of the human, the “family of man”, or, as Henry Louis Gates, Jr., has famously phrased it, “The slave wrote not primarily to demonstrate humane letters, but to demonstrate his or her own membership in the human community” (1988: 128). Simon Gikandi likewise argues: “culture became the most obvious form of social mobility and self-making in the century that invented the modern individual” (2011: 55).Footnote 7 In his comprehensive study on Slavery and the Culture of Taste Gikandi elaborates:

In Britain as elsewhere in Europe, the promotion of a culture of sense and sensibility, of politeness and conduct operated as if the problem of enslavement belonged to distant reaches of empire far away from the domestic scene in which new identities were being constructed. (2011: 90)

While the “humanising” function of literature that Gates and Gikandi describe seems immediately convincing, we should also direct more attention to the fact that the early Black Atlantic authors also engaged in aesthetically challenging forms thereby altering writing conventions and the tonality of Britishness. Thus, my transnational mapping of the rise of the British novel specifically concentrates on the ideal of the middle-class family and registers of familial feeling.

Hence, secondly, the title of the book, Familial Feeling, is explored, in Raymond Williams’s terms, as a “structure of feeling” that organises and, on a more methodological level, challenges questions of empathy and reading/writing in relation to processes of inclusion and exclusion. The act of reading as empathic identification with someone else—accelerated by the technological revolutions, increased literacy, and faster distribution at the time—becomes crucial for the emotional register of the middle class. I aim to interrogate how this formation was always reliant on interaction with Others and cannot be framed as a linear progress narrative.Footnote 8

Thirdly and finally, on a methodological level, my goal is to bring into dialogue the mainly separated spheres of (postclassical) approaches in (transatlantic) narrative studies, addressing aesthetic dimensions of literary tone and narrative identity formation, with those strands of affect theory that emphasise the political mobilisation of affect and (often negative) feeling, prevalent in postcolonial and queer theory as well as in African American studies, which I take up in more detail in the conclusion, dealing with contemporary memorial culture and the ethics of engaging with the archive of slavery. I thus advocate a continued permeability for cultural studies perspectives in literary studies instead of a re-canonisation in national literary studies.

Bringing into conjunction these diverse perspectives on familial feelings of Britishness, I argue, helps to systematically resituate the well-known texts by Defoe, Sterne, Austen, and Dickens and defamiliarise the established understanding of the rise of the novel. The similarities in political bearing and aesthetic choices, the entangled tonalities, regarding the topics of slavery and colonialism between the canonical authors and sources written by those whose lives have been shaped by transatlantic crossings, such as Equiano, Sancho, Wedderburn, and Seacole, are not considered extraordinary or in binary opposition, but rather part and parcel of the very rise of Britishness and its narratives. These texts are read side by side as part of a larger “family history”; together they construct, circumvent, contest, and consolidate the narrations of modern nation states and the emergence of a British literary canon. Before expanding on these ideas in the literary readings in the following four chapters, I will provide a more systematic historical and methodological contextualisation for the underlying premises of this book. For the remainder of this introduction, I first explain in greater detail what I call “familial feeling” in relation to the intertwined histories of modernity and slavery. I then discuss how this idea can be linked to and help reframe the “rise of the novel” account and finally suggest looking for “entangled tonalities” as a way to capture the dynamics between the British novel and early Black Atlantic writing.

Familial Feeling

“The word ‘family’ can be used to mean many things, from the conjugal pair to the ‘family of man’”, writes historian Lawrence Stone (1977: 21) in his classical substantial account of the modernisation of family life, The Family, Sex and Marriage in England, 1500–1800. It is specifically this flexibility of the term family which covers both the micro structure of societies as domestic units within one household as well as a much larger conception of belonging to the human race in general that I wish to evoke in the phrase “familial feeling”.Footnote 9 It purposely echoes the expression “familiar feeling” because the family, despite the vagueness of the concept itself, is referenced time and again as the locus of supposedly self-evident commonality. No social sphere, it seems, is as saturated with affects and regimes of feeling as kinship structures. They organise emotional belonging as well as social intelligibility and the accumulation of wealth. They are familiar to all of us.

Concurrent with Stone’s family history in 1977, Raymond Williams, one of the founding figures of British cultural studies, considered the affective importance of cultural artefacts as part of a “structure of feeling”. In contrast to the more static concept of ideology, Williams emphasises the emotional dimension in the emergence and shifts of social norms. This is his well-known definition:

We are talking about characteristic elements of impulse, restraint, and tone; specifically affective elements of consciousness and relationships: not feeling against thought, but thought as felt and feeling as thought: practical consciousness of a present kind, in a living and interrelating continuity. We are then defining these elements as a “structure”: as a set, with specific internal relations, at once interlocking and in tension. […] The idea of a structure of feeling can be specifically related to the evidence of forms and conventions […] which, in art and literature, are often among the very first indications that such a new structure is forming. (1985 [1977]: 132133)

These structures in turn can “support, elaborate, and consolidate the practice of empire” and affect coloniser and colonised as postcolonial critic Edward Said (1994: 14) has argued. Hence, the realm of what feels familiar is to a large degree reliant on how emotional belonging is imagined in art and literature. Familial feeling in this book then refers to the ways in which “the family” and “familiarity” are overlapping spheres. This is also one of the reasons why the notion of the family is especially attractive for those excluded from the realm of the human as a means to claim inclusion into both the larger “family of man” and the micro level of the nuclear family. The family is where the demarcation between self and Other is challenged. The Caribbean plantation, for instance, becomes the physical space in which interracial sexualised violence alters notions of who belongs to Britain. This debate will be addressed in the chapter on Austen and Wedderburn.

Stone describes in greater detail the processes that led to the modern family unit becoming the predominant form of living together in Europe. He recounts this development as a change from what he calls the “restricted patriarchal nuclear family” to the “closed domesticated nuclear family” which in Britain evolved in the late seventeenth century and predominated in the eighteenth. “This was the decisive shift, for this new type of family was the product of the rise of Affective Individualism. It was a family organized around the principle of personal autonomy, and bound together by strong affective ties” (1977: 7). In more than one respect, Britain pioneered the development of this middle-class family ideal. Earlier than in any other European state the so-called industrial revolution (and the concomitant urbanisation) gave rise to smaller family units and a rigid class system, as Friedrich Engels (2010 [1884]) outlined not by coincidence in relation to England in 1884 in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State.Footnote 10 The modern individual then is conceptualised as autonomous and social at the same time.

So, while the nuclear (bourgeois) family can be understood as the epitome of modern belonging, it also becomes increasingly regulatory with respect to gendered, racialised, and sexualised norms, as Michel Foucault (1998 [1976]) has famously delineated in what he called the shift from the “deployment of alliance” to the “deployment of sexuality”, which from the eighteenth century onward complemented the former.Footnote 11 This creates ambivalence in the sense that the family can be considered to be both inclusionary and exclusionary. Metaphorically, the variously gendered family relations are extended to the very state itself in phrases such as “fatherland” or the “mother country”.Footnote 12 Accordingly, the conception of modern nation states as “imagined communities” in the eighteenth century superseded earlier systems of religious community and dynastic realm, as Benedict Anderson has described in his well-known work of the same name. Anderson stresses the importance of newspapers and novels, or more generally “print-capitalism” in this process (1991: 936; cf. also Bhabha 1990).Footnote 13 Consequently, constructions of familial feeling and the rise of print culture need to be considered in unison to understand the shifts from the debate on abolition in the eighteenth century to colonial expansion in the nineteenth century. These modifications of regimes of familial feeling, I argue, can be described as gradual changes in emphasis from moral sentiment to social reform and from sympathy to charity.

In The Navigation of Feeling, William Reddy explains:

Scholars working on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries […] have begun to trace out the rise and fall of an emotional revolution of the past, called “sentimentalism,” or the “cult of sensibility”—a loosely organized set of impulses that played a role in cultural currents as diverse as Methodism, antislavery agitation, the rise of the novel, the French Revolution (including the Terror), and the birth of Romanticism. (2001: x)

The modern emphasis on sentimental feeling seems connected from the outset to both literary aesthetic developments (the rise of the novel, Romanticism) and political upheaval (anti-slavery agitation and the French Revolution/terror). In this understanding, literature tests the limits of acceptable subjects and objects of emotional attachment. Some examples of eighteenth-century sentimentalism, specifically novels like Henry Mackenzie’s The Man of Feeling (2009 [1771]), draw a fair amount of ridicule regarding the many tears shed on their pages already from contemporary readers and even more so from later Victorian writers (cf. Todd 1986: 141–146).Footnote 14 By now there is a well-established field of scholarship that deals specifically with sentimental fiction and slavery/abolition. Especially noteworthy in the British context are Markman Ellis’s The Politics of Sensibility. Race, Gender and Commerce in the Sentimental Novel (1996), Brycchan Carey’s British Abolitionism and the Rhetoric of Sensibility (2005), Lynn Festa’s Sentimental Figures of Empire in Eighteenth-Century Britain and France (2006) as well as Ramesh Mallipeddi’s Spectacular Suffering. Witnessing Slavery in the Eighteenth-Century British Atlantic (2016).Footnote 15 These studies are valuable foundations for my readings, which I hope to complement by emphasising global entanglements and by discussing how the sentimental rhetoric extends into a longer history of the familiar/self as well as the strange/Other in Victorian fiction (and eventually even into contemporary efforts to commemorate the abolition of slavery in Britain).

