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Representations of race and romance in eighteenth-century English novels


My dissertation analyzes how eighteenth-century novels were still invested in the continuation of the romance and need to be read in the historical context of English interactions with other cultures, in particular those of the Ottoman Empire. Chapter One sets up the racial model of romance and demonstrates how it fit into English politics by contrasting the reinterpretations of Aphra Behn's Oroonoko (1688) throughout the eighteenth century as the protagonist's cultural affiliations shifts from Islamic to "pagan" African as the prose narrative's use of romance tropes to support Behn's royalist politics is replaced, eventually leading to the narrative's association with the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. Chapter Two shifts to the establishment of the "Arabick Interest" in Restoration and early eighteenth- century England by examining the contesting reactions to the influence of Islam on English identity through its analysis of England's translations between 1671 and 1708 of the philosophical romance Muhammad Ibn Tufayl's Hayy Ibn Yaqzan as well as the anxieties causes by a Protestant -Islamic connection in Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719). The second half of this dissertation adds the discussion of women as another "third term" like romance and Islamic influence. Chapter Three's discussion of Samuel Johnson's Rasselas (1759) and Charlotte Lennox's The Female Quixote (1752) both use romance elements to reference an older form of history writing, one in which the boundaries between romance and fact are porous, to critique English concepts of difference, especially those of gender or culture, in favor of a more universalized view of the world. Their works responded to a mid eighteenth-century shift as England began to emerge as a global power. Chapter Four combines the elements of race, religion and gender from the preceding chapters in its reading of Charlotte Dacre's Zofloya (1806), of which I argue that even though she does not explicitly argue for increased legal rights or social freedoms for women, Dacre's presentations of the dangers to society through its enforcement of feminine passivity implicitly demonstrates a need to create a society where women are educated to be free subjects and independent of patriarchal control

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