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While subjugated peoples cannot readily control what emanates from the
dominant culture, they do determine to varying extents what they absorb
into their own, and what they use it for.
--Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes

If minor formations become method and theory, then new analytics will
be brought to the foreground that creolize the universalisms we live
with today from the bottom up and from the inside out.
--Shu-mei Shi & Francoise Lionnet, The Creolization of Theory


In August 1870, the British nurse Florence Nightingale, who later became a national icon for her patriotic service, gave a negative account of the Jamaican "Creole" woman Mary Seacole and her activity in the Crimean War (1854-1856). Responding to the request of a reference for Seacole from her brother-in-law, the MP Sir Harry Verney, Nightingale wrote, following a special note, "burn," on the top of her letter, that
She [Mrs. Seacole] kept--I will not call it a "bad house" but something
not very unlike it--in the Crimean War. She was very kind to the men
and, what is more, to the Officers, and did some good, and made many
drunk.... I had the greatest difficulty in repelling Mrs. Seacole's
advances, and in preventing association between her and my nurses
(absolutely out of the question).... Anyone who employs Mrs. Seacole
will introduce much kindness--also much drunkenness and improper
conduct, wherever she is. (quoted in Seacole 2005,180)

Nightingale's insinuation of Seacole's involvement in the sex trade which induced "much drunkenness and improper conduct" by British soldiers at the colonial frontiers emblematized the mid-century dominant conception of the mixed-race woman as a site of racial, sexual, and political anxieties in both Victorian England and the United States after the British emancipation in the West Indies in 1834 and the discontinuation of slavery in the United States in 1865. This association of Seacole with the image of a "free" but sexually stigmatized mixed-race female migrant laborer reveals not only the anxiety over abolitionist sentiments and black empowerment at home and abroad; such notions of mixed-race unruliness and degradation also reflect the contradiction of the post-emancipation period's expansionist logic, which relied on the empires' expedition, competition, and exploitation of black and Asian laborers as substitution of "slaves" in Central America, the Caribbean, and Asian-Pacific regions, while at the same time denying their recognition as British or American subjects. Nightingale's concluding remark that "respectable Officers were entirely ignorant of what I... could not help knowing as a Matron and Chaperone and Mother of the Army" (quoted in Seacole 2005,180) further implies how the empire was fought for not only by white men but also by his "Chaperone and Mother," who guarded against the untightened racial, sexual, and moral boundaries at the edges of the empire. If, as scholars have contended, the empire was increasingly perceived as an extension of domesticity, and generally overseen by the white woman, (1) what role did woman of color or of multiple and ambiguous racial heritages play? How may we understand Seacole's participation in the Crimean War as an indication of both her assimilation and resistance to empire? How did she negotiate a discourse of difference while establishing her legitimacy in the gendered and racialized spaces of empire?

This article seeks to tackle these questions and relationships of race and empire by reading the "Creole" maternal subjectivity in Seacole's 1857 memoir, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, to a mixed-race mother and a Scottish soldier father, Seacole narrates her role as a "doctress, nurse, and mother" during the Crimean War (2005, no). The memoir builds upon Seacole's mobility and domestic managerial capacity on her youthful training at her mother's boarding house, where she acquired culinary and medical skills that later sustained her through her extensive travels across many places, including Haiti, Cuba, Panama, England, and the Crimean Peninsula. Despite her reputation as "Mother" among Crimean soldiers, Seacole evades any singular and unwavering racial and national identity as a "British," "Jamaican," or "black"; instead, she adopts "Creole" as a nonconformist and interstitial subject position, which allows her to claim multiple affiliations with diverse racial groups and expose, and at times even exploit, the tensions and rivalries of these "imagined" communities. A wanderer, or "a female Ulysses" as some would dub her (n), Seacole depicts her adulthood as a "doctress" practicing in Jamaica and Panama, where cholera and yellow fever struck the major cities such as Newcastle and Cruces and claimed many lives, as detailed in the first third of the memoir. It remains unclear from her memoir why she decided to join the Crimean War, except in a passing reference that she "longed to witness it," a desire heightened by news that the regiments she had visited in the military bases of Newcastle, Jamaica, were dispatched to fight the war (69). Yet, this desire to join her old acquaintances in the service of the British empire was by no means an easy goal because, as a person of color and a formerly colonized subject, Seacole's position in the imperial service was undoubtedly a questionable one to those who had perceived the empire as being composed exclusively of the "British" and "whites." Being rudely turned down by the London Administration of War and Nightingale's nurse corps, Seacole went to Crimea on a loan and managed to run a store at the warfront called the "British Hotel," presumably a foil against the "British Hospital" presided by Nightingale and her nurses. By portraying Seacole's role as a "doctress, nurse, and mother" in the war, the memoir generates an interstitial female subjectivity and interracial affinity with imperial warriors, thus blurring the existing racial, sexual, national, and even linguistic boundaries. Indeed, as Seacole's memoir came out in 1857 in Britain, it was quickly translated into Dutch and French editions, which were published in 1857 and 1858 respectively, and the press coverage reveals that Seacole's story was widely perused in England, Jamaica, New Zealand, and the United States (Staring-Derks, Staring, and Anionwu 2015, 517). In the press, Seacole's deeds were compared to those of the two greatest war celebrities, Nightingale and the French chef, Alexis Soyer. A review published in 1855 by the English newspaper the Morning Advertiser notes, "She is both a Miss Nightingale and a Soyer in her way.... Her culinary powers are so great, that even Soyer told her the other day that she knew as much about cooking as himself" (quoted in Seacole 2005, 173). Reenacting "a Miss Nightingale and a Soyer" but "in her way," Seacole's memoir can thus preconceive a distinct "post-colonial" (2) female subjectivity informed by Victorian notions of motherhood and in turn challenge them through her creolization of the emotional, racial, and medical aspects of such discourses.