So rather than focus exclusively on the mode of literary sentimentalism, I am more interested in how the selected writers shift the tone of representing self and Other in varying familial registers. Beginning with the foundational tone of claiming the status of a self-reflexive modern subject in Defoe and Equiano’s writings, I then juxtapose the already playful mocking and digressive style of the sentimental men of letters Sancho and Sterne. Increasingly, familial feeling includes notions of terror and unrespectability in the aftermath of the terror of the 1790s and the abolition of the slave trade in the Caribbean, which Wedderburn’s writings that I read with Austen’s Mansfield Park represent. We again witness a more pronounced demarcation of Britishness in relation to both the United States and the colonies in the Victorian writing of Dickens and Seacole which can be characterised as consolidating the new imperial ambitions of the nation. So, while I do look at the “development” of novelistic writing, I aim to do so by focusing on transnational interaction as well as challenging the narrative of liberal progress.

Regarding the very concept and term enlightenment, historian Sebastian Conrad suggests that “it is less instructive to search for alleged origins—European or otherwise—than to focus on the global conditions and interactions in which the ‘Enlightenment’ emerged” (2012: 1009) and proposes to pursue a “long history of Enlightenment” (2012: 1015). He argues:

[T]hinking in stages was one of the ways in which eighteenth-century Enlightenment thinkers translated cultural difference into a language of progress. But while this idea coexisted with other notions of being “enlightened”—the progress of reason, the public sphere, secular world views—by the late nineteenth century, Enlightenment was increasingly inserted into a narrative of evolutionism and the advance of civilization. It was thus transformed from a process into a currency—some had more of it, and some needed tutors to give it to them. (2012: 1019)

In line with more and more eighteenth-century studies scholars, like Srinivas Aravamudan (1999) and Felicity Nussbaum (2005), Daniel Carey and Lynn Festa also critique a uniform understanding of Enlightenment (writ large) “into a kind of shorthand notation for a group of familiar abstractions: rationalism, universalism, equality, human rights, and science” (2009: 11) and in the introduction to their edited volume The Postcolonial Enlightenment call on literary critics to “make both centre and periphery plural” to “recognize multiple points of entry into discourses of Enlightenment as well as the possibility of alternative genealogies and teleologies” (2009: 24). Such an extension of the postcolonial framework to include the rise of modernity already in the eighteenth century helps bring into closer focus the entanglement of modernity with transatlantic slavery and colonialism, to divert “the otherwise frictionless circulation of the eighteenth century to itself as Eurocentric romance” (Aravamudan 1999: 329). Following these thinkers, I want to trace a “long history” of familial feeling in relation to the rise of the British novel. Hence, the two sections, demarcating writing before and after the 1807 British abolition of the slave trade, should not be understood as standing in stark opposition or marking a linear progress narrative but rather be aligned with Conrad’s account of an enlightenment continuum. As part of this process, novelistic conventions also take stronger hold.Footnote 16 Accordingly, we can observe a modification from sentimental to domestic fiction,Footnote 17 which becomes reliant, again in Conrad’s terms, gradually on a nationalistic “narrative of evolutionism and the advance of civilization”.Footnote 18

Let me contextualise these literary developments further in relation to the history of the slave trade. Obviously, it is predominantly work coming out of the academic discipline of history that has offered productive attempts to read European history as always already in relation to colonialism and the triangular slave trade. These approaches are linked to labels such as connected or entangled histories as well as histoire croisée and transatlanticFootnote 19 history or modernism (cf. Beckles 1997; Conrad 2012; Conrad et al. 2013; Werner and Zimmermann 2006).Footnote 20 Given the limited first-hand accounts of the colonised and enslaved, however, alternative methodologies come into play in these historiographic accounts.Footnote 21 One angle is the attempt to write counter-histories, often incorporating fictional sources. In their influential transatlantic “history from below” The Many-Headed Hydra, Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker, for instance, reconstruct the “lost history” of a “multiethnic class” (cf. 2000: 6) focusing on rebellious inter-racial alliances. In a similar but differently framed attempt, linking eighteenth-century accounts of slavery to more contemporary history and what he calls “the long twentieth century” Ian Baucom (2005: 17) discusses the Zong massacreFootnote 22 and the numerous ways in which this history and the spectre of the dead still “haunt” modern capitalist societies. Given the many fictionalised versions of the event, including J.M.W. Turner’s 1840 painting “Slavers Throwing overboard the Dead and Dying—Typhoon coming on” (later simply called “The Slave Ship”), he too turns to artistic imagination in his Specters of the Atlantic.Footnote 23 One way to reconstruct transatlantic history then is the recourse to neglected sources, trying to “give voice” to the marginalised. However, both these important historical interventions remain committed to a project of counter rather than truly entangled histories which would, I argue, also account for more uncomfortable aspects of collusion, for instance.

Susan Buck-Morss’ equally influential Hegel, Haiti and Universal History is one of the most persuasive interventions into the intellectual history of the West to date precisely because she highlights the reciprocity of the West and “the rest” in ways that I would see more closely aligned with an entangled understanding of European modernity (rather than a counter-history). She investigates how enlightenment thought coincides with the systematic mass subjugation of human beings and calls slavery the “root metaphor of Western political philosophy” (2009: 21). Buck-Morss focuses on German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and his potential knowledge of the Haitian Revolution interlinking this uprising with the French Revolution, to “consider Haiti not as the victim of Europe, but as an agent in Europe’s construction” (2009: 80). Also taking Hegel’s philosophy as a starting point, Paul Gilroy’s widely applied concept of the Black AtlanticFootnote 24 (1993) still offers one of the most fruitful points of departure in theorising modern subjectivity in relation to the violence of transatlantic enslavement and influences my framing of Black writing as integral to the foundation of British conceptions of self and Other. Gilroy criticises Hegel’s “dialectic of intersubjective dependency and recognition” (Gilroy 1993: 68).Footnote 25 The Hegelian slave, or bondsman to be more precise, prefers bondage rather than death (cf. Hegel 1970 [1807]: 113–120). In narratives of real slavery, however, “positive preference for death rather than continued servitude” undermines Hegel’s allegory (Gilroy 1993: 68), apparent in texts like Equiano’s narrative, a notion to which I will come back in greater detail in my reading. In such a global understanding of the history of modernity then the metaphors of bondage/slavery and Europe’s emancipation into an enlightened state clash violently with the material reality of chattel slavery. At a time when the so-called enlightened subject is finding its voice, legally enslaved people were not “inferior subjects” but “a special kind of property” (Gikandi 2011: 91). By turning to entanglement, I want to emphasise the very paradoxes of European modernity that is violently exclusionary but also becomes a space of potential or imaginary radical inclusivity.

In Britain, slavery fuelled middle-class financial wealth, the rise of the banks, especially in port cities like Liverpool and Bristol, while chattel slavery was safely pushed out of sight, as historian James Walvin argues:

For more than a century and a half, from the founding of British Caribbean slavery, the British had enjoyed the expanding wealth of their slave colonies without troubling themselves too much about the inhumanities and immoralities which underpinned the system. (2007: 99)

This ignorance towards the realities of chattel slavery also influenced how Black people were perceived at the time. In her popular historical study Black London: Life before Emancipation, Gretchen Gerzina estimates that by 1768 around 15,000 Black people lived in London (with a total population of about 676,250) (1995: 5). However, Black British subjects—even if in servitude—were often more fashionable “house servants” rather than slaves. Other members of the predominantly male population worked as musicians and sailors, and occasionally African royalty was sent to be educated abroad.Footnote 26 Hence, while there is a growing visible Black presence in Britain, the eventually scandalised “horrors of slavery” are connected primarily to the Americas, not to British soil in the public imagination.

Despite these distancing mechanisms regarding the day-to-day realities of slavery, there is growing awareness of and public debate on the crass incongruity of the philosophical ideals of enlightenment thinking and the lived reality of slavery which does not remain unchallenged in the second half of the eighteenth century, neither in the colonies (as the history of slave uprisings, such as Tacky’s Rebellion in Jamaica in 1760, underlines), nor in Britain. It is interesting to note, however, that in the West, it is not the rational secularised elite but often members of the dissenting Protestant sects and Evangelicals who became active first in the fight to end slavery (cf. Sandiford 1988: 52). Accordingly, there is a twenty-year period of campaigning for the abolition of the slave trade beginning in the 1790s when William Wilberforce brought several unsuccessful petitions before Parliament.Footnote 27 In this context, literary texts contributed the dimension of feeling as one important indicator of modern subjectivity—to feel pain and to empathise with others become crucial for the notion of the enlightened subject and eventually for the abolitionist campaign.

Nonetheless, what exactly led to the eventual abolition of slavery in Britain is disputed among historians today. Walvin (2007: 99, 106–123), for instance, links the success of the British campaign for abolition to the rise of free trade, which promised to be more successful financially than the more and more risky triangular slave trade, rather than interpreting it as a moral triumph of the abolitionists (cf. also Brown 2006).Footnote 28 Charlotte Sussman (2000), too, emphasises economic motives for the increasing British criticism of the slave trade.Footnote 29 But the changing public discourse cannot be linked to economic factors solely.

Legally, one important milestone in the fight for abolition was, as widely noted, the Somerset case of 1772 which preceded the mentioned infamous 1781 first Zong case. The degradation of human beings to property was challenged when the fugitive slave James Somerset won his case put forward by Granville Sharp before the Chief Justice, William Murray, First Earl of Mansfield and—being granted a writ of habeas corpus—could not be re-sold into West Indian slavery since he had already entered British soil (cf. e.g. B. Carey 2005: 175; Sandiford 1988: 66).Footnote 30 This is seen by many as the beginning of Britain’s paradoxical exceptional standing on outlawing slavery at home while still profiting financially from its plantations abroad for at least the following sixty years (cf. Swaminathan 2009: 86–100). Buck-Morss argues that a distinct spatial ordering is at work here. “The Somerset case defined slavery as essentially ‘un-British,’ an ‘alien intrusion’ which could be tolerated at best, as an unfortunate part of the commercial and colonial ‘other-world’” (2009: 92). Despite the growing bleak working conditions in urban factories, Britain was demarcated as the “free world” (2009: 100) and Buck-Morss classifies the factory as an “extension of the colonial system” at home (2009: 102). This underscores how the domestic and the colonial sphere interact, continuously rivalling for public attention—a concern in almost all the literary texts discussed, especially in Dickens’s later Victorian writing.

