Chapter

Between Victimhood and Agency

Leanne Hunnings

in Ancient Slavery and Abolition

Published in print July 2011 | ISBN: 9780199574674
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191728723 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199574674.003.0007

Series: Classical Presences

Between Victimhood and Agency

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1834, the year that abolition was implemented, also saw one of the most resonant literary representations of slavery to circulate in the popular imagination of the British empire, the portrait of the blind slave-girl Nydia in the popular novel published by Edward Bulwer (later Bulwer-Lytton), The Last Days of Pompeii. The novel was to prove exceptionally influential over the following decades; it ran into numerous editions and was adapted into stage performances ranging from bombastic tragedies to the light entertainment provided by extravagant spectacles. This chapter argues that Nydia's suicide, resulting from her painful position in the love-triangle between herself and two free characters, is doubly handicapped by her disability and her status. Hunnings shows how Nydia's subjectivity is threatened with erasure and severely compromised as she is inspected by her male author and his implied readership, but the slave nevertheless appropriates, in her dying moments, a moral agency that paradoxically enables her to upstage the free characters.

Keywords: Bulwer-Lytton; Last Days of Pompeii; Nydia; Slave; novel; blindness; subjectivity

Chapter.  10099 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Classical History

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