Further, by analyzing a subversive "Creole" identity in Seacole's memoir, this article complements contemporary scholarship on Seacole's work by situating her text within a specifically post-slavery and transnational Jamaican context. Scholars of Victorian studies tend to view Seacole's memoir as evidence of diversity and inclusiveness of the empire. Bernard McKenna considers Seacole's memoir as a model of Victorian female travel writing, which suggests that "travel writing not only began to question English and imperial values but began to be written by figures from the periphery of society" (1997, 222). Sara Salih, although arguing that Seacole's memoir complicates the categories of "black," "British," and "Jamaican" by re-fashioning herself as an "auto-ethnographer" whose "transcultural, transnational identities evade definition along cultural, racial, and/or national lines," concludes that these "trans-" identities created by Seacole's memoir are still "invested in colonizer's terms" (2004, 189). What goes under-examined in this body of scholarship is the complexity between race and empire, a complexity resulting from the empire's shifting and ambivalent relationships with cultural Others by differently incorporating its colonial subjects while simultaneously racializing and sexualizing them so as to preserve the empire as "white." In reading the formation of a Jamaican "Creole" woman's subjectivity as shaped yet not entirely determined by colonialism, I am indebted to Samuel Gikandi's view on the importance of "colonialism's culture in its contradictions and complicities, as a chiasmus in which the polarities that define domination and subordination shift with localities, gender, cultures, and even periods" (1996, 124). This call for a new interpretive model based not so much on a simple complicity/resistance dichotomy but on colonialism's "contradictions and complicities" is highlighted by a recent anthology, Before Windrush, in which the editors discern a crucial omission of pre-World War II Black and Asian British writers in contemporary British literary studies and thus devote the anthology to recovering the voices that "create testaments not only to travel and diaspora, but also to the formation of Britain as a racially diverse nation" (Rastogi and Stitt 2008, 1). Although such inclination to read "Britain as a racially diverse nation" can dilute the critical stances offered by Black and Asian British texts and reinforce what Fatima El-Tayeb has acutely pointed to as the racial regime of "European dogma of colorblindness," which persists in upholding that "there are only migrants, no minorities in Europe" (2011, xxi), I concord with the editors' urgent call to uncover more Black and Asian British literary productions, thereby contesting the notions of Britain as a "raceless" or "diverse" nation while also accounting for the complex negotiation of an interstitial subject position enabled by nonwhite writers' texts.

One crucial aspect of empire with which Seacole's memoir vigorously engages is Victorian motherhood. Motherhood played a pivotal role in the making of race and empire. In literary productions, motherhood was frequently depicted as an immanent property, and thus representations of mothers remained confined to a traditional definition of femininity such as "pure, self-sacrificing, and devoted, a spiritual influence and a moral instructress" (McMahon 2008,182). Meanwhile, as a political institution, motherhood worked to justify the extension of women's rights and influence from the private space at home to the public, national, or colonial spheres of culture and management. Antoinette Burton defines such an institution as "imperial motherhood," which conceived mothers, or white women in general, as "race creators," who performed a vital role in the continuity of race and prosperity of the nation (1994, 49-50). This institution was, as Burton notes, irrevocably white-centered because it either left the role of nonwhite women undecided or appropriated it as the sign of "otherness" and "oppression" against which British women claimed their own emancipation (64-65). Extending this critique of Victorian motherhood to examine the memoir's maternal discourse, I draw upon what Brinda Mehta calls "Sycorax historicity" to re-situate the articulation of "Creole" motherhood in a post-colonial context. In her book, Notions of Identity, Diaspora, and Gender in Caribbean Women's Writing, Mehta argues insightfully how Caribbean female writers often invoke "Sycorax," the demonized mother of Caliban in William Shakespeare's The Tempest (1611) to reclaim their cultural heritage by writing back to the racialization and displacement of Caribbean womanhood in Anglo-American canons. Originating from the island "Algiers," presumably one of the Caribbean islands, (3) but banished for practicing sorcery, Sycorax has come to represent the beginning of Caribbean women's gendered diasporic history, and thus adopting Sycorax discourse constitutes an attempt to "decolonize and feminize Caribbean reason through epistemological ruptures found in postcolonial revisions of colonial thought" (Mehta 2009, 25). Although the memoir never explicitly makes any references to Shakespeare or Sycorax, Seacole's articulation of an alternative maternal identity qualifies her text to claim a genealogy to Mehta's idea of "Sycorax historicity," which enables her to challenge and reconstruct the racial rubrics of Victorian motherhood through uncovering the pre-colonial, indigenous maternal roots of history, memory, and identity. Further, as it embodies an alternative motherhood, the memoir utilizes creolized culinary language that underscores Seacole's cultural heritage and disputes it as a natural, essential construct. This culinary language allows Seacole to not just affirm her Caribbean heritage but also it facilitates her claiming of multiple mixed identities and affiliations with various cultural groups, including British, Creole, Afro-Panamanian, Latin American, Caribbean communities, and so on. Thus, the memoir's maternal and culinary discourses should not be read simply as Seacole's identification as British or Caribbean or both; rather, these creolized practices illuminate how the memoir resists colonialist and anti-colonialist nostalgic desires for resurrecting the "authentic" visions of identity and nation that have nonetheless become impractical--if not impossible--in the history of the post-slavery Caribbean diaspora.

