By Ian Haywood (auth.)
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Extra info for Bloody Romanticism: Spectacular Violence and the Politics of Representation, 1776–1832
For Wood, the book is not about slavery but ‘white fantasies’ of slavery. 67 But rather than attack the text for its irredeemable exploitation of the slave body, I want to look at some of the ways in which Stedman constructs a compelling picture of warped planter power, defiant slave speech, and forbidden love. In particular, I want to look at a character ignored by Wood: the violent planter wife, who is a monster of envy, resentment and mischief. This figure is a flagrant anti-type of the polite woman, and a visceral illustration of the abolitionist argument that slavery dehumanized the slave-owner as much as the slave.
He asks a Jew to pay him back some money so he can purchase food and drink and be kept alive, ‘which speech, on seeing the Jew stare like a fool, this mangled wretch accompanied with a loud, hearty laugh’ (2: 296–7). Perhaps the joke here is a self-ironizing recognition of the power of racist humour and a skit on the stereotypical demonization of Jews as Christian-killers. The crescendo effect of this series of blasphemous gags reaches its climax with an elaborate joke on the Eucharist. Neptune begins by asking a ‘sentinel’ why he has no 40 Bloody Romanticism meat to eat.
The focus then narrows from the community to the genteel, plantocratic family. The purpose of the atrocities seems to be to demolish the structures of patriarchy and paternalism which govern the polite family and its extended ‘family’ of slaves. The ‘unfortunate women’ of one plantation family are forced to watch their husband and father ‘murdered before their faces’ before being taken captive and suffering ‘a more horrid fate many of them suffered violation on the dead bodies of their husbands and fathers’ (69).
Bloody Romanticism: Spectacular Violence and the Politics of Representation, 1776–1832 by Ian Haywood (auth.)