These trials about the “human” status of the enslaved predate the legal battle for women’s suffrage. Nevertheless, one can also detect connections that continue well into the nineteenth century as I will lay out. Here, too, we see that despite the fundamental subjugation of women, enlightenment discourse extended a paradoxical promise of inclusivity. While women were far from enjoying equal rights, upper and middle-class white women received more access to the political sphere in the eighteenth century. In the colonies, many white women participated in forms of domination—often being able to exercise such power for the first time. Others, in turn, expressed political agency by lobbying for the abolition of slavery (while being denied the status as citizens in Britain) (cf. Ferguson 1992; Woodard 1999: 68). But regardless of white women’s visible commitment to abolition, this political dedication was often not automatically sutured to the feminist demands of women’s suffrage which, despite the 1792 publication of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft (1992 [1792]), only gained momentum at the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century. Quite on the contrary, many (Evangelical) female abolitionists opposed the more radical demand for women’s rights and emphasised women’s role as virtuous helpmeets of their husbands. Abolitionist poet Hannah More, for example, expressed moral outrage over the lewd and unchristian behaviour in the colonies that threatened notions of modesty (cf. Ferguson 1992: 9, 146–147). The fact that the male British planter class produced offspring with enslaved women challenged not only boundaries of Christian morality, it also led to constellations in which the father literally and legally became the “owner” of his children, a taboo that is hinted at in Austen’s text and explicit in Wedderburn’s recalcitrant letters to his Scottish family.

While the emerging nineteenth-century discourse of scientific racism turns this into a narrative of threatening “contamination” of the “English race”, eighteenth-century abolitionist discourse relies more strongly on a supposed female sensibility that can extend into the plantocracy in the Caribbean and thereby help keep “order” in the British domestic sphere. Sussman explains this in the following terms:

In abolitionist pamphlets, […] active female virtue is conjoined to a kind of national sensibility, a female anxiety […]. The compassion of British women symbolizes a specific national identity—a quality that distinguishes England from the rest of the world. […] Abolitionist rhetoric thus consciously calls on female sensibility to safeguard the home from colonial contamination, to preserve that home as a symbol of a purified English identity, and thus to ensure that the domestic sphere remains distinct from the colonial arena. (2000: 126)

Thus, the “progressive” politics of white female abolitionists also fed into moral conceptions of national purity imagined as increasingly endangered in Britain’s colonial involvement. Abolitionist writing (which included texts by Black and white authors) therefore should be contextualised as a highly ambivalent political project. Building on these historical and political analyses my interest is specifically in how these discourses shaped the aesthetic tonalities of creating familial feeling in prose narratives of the time, which, in turn, need to be sutured to the larger philosophical debate on feeling and sentiment.

In relation to the eighteenth-century moral philosophy of the so-called Scottish enlightenment thinkers the concept of sympathy is central. Helga Schwalm underlines the double meaning of sympathy as a communication of sentiments (feeling) and sentiments as the moral foundation of understanding an “Other” (cf. Schwalm 2007: 18; cf. also Neumann and Schmidt-Haberkamp 2015). It is specifically Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments that is relevant in this context as he proposes sympathy as a process of imagining ourselves as others, which he calls “fellow-feeling” (2009 [1759]: 14). Ellis further explains: “Smith’s account of sympathy has the logic of Burke’s sublime, in that there is a fundamental discontinuity between the quality of feeling of the viewer and the sufferer of pain or fear” (1996: 13). As a result, in literature, we can observe a proliferation of sentimental and tearful displays of pity and compassion, both aspects of sympathy in Smith’s understanding, which goes hand in hand with a growth and the increasing institutionalisation of philanthropy (cf. Ellis 1996: 14). Similarly, Brycchan Carey argues that the discourses of abolition and sentimentality have shaped a specific “sentimental rhetoric” whereby sympathy is understood as a means to shed light on suffering (2005: 2).

Abolitionist discourse therefore scandalised the bodily and emotional anguish of enslaved Africans as a means to generate momentum against the slave trade (which was, we must remember, not palpably present in the daily lives of many Britons, even those who held considerable financial interests in Caribbean plantations). As Simon Strick (2014) has argued, the very capacity to feel pain became a form of cultural capital that enslaved Africans supposedly lacked altogether. The enslaved were reduced to mere bodies, which turned them into the “ideal” workforce for the hard labour on the plantations. Hence, the emphasis on the physical pain of slaves, on cruel bodily punishments and mutilations, as well as the severe emotional scarring that the severing of family ties caused, functions as both an “appeal to common humanity” and “evidence of the capabilities of Africans” (Innes 2002: 17); and in this endeavour “new literary forms and new narrative and poetic techniques emerged” as Lyn Innes (2002: 4) argues. Sympathy is thus interrelated with the arts and the power to imagine oneself in the position of another, which longer prose fiction and the novel specifically catered to. Ellis accordingly links the rise of sentimental fiction and the political debate on the abolition of slavery aesthetically.Footnote 31 He argues,

The paradox of sentimentalism, simply stated, is that these novels are the site of considerable political debate and that this is so despite and because of the extraordinary texture of the novels, with their focus on romantic-love plots, their devotion to the passions and the rhetoric of tears and blushes, and their fragmentary and digressive narrative. (1996: 4)

In other words, while the emotionalising and digressive style of sentimental fictionFootnote 32 seems at first glance at odds with the highly politicised and serious topics these texts address (cf. Festa 2006: 2), the depictions of suffering and sympathetic feeling are related. Indeed, there is a specific eighteenth-century aesthetic indulgence played out in sentimental fiction that can be understood as a means to establish oneself as a particularly emotionally sophisticated subject (cf. also Keymer 2005). This aspect will come under closer scrutiny in the chapter on Sterne and Sancho who communicate, despite their very different positionalities, similarly as sentimental men of letters. Accordingly, Ellis states, “Reading sentimental fiction, then, was to be an improving experience, refining the manners by exercising the ability to feel for others” (1996: 17). This then gestures towards the paradox of sympathy as reproducing regulating mechanisms in its reliance on objects of pathos and the spectacle of the suffering slave, as Amit Rai (2002: xi) argues in his book Rule of Sympathy.Footnote 33 He explains:

[I]n the colonial ordering of the West Indies and India, paternalism as a model, the family as an object, and “domestic affection” as an instrument were all central to the practices of governing populations. […] Sympathy was both a model and instrument of governmentality. (Rai 2002: 8–9)

Put differently, in the discourse on sympathy, those aspects that Stone considers foundational of modern family relations and which he calls affective individualism can go hand in hand with a Foucauldian notion of governmentality that increasingly understands colonial relations as family relations. Again, Rai’s explications are helpful:

[F]or eighteenth-century moral philosophers, the family was the preeminent work space for the functioning of sympathy. As it became a vehicle for new pedagogies of control and the elaboration of citizenship […]: The sympathetic relation, as the first of all domestic affections, became a model and an instrument for a newly atomizing class-society and a rapidly consolidating empire. Finally, the metaphor of family also became part of counter-discourses, critiques, and strategic displacements. (2002: 35)

As a result, current scholarship is critical of the conflation of sentimentalism with progressive humanitarianism (cf. Boulukos 2013) and highlights questions of paternalism but also counter-hegemonic agency.Footnote 34 The most famous and central visual representation of this paradoxical effect of sympathy is the sentimental emotionalising image of the kneeling shackled slave on the Wedgwood medallion of the British Anti-Slavery Society, pleading “Am I Not a Man and a Brother?”, which became a popular embellishment of crockery and was worn as a fashion accessory by women who supported abolition (cf. Dabydeen 2011; Festa 2006: 164–171). On the one hand, it depicts a subservient man in need of help. On the other hand, this Black man becomes part of the “family of man” for the first time (and later a female equivalent was produced, too). From a contemporary perspective, this image is criticised precisely because such representations cater to a supposedly enlightened benevolent white audience and hardly leave room for Black agency. Festa fittingly calls this a “trope of redundant personification” since it “recreates the humanity of someone who is already human” and therefore “exposes the way sentimental personification dehumanizes the very figure it animates” (2006: 12) while simultaneously bestowing “affective distinction” (2006: 187) to those who express sympathy. The humanity of the enslaved is not taken for granted; it becomes the subservient question addressed to a benevolent audience that has the power to include or exclude the objects of its sympathy into the realm of the familiar.

