African Blood, Colonial Money, and Respectable Mulatto Heiresses Reforming Eighteenth-Century England

  • Lyndon J. Dominique


Elsie B. Michie’s The Vulgar Question of Money (2011) and Jennifer DeVere Brody’s Impossible Purities (1998) explore nineteenth-century literature using two very different female tropes. Michie examines novels which “establish a set of values”1 by contrasting rich women with poor ones. She believes that “the rich woman embodies those behaviors that individuals feared resulted from the increasing importance of money in the nineteenth century. The novel uses her as a foil to propose the psychological and moral stances necessary to counter such material engrossment.”2 For her examination of literature from the period, Brody uses the highly ambiguous trope of the “feminine mulattaroon.”3 She asserts that this hybrid figure, “who can be designated also, if not always alternatively, as a mulatta, an octoroon, a quadroon, a musteee, mestico, griffe, or creole,”4 “is perpetually being erased or effaced” by nineteenth-century writers, “in an effort to stabilize (reify) the tenuous, permeable boundaries between white and black, high and low, male and female, England and America, pure and impure.”5


Black Woman Skin Color Negro Woman Anonymous Author Wealthy Woman 
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  1. 1.
    Elsie B. Michie, The Vulgarity of Money: Heiresses, Materialism, and the Novel of Manners from Jane Austen to Henry James (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011), 17.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Jennifer DeVere Brody, Impossible Purities: Blackness, Femininity, and Victorian Culture (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998), 18.Google Scholar
  3. 9.
    Michie’s silence is striking because her book discusses Jane Austen’s oeuvre without mentioning the provocative depiction of Miss Lambe, the “half Mulatto” heiress in Austen’s Sanditon. See Sara Salih’s “The Silence of Miss Lambe: Sanditon and Contextual Fictions of ‘Race’ in the Abolition Era,” Eighteenth Century Fiction 18 (2006), 329–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 12.
    See Lynda Boose, “The Getting of a Lawful Race,” in Women, “Race,” and Writing in the Early Modern Period (New York: Routledge, 1994), 43–53 for more early modern examples of biologically threatening black women.Google Scholar
  5. 14.
    Roxann Wheeler, The Complexion of Race: Categories of Difference in Eighteenth-Century British Culture (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000), 22.Google Scholar
  6. 16.
    Edward Long, The History of Jamaica (London: Lowndes, 1774), II.xiii, 329.Google Scholar
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    George Alexander Stevens, The Dramatic History of Master Edward, Miss Ann, Mrs. Llwhyddwhuydd, and Others (London: Waller, 1743), 13.Google Scholar
  8. 19.
    See Dennis Todd’s Defoe’s America (Cambridge University Press, 2010), ix, for a very brief explanation of how America features in the debates about race, conversion, slaves, and slavery in the decades between Behn’s death and the publications of Defoe’s first novels.Google Scholar
  9. 26.
    Bellamora from Aphra Behn’s The Adventure of the Black Lady (1697) is another interesting example of a metaphorically black (immoral) white woman in London.Google Scholar
  10. 27.
    Robert Bisset, Douglas; or, the Highlander (London: Anti Jacobin Press, 1800), I.312.Google Scholar
  11. 32.
    Hilary Beckles, Centering Woman: Gender Discourses in Caribbean Slave Society (Kingston: Ian Rand, 1999), xx.Google Scholar
  12. 41.
    Bisset’s condemnation of Mrs Dulman has many overtones with Thomas Jefferson’s famous condemnation of black people in Notes on the State of Virginia (1785).Google Scholar
  13. 42.
    Mrs Charles Mathews, Memoirs of a Scots Heiress (London: Hookham, 1791), II.184.Google Scholar
  14. 50.
    Gert Oostindie and Bert Paasman, “Dutch Attitudes towards Colonial Empires, Indigenous Cultures, and Slaves,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 31 (1998), 349–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Edmund Marshall, Edmund and Eleonora; or Memoirs of the Houses of Summerfield and Gretton (London: Stockdale, 1797), I.98, 99, 122, 131, 145.Google Scholar
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    See Sara Salih’s Representing Mixed Race in Jamaica and England (New York: Routledge, 2011), 70–82 for a wonderful comparative reading of Miranda and Olivia. Undoubtedly, Alicia adds another layer of complexity about mulatto women in eighteenth-century England and English literature.Google Scholar
  17. 86.
    Aphra Behn, Oroonoko: or, The Royal Slave. A True History, ed. Joanna Lipking (New York: Norton, 1997), all quotes 34.Google Scholar

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© Lyndon J. Dominique 2014

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  • Lyndon J. Dominique

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