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Olivia Carpenter is a Lecturer in Literature whose research focuses on Black Studies, Critical Race Theory, and literary history. Her first book, Marriage Interruptus: Black Marriage Interrupted in Domestic Fiction, 1791-1853, examines Black characters in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century British marriage plots. In this project, Olivia gives an account of how the politics of slavery and Abolition influenced the novel as a genre during the height of Abolition struggles in British courts as well as Black resistance to slavery in both Britain and the colonies. Olivia employs interdisciplinary methods in this and other projects, incorporating approaches from legal studies, studies of women, gender, and sexuality, art and visual studies, and material history. She also takes interest in how eighteenth-century literature and culture continues to make claims on our own twenty-first-century moment, particularly with respect to questions of race and racism, and has published essays on this topic in Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture and The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation.
Olivia completed her PhD at Harvard University in 2021. While at Harvard, Olivia taught courses on global literatures, Critical Race Theory, gender studies and queer theory, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literature, and existentialist philosophy.
Olivia’s research treats constructions of race in the long eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as integral parts of British literary history. Olivia examines the ways literary media including but not limited to novels, poems, plays, and periodicals contributed to cultural understandings of what constituted Blackness according to Britons from this period. She takes particular interest both in the ways literature has been a historical medium of race-making as well as a means of protesting dominant narratives of race and racism in British and American culture, especially in writing by early Black authors.
In her first book, Marriage Interruptus: Black Marriage Interrupted in Domestic Fiction, 1791-1853, Olivia focuses on British and transatlantic novels from the first half of the long nineteenth century, examining Black characters appearing in what she calls “marriage interruptus” plots. Olivia coined the term “marriage interruptus plot” to describe a set of novels which present Black protagonists in the attitude of “almost spouse,” placing them in a narrative arc in which they come close to marriage but, because of their race, never quite achieve it. The traditional—and implicitly white-- marriage plot, with its frequent culmination in a companionate union, ultimately becomes impossible for these Black characters who are cast aside, killed off, or edited out by mostly white authors. Olivia analyzes these plots in relation to two institutions that she argues were inextricably intertwined in surprising ways during this period-- marriage and slavery. Employing careful analysis of archival legal documents, Olivia shows how these two institutions make claims upon both one another and upon the generic conventions of the British novel.
Olivia has also published articles on race in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literature and culture in Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture and The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation. She takes particular interest in the ways eighteenth- and nineteenth-century politics of slavery, Abolition, and Black resistance continue to influence race and racism both in twenty-first-century global movements such as Black Lives Matter and in the act of performing literary scholarship today.
Olivia teaches on Critical Practice and Approaches to Literature I: Writing Modernity this autumn, and she will be convening A World of Literature II: Empire and Aftermaths in the spring term. She will be guiding students through a variety of texts and topics throughout the 2021-2022 academic year, and will introduce students to a variety of literary historical periods from the eighteenth century to the present.