With increasing fears of the more radical terror of the revolutionary uprisings at the end of the eighteenth century, abolitionist discourse showed docile slaves who patiently waited (or begged) to be freed by their masters rather than engage in more violent protest against slavery which was a common reality in the Caribbean slave revolts. In this sense, these images actually produce overlap with some of the assumptions around the figuration of the “grateful slave” that George Boulukos has analysed comprehensively, and which originated in pro-slavery publications. Unthreatening sentimentalised accounts of slavery promoted a more moderate form of amelioration rather than abolitionist discourse that cannot simply be separated into politically progressive versus conservative: Amelioration became a “‘moderate’ […] middle ground claimed by both abolitionists and slave owners. Amelioration was attractive to plantation owners not only because it imagined slaves happily embracing their slavery, but also because it staved off a public demand for emancipation” (Boulukos 2006: 362).Footnote 35 Boulukos thus identifies benevolence as the central marker of power that becomes prevalent first in pro-slavery and later abolitionist discourse (cf. 2008: 21). Importantly, the image of familial care is evoked here once more in “the pro-slavery vision of a familial relationship between benevolent paternalist masters and faithful dependant slaves” (Boulukos 2008: 37). In a similar understanding, Festa argues that the “sentimental feeling self is thus the Janus face of the Enlightenment rational subject” (2006: 4). While eighteenth-century philosophical discourses on sympathy challenge the boundary between self and Other, the aesthetics of sentimentality, Festa contends, stabilises the dichotomy of the subjects and objects of feeling and by extension imperial aspirations (2006: 6–8).

Nevertheless, while sympathy elicits uncomfortable questions about the agency of the suffering Other, it is also a marker of social distinction as a feeling/sympathetic modern subject that increasingly Black writing subjects like Equiano and Sancho claim by employing this rhetoric themselves. In this way the adoption of such sentimental aesthetics then can also bear subversive potential and the representation of Black suffering remains ambivalent. In accordance, Sussman describes the oscillation between disgust and sentiment in eighteenth-century representations of colonial subjects as instants of possible disruption of hegemonic frameworks. She suggests “reading moments of uncontrollable affect not as monuments to the crushing power of a racist ideology, but as places where the balance of colonial power is revealed to be unstable” (2000: 17). Therefore, rather than focus straightforwardly on the political implications of sympathy overburdening the racialised body with affect, I will interrogate the ambivalent aesthetics of creating familiarity via sympathy not limited to the literary style of sentimentalism (which the scholars cited in this section have explored so fruitfully).

Barnes succinctly states that “sympathy is both the expression of familiarity and the vehicle through which familiarity is created” (Barnes 1997: 2). We can notice this idea already in Smith’s original conception of how sympathy works. He writes that “my imagination is more ductile, and more readily assumes […] the shape and configuration of the imaginations of those with whom I am familiar” (2009 [1759]: 37). Familial feeling then is both inclusionary as well as exclusionary, as Barnes argues conclusively: “Whatever character(istic)s cannot be made to conform to the family image must remain excluded from sympathy, while those that are included must be represented in such a way that they prove familiar and thus identifiable” (1997: 97). However, Barnes, in general seems to overemphasise the need for familiar similarity in objects of sympathy I would argue. First of all, the fact that a subject can sympathise with someone who is clearly marked as different such as “the slave” shows a form of triumphant compassion that can help distinguish oneself from those who are less enlightened such as “the slaveowner” (often marked as unchristian). Thus, sympathy is a marker of distinction that gains relevance also in the growing transatlantic public sphere. One effect of the early phase of protest and the eventual success of the abolitionist campaign with the abolition of the slave trade in 1807Footnote 36 and the eventual passing of the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 then was that it enabled the British to imagine themselves as exceptionally modern and progressive in their renunciation of slavery. Christopher Brown convincingly describes this as an investment in “moral capital” (2006) as a reaction to the American Revolution and the lost influence in the Americas. British abolitionism is set against the United States’ deplored holding on to the—as it was called then—“peculiar institution” of slavery which was abolished in the United States only some thirty years later with the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment at the close of the Civil War in 1865.Footnote 37

Consequently, expressions of feeling can also promote a form of national demarcation that comes into play in Britain’s self-conception of moral superiority in relation to what is perceived as the United States’s belated abolition of slavery.Footnote 38 So, while there must be a certain kind of fraternal similarity, and here I agree with Barnes, as “man and brother” to evoke familial feeling, markers of difference between the subject and object of sympathy are never entirely elided. Especially in forms of rhetoric that emphasise a (British) moral exceptionalism in degree of emotional responsiveness, it serves to create familiarity but also hierarchical distinction from those who “feel” less. Britishness here becomes an attractive vessel to claim familiarity with the formerly enslaved who should not be reduced to passive objects in this discourse.

Accordingly, this supposed moral superiority also influenced the transatlantic reception of Britain and turned it into a centre of attraction for African American thinkers which prompts Elisa Tamarkin to speak of “Black Anglophilia”.Footnote 39 Tamarkin describes the travels of Black intellectuals such as Frederick Douglass and Samuel Ringgold Ward in the nineteenth century to the United Kingdom as comparable to the European grand tour of the male English elite in the eighteenth century (cf. Buzard 2002) and often a first step to claim the status of “citizen of the world” (Tamarkin 2002: 455, 460). The formerly enslaved cross the Atlantic in the reverse direction of their forbearers and, as Tamarkin (2002: 473) contends, thus champion a modern transnational cosmopolitan identity that understands Britishness as culturally progressive.Footnote 40 The stylised sentimentality of the eighteenth century morphs into more realistic depictions of interiority and familial feeling that Black authors also partake in.

Historian John Tosh characterises the 1830s and 1840s in Britain as consolidating the ideal of the home as the site of emotional belonging. He writes, “The Victorian middle-class domestic unit represented the final and most decisive stage in the long process whereby the rationale of the Western family shifted from being primarily economic to become sentimental and emotional” (Tosh 1999: 13). In this process, the Victorian novelFootnote 41 is firmly established as the emotive vehicle for familial feeling:

Domesticity in this sense was essentially a nineteenth-century invention. One can go further and say that it was an integral aspect of modernity: socially it was inconceivable without large-scale urbanization; culturally it was one of the most important expressions of that awareness of individual interiority which had developed since the Enlightenment. Practised first and most intensively by the bourgeoisie, domesticity became the talisman of bourgeois culture, particularly in painting and novels. (Tosh 1999: 4)

In a similar vein, historian Ute Frevert speaks of the development of a “bürgerlichen Gefühlshabitus” (2011: 14). According to Frevert, the conception of this habitus of bourgeois emotion is reliant on the attribution of the “realness”/authenticity of feelings and sympathy (in contrast to the false feeling and pretence of the aristocracy that is sometimes associated with the literary style of sentimentalism) and the working classes and non-European societies who supposedly lacked feeling and refinement altogether (cf. 2011: 14). Sympathy and sensibility now become middle-class virtues. But Frevert to a certain degree reinstates these borders as fixed. Looking at early Black Atlantic writing, we see how those subjects who are supposedly excluded from these norms do cite them—even before they are fully recognised citizens. Modern subjectivity as the capacity to express “authentic” feeling in writing thus is highly contested in the transnational public sphereFootnote 42 I will argue.

While there are many consistencies and continuities with earlier eighteenth-century sentimentalism, increasingly the discourse shifts from a debate about who has the capacity to feel to begin with to a focus on refined emotionality as a form of class and civilisational distinction (much like the shift that Conrad identified in relation to the idea of enlightenment from process to currency). The question now no longer is if Africans and their descendants are human (in the sense that they possess the same feelings as Europeans), now there is concern about how they should be governed as British colonial subjects (for instance, in relation to the question of African resettlement or the debate whether mixed-race subjects can be considered British). Consequently, hegemonic expressions of emotionality in the literary realm shift as well: We no longer read of the abundant tears and boundless expression of affection, but witness a display of controlled feeling that takes centre stage, as Gesa Stedman (2002) highlights.Footnote 43 This measured presentation of emotion was considered crucial for the emergence of the middle-class habitus in Victorian England. Stedman identifies “affection, feeling, emotion, passion, sensibility and sentiment” (2002: 25) as the most common “emotion words” in the nineteenth century. So, while there is not necessarily a radically new vocabulary of feeling, there is indeed a different emphasis on degree, which corresponds to the generic stabilisation of the novelFootnote 44 and the predominance of domestic fiction. This, in turn, can be connected to a reemphasis on gendered difference which the men of feeling had disrupted to a certain degree.

While women have always also managed family affairs, Nancy Armstrong describes the naturalisation of the gendered middle-class division of labour into the figurations of the new “domestic woman” versus the “economic man” (cf. 1987: 59). This gendered order however is less dependent on the supposedly separate private and public spheres, as Tosh (2004) contends, than on the distinction between citizens and non-citizens. He elaborates that middle-class men’s prerogative was not only the access to the public sphere, but also a distinctly male role of caretaker as a “man of character” (2004: 76, 197) within the realm of the private. These duties extended mainly to economically dependent women and children.Footnote 45 Consequently, rather than debate sympathy as a philosophical capacity, there is now increasing concern about who is worthy of sympathy as in the professionalisation of charities, which fosters a distinction between the “deserving” and “underserving” poor, for instance. In this way, the family becomes the locus of governmental control which Foucault (2008) famously described as “biopolitics”.

