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Friday's Accidental Blackness: Interpreting Race in Robinson Crusoe

Tuesday 18 January 2022, 4.00PM to 4.30pm

Speaker(s): Katie Crowther and Gemma Shearwood (University of York)

Examining the texts and contexts of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and its many afterlives across the long eighteenth century and beyond, my paper investigates how this novel and its legacy engage with the issue of transatlantic chattel slavery.

I pay special attention to illustrated editions of the novel during the Abolition era, looking closely at racialized images of Friday that depict him with similar features to those often used to portray enslaved Africans, despite the fact that Defoe’s Friday is a person of indigenous Caribbean heritage. These images also present Friday in a similar attitude to figures such as the enslaved African man on the (in)famous 1787 Wedgwood anti-slavery medallion.

I put these illustrations in conversation with the texts they accompany as well as a related phenomenon, which I dub Friday’s ‘accidental Blackness,’ in which authors apparently misremember or misinterpret Friday's racial background. I argue that this phenomenon presents a particularly rich and relevant example of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century fiction's response to-- and perhaps participation in-- race formation during the period.

Location: Online