Ultimately, the memoir's creolized discourses and gendered subjectivities underscore the process of "creolization" as an identity expression which, as Francoise Lionnet and Shu-mei Shih point out, signals types of racial and cultural mixtures due to colonialism, slavery, and forced migration in the Caribbean (Lionnet and Shih 2011, 22). (4) Seacole embraces such mixtures and also exposes the colonial history that begets yet denies them. To analyze more closely these mixtures, the following sections explore Seacole's articulation of her creolized subjectivities in primarily three dimensions: nursing, cooking, and healing. Section II discusses how Seacole's claim to a maternal position borrows and reworks the militarized rhetoric of "imperial motherhood" represented by Nightingale. Her appropriation of Victorian motherhood reveals its exclusionary logics that had repeatedly construed Jamaican mixed-race womanhood as a register of sexual promiscuity and racial degeneration. Then, countering these sexual and racial images of Jamaican womanhood, Section III illustrates ways in which Seacole's creolized practices of cooking and nursing signify the trails of "Sycorax historicity," through which the memoir evokes her Caribbean heritage to subvert colonialist constructions of her Jamaican identity. Finally, Section IV elucidates how Seacole's text enables the formation of an interstitial and non-essentialist form of Creole subjectivity arising from various interracial struggles and alliances in which she participated and as described in her accounts of Panama. By treating "creolization" as both a site of cultural struggle and an expression of plural identities, this article demonstrates how the memoir's "Creole" subjectivity not only represents an alternative or inclusive model of British identity, but also how its articulation is a complex negotiation within the gendered histories of post-slavery Caribbean diaspora in the wake of colonialisms and cultural creolization.


Motherhood is routinely placed at the center of the press and literature about the Crimean War, a war that was fought by an alliance of Britain and France against Russia for the dominancy over the territories of the declining Ottoman Empire. While the war was more widely known as the first war anticipating the longer rivalry, or "The Great Game," between the Eastern and Western worlds, it was also the first war in British history which valorized white women's domestic labor at home and abroad, particularly when their labor such as nursing, housekeeping, and reproductive capacity was deemed crucial to the building of the empire. As Nightingale earned a nationwide reputation for her medical reform in the war, joining the nurse corps became an increasingly popular activity among middle and upper-class women, whose duty was mainly to nourish and maintain the body force necessary for the imperial expansion, and to import to the battlefield "symbols of Britishness such as medical supplies, uniforms, food, and books" (Howell 2010, 63). When, in December, 1854, the mortality rate of British soldiers reached a new peak due to harsh weather, outbreaks of cholera and dysentery, and shortage of food supplies, Nightingale and a group of nurses were called to support the medical service at Barrack Hospital, Scutari, where the British troops camped, the image of the empire as a growing child in need of the care of a devoted woman became even more salient in public discourse about the war. One review, published by an anonymous writer in the Times in October, 1854, clearly mobilized such images of the empire as a child calling for his guarding angels:
We sit at home[,] trying to picture the last moments of those dear to
us, and our agony is increased by the fear that all was not done that
might have been done to relieve their sufferings.... The strongest man
becomes helpless and dependent like a child in his hour of need, and we
all know how, in such a case, a humble nurse, with no other
recommendations than a kind heart and skillful hands, appears to the
sufferer as a saving angel, (quoted in Poovey 1988,167)

Comparing a nurse to an "angel," this writer elevates the role of women in a nation in wartime through a range of similes that associate the nation with "a child" and the nurse his "saving angel." It further suggests that the figure of the nurse came to represent an ideal of British womanhood in the context of the Crimean War.