These ideas were also extended into the colonies where, as is much noted (for instance by Rai 2002), the supposedly “childlike” natives were conceptualised as requiring English “parental” guidance. In this way, progress and modernity become products of an ethos of familial care which requires those who are not (yet) modern. Thus, through colonial expansion and emigration, working-class men and women were included more and more into the promise of (class) mobility since it was first and foremost the so-called surplus men and women (McClintock 1995: 238) who left England to “conquer” a bourgeois identity elsewhere. In accordance with this growing emphasis on rule abroad and self-regulation at home, the civilisational concerns with “family hygiene” and the threat of “racial purity” are also increasingly framed as a form of competition between the colonial sphere and the working class in Britain as was noted earlier.Footnote 46

This courting public attention is thus not entirely new but a sign of the shifting discourse. Put forward initially by pro-slavery writers of the late eighteenth century who tried to divert attention away from the harsh working conditions of the enslaved in the Caribbean by suggesting that there was hardly any difference between the work on the plantations and the “sufferings of the British poor, in particular, miners and child chimney sweeps” (B. Carey 2005: 15), this playing off of one form of oppression against another returns with a vengeance in Victorian depictions of the working classes, as in the pitiful street urchin Jo in Dickens’s Bleak House which I discuss in my reading of the novel in Chap. 5. The “Chartist critique of ‘white slavery’ in England” (Rai 2002: 121) is reliant on symbolically black figures of neglected whiteness. However, interestingly, this construction now appears in “progressive” discourse, too.Footnote 47 So again, I am not suggesting a radical break between eighteenth-century sentimentalism and the nineteenth-century novel. Rather I am interested in a consolidation and suturing of ideas of belonging that are tied to notions of familiarity which is no longer philosophically framed only as “fellow-feeling” but displayed in modes of regulating those who belong to a specific national “imagined community”.

While the “authenticity” of Black authorship continues to be contested, the rise (or consolidation) of the novel, I argue, enabled marginalised subjects to claim different literary registers or tonalities of familiarity (as is to be argued in relation to Wedderburn’s resisting voice in contrast to Seacole’s more consolidating tone, for instance). Conversely, the novels of Austen and Dickens include references to slavery to both test and buttress notions of the British family. This is a more complicated Bakhtinian dialogue than radical versus conservative family narratives; the authors at the centre often emphasise the complicated gendered implications of the bourgeois novel (Austen and Dickens) while Black Atlantic authors sought to implement their position within the British family by constructing different Others (Seacole’s reference to colonial and US-American Others, for example). Following the 1857 so-called Indian Mutiny, Britain drastically professionalises colonial ordering as familial control. I end my study with texts then which can be understood as pointing in the direction of a consolidation of colonial expansion in the second half of the nineteenth century when Britain enters the phase of the so-called New Imperialism (cf. Hobsbawm 1989; Swaminathan 2009: 217). Nonetheless, the gendered social order was never uncontested. The numerous efforts to reform inheritance and marriage law as well as resistances to colonial rule in the nineteenth century are results of these social processes that turned the family into the central modern social regulatory unit and arena of conflicting powers.Footnote 48 As laid out in this historical overview, the dissemination of feeling through print publications, in general, and the emplotment of national belonging in the ever more popular novel, in particular, evoked an inclusionary promise into a new form of familiarity that my title “familial feeling” alludes to. The readership of these texts also came to include populations outside the bourgeois metropolitan elite. This finally brings me to the link between familial feeling and the rise of the novel as a specific aesthetic development that is often told purely within a national framework and detached from the global historical and political developments I have presented so far.

For this purpose, let me return once more to family historian Lawrence Stone’s terms. Stone sees affect—or, in accordance with terminology used in affect theoryFootnote 49 today, we would rather speak of feeling—less as the expression of a unique modern capacity of middle-class men and women, but as an effect of a media-specific form of communication that is closely related to the development of the novel. He writes,

There was rapidly growing emphasis on the novel, which itself evolved from a picaresque narrative of external adventures, like Robinson Crusoe, to an in-depth discussion of love, property and marriage, which were the dominant themes of the genre from Samuel Richardson to Jane Austen. There was also a substantial increase in literacy and in the capacity to handle the language, especially by women. The question therefore arises whether what appears to be a growth of affect may in fact be no more than a growth in the capacity to express emotions on paper, stimulated by growing familiarity with writing and influenced by the reading of novels. (Stone 1977: 13)

Affect, or feeling, then is not simply given but is entangled with the conventionalising and increasingly complex linguistic representations of introspection. On a textual level, feeling is generated when we “see through someone else’s eyes”.Footnote 50 The term focalization, according to Gérard Genette (1983 [1972]) and Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan (2009), refers to this point of view of a text but also includes cognitive, emotive, and ideological orientations rather than just being an answer to the question “who sees?” in a narrative. The identification with Others thus is central to the novel form but, I would argue, cannot simply be understood as generating progressive empathy as discussed in relation to the governmental aspects of sympathy. The representation of subjectivity in writing and modes of identification are part of processes of inclusion and exclusion. We could say that early Black autobiographical accounts narratologically perform avant la lettre what W.E.B. Du Bois later called “double-consciousness”Footnote 51 in his “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” in The Souls of Black Folk (2008 [1903]: 8). The narratives present Black introspection to a predominantly white audience and in this process perform a reflection of what it means to be seen through the eyes of another; in this way, the texts also alter conceptions of modern subjectivity. Thus, if we understand modern subjectivity and slavery as intertwined phenomena, historically, philosophically, and aesthetically, and I believe we should, then we need to reconsider Ian Watt’s account of the rise of the novel from a transatlantic perspective.

The Rise of the Novel Reconsidered (Again)

According to Watt’s sociological so-called triple-rise theory, England, as a result of the rise of modern industrial capitalism and the spread of Protestantism, develops a powerful, more and more literate middle-class literary market that gives birth to formal realism with the novel becoming the most popular narrative form departing from the older romance. No longer allegorical, but based on psychological insight of characters, the novel—usually published in serialised instalments and disseminated via circulating libraries—purportedly is the genre of the modern individual. Accordingly, Watt positions Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (2003 [1719]) prominently as the “first novel” (2000 [1957]: 74).Footnote 52 However, he also acknowledges the great demand for shorter printed materials such as newspapers and pamphlets. By now, Watt’s more than fifty-year-old account of how the novel “rose” to fame has attracted critiques, more nuanced revisions, and amendments as, compiled for instance, in the instructive double edition of Eighteenth-Century Fiction “Reconsidering the Rise of the Novel” edited by David Blewett (2000).

In addition to the often-voiced male bias in Watt’s account which failed to seriously consider female writers in general (cf. Armstrong 1987) and Aphra Behn’s prose in particular (cf. Todd 2000), John Richetti criticises Watt’s “teleological bias” (1969: 2) in his “grand narrative”.Footnote 53 Similarly, Michael McKeon contests the postulated homogeneity of earlier writing of the Reformation which arguably already shared many qualities of the novel, Watt’s over-emphasis on the impact of the urban middle class, which does not account for the ongoing authority of the aristocracy (especially in rural England), as well as the failure to adequately acknowledge the very different tones of eighteenth-century writing ranging from Defoe’s empiricism to Sterne’s parody (1985: 169–170).Footnote 54 Furthermore, in contrast to Watt, scholars like Richetti (2012) and David Duff (2012) turn to the Continental tradition of novel criticism and highlight Georg Lukács’s and Mikhail Bakhtin’s contributions to the field, who both position the traditional epic as counterpart to the modern novel (rather than the romance as Watt does). In this understanding, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (2003 [1605 and 1615]) is often considered the earliest European novel. Accordingly, departing further from a linear conception of how genres develop, Duff (2012), for instance, revisits Bakhtin’s concept of “novelization” (Bakhtin 1994: 6–7), which favours an intertextual aesthetic perspective and became influential for a more poststructuralist understanding of literature. Here the “newness” of the novel is seen as a self-reflexive distance from the epic. This line of critique has become a productive counter frame to what Lennard Davis calls Watt’s “applied knowledges”—“using philosophy, sociology, and formalism” to analyse the novel (Davis 2000: 490).

Hence, while I generally lean strongly towards a “Continental” poststructuralist understanding of literature (and I will come back to Bakhtin’s model of dialogicity and the concomitant polyphony of the novel (1994: 45–49) in my readings), one thing that remains convincing in Watt’s “applied” Anglo-American account to this day is the link between conceptions of the modern individual and writing (cf. McKeon 2000: 270). As McKeon states, “the novel is the quintessentially modern genre, deeply intertwined with the historicity of the modern period, of modernity itself” (2000: 254). While The Rise of the Novel certainly suffers from the mentioned “over-emphasis on the discontinuity with which the transition to modernity was achieved” (McKeon 2000: 274), the idea of “authentic” modern forms of feeling is a relevant marker of the “novelty” of eighteenth-century writing and formative of enlightenment subjectivity as an agglomeration of modernity—granted that Watt’s timeline can easily be challenged as starting either too late, as McKeon and Richetti have it, or, too early, as Downie suggests and which thus ties in with postcolonial demands of less teleological progress narratives that should be extended to descriptions of aesthetic generic development. Watt defines as the generic characteristic of the novel the “truth to individual experience—individual experience which is always unique and therefore new” (2000 [1957]: 13). Nonetheless, eighteenth-century scholars like Hunter (2000: 234) also point out that the reading public for this “new” kind of introspective writing is actually more diverse than Watt’s term of the “middle class” suggests, which is really only a nineteenth-century formation. The emerging public sphere included readers from the higher and lower ranks of society.Footnote 55

There is powerful history here of the expansion of reading as a phenomenon, of its diversified uses and possibilities, of why writers began to expand and define their horizons of possibility as they came to be aware of audiences and marketing sources previously unknown or non-existent. Watt does not get everything right about the particulars of expanded literacy, including its timing and class strata, but his sense of a deeply changed economy of information exchange has made a lot of subsequent work possible, including almost everything now gathered under the aegis of the history of the book and most good historical genre theory. (Hunter 2000: 231–232)

In this understanding, the emerging European middle class (or reading public in less class-specific terms) shapes a new form of public discourse, which philosopher Jürgen Habermas has famously described as a civic public (cf. 1991: 27).Footnote 56 This public sphere is closely linked to conceptions of the family unit: “The privatized individuals stepped out of the intimacy of their living rooms into the public sphere of the salon, but the one was strictly complementary to the other” (Habermas 1991: 45). For my purpose then another value of Watt’s account rather than a purely poststructuralist focus on intertextuality is to look at the material conditions that gave rise to this modern public—a public, which, I argue, needs to be framed as transatlantic from the moment of its emergence.

