Plantation Heiress Fiction, Slavery, and the Properties of White Marriage

Jeffory A. Clymer

in Family Money

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780199897704
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199980123 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Studies in American Literary History

Plantation Heiress Fiction, Slavery, and the Properties of White Marriage

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Chapter 3 considers how the color line shaped disputes over the economic position of women within marriage between whites. In books featuring the travails of white plantation heiresses, novelist E. D. E. N. Southworth borrows from slave law and from the rumblings of slavery’s most passionate defenders to map marriage’s social and financial dilemmas for white women. She transposes the effects of famous legal decisions, such as State v. Mann (North Carolina, 1829), as well as the vocabulary and logic produced by writers like George Fitzhugh. Southworth manipulates the ironies, violence, and ideological blind spots in the slave South’s conflation of “affection” and “possession.” As Southworth imagines white wives’ property rights as a remedy for the abuse that marriage could conceal, she transforms the enslaved into a ready-at-hand plot device for carving out white wives’ new economic rights.

Keywords: E. D. E. N. Southworth; Caroline Lee Hentz; property; plantation fiction; slavery; companionate marriage; State v. Mann

Chapter.  11798 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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