The establishment of nursing as an occupation is indeed a milestone to the work of empire building. Modern nursing actually emerged as a professional service during the Crimean War supporting the British army and imperial missions (Howell 2013, 63). Traditionally, nursing is perceived as one category of domestic labor that is occupied by women and servants, usually performed in private and unprofitably Nightingale's medical reform, however, strengthens imperial values of this field. Taking on the significance as a moral underpinning of the imperial enterprise following the medical reform, nursing represents not merely the values of middle-class domestic management and cleanliness, but it also harbors the "civilizing" tendency for improving the physical conditions as well as inner quality of British populations abroad. Instead of holding the common view that soldiers were "brutes" for whom drinking and prostitution were their natural outlets, Nightingale's reform emphasized "moral" and "intellectual" refinement of soldiers by providing them "coffee and reading rooms, classes and games" (McDonald 2010, 12). In addition to practices of moral uplift, food supplies and soldiers' malnutrition continued to be a major concern in Nightingale's reports about the war. As she wrote, "the health of the men is the main engine of the commander," and, in furthering this claim, she estimated the cost of replacing a soldier on foreign service as thrice higher than renovating the food preparation system for the entire regiment (McDonald 2010, 13-14). This "economical" dimension of Nightingale's reform is more than an exemplar of the virtues of middle-class domestic labor and respectability. In fact, as Mary Poovey points out, the new nursing discourse has combined domestic ideology with military idioms since the time of Nightingale (1988, 169). As it is frequently associated with military nursing, domesticity is imagined as an extension of the empire, which often conflates femininity with masculinity and home with abroad, seeking to masquerade the expansionist logics under the protection of a universal domestic value. Nightingale's own postwar reflections, Notes on Nursing (1859), depicts nursing as a reinforcement of militarized domestic values which valorized women's work outside the home and in support of the larger nationalist and imperialist goals. By associating the values of military nursing with those of domesticity and femininity, Nightingale's lesson is able to conform to the traditional role of Victorian women as the "angel in the house" and meanwhile transform this role into what the Times review called a "saving angel" guarding the interest of the growing British Empire. (5) As Victorian nursing discourse embraces the values of expansionist domesticity, Seacole's participation in this discourse is a vexed one. Shortly after Nightingale left for the Crimean battlefront, Seacole traveled from Jamaica to London in hope of securing a nursing position at the British Hospital. Thwarted in her attempt to obtain an interview with Sidney Herbert, the Secretary at War, who financed the nursing corps, Seacole managed to meet his wife, but was told that the quota of nurses had been filled. She then appealed to one of the corps' nurses. This nurse, as Seacole reports, "gave me the same reply [as Mrs. Herbert], and I read in her face the fact, that had there been a vacancy, I should not have been chosen to fill it" (2005, 73). Such prejudices are not unfamiliar to Seacole's readers. Earlier in the memoir, she depicts how she and her friend were racially marked when they strolled down the streets of London. Recalling being taunted by a group of boys for their skin color, she tells her readers, "I am only a little brown--a few shades duskier than the brunettes whom you all admire so much; but my companion was very dark, and a fair (if I can apply the term to her) subject for their rude wit... our progress through the London streets was sometimes a rather chequered one" (13). Although appearing to please her British readers, this incident lays bare the restrictive biological notion of race that had prescribed the darker race as different and inferior to Anglo-Saxon Englishness and the ideal of whiteness underpinning such a notion. It is perhaps against these racialized experiences that the memoir is able to highlight Seacole's determination to become a "Crimean heroine" (71), the title of which allows her to invoke Nightingale as both a role model and an imaginary rival. Referred to at least once as the "Jamaican Nightingale" in the press, Seacole couldn't have been unaware of Nightingale's public self-fashioning as the "Mother of the Army" or "ministering angel." In fact, the memoir frequently conjures up the rivalry between the two. Referencing their long-postponed first meeting, Seacole depicts Nightingale as an "Englishwoman whose name shall never die, but sound like music on the lips of British men until the hour of doom" (82), yet who, as she also notes, consented to offer Seacole only one night's lodging and had her rest in the basement with the hospital's laundresses. Once Seacole settled herself in the Crimean, her place, neatly named "British Hotel" in Spring Hall, Balaclava, where the British fought their first battle with the Russians, provided lodging, food, groceries, and medical care, aiming to entice more fame and patronage than the British Hospital among the soldiers. Moreover, just as Nightingale's reform affirms the intertwined ideologies of middle-class domesticity and martial management, Seacole avails herself of similar values in her creation of a mixed-race maternal persona. As she asserts, "mismanagement and privation there might have been, but my business was to make things right in my sphere, and whatever confusion and disorder existed elsewhere, comfort and order were always to be found at Spring Hill" (101). Suggesting that her hotel was operated with as much "comfort" and "order" as those in the hospital, Seacole's memoir mobilizes but also critiques those militarized domestic idioms originated in Nightingale's reform.

The memoir's borrowing of the rhetoric of militarized nursing and middle-class domesticity also allows Seacole to eschew the categorization as the "tragic mulatta" frequently associated with Jamaican mixed-race womanhood. The figure of "tragic mulatta" emerged as a transatlantic literary figure because of her embodiment of the anxieties over racial mixture and revenge in post-slavery British and American societies. In postbellum American fiction, as Eve A. Raimon argues, the popularity of this figure resided in its capacity to symbolize the intersection of miscegenation and nationalism that American society at once desired and feared: "the sexual vulnerability of a mixed-race female subject and the reproductive potential she represents and enacts within the plot allow her literally to personify the anxieties and fantasies about the ascendant nation's interracial future" (2004, 8). On the other side of the Atlantic, this figure represented the complex past and present relationships between the European powers and post-colonial Caribbean world. As Kimberly S. Manganelli points out in her study of mixed-race West Indian womanhood during the Saint-Domingue Revolution (1791-1804), the figure transformed from a "libidinous, avaricious mistress" to a "virtuous but sexually imperiled heiress" after the revolution as her wealth now made her an ideal woman for marriage (2012,28-29). This transformation, however, was further complicated by the differing accounts evident in British and French narratives: whereas British narratives depicted the West Indian woman as sexually threatening to the white man, the French counterparts, in contrast, romanticized her--by portraying her adeptness in using the money her lover provides to live a respectable life (26). The Jamaican governor Edward Long is probably the most oft-cited example here. In his History of Jamaica (1774), Long infamously states that brown and mixed-race women in Jamaica are "common prostitutes," yet depicted as "more frugal, trusty, faithful, modest, good-humored, and discreet than the white Creole women" (1774,331), they could pass for white in England and thus threatened the purity of Englishness by marrying into families who sought to improve their wealth by marrying their sons to West Indian heiresses (such as Bertha Manson in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre). Visiting Jamaica several years after Seacole's journey to the war, the renowned British novelist and travel writer Anthony Trollope holds a similar prejudice against West Indian womanhood in The West Indies and the Spanish Main (1859), stating that "there is a mystery about hotels in the British West Indies," as he writes, "they are always kept by fat middle-aged coloured ladies who have no husbands" (1859, 205), thus linking the West Indian female hotel-keeper with sexual exoticism and promiscuity.