Consequently, one needs to take into consideration the presence of early Black literary voices, such as Equiano and Sancho, during the rise of European modernity in the eighteenth century. While both Watt (cf. 2000 [1957]: 51–52) and Habermas (cf. 1991: 18) acknowledge that the colonies are crucial for the development of the public sphere—Watt states that the new print culture reached almost the entire English-speaking world including Ireland and the plantations—they fail to frame this as a reciprocal relationship and focus almost exclusively on the metropole (which in some ways is telling the story of coffee house culture without the plantations where consumer goods such as sugar, cacao, and coffee were produced first by the enslaved and later by indentured labourers) (cf. Mintz 1986; Sandiford 2000; Sussman 2000: 110–129).

What seems indisputable then is that while the rise of the novel no longer holds true as an uncontested linear account of how the modern bourgeois novel came into being, it still offers many points of departure that can raise awareness of how modernity began to be told as a specific (global) story, as an account that modern men and women could aspire to. The preeminent role of literature in the growing (transatlantic) public sphere should therefore not be underestimated. It is no coincidence that in one of the most influential articles in the mentioned strand of historical research which emphasises global entanglements, “Provincializing Europe: Postcoloniality and the Critique of History” (1992), Dipesh Chakrabarty often references literature and specifically autobiography as a prominent arena in which conceptions of modernity were established and challenged.

Catherine Gallagher compellingly remarks that it is not necessarily factuality that is seen as a criterion to judge “realist” novels by but their believability and plausibility, which in fact privileges emotional investment in fictional characters rather than real stories (cf. 2006: 346). Therefore my reading of testimonies, letters, travel writings, and novels next to each other also underscores that “the novel” is not the sole “literary” genre that helped bring about this change.Footnote 57 The concern regarding the degree of factuality versus fictionality in differentiating these sources is, of course, valid—with “fictionality” often depicted as a crucial indicator of the danger of “popular”, non-religious writing and reading, which was considered a threat, specifically to the supposedly impressionable minds of “women, children, and servants” (Armstrong 1987: 18; cf. also Sussman 2000: 11; Warner 2000). Nonetheless, as I will maintain, it still seems pertinent to position Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe—framed by an increasingly conventionalised fictional editor as a supposedly factual first-person account after allFootnote 58—next to Equiano’s allegedly “factual” Interesting Narrative (2003 [1789]), whose “truth claim” today is contested more than ever (cf. Carretta 2005a, b). What connects the foundational “realism” of both Defoe and Equiano is the assumed truth of introspection and this is also the reason that I will not begin with Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko (2003 [1688]) which is indebted still to the courtly romance.Footnote 59 In contrast to Oroonoko’s gruesome but noble fate, readers are encouraged to understand the experience and inner lives of Crusoe and Equiano as true or at least believable as they seem like “us”, which is underscored by the importance of proper names in these narratives, for example. In my context then it is specifically the familiarity that the accounts of the Black subjects produce which prompts me to read them with their novelistic counterparts. Once more, Gallagher explains how this impacted the emergence of models of affective familial belonging—a sphere that becomes desirable for modern men and women and also marks the entryway for Black Atlantic authors in claiming the status as modern feeling subjects while the legal framework still dehumanises them as chattel.

Novels promoted a disposition of ironic credulity enabled by optimistic incredulity; one is dissuaded from believing the literal truth of a representation so that one can instead admire its likelihood and extend enough credit to buy into the game. Such flexible mental states were the sine qua non of modern subjectivity. Everyone seemed to benefit from them. For example, they may have eased the way into the modern affective family. Since marriageable young people were given somewhat greater freedom of choice starting in the eighteenth century, and were also expected to have a genuine emotional attachment to their spouses, some form of affective speculation became necessary. (Gallagher 2006: 346)

In short, the claim to individual feeling, resulting from what Gallagher calls “affective speculation”, is the proposed link between Black testimonies and the rise of those narratives that we call the English novel—a label often applied retrospectively to eighteenth-century fiction and only stabilised in the course of the nineteenth. The emphasis on feeling not only marks the shifts in how marriageable (young) people related to each other, it is also a narrative strategy employed by Black authors to claim subject status in the first place.Footnote 60

Hence, while I am aware of the differences between the kinds of narrative texts contrasted in this book, ranging from novels, autobiographies, letters to travel writings, Black testimony is not to be confused simply with the factual counterpart to the fictional novel. Moreover, my argument is not based on celebratory inclusion or a counter history of radical Blackness. Entanglement as I mentioned earlier also pertains to questions of co-option, collusion, and the limits of agency. Here, too, generic and political demands shape the (literary) discourse of these texts. There was a “pressing political necessity of portraying an authentic autobiographical self immediately recognisable within the generic types of black manhood and womanhood serviceable to the abolitionist cause”, as Celeste-Marie Bernier (2007: 60) argues. Bernier continues,

The works of these early writer-orators reveals the beginnings of a tradition of protest, which maintained an independent black subjectivity by seeming to satiate the subject-matter demands of abolitionist discourse at the same time as engaging in literary dramatisation and aesthetic experimentation. (2007: 62)

This demonstrates that Black authors very consciously had to write in specific ways to be heard by a majority white audience but this is not simply to say that they could not and did not challenge aesthetic conventions in terms of form and content.Footnote 61

Thus, in extension of Watt’s rise of the novel argument and the concomitant critique of his account, I want to show that the development of the novel form can be positioned in relation to entangled tonalities that not only gave rise to more “realist” expressions of gendered introspection, as is often argued, it can and should also be linked to the contestation of the dehumanisation of people of African descent by claiming (British) familiarity. For such an endeavour a transdisciplinary dialogue between the introduced historical research on European modernity and the history of transatlantic slavery with the study of literary texts (and their specific aesthetic strategies) seems pertinent.Footnote 62 This book thus profits from and partakes in a growing field of eighteenth-century and Victorian literary studies that conceptualise the rise of the novel as a global literary history, or, in other words, it is invested in the concerted efforts to “provincialise” European literary canons.

Interestingly, this debate is currently associated with a range of labels such as atlantic or transatlantic (literary) studies—approaches that seem less inclined to use the word “postcolonial” that was ubiquitous in 1990s literary criticism, which might have to do with the strong (but somewhat short-sighted) association of the term postcolonial simply with a temporal “after” colonialism.Footnote 63 These interdisciplinary trans/atlantic approaches also productively challenge demarcations of literary periodisation (with more and more studies dealing with much greater or unconventional time frames, such as Baucom (2005) or Laura Doyle’s Freedom’s Empire: Race and the Rise of the Novel in Atlantic Modernity (2008), in order to do justice to the longue durée of European modernity).Footnote 64 In the following chapters, I want to explore the potential of developing a transatlantic reassessment of the rise of the novel that, similar to the historical concepts of entangled histories, focuses on how we can reread the emergence of specific aesthetic registers in novel writing as entangled transatlantic tonalities. Hence, my attempt is to combine a materialist history of the rise of the novel that has profited from Watt’s theory with a poststructuralist and postcolonial epistemology that is interested in how narrative forms are intertwined with networks of power and our imagination of (national) identities. I explicitly understand this endeavour as aligned with the project of postcolonial literary studies rather than an overhasty departure from it. Therefore, as a final step preceding the actual readings, I will revisit Edward Said’s writing on counterpoint to explain how a focus on entangled tonalities seems especially suited if one wants to provide a transatlantic perspective on the rise of the British novel.

Entangled Tonalities

In the wake of Foucault’s poststructuralist critique, the rise of the novel also needs to be situated within a larger web of knowledge and power. As Davis argues, the novel is now seen “as a regulatory political discourse that served to construct the modern subject” (2000: 494) which diverges from Watt’s “applied” understanding of the novel. This line of critique is closely associated with what became known as postcolonial literary studies which tends to depart from an assessment of nineteenth-century imperialism. In the wake of Said’s (1994) foundational work on imperial culture, postcolonial literary studies for a long time has therefore focused either exclusively on how writers in Britain, such as Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, or William Makepeace Thackeray, have been shaped by the culture of imperialism (cf. Azim 1993; Perera 1991; and Brantlinger 2009 for a general overview). Or, the critical attention was shifted to the literatures in English across the globe with an emphasis on the localised meanings of “oppositional writing” that is seen as “writing back” to the canon only in later twentieth-century postcolonial literature. This field is largely inspired by the path-breaking study The Empire Writes Back by Ashcroft et al. (2002) (cf. also Eckstein 2007 for an overview).Footnote 65 Thus, despite the double focus of postcolonial theory as a temporal after colonialism and an epistemological beyond colonialism, postcolonial literary studies have privileged this model of writing back to the centre, a rejection of Eurocentrism only after the fact of European modernity and imperialism.Footnote 66

This yields two problems. First, this temporal frame excludes or at least impairs analysis of sources predating the high imperialism of the nineteenth century and, secondly, this view stabilises the notion of a hegemonic metropolitan centre which is only ever questioned retrospectively. The focus on entanglement is meant here as a challenging of both the temporal dimension and the ways in which canonical and marginalised authors are juxtaposed. Accordingly, reading marginalised and canonical literary voices in conjunction with and against each other becomes increasingly relevant in a contemporary effort to understand modern literary history in a global framework.

