Slavery, Empathy, and Pornography

Slavery, Empathy, and Pornography

Slavery, Empathy, and Pornography

Slavery, Empathy, and Pornography


Slavery, Empathy, and Pornography considers the operations of slavery and of abolition propaganda on the thought and literature of English from the late-eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries. Incorporating materials ranging from canonical literatures to the lowest form of street publication, Marcus Wood writes from the conviction that slavery was, and still is, a dilemma for everyone in England, and seeks to explain why English society has constructed Atlantic slavery in the way it has.


Remnants of the old atrocity subsist, but they are converted into ingenious
shifts in scenery, a sort of 'English Garden' effect, to give the required air of
naturalness, pathos and hope.

(John Ashbery, Three Poems)

'I did not lift a hand to stop him from effacing the past'

(Walter Abish, 'The English Garden', In the Future Perfect)

The difficulty lies with reading itself. We hardly know what it is when it takes
place under our nose, much less what it was two centuries ago when readers
inhabited a different mental universe … Inner appropriation—the ultimate
stage in the communication circuit that linked authors and publishers with
booksellers and readers—may remain beyond the range of research.

(Robert Darnton, The Forbidden Best-sellers)

Where Does the Cultural Inheritance of Slavery Begin or End in England?

To answer the question it is possible to begin at a beginning, but that does not necessarily make things any more straightforward. Here is, arguably, the first written account of the conception of the first English slaving voyage: 'Master John Haukins being amongst other particulars assured that Negroes were very good marchandise in Hispaniola, and that store of negroes might easily be had upon the coast of guinea, resolved with himselfe to make triall thereof.' This then leads straight into the first English account of the gathering of a slave cargo, of the middle passage, and of the sale of the slaves: 'he [Hawkins] passed to … Tagarin, where he stayed some good time, and got into his possession, partly by the sworde, and partly by other meanes, to the number of 300 Negros at least, besides other merchandises which that country yeeldeth. With this praye hee sayled over the Ocean sea unto the Iland of Hispaniola … and there he had reasonable utterance of his English commodities as also some part of his

Robert Darnton, The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France (London: Harper
Collins, 1996), 85.

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