The Tragic Mulatta Plays the Tragic Muse

The Tragic Mulatta Plays the Tragic Muse

Victorian Literature and Culture
Volume 37, Issue 2 (June 2009)
pages 501-522
DOI: 10.1017/S1060150309090317

Kimberly Snyder Manganellia, Assistant Professor of 19th-Century British and American Literature
Clemson University

Marie Lavington, the runaway octoroon slave in Charles Kingsley‘s little-read novel Two Years Ago (1857), makes this declaration of independence in a letter to Tom Thurnall, the novel’s hero. Though Tom helped her escape to a Canadian Quaker community, Marie has tired of the “staid and sober” (122; vol. 1, ch. 5) lifestyle of a Quakeress.  She reenters the public marketplace by refashioning herself into the Italian diva, La Cordifiamma.  Marie’s ascent to the stage as La Cordifiamma marks the construction of a new female body in the mid-nineteenth century: the Tragic Mulatta who becomes a Tragic Muse.

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