Running a hotel, a family business founded by her native mother, Seacole couldn't have been unaware of the sexual innuendoes associated with this particular business in dominant mindsets. Such anxieties over racial mixture that mixed-race womanhood threatened to pose in the transatlantic circulation of racial knowledge and literary imagination were reflected critically in Seacole's memoir. On her return to Kingston from London, Seacole was intercepted by a group of women travelers who pressed her with a series of questions, including her place of origin, destination, and source of income (Seacole 2005, 56). One American traveler, upon seeing an Englishman speak for Seacole, plainly asserted that blacks and whites could not stay on the same ship: "a nigger woman don't go along with us in this saloon.... Flesh and blood can stand a good deal of aggravation; but not that. If the Britishers is so took up with coloured people, that's their business; but it won't do here" (56-57). Although more concerned with American racism, this incident proves that mixed-race subjects continually evoke the historical scenes of racial mixture resulting from slavery and colonialisms across the Atlantic. In response to this anxiety over mixed-race female sexuality, Seacole declares in her memoir, she "neither permitted drunkenness among the men nor gambling among the officers" (126), a gesture that prompts one to read her memoir as a counter-narrative challenging white fantasies or criticisms that had reduced her to a "bad house" proprietor. In fact, as critics argue, Seacole's memoir apparently evokes a range of maternal images to "de-sexualize" and counteract the dominant perceptions of mixed-race womanhood as a site of sexual, racial, and political anxieties. (6) These maternal images underscore Seacole's role as a surrogate "mother" to the wounded soldiers, and thereby aver the critique of her sexual connections with white men. She recounts that "more than one officer have I startled by appearing before him, and telling him abruptly that he must have a mother, wife, or sister at home whom he missed, and that he must therefore be glad of some woman to take their place" (126). Assuming the role of "mother, wife, or sister" to British soldiers and officers allowed Seacole to re-define her role in terms of middle-class domestic and feminine virtues, and to further associate these virtues with the larger national and imperial goals as advocated by Nightingale's reform. Just as Nightingale's reform appealed to the nationalist values of women's work outside the home, Seacole's maternal position underscored masculinized and racialized motherhood on the battlefield. As she wrote, "only women could have done more than they [officers and doctors] did who attended to this melancholy duty; and they, not because their hearts could be softer, but because their hands are moulded for this work" (90). Claiming it is women's "hands" rather than their "hearts" that made them more suitable for nursing on the battlefield, Seacole appropriates the militarized rhetoric of the reform movement in her narrative of the Crimean life. In this emphasis of her role as a surrogate mother to the Crimean soldiers, the memoir is also making an implicit claim that if she is recognized as a "Crimean heroine," she should also be granted the same rights as a British citizen. It is thus through a strategic adoption of Victorian motherhood that Seacole's memoir generates an antiracist and non-biological basis of kinship with her British patrons (whether being soldiers or readers), which subsequently allows her to critique the narrow-mindedness of a "pure" notion of race, family, and nation.


In spite of its inspiration from Nightingale's reform, Seacole's maternal position has a longer tradition in the diasporic context of Caribbean culinary discourse. The memoir sets out to build her identity as a "Creole" and "doctress," thereby denouncing the colonialist racializing and sexualizing discourses on the mixed-race populations as an "indolent" and "degenerate" race. Countering colonialist discourses, Seacole begins her memoir by proclaiming, "I am a Creole... I have often heard the term 'lazy Creole' applied to my country People; but I am sure I do not know what it is to be indolent" (2005, 11). In identifying with her "Creole" mother, not only can her memoir uncover the maternal roots of history and identity formation, but it also resurrects the authority and cultural distinctiveness of the "Creole" as a legitimate source for diasporic mixed-race subjects, who are able to express their complex identifications and intercultural affinities with both black and white communities. Seacole tells a different story of origins via her maternal inheritance, noting, "My mother kept a boarding house in Kingston, and was, like very many of the Creole women, an admirable doctress, in high repute with the officers of both services, and their wives, who were from time to time stationed at Kingston. It was very natural that I should inherit her tastes" (11-12). Claiming to "inherit her [mother's] tastes," the memoir builds Seacole's maternal discourse on Caribbean culinary and medicinal traditions that can be made explicit through Mehta's concept of "Sycorax historicity." As Mehta contends, Caribbean female writers tend to draw upon a monstrous maternal figure in order to reclaim their precolonial womanhood, one that had been either eradicated or racialized in colonialist discourses. Reconceived within the gendered diasporic reasoning and maternal sensibility of Sycorax discourse, it is clearer to see how the memoir's "Creole" culinary practices work to challenge and reformulate both colonialist and anticolonial essentialist formations of identity.

Mehta's concept of "Sycorax historicity" is helpful to understand how Seacole's memoir conceives an alternative form of Jamaican mixed-race womanhood by resisting the masculine colonialist and nationalist claims of identity and cultural affiliations. Mehta argues that the story of Sycorax has become a recurring cultural symbol in contemporary Caribbean feminist diasporic discourses. In The Tempest, Sycorax is the sorceress mother of Caliban; the latter is known as a native, a cannibal, a monster without language, and hence made enslaved and domesticated by the imperial Prospero and his daughter, Miranda (Henry 2000, 4). Referenced negatively as a "damned witch" and "wicked dam" in Shakespeare's text, Sycorax is banished from Algiers when she is pregnant with Caliban, who rises to defy Prospero's power and accuses Prospero of invading his Kingdom and reducing him to a slave, as he confronts Prospero, declaring: "This island's mine by Sycorax my mother/Which thou takest from me" (Shakespeare 2003, 20). An archetypical figure who had undergone the trauma of racialization, dispossession, and exile, Sycorax, according to one critic, has "inherited and inscribed in her very flesh the whole history of the slave trade on West African soil and of slavery on West Indian plantations" (quoted in Mehta 2009, 25). The reclaiming of the voices of Sycorax thus enables Caribbean female writers to find connections and to exorcize their own experiences of the "diasporic wounds such as colonization, patriarchal orthodoxy, gender disenfranchisement, migration, and exile" (184). Seacole's memoir can be regarded as an important contribution to this discourse based on the relevance of her constant migration, experiences of racisms and colonialisms, and struggles to create a mobile identity. The memoir's creolized culinary and maternal rhetoric exemplify the antiracist and non-essentialist fibers of the Sycorax discourse, through which Seacole can configure an empowering Caribbean mixed-race womanhood by, to borrow an apt phrase from Mehta, "re-sensitizing the mother tongue" (185). Drawing these connections between creolized food and identity (re)formulation, the memoir can therefore build an interstitial Creole subjectivity that claims affinities to British as well as Caribbean origins in its envisioning of a creolized British empire.

