R.J. Ellis
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Our Nig
Fetters of an American farmgirl

Harriet Wilson's Our Nig was identified as a double first, the first African-American novel published by a woman and the first African-American novel published in the USA. The words 'fruitful' and 'embellished' are the ones in the whole of Wilson's apastoral novel that might be held to acknowledge the pastoral tradition. The novel articulates a young female farm servant's class position and lack of agency. Our Nig offers up a similar arrangement: the Bellmont family, particularly Mrs Bellmont and Mary, 'direct' Frado's farm labours. Our Nig's grim economics, whilst rooted in the particular racist constructions of American life, forcefully exposes the labour intensive side to farm life, otherwise so perfidiously omitted from pastoral discourse on both sides of the Atlantic. Wilson's text, like Jefferson's or Crèvecoeur's, represents farmers as 'free' to supervise, aligning all their writings with Harriet Martineau's portrait of Brooke's Sir Harry, 'going rounds amongst the labourers'.

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Special relationships

Anglo-American affinities and antagonisms 1854–1936


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