Abolition and Adventure: Narratives of the Atlantic World

Module code: EN7254

Accounts of global travel and adventure were extremely popular with eighteenth-century British readers. For writers campaigning for the abolition of slavery – including writers who had themselves been enslaved – tales of adventure were therefore among the literary models they could use to win an audience. This module explores their strategies. How did authors seek to establish their credibility, grip readers, and communicate experiences that were often, as they noted, uncommunicable?

We will take as a central text Olaudah Equiano’s Interesting Narrative (1789), an autobiography that relates his experiences as an enslaved child, as an adventurous sailor, and as a celebrated campaigner. To better understand Equiano’s influences and contexts we’ll examine Daniel Defoe’s fictional Robinson Crusoe (another account of adventure and enslavement), along with poetry and pamphlets by Equiano’s fellow abolitionists. The interplay of history and fiction was – and is – a common theme in discussion of these texts, and so we will conclude by bringing this debate to contemporary works, through Caryl Phillips’s historical fiction Cambridge (1991), a novel widely noted as being inspired by Equiano’s Narrative.

Back to top