Food is a frequently evoked metaphor for "home" in Seacole's text. More than merely an ordinary domestic practice, it is through the rituals of food storage, cooking, and eating that the memoir's interracial intimacies between "Mother Seacole" and "British sons" are made possible. The memoir repeatedly references how the food Seacole prepared for soldiers and officers reminded them of their English "home," making her a "mother" bringing the blissful recollections of home to the bleak and brutal battlefield. When justifying her role as a "mother," Seacole asks her readers to consider the links between food and identity:
Don't you think, reader, if you were lying, with parched lips and
fading appetite, thousands of miles from mother, wife, or sister,
loathing the rough food by your side, and thinking regretfully of that
English home where nothing that could minister to your great need would
be left untried--don't you think that you would welcome the familiar
figure of the stout lady whose bony horse has just pulled up at the
door of your hut, and whose panniers contain some cooling drink, a
little broth, some homely cake, or a dish of jelly or blancmange--don't
you think, under such circumstances, that you would heartily agree with
my friend Punch's remark:

"That berry-brown face, with a kind heart's trace
Impressed on each wrinkle sly
Was a sight to behold, through the snow-clouds rolled
Across that iron sky." (Seacole 2005,111-12)

In an affectionate tone enunciating a list of appetizing food including "a cooling drink, a little broth, some homely cake, or a dish of jelly or blanc-mange," Seacole's text showcases how food is not just any comfort or nutrient for life; instead, food speaks of a man's identity especially when he is suffering extreme deprivation on the battlefront, which, as she notes elsewhere in the memoir, could force some races such as Greeks and Turks into "thievery" or "robbery" by night (93-94). By drawing the links between food and identity, the memoir solidifies Seacole's non-biological maternal relationship to British soldiers, which facilitates her claim as a legitimate citizen subject. Yet, making British food does not automatically transform Seacole into a British citizen; food also signifies Seacole's outsider's status because it conjures up her "berry-brown" body whose identity is racialized by the semi-sarcastic tone of the poem published by the English press, Punch. In creating an intertextual dialogue with the dominant discourse as represented by Punch's remark, the memoir's culinary subtext presents an ambiguous, "not quite/not white" (1994,131) maternal position, to invoke Homi Bhabha's idea of racial indeterminacy of the stereotyped Other here, a position simultaneously parroting and subverting the role and authority of the white Englishwoman. Occupying this ambiguous position, Seacole may take over the place of the white woman under "that iron sky" of the colonial frontier, yet once back in the metropolis, her "brownness" continually marks her difference and unsuitability for assimilation under Victorian codes of racial purity. The memoir therefore demonstrates how food discourses emblematize both affirmation and racialization of one's identity as it evokes and seeks to defy the tradition of a biological conceptualization of British identity. It is also due to this ambivalence between food and identity that Seacole's text troubles a fixed idea of home, identity, and empire.

This understanding of the culinary narrative as a powerful agent for challenging the "authenticity" of identity has been well demonstrated by scholars. In her study of South Asian culinary fictions and diasporas, Anita Mannur argues that "the use of food is more than an a priori affirmation of palatable difference; it is also a way to undermine the racialized ideologies that culinary discourse is so often seen to buttress... the 'culinary' most typically occupies a seemingly paradoxical space--at once a site of affirmation and resistance" (2010, 7). Similarly, for Seacole, if food tells more of her "brownness" and mixed origins than her allegiance to empire, what the memoir does in return is to highlight and historicize a hybridized notion of British empire by giving witness to the works and plights of racial subjects while resisting the empire's racializing effects. Thus, just as the memoir's language of food evokes "things suggestive of home" (Seacole 2005, 121), it also implies the unfixed and shifting boundaries of home and empire, thereby destabilizing what Britishness is made of. For instance, introducing to readers her "British Hotel," Seacole fills the page with a list of her reputed dishes, including "Turkish bread," "Indian curry," "Irish stew," "meat-pies," "Welch rabbits," "rice-pudding," "sponge-cakes that any pastry-cook in London, even Gunter, might have been proud of," and so on (122-23). These dishes, as they are indicative of a multicultural culinary practice, also suggest a rapidly extended and diversified geopolitical make-up of the empire accompanied by British colonial occupation of Ireland, Turkey, and India as early as the eighteenth century. Such an "imperial" catalogue makes it possible for Seacole to articulate herself as a legitimate British subject, who embodies the drastically mixed and hybridized cultural realities of colonial frontiers and battlefields, thus threatening to overthrow the traditionally and biologically defined category of family and identity. Referencing one of her best dishes, the memoir illustrates how culinary practices allowed Seacole to transcend biological and cultural differences between a Jamaican woman and a British patron, as she ensures her readers that "had you been fortunate enough to have visited the British Hotel upon rice-pudding day, I warrant you would have ridden back to your hut with kind thoughts of Mother Seacole's endeavours to give you a taste of home" (123). The popularity of this dessert was so great that soldiers would cheer her when she announced "rice-pudding day, my sons." In another scene depicting the fame of her pastry among officers, they swarmed into the kitchen like mischievous hungry boys who were chided away by their mother:
The officers, full of fun and high spirits, used to crowd into the
little kitchen, and despite all my remonstrances, which were not always
confined to words, for they made me frantic sometimes, and an iron
spoon is a tempting weapon, would carry off the tarts and hot from the
oven, while the good-for-nothing black cooks, instead of lending me
their aid, would stand by and laugh with all their teeth. (Seacole
2005, 123)

