"Very Nearly Smiling": Comedy and Slave Revolt in The Barnabys in America

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Undeservedly neglected, Frances Trollope's anti-slavery fiction contributes significantly to the discourse on abolition and race in the 1830s and '40s. The Barnabys in America; or Adventures of the Widow Wedded (1843) reveals the anxieties surrounding these subjects, interweaving its comedy with an indictment of slavery that many US readers would have considered threatening rather than amusing. Trollope not only includes a successful slave revolt, a subject scrupulously avoided in most eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British and US fiction, but presents this violence as the novel comes to a comic close. The Barnabys suggests that, while slave rebellion seems anomalous within comic conventions, it is also an ironic inevitability in a society where slavery uneasily co-exists with a rhetoric of freedom.


This article was originally published in Women's Writing. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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Women's Writing


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