Writing across lines: Frederick Douglass, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Charles Dickens in the Black Atlantic

Elliott, Clare (2022) Writing across lines: Frederick Douglass, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Charles Dickens in the Black Atlantic. Journal of Transatlantic Studies, 20 (1). pp. 39-57. ISSN 1479-4012

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Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1057/s42738-022-00089-2


In 1846-7 Frederick Douglass crossed the Atlantic on a tour of Britain and Ireland. He returned to the US a freed man, having had his manumission secured for £150, money raised by the Richardsons– a Quaker family of anti-slavery activists – in Newcastle upon Tyne. In speeches given on this tour he referred admiringly to Charles Dickens, his favourite author, and encouraged audiences to read Dickens’s chapter on slavery in American Notes (1842). A little earlier, in 1844, Douglass had shared a stage with Emerson at an anti-slavery address in the US and he intersected with Emerson on the abolition circuit through shared acquaintances and friends and through print. Douglass was tracking what Emerson said about slavery in his diaries, while Emerson alluded to Douglass as ‘the anti-slave’ in his address on ‘The Emancipation of the Negroes in the British West Indies’ (1844), delivered in Concord. Offering a close examination of Douglass, Emerson, and Dickens, and their transatlantic exchange of ideas, I move away from the usual Anglo-American study of influence to offer new readings of all three writers in an effort to reinstate the intricate interplay of transatlantic literary and cultural movements surrounding abolition. By foregrounding Douglass, my argument identifies new textual crossovers and transracial connections that can occur in the imaginative realm of literature, freed as it is, at least in part, from the oppressions of the world from which it is produced. I freshly situate all three writers in an inclusive triangulation, arguing that Douglass’s writing transcends the limitations of his time, in which he imagines, as part of a transatlantic literary network, a radical vision of racial equality.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Frederick Douglass, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles Dickens, race, slavery, abolition, the Black Atlantic, self-reliance, the colour line, cross-racial literary alliance
Subjects: Q300 English studies
W800 Imaginative Writing
Department: Faculties > Arts, Design and Social Sciences > Humanities
Depositing User: John Coen
Date Deposited: 25 Jan 2022 11:29
Last Modified: 08 Apr 2023 08:00
URI: https://nrl.northumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/48244

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