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To rise by Enterprize : : Opportunism and Self-Interest in British Atlantic Literature, 1700-1854


This dissertation examines representations of self- interested colonial agency in British, American and Anglo- Caribbean literature written between 1700 and 1854. The eighteenth-century Atlantic world was one of unprecedented mobility and exchange, where the trade between Europe, Africa and the Americas created a global enterprise in sugar and slaves, and gave rise to new industries, identities and insecurities. By analyzing the entrepreneurial activities of illegitimate, denigrated or disenfranchised Atlantic figures--pirates, planters, slaves and free men of color--I argue that capitalist fantasies were widely invoked in the pursuit of freedom, and that this ambition enabled the self-making of the colonial other into both an economic producer and an agent of collective political resistance. Characterized by this duality, the Atlantic entrepreneur complicates and reworks the ideologies that cohere British national identity at a time of increasing imperial power. To demonstrate this, the three dissertation chapters consider different incarnations of the Atlantic entrepreneur alongside the emergence of nation-building narratives of legitimacy, sensibility and progress. Chapter one reads Daniel Defoe's novels Colonel Jack and Captain Singleton, and John Gay's ballad opera Polly, and argues that pirates were not only entrepreneurial in their profit-seeking plundering, but also in the strategies they employed to challenge legitimate forms and create themselves as useful subjects. Chapter two uses sentimental novels by Sarah Robinson Scott and Henry Mackenzie, as well as Richard Cumberland's stage comedy The West Indian, to argue that the planter's profitable self-interest enabled his charitable benevolence, which in turn constructs him as an "Atlantic" man of feeling. Chapter three examines Olaudah Equiano's Interesting Narrative, Martin Delany's The Condition, Elevation, Emigration and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States, and Trinidadian writer Maxwell Philip's Emmanuel Appadocca; or, Blighted Life, A Tale of the Boucaneers, to reveal the opportunistic voice of a black Atlantic collective--an ambitious individualism that imagines racial emancipation. The dissertation seeks to demystify the liberal narratives of opportunism and self- made success by exploring how the violent, unstable and transformative Atlantic experiences of slavery, piracy, creolization and revolution inform economic individualism and enable the modern construction of the entrepreneurial "free" agent

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