This clamorous and affectionate kitchen scene is a stark contrast to an earlier scene in which Seacole, hoping to obtain a night's lodging at the British Hospital, was obliged to wait in its kitchen, where she noticed that the hospital's food was but "cans of soup, broth, and arrow-root, while nurses passed in and out with noiseless tread and subdued manner" (81). The contrast of the auras of the two spaces--the "fun and high spirits" of Seacole's kitchen and "noiseless" and "subdued" manner of Nightingale's hospital--suggests that Seacole's place was far more a "home" to British soldiers than the hospital. By contrasting Nightingale's hospital, this scene further reveals a shift of power relations between the colonizer and the colonized, master and servant, "Mother" and "Other," as it shows that Seacole is the one who wielded power over not only the boyish British officers but also the "good-for-nothing black cooks." In unraveling this triangulated relationship among black, Creole, and white, the memoir presents more complicated post-colonial interracial struggles, (dis-) identifications, and intimacies beyond the traditional paradigm of black/white dualism.

Significantly, as Seacole takes on a "Creole" maternal position, she ensures that this position speaks for her Jamaicanness as much as her Britishness. The memoir indicates that had it not been for her Creole origins, her envisioning of a hybridized empire would have been impossible. Occasionally, it goes so far as to suggest that it is through "creolization," or acts of cultural and racial mixing, that British identity can be made complete. This equation of "creolization" and "Britishness" becomes explicit when the memoir depicts her encounters with the French chef, Alexis Soyer. Prior to joining Nightingale's medical reform at the British Hospital in 1855, Soyer had achieved a national reputation in England for building model kitchens at London's Reform Club and designing economical kitchens for the Irish poor during the Great Famine (1845-1852). (7) As Soyer's memoir, Culinary Campaign (1857), which appeared in the same year as Wonderful Adventures, provides many sketches of his encounters with Seacole, Seacole's memoir returns this attention, noting that Soyer, "the great high priest of the mysteries of cookery... never failed to praise my soups and dainties" (2005, 130). Yet, far from seeing him as a fellow comrade, Seacole considered Soyer a rival for her role as an imperial culinary celebrity, for she remarked boastfully after relating his compliment: "I always flattered myself that I was his match, and with our West Indian dishes could of course beat him hollow" (130). In stressing it was her "West Indian" dishes that could vie against Soyer's French recipes, the memoir illustrates how Seacole's articulation of her identity was informed by the century-old rivalries between Britain and France over the West Indian colonies, thus making an implicit argument that fighting the Frenchman made her appear more "British." Further, despite its espousal of British identity, this argument actually constitutes a post-colonial "subversive" culinary practice depicted by Mehta. Mehta has observed that colonial cooks often received a creolized culinary training. As they were expected to familiarize themselves with indigenous herbs and spices, they also had to develop skills in blending these ingredients with French or English seasonings and create the familiar odors and tastes of "home" for the colonizers. The cooks' greatest achievement depended on "camouflage and subversive dissent," Mehta claims, for "they could thereby establish their memorable culinary authority over the colonial stomach in acts of subversive cooking, fearful eating, and 'creative' feeding" (2009, 54). Although Seacole never seemed to establish her authority through terror-inspiring dishes, Mehta's idea of "subversive cooking" is inspiring for unraveling the way Seacole's creolized culinary practices blurred the boundaries between local and colonial, culinary and medical, and British and Creole. As the memoir reports, busy as she was in tending to the hungry and the wounded, Seacole was very often "interrupted to dispense medicines; but if the tarts had a flavour of senna, or the puddings tasted of rhubarb, it never interfered with their consumption" (123). This act of mixing food and medicine is redolent of Mehta's idea about "creative feeding," which seemingly strengthens the "colonial stomach" but actually disrupts its definition and authority of "home." Such instances of re-enacting "subversive" forms of cooking in the memoir challenged Victorian racial logics and ideals about the purity and superiority of Englishness, proposing instead that the racial-political categories between "home" and "empire" and between "Britishness" and "Creole" had already been creolized by colonial consumption.

