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Reaping Something New:
African American Transformations of Victorian Literature
Daniel Hack

Hardcover | 2016 | $35.00 | £27.95 | ISBN: 9780691169453
304 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 12 line illus.
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eBook | ISBN: 9781400883745 |
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Tackling fraught but fascinating issues of cultural borrowing and appropriation, this groundbreaking book reveals that Victorian literature was put to use in African American literature and print culture in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in much more intricate, sustained, and imaginative ways than previously suspected. From reprinting and reframing "The Charge of the Light Brigade" in an antislavery newspaper to reimagining David Copperfield and Jane Eyre as mixed-race youths in the antebellum South, writers and editors transposed and transformed works by the leading British writers of the day to depict the lives of African Americans and advance their causes. Central figures in African American literary and intellectual history—including Frederick Douglass, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Charles Chesnutt, Pauline Hopkins, and W.E.B. Du Bois—leveraged Victorian literature and this history of engagement itself to claim a distinctive voice and construct their own literary tradition.

In bringing these transatlantic transfigurations to light, this book also provides strikingly new perspectives on both canonical and little-read works by Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Tennyson, and other Victorian authors. The recovery of these works' African American afterlives illuminates their formal practices and ideological commitments, and forces a reassessment of their cultural impact and political potential. Bridging the gap between African American and Victorian literary studies, Reaping Something New changes our understanding of both fields and rewrites an important chapter of literary history.

Daniel Hack is professor of English at the University of Michigan. He is the author of The Material Interests of the Victorian Novel.


"The first full-length study of this extensive literary dialogue across the Atlantic . . . . There might be thought to be a danger here of undermining African American cultural history by reaffirming the centrality of a white Anglo-American canon. Yet Daniel Hack puts his writers on an equal footing--it is the intertextual dialogue that matters here, above all . . . . Reaping Something New should encourage those who devise modern English Literature courses to include more African American literature, not merely as a specialization option, but as an integral part of the canon."--Ada Coghen, Times Literary Supplement

"[F]ascinating and original. . . . Hack’s skill and sensitivity as a literary critic and the thoroughness of his research make Reaping Something New one of the most compelling works of trans-Atlantic literary scholarship to appear in recent years."--Joseph Rezek, Chronicle of Higher Education

"As Hack observes, the relationship between Victorian literature and African American literature has been neglected, and this book fills that gap."--Choice


"Reaping Something New bypasses the obvious strategy of scanning Victorian texts for African American characters or settings, asking instead how African American readers and writers appropriated and transformed precisely those Victorian texts whose subject matter appeared most distant from their own lives. By situating the connection between Victorian and African American texts at the level of reception rather than theme, Daniel Hack makes his conclusions both more surprising and more irrefutable. The question he raises about the afterlife of texts is a central one to literary criticism today and his book provides a model for scholars working across literary periods."--Leah Price, author of How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain

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Table of Contents:

List of Illustrations ix
Acknowledgments xi
Introduction The African Americanization of Victorian Literature 1
1 Close Reading Bleak House at a Distance 23
2 (Re-) Racializing “The Charge of the Light Brigade” 45
3 Affiliating with George Eliot 76
4 Racial Mixing and Textual Remixing: Charles Chesnutt 102
5 Cultural Transmission and Transgression: Pauline Hopkins 135
6 The Citational Soul of Black Folk: W.E.B. Du Bois 176
Afterword After Du Bois 205
Notes 213
Bibliography 259
Index 273

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