One important intervention into the conventional temporal framing of postcolonial literary studies is Aravamudan’s work on French and British writings preceding Said’s temporal focus on the nineteenth century in Orientalism (2003 [1978]). In his book, Aravamudan analyses a set of texts that bring about what he calls “Enlightenment Orientalism”. He argues that “the oriental tale was an alternative genre to the domestic novel” (2012: 6) which has received too little critical attention by scholars of the novel/novelization.Footnote 67 However, rather than focus on a “transcultural utopian potential” (2012: 7) of non-realist writings dealing with the “Orient”, as Aravamudan does in his pertinent comparatist critique of national(ist) literary history, my emphasis is on entanglements and the ways in which an eighteenth-century transatlantic enchantment with sentimentalised accounts of Britishness supports rather than opposes the psychological logic of the domestic novel. While I agree that varied accounts of eighteenth-century fiction which include non-realist travel tales are, of course, needed, there is also much to be gained from focusing on how the familiar and the strange concomitantly construct the myth of the bourgeois family. So, somewhat in contrast to Aravamudan, who criticises the “national particularism” (2012: 75) of the rise of the novel narrative, the realist novel can and should, I argue, be understood also as a product of transnational encounter. Differing from Aravamudan’s textual corpus, the sources analysed here are not an alternative archive of eighteenth-century prose fiction—quite the contrary, they might be called the “usual suspects”. However, this attention to the entanglement of English canonical texts with Black Atlantic autobiographical writings can intervene into more established postcolonial temporal frameworks looking at the links between the discourses on the abolition of slavery in the eighteenth century and the rise of a global imperial English culture in the nineteenth century. Entanglement, the contemporaneity of more diverse voices, also challenges aesthetic notions of how English writing developed and hence it is not only Watt’s theory of the rise of the novel that needs to come under scrutiny but also Said’s postcolonial strategy of contrapuntal reading which he proposed in Culture and Imperialism.

As mentioned before, Said urges scholars to look at the “comparative literature of imperialism” to understand “different experiences contrapuntally” as “intertwined and overlapping histories” (1994: 18). Said explains that contrapuntal reading emphasises the influence of the colonies on metropolitan lifestyles (the references to Australia in Dickens’s Great Expectations (2003b [1861]) or to the West Indies and India in Brontë’s Jane Eyre (2006 [1847]), for instance) but this acknowledgement of interdependency will also always entail an element of possible resistance (Said 1994: 66–67). Daniel Carey explains Said’s contrapuntal reading practice as follows: “As we might expect from his naming of the practice, the first analysis comes from an analogy with music. Said remarks that in classical music, the theory of counterpoint depends on the relationship between multiple themes, none of which are dominant” (2009: 109). In order to produce meaning, imperial culture has brought forward, “a structure of reference and attitude, a web of affiliations, connections […], which can be read as leaving a set of ghostly notations” (Said 1994: 125) in a text. So, evoking the muted sound of the ghost note of imperialism and colonialism here, much like the figure of the “spectre” that is often evoked in the traumatic history of slavery, the writing of imperialism, in Said’s understanding, also entails its own “counterpoint”. Nevertheless, Said, seems to frame this form of contrapuntal reading strategy as a retrospective act and, as Gesa Mackenthun cautions, places too strong an emphasis on harmony as an outcome of counterpoint that has “conservative”/New Criticist tendencies (2004: 343). Moreover, Carey criticises that in postcolonial contrapuntal readings of canonical classics, there is a tendency to superimpose anachronistic contemporary categories onto literary texts, a critique that shapes much of literary studies’ concerns about cultural studies’ methodologies in general and postcolonial readings in particular. In this way, Carey argues, contrapuntal reading quickly turns into what he calls “palimpsestic reading” (2009: 109), overwriting the original text with another.

In his rereading of Robinson Crusoe against the backdrop of this critique, Carey for instance highlights that the category of “chattel slavery” obscures the more complicated eighteenth-century framework of servitude (cf. also Boulukos 2008: 76–77) which I will discuss in more detail in the chapter on Defoe and Equiano. In addition to Carey’s call for postcolonial readings closer to the actual source and the need to take seriously the historically specific connotations of concepts, I want to emphasise another problematic aspect in such postcolonial literary reading practices. Too often these have not taken into consideration the contemporaneous interrelation between “metropole and colony” in focusing on the metropolitan texts exclusively.Footnote 68

Conversely, close readings of early Black British literature tend to overemphasise the colonial subject “mimicking” colonial culture and thus fail to note the investment in Otherness that is necessary for hegemonic self-definition. Britain has much to gain in moral standing in highlighting the early modern Black British voices.Footnote 69 What is more, we need to link this problem of “original” and “copy” to the tendency to describe all Black writing as imitative, as Gates has argued in relation to David Hume’s (1987 [1742]) dismissal of the Jamaican poet Francis Williams whose accomplishments Hume linked to the mindless repetition of a parrot (cf. Gates 1988: 113). Against this backdrop, elaborating on his concept of “Signifyin(g)”, Gates forcefully argues that the trickster game of repetition is much more than a banal copying. Black discourse rewrites the received textual tradition (cf. 1988: 124). I would add that the very fact that the Western tradition is mimicked (and thereby altered) is part of its own understanding of superiority: the success story of the Anglophone novel attests to this form of entanglement. The hegemony of cultural forms is also reliant on their (global) export and inclusion of marginalised perspectives and will in this process of entanglement of course be modified. Concurrently, Brycchan Carey stresses the centrality of slavery in any understanding of canon formation: “We can no longer approach writing about slavery as somehow separate, or as a special case. Rather, we must see it as central to the development of European, American, and African culture, from the fifteenth to the twenty-first centuries” (2005: 13).

Said’s contrapuntal reading might be called a well-trodden territory in postcolonial studies, but if applied not only retrospectively, contrapuntal reading, or rather a focus on entanglement as I want to propose, alters histories of modernity, and this path, I argue, has not been explored in all its consequences with reference to the emergence of the modern British canon. In English literary studies, we are now faced with the rich plurality of English literatures across the globe and at the same time witness a return to more canonical sources regarding English Literature (writ large) in Britain when it comes to decision making about which texts should be taught in schools and universities and the demands to decolonise syllabi, for example. I want to emphasise the need to apply this globalised lens to English literature in Britain as well. Hence, despite a “global” agenda, my line of enquiry employs a more modest transatlantic perspective, a postcolonial entangled reading predating the high time of imperialism to “zoom in” on the construction of familial feeling with regard to national belonging and canon formations in Britain.Footnote 70 This approach avoids referring to Black British writers in the eighteenth and nineteenth century as a mere curious fact, but acknowledges their presence as indeed formative for the construction of Britishness which we now imagine having become a contested identity only under the auspices of twentieth-century migration. In this understanding modernity is also a product of affective relationality.

In summary, entanglement here is meant to draw on and expand the postcolonial insight that metropolitan and colonial cultures are interlinked and that this exchange shapes cultural artefacts. Entanglement extends the scope of historical enquiry: It can help put into perspective the eighteenth-century Atlantic challenges to the European enlightenment, addressed in the first part of this book, and the nineteenth-century restructuring of the domestic sphere with respect to imperial expansion, which comes under closer scrutiny in the second part of Familial Feeling. Nonetheless, reading autobiographical writings of the early Black Atlantic in a dialogical or entangled relation with the more canonical literary works is not to suggest that this necessarily amounts to direct intertextual quotes—and in the case of Defoe and Equiano there is also considerable historical distance between the texts. I am more interested in what I perceive as a similarity in tone, a form of writing that produces affective resources of belonging that are equally mobilised from the centre and the margin (which is not to deny different access to cultural capital and power asymmetries among the authors). In this way, I hope to provide a re-evaluation of the development of aesthetic forms of literary self-fashioning—the rise of affective individualism that I understand as sutured to what I have called “familial feeling”.

For this purpose, I draw, as mentioned, on the immensely helpful discussion of aesthetic tone which Ngai has introduced in her elaborations on “ugly feelings” (2007). Focusing on US-American Modernist writing, Ngai offers valuable tools for the study of feelings in literature, always a textual representation of affect after all, which seems especially delicate if the focus is on non-contemporary sources adding further distance to the supposed extra-textual affective dimension. Ngai’s concept of tone helps bring affective and aesthetic dimensions in conjunction and by deliberately evoking musicality is also reminiscent of Said’s counterpoint. It shares characteristics with narratological categories such as “mood”Footnote 71 and “voice” but should avoid what the New Critics derided as “affective fallacy”. Ngai defines “tone” as follows: “[T]he affective-aesthetic idea of tone […] is reducible neither to the emotional response a text solicits from its reader nor to representations of feelings within the world of its story” (2007: 41). It is a “hyper-relational concept of feeling that encompasses attitude: a literary text’s affective bearing, orientation, or ‘set toward’ its audience and world” (Ngai 2007: 43). Tone thus is also not tied to a generic logic; it does not operate on the level of comedy and tragedy as modesFootnote 72 but rather links back to Williams’s structure of feeling. It is both aesthetic and political without necessarily being reducible to an identarian logic of representation which would tie specific modes of expression to social positionalities. The entangled tonalities of familial feeling are, again in Williams’s terms, “at once interlocking and in tension” (1985 [1977]: 132). They describe how British nationality is considered in relation to inclusion and exclusion specifically before and after the abolition of slavery via representations of familial feeling. Hence, when pairing texts in this study under headings of tonality (which creates a set of tones and is therefore a superordinate category of tone), I am not so much claiming that they share one common aesthetic strategy, but that they can be linked via their specific “affective bearing” or “orientation” regarding Britishness and the family. Some of the juxtaposed texts are characterised by similar discursive and aesthetic means, as the dash in Sterne and Sancho, for example; others employ disparate strategies, as the internal conflicted free indirect discourse in Austen as opposed to the more outwardly directed anger in Wedderburn’s pamphlet. Nevertheless, they share, I argue, a likeness of spectrum—as in a similar colour palate that can be used by employing very different painting techniquesFootnote 73—rather than accordance or harmony when it comes to how they relate discourses of familial belonging and Britishness. In my reading of Austen, I will come back to these nuances, for instance, in criticising the underlying claim of harmony in Said’s theory of counterpoint which entangled tonalities should explicitly avoid.

