Due to the highly mediated conditions of its production, The History of Mary Prince presents a challenge to New Critical methods of reading that are frequently taught in undergraduate literature classrooms. Without questioning the British abolitionists’ textual representation of Prince’s experiences, readers unfamiliar with the historical conditions for slave narratives may attribute the publication’s sentimentalism and representations of violence as direct expressions of Prince. This essay mobilizes close reading towards contrary ends: I throw the editor’s (Thomas Pringle’s) paratextual material, particularly the Preface, under scrutiny by close reading its insistence on transparency and symmetry between the first-person narrative and Prince as the narrative's univocal source. Using the Preface as an apparatus for close reading The History, I emphasize the dissonance between, on the one hand, the British abolitionists’ textual representation of freedom and, on the other, Prince’s speech as a practice of freedom. Drawing on the methods developed by Marisa Fuentes and Ann Laura Stoler, I offer historical and geographical contexts that can be layered onto close readings exercises for The History – particularly around repeated tropes of salt and allusions to sugar – that destabilize Thomas Pringle’s, and by extension the London Antislavery Society’s, representation of Prince’s public image. I argue how the paratextual materials of The History can help instructors foreground the contradictions and asymmetries of power embedded in subaltern representations.
Mary Prince, slave narrative, law, Caribbean
"Along and Against the Grain: Close reading The History of Mary Prince,"
ABO: Interactive Journal for Women in the Arts, 1640-1830: Vol.13: Iss.1, Article 12.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.usf.edu/abo/vol13/iss1/12