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Slavery and emancipation themes in Russian and Anglophone literature

September 4, 2011
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A list, to be expanded as I find examples, of specific recurring themes from both literatures that belong to the general category of “slavery and emancipation”:

  1. Slave families are divided when some are sold/all are sold to different masters (Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Avdot’ia Panaeva’s memoirs). (SE1)
  2. Talented slaves work for money outside the master’s house, save it for a long time, and attempt to buy their freedom (RootsMy Past and Thoughts).
  3. Slaves try to escape to free border communities (Cossacks, Seminoles).
  4. Certain slaves internalize the values of the slave society and/or form personal bonds of affection with their masters, and prefer to remain as they are (Mar’ia Isaevna in Зараженное семействоUncle Tom’s Cabin) (SE4)
  5. Certain slaves appear obedient and content, but are willing to escape or rebel at the first opportunity (Про холопа примерного, Якова верного).
  6. Slaves deceive or manipulate their masters while remaining outwardly deferential. (SE6)
  7. Masters manipulate slaves by providing food, alcohol, or small privileges.
  8. Certain slaves work as servants in the master’s house, interacting daily with masters and guests. (Gertsen: “The difference between nobles [дворяне] and house servants [дворовые] is as small as that between their names.”) (SE8)
  9. Other slaves do agricultural work and have contact largely with other slaves and overseers.
  10. Both slaves and masters perceive these two categories of slaves as different. (SE10)
  11. Overseers are hired from an intermediate non-slave, non-slaveholding class (poor whites, Germans) and are hated by the slaves. (SE11)
  12. Married and unmarried men from the master’s family have sex with female slaves. While these encounters involve an extreme difference in power, they take many forms, and in some cases lead to the woman acquiring a special status in the house. (SE12)
  13. The idea of a slave rebellion on any scale is enough to terrify slaveholders. (SE13)
  14. Authors often represent in written form non-normative aspects of slaves’ speech (nonstandard words, mispronunciations of standard words, fast speech contractions); the slaveholders’ speech is transcribed as much closer to the standard written language. (SE14)
  15. Pro- and anti-slavery thinkers justify their positions with Christian theology. (SE15)

Items from the two lists below will be moved to the main list above if and when I find examples.

Slavery and emancipation themes found in Russian but not American literature:

  1. Some writers hold peasants up as a model of community that non-peasants should emulate.
  2. Some slaves not only work off the master’s land for money, but travel to distant cities for long periods to do so.
  3. Masters refuse to grant slaves permission to marry if they find the would-be wife attractive.

Slavery and emancipation themes found in American but not Russian literature:

  1. There is a special class of people who specialize in capturing runaway slaves; slaveholders tend to despise them even as they use their services.
  2. Slaves try to escape (or exercise limited freedom) by passing as non-slaves.
  3. Slaves’ degree of slave/slaveholder ancestry creates divisions among slaves themselves.
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