Representing Cape slavery: Literature, law, and history

Johnson, David (2010). Representing Cape slavery: Literature, law, and history. Journal of Postcolonial Writing, 46(5) pp. 504–516.




Literary texts representing Cape slavery from the nineteenth century to the present are analysed with an eye to how they transform the legal records of Cape slave trials into literary form. The argument is that with few exceptions the literary texts on Cape slavery use the legal and historical sources in order to narrate in mediated form the anxieties and concerns of their own worlds. Applying Georg Lukacs’s criterion that historical novels should represent the past as a concrete precondition of the present, it is argued that these literary texts ignore or repress the continuities from slavery to capitalism; instead, they represent slavery as the illegitimate and unconnected antithesis of contingent present(s) defined by free labour and democracy.

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