Entanglement thus exceeds the dimension of Verflechtungsgeschichte as shared histories of modernity, it also functions aesthetically as a history of shared tonalities of literature as a world-making process. The Greek term aisthesis describes the capacity to feel. Western theories of aesthetics have taken this as their starting point to develop the sciences of the fine arts, of accomplished expression in literary discourse that would correspond to this idea of refined feeling. Those, however, who have been excluded from these canon-making mechanisms of Western modernity have needed to claim the capacity to feel much more fundamentally. Looking at the archive of abolitionist writing, one is quickly overwhelmed by the mentioned tropes of sentimentality so abundant in the texts of both white abolitionists and early Black writers who emphasise sameness with regard to the capacity to feel. Accordingly, these linguistic representations of suffering could be read as promoting almost the exact tonal opposite of how Ngai characterises Herman Melville’s “atonal tone” (2007: 88). In contrast to Melville’s form of Modernist detachment, which lacks any obvious offer of empathic identification for the readers, abolitionist writing displays empathic surfeit or “overkill”: the beating of human beings, the cutting of family ties, and sexualised violence give an empathising audience all the affective spectacle, often in embellished language, thereby promoting a virtuous Christian impetus of caring righteously.Footnote 74 As a consequence of this oversaturation with sentimentalised suffering, one could argue that readers have actually quickly become somewhat emotionally indifferent to the tonality of this form of writing.

As literary scholars dealing with a topic such as slavery, of which we have so few first-hand documentations, we have to come to terms with the “the slipperiness and elusiveness of slavery’s archive” (Hartman 2008: 17). Archives are formations of power and what can be found in them might often be precisely those texts and objects documenting or being instrumental in the oppression of subjects racialised, sexualised, and gendered as the Other. Such a composition of archives can induce feelings of historical disconnection and depression for precisely these subjects and their descendants. Consequently, writing in the wake of the so-called negative turn in queer theoryFootnote 75 has drawn attention to the implications of hegemonic temporalities and historiographies foregrounding the negative or “bad feelings” that archival work can entail, especially when enquiring into forms of oppression and of being silenced.Footnote 76

While the questioning of grand narratives and “writing back” are readily seen as modes of resistance, what can the historical archive still tell us that might be relevant for thinking the politics of belonging today? I will return to these ethical challenges in any contemporary effort to engage the archive of slavery in the conclusion. The idea of entangled tonalities then is also indebted to queer epistemologies and is meant as a “messy” or “strange” way of engaging with literary history. It is concerned less with separating marginalised and canonical literary voices or clear-cut periodic and genre demarcations than with how the increasingly racialised logic of the British family is narrated in Victorian fiction and how this, in turn, can be linked to the earlier sentimental rhetoric of abolition. For this purpose, it makes sense, in my opinion, to juxtapose autobiographical and fictional longer and shorter prose narratives since Black writing initially was to be found mainly in the realm of the testimonial/autobiographical rather than straightforwardly fictional publications. Becoming a writing subject first of all implies the privilege of literacy as well as the time and means to publish that only a very small minority of Black subjects had access to. Nonetheless, the archive of slavery and its abolition affects definitions of self and Other, it is not a side phenomenon of “official history”. In a 2015 essay Gikandi states that the challenge we have to face is to “read the lives of the slaves in the archive of the masters, not to recover the authentic voices of the enslaved, but to witness new voices and selves emerging in what appears to be the site of discursive interdiction” (2015: 92). The construction of a British exceptional moral standing as pioneers of abolition (in contrast to the former colony, the United States) gave subjects like Equiano, Sancho, Wedderburn, and Seacole the opportunity to become modern subjects not after the fact of modernity but as part of emerging modernity. In fact, these Black British voices are constitutive of the very modern foundation of what British enlightenment is capable of. Positioning the Black authors within a framework of resistance versus subversion, as “postcolonial” literary voices in opposition to the canonical authors, seems to obstruct an understanding of their entangled relation to modernity. Writing of the early Black Atlantic stands in a more conflicted relationship to Britishness than being reduced to the periphery of empire whose subjects aspired to be included into the national community of British privilege. A postcolonial interest in the literature of the early Black Atlantic then must resist urges to highlight the extraordinary accomplishments of these authors and rather aim to understand the entanglement of voices from the multiple peripheries and centres as also affecting hegemonic expressions of Britishness. In short, in revisiting the rise of the novel from a postcolonial/transatlantic viewpoint, I am more interested in the disarrayed entanglements in and with the past than a presentist affective investment in counter histories. In the following literary readings then, I am not telling a story of “good” versus “bad” appropriations of familial feeling. In this context, Foucault’s famous dictum that there is no outside of power, that “there is no binary and all-encompassing opposition between rulers and ruled” (1998: 94), which is at the heart of queer epistemologies, still bears repeating. I am also not concerned with supposedly “authentic” or “natural” familial feelings. Quite the contrary, it is, in fact, the artifice of the different tonalities that I hope to highlight, which again goes hand in hand with an understanding of social norms as reliant on emotionalising and naturalising discourses, as Foucault and Judith Butler maintain.

Hence, the next chapter will focus on eighteenth-century conceptions of race and slavery and how they relate to Britishness which will be discussed in two texts that laid the foundations for claiming “modern familiarity”: Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (2003 [1719]) with its “insular masculinity” and Olaudah Equiano’s The Interesting Narrative (2003 [1789]) that promotes an idea of what I call “Oceanic Britishness”. Defoe and Equiano both make us “invest” in the foundational idea of individualism despite very different stakes. Their foundational tonality is characterised by the affective establishment of modern subjectivity: familiarity with these literary heroes is achieved via an early version of formal realism based on the representation of introspection as well as retrospection on an “ordinary” life. In the second chapter of the first section, I analyse how the established and already ridiculed style of sentimentalism is evoked by Ignatius Sancho in his letters (1998 [1782]) and by Laurence Sterne in his fictional writing (1998 [1759–1767] and 2005 [1768]) and direct replies to Sancho. Sancho and Sterne in many ways play with disinterest and digressive modes that make their readers notice the discrepancies between a culture of taste and the realities of enslavement. Their digressive tonality is shaped by an overtly sentimental affective bearing towards all topics they address (including slavery) and their lessened interest in representing coherent subjectivity, formally highlighted by digressive excursions, non-linearity, and the use of the famous dash. The nineteenth-century writing of Robert Wedderburn and Jane Austen shows increasing unease with the ways in which the familial and the colonial sphere are intertwined locating modes of resistance in terms of both content and form. They both promote more active counter strategies in their writings that could be described as resistant: They represent wilful subjects who stand in opposition to the gendered and racialised familial order of the day which is achieved via psychological introspection and free indirect discourse in Austen and incendiary rhetoric in Wedderburn. Finally, gesturing towards a new phase of Britain’s colonial expansion, we can witness how Charles Dickens as well as Mary Seacole bolster a more nationalist project of Victorian family values in Britain’s newfound position of imperial might in the mid-nineteenth century. In their travelogues, they are paradoxically more invested in domesticity and yet imperial in ambition. Their consolidating tonality is characterised by a narrower concept of familial feeling, based on romanticised ideals of motherhood and paternalistic notions of British superiority, combining a liberal critique of slavery in the United States with expansionist imperial logic that is often voiced in overt narrator comment. The chapters of this book thus focus on four different tonalities—foundations, digressions, resistances, and consolidations—and generally follow a chronological order, except for Sancho’s writing which is discussed with Sterne despite its preceding Equiano’s later Narrative.

The title of this book, Familial Feeling, does not connote one specific register of feeling, such as happiness or sadness. Rather, I am interested in the overall capacity to feel in specific ways, to be recognised as a feeling subject in the first place, which can be seen in the strategy of the Black authors to address their audience as empathising readers. Their expressions of feeling influence who is considered a familiar, or, in Butler’s words, an intelligible subject,Footnote 77 belonging to Britain and its increasingly literate (middle-class) public sphere. These developments are consolidated via literary reflections on moral sentiment and sympathy in the eighteenth century and social reform and professionalised philanthropy in the nineteenth century with longer prose forms such as the novel becoming the most relevant genre in this context. It is especially the ambivalence of such an emotionalising register of inclusion and exclusion that I want to trace (as well as the ongoing effects for national memorial cultures, as I argue in the conclusion). The nuclear and the national family become inextricably linked and ever since Samuel Richardson’s voluminous epistolary novel Clarissa, or the History of a Young Lady (2004 [1747–1748]), the familial sphere turns into the site of belonging and terror. Looking at texts such as Wedderburn’s The Horrors of Slavery (1991 [1824]), Austen’s Mansfield Park (2003 [1814]), Seacole’s conception of herself as maternal war hero in the Wonderful Adventures in Many Lands (2005 [1857]), or Mrs Jellyby’s misguided philanthropy in Dickens’s Bleak House (2003a [1852–53]) shows that the way we feel is linked to registers of the familial and the national. These texts set the tone for familial feeling by providing foundational ideas of modernity (Defoe and Equiano), playful digressions (Sancho and Sterne), resisting perspectives (Austen and Wedderburn), as well as more conciliatory undertones in relation to empire (Dickens and Seacole ).