Mixed-race heroines in early nineteenth-century literature: a look at Jane Austen and her contemporaries
The purpose of this project is to analyze Jane Austen's unfinished novel Sanditon (1817) and its inclusion of a character of color. This thesis discusses Austen's mixed-race heiress, Miss Lambe, in the context of two other pieces of fiction that feature mixed-race heroines--the anonymously published The Woman of Colour (1808) and Mary Ann Sullivan's Owen Castle (1816). Scholarship on Austen's awareness of the Abolitionist movement and her sympathy for its politics has previously been published. I advance our conversations on the subject by discussing Austen's Miss Lambe as a mixed-race heiress in the context of gender, race, and ethnicity in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century novels. My thesis considers literary and historical treatments of people of color and provides a trans-Atlantic approach to female characters identified as mixed race.
Juxtaposing Sanditon, The Woman of Colour, and Owen Castle provides insight into how Austen was working within a set of established literary traditions, while creating ways to disrupt some of its problematic elements. This project looks at conventions of the mixed-race female characters in five ways. To begin, I discuss the mixed-race heroine and the compulsion to define her place of origin. Second, I consider the convention of describing mixed-race heiresses' rights to their inheritance. An analysis of the significance of naming mixed-race heiresses follows. I discuss literary conventions of the betrayal of mixed-race females. Lastly, I explore the common use of black maid figures in novels of this era to advance social critique against prejudice. Comparative analysis of Austen with other novels featuring mixed-race heroines in this era allows us to reach new understandings of Sanditon. Austen's unfinished last novel is shown to question the power of fortune, to undermine the orthodoxy of categorizing race and ethnicity, and to unsettle the hierarchy among characters of different races and ethnicities.