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Trading Women, Traded Women

A Historical Scrutiny of Gendered Trading

Gönül Bakay and Mihaela Mudure

For the scholarly reader it is a truism that trade, in its widest sense (exchange, interchange, deal) is the basis of human society, it is part of the human interaction which is the very texture of society. The French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss demonstrated in his seminal essay «The Elementary Structures of Kinship» that human society relies on the exchange of women by men. But women are not only the passive object of this trade among men. They also try and often succeed in trading goods, ideas, and changing their subject position by getting the upper hand in this crucial exchange. Little attention has been given to genderizing the connection between trade and the British Enlightenment and to its subsequent influence on women’s history and/or literary or visual representations of women by women or men. The contributors in this collection focus on women as physical or symbolic traded objects, as subversive women trading in spite of cultural and social stereotypes, and as women empowered in the cultural, political, and social trade.

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Intersectional Narratives of Marriage and Slavery in Oroonoko and The Woman of Colour (Başak Demirhan)


Başak Demirhan

Intersectional Narratives of Marriage and Slavery in Oroonoko and The Woman of Colour

Aphra Behn’s novella Oroonoko, The Royal Prince (1688) and the anonymous epistolary novel The Woman of Colour, A Tale (1808) illustrate how political discourses on the Atlantic slave trade and women’s social status intersected and changed throughout the long eighteenth century. Both texts have female narrators who construct their narrative voice by aligning themselves with African slaves and thus are criticizing their own status as objects of exchange. These writers utilize the exoticism as well as the political and economic importance of the slave trade toenter the male-dominated literary marketplace. Many eighteenth-century women writers display a self-awareness of their own social status as objects of exchange in marriage, while writing from the position of agents of exchange and as free Britons living in a slave-holding society.

Behn’s romance novel Oroonoko chronicles the life of an enslaved African prince who leads a slave revolt and is executed by the treacherous and cruel slaveholders. Caribbean slavery, specifically the escaped slave communities called the maroon societies, inspired Behn to write a romance that reflected her royalist politics. In addition to voicing her royalist views and her bitterness about the execution of Charles I, Behn also advocates freedom and respect for women.

The epistolary sentimental novel The Woman of Colour combines anti-slavery arguments with a harsh criticism of the materialistic notions of marriage in England. The protagonist of the novel...

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