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Access Type

WSU Access

Date of Award

January 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Michael Scrivener







August 2018

Advisor: Dr. Michael Scrivener

Major: English

Degree: Doctor of Philosophy

The dissertation examines the ways in which late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century authors undermine slavery and parliamentary enclosure, while reflecting elements of these institutions in their earliest pieces of literature. Illustrating the relationship between exploitative agrarian economic systems and the racial, cultural, and socioeconomic groups they affect, the research takes John Thelwall’s Incle and Yarico, Mary Prince’s The History of Mary Prince, and John Clare’s enclosure poems as primary texts for this examination. In particular, it focuses on the role reversals, descriptive language, and editorial practices that power these pieces of literature. Incle and Yarico, whose author is writing in support of abolition, though he is not the direct target of racial and cultural oppression, primarily uses overt instances of role reversal to challenge the oppressive system. Accordingly, he depicts the Native American female figure as a provider, romantic pursuer, and dispenser of justice, in stark contrast to his representations of English males, who appear as deceitful colonizers dependent on the female natives for protection, sustenance, and guidance in a densely forested environment. By contrast, Prince and Clare, who are targets of oppressive rhetoric and action, challenge the system through their use of descriptive language. Prince is exact in her description of the emotional and physical pain she suffers as a slave, as well as in her assessment of the moral quality of the slavery institution. Likewise, Clare devotes a significant amount of specific description to his memory of the rural environment, prior to its enclosure by wealthy landowners, and also depicts the destructive effects of the enclosure movement on the environment. However, these narratives contain elements of oppressive influences that problematize their criticisms of slavery and enclosure. Thelwall’s role reversal ultimately makes possible the very act of oppression it decries. And the editorial processes, intended to help Prince’s and Clare’s narratives, support the economic influences that oppress these authors, by working to present the narratives in a manner that suits the aims of their respective editors and patrons. In sum, the dissertation discusses the discursive effects of oppressive rhetoric and action on abolitionist and anti-enclosure literature.

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