Alisha Walters on sugar, appetite, + race, Ryan Fong responding
Please join us for an exciting virtual summer version of p19 works-in-progress on Thursday June 11th at 1 pm Eastern for our discussion of Alisha Walters’s work in progress:
The “sallow Mr. Freely”: Sugar, Appetite, and White Racial Meaning in George Eliot’s Brother Jacob
with a response by Ryan Fong
We will send the paper along later this month.
Please RSVP here if you plan to attend and we will send you the link on June 10th.
In this paper, I discuss George Eliot’s unusual narrative, Brother Jacob. Unlike Eliot’s other texts, it is written in the tone of a fable, and it concerns the ambitions of confectioner David Faux—later called Edward Freely—who steals his mother’s savings in order to fund his emigration to the West-Indian colony of Jamaica. Eliot’s story is striking for its uneasy depiction of white bodies with sugary appetites, and I contend that Brother Jacob—which features black-produced colonial sugar in fraught connection with “sallow” and “idiot” white bodies—reveals an under-examined locus of racial anxiety in the Victorian period. Specifically, fears regarding whiteness, and its potential impermanence and malleability are revealed in the text through the consumption of sugar. Sugar, in both its simple and highly refined forms, evinces anxieties that its ingestion might destabilize the apparent racial coherence of white forms, both individual and corporate. While literary and historical analyses of sugar have rightly argued that the commodity reveals extensive networks of slavery and colonialism, I am suggesting that Brother Jacob’s discussion of sugar consumption is about more than just these networks. The text helps us to understand how sugar positions bodies between radically different epistemes of racial meaning. Moreover, sugar also reveals the fluid connections between all bodies, as physical forms are deemed unsettlingly changeable.
Alisha R. Walters is an Assistant Professor of Victorian Literature and Culture at Penn State University, Abington College. Her work examines representations of race and racial mixture in the nineteenth century, and her research focuses on the tensions between scientific and affective, or emotional, ideas of race, particularly in depictions of people of color in Victorian fiction. She also writes about colonial and literary depictions of food, as she considers what Victorians wrote about food and the dynamic process of national identity formation. Her work has appeared in journals such as Victorian Literature and Culture, Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies, and Women’s Writing.
Ryan Fong is an Associate Professor of English at Kalamazoo College, where he also serves as the director of the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Program. He has published essays in Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies, Victoriographies, and Victorian Literature and Culture. He is currently working on a book manuscript about indigeneity and empire in Victorian literature.
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