As the memoir begins to depict the actual battles, it becomes clearer how the culinary subtext of the memoir evokes home but also thrives on war. The war narrative in the last three chapters not only provides witness to the history in which Seacole played a role, but it further drives home the problematic relationships between History and history, personal narrative and collective memory, and food and identity. As Seacole declares, "I am fully aware that I have jumbled up events strangely, talking in the same page, and even sentence, of events which occurred at different times... I am only the historian of Spring Hill.... Unless I am allowed to tell the story of my life in my own way, I cannot tell it at all" (2005, 128). Claiming that she is merely writing her own story at the Crimean battlefront rather than writing the history of the war, Seacole resembles the post-colonial Caribbean female writers discussed in Mehta's work, trying to devise their own origins narratives in acts of reclaiming and re-creating their identities. In this way, their life stories often "personify... history" and can serve as a collective memory subverting both white and male-centered paradigms of history-making. "As a repository of the collective unconscious," Mehta observes, memoir "shapes personal experience in the form of cultural identity to disassociate women from unfamiliar referents that have resulted in their subsequent isolation and marginalization in history" (2009, 161). As such, Seacole's Crimean narrative gestures toward the larger and multiple memories about women's oppression and marginalization in histories of war, colonialism, and forced relocation. Also, writing her story in a nonlinear and fragmentary way allows Seacole to articulate from these colonialist epistemological "ruptures" and to re-member and re-mold her identities. As she tells her readers, if they found her memoir had left out any detail of the war, it is because she was "mixing medicines or making good things in the kitchen of the British Hotel, and first heard the particulars of it, perhaps, from the newspapers which came from home" (128). This food-mixing episode illustrates that Seacole's narrative not merely evokes "home" and "identity" but further imagines them as constantly mixed, shifting, and transformative in relation to her otherness. When the war ended sooner than anticipated, this feeling of uncertainty and non-belongingness became stronger. Rather than being exhilarated by the thought of going home, she found herself sympathizing with a vagrant soldier:
With him I acknowledged to have more fellow-feeling than with the
others, for he, as well as I, clearly had no home to go to. He was a
soldier by choice and necessity, as well as by profession. He had no
home, no loved friends; the peace would bring no particular pleasure to
him, whereas war and action were necessary to his existence, gave him
excitement, occupation, the chance of promotion. (Seacole 2005,164)

If home represents identity, this closing remark of the war reveals that Seacole, much like the vagrant soldier, had "no home, no loved friends" to return to, but only "war and action" materialize their existence. Just like the vagrant soldier, Seacole's role as a surrogate mother to British soldiers came to an end once the curtain of the drama of war was drawn, since it was the Crimean battlefield rather than metropolitan London that offered her a home. Thus, by juxtaposing home and battlefield, personal and collective memories, the memoir testifies to the violent erasure of the bodies of racial actors from the scenes of victory and reunion in England, leaving them homeless and despairing in the battlefield. In this articulation of herself as a "vagrant soldier" rather than a surrogate "mother," the memoir demonstrates a Caribbean Creole diasporic consciousness that is neither entirely grounded in ethnicity nor projecting an imaginary homeland, but instead relying on her relationships with various peoples and racial groups in many places and creatively molding these experiences into her lived positionalities. It is with such post-racial consciousness that Seacole's text can somehow generate and bridge multiple and alternative forms of cultural belonging in her travel across Panama and Crimea.


Prior to her journey to the war, Seacole traveled across the Isthmus assuming the role of a "yellow doctress" (2005, 29; 38), the only profession she claims in her memoir. In creating a robust healer's image, Seacole identifies with her Creole mother, who, as the memoir notes, was an "admirable doctress." This identification as a "Creole doctress" underscores Seacole's superior "British" and "Creole" cultural positions in the Isthmus and meanwhile undermines the dominant ideology of the nineteenth-century racial science that perceived blacks as carriers of tropical diseases such as yellow fever, cholera, and malaria. When Seacole left Kingston for the Isthmus in 1850, the Isthmus did not present itself as a pleasant place for residence; instead, the midcentury Isthmus was undergoing a series of rapid social and political changes induced by decolonizing movements, massive labor migration, and the growing American influence on the place. As a new political regime recently freed from the Spanish colonization (1538-1821), the Isthmus, where the Republic of New Granada was formed, became the "New World" for many black Jamaicans, who, despite having won their freedom from British abolition of the slave trade in the 1830s, were forced to leave home in search of new employment. Many of the black Jamaican migrant workers were recruited by the US Railroad Company to build the trans-Isthmus railroad after the wave of the 1849 California Gold Rush. (8) Under such a dramatic transformation of the Isthmus, the Seacoles' presence in the place bears contested meanings upon race, family, and empire. Unlike her brother Edward, who kept a traveler's tavern for American travelers on their way to the gold rush, Seacole established herself as a "doctress" trying to save lives from the outbreaks of diseases and famine running rampant in Panama. The memoir's portrayal of her as an anti-colonialist reformer who practices as a "yellow doctress" amidst the ties and tensions of several colonialist and nationalist forces in this area--English vs. Jamaican, Spanish vs. American, black vs. white Panamanian--offers a space for thinking how the idea of creolization can generate an interstitial and moldable subject position mending and mediating social and political fractures in post-independence Panama. Ultimately, the narrative of the "yellow doctress" prompts us to ponder: How did Seacole portray the Afro-Panamanians? Did her role as a "doctress" allow her to build cross-racial solidarity with Panamanians as well? How did this experience shape her subsequent position as a "mother" in the Crimean War?

In the main, the image of a robust "yellow doctress" built up by the memoir challenges scientific racisms about the degeneracy and perversity of the mixed-race body. In England, the "mulatto's sterility" theory became a dominant discourse after Long's The History of Jamaica, which calls the children of white and black Jamaicans "yellow broods" and likens the mulattoes to the half-horse, half-donkey mules, thought as "defective and barren" (quoted in Young 1995, 7). This "mulatto's sterility" theory was widely cited by early nineteenth-century colonialist officials as well as some abolitionist advocators for passing bills to prohibit interracial marriages in the colonies, as interracial unions were believed to cause deformity, disease, cowardice, corruption, treason, and degeneration in medical and political terms (99). Somewhat differently, in the United States, miscegenation was primarily viewed as an "incestuous" crime due to its association with the slave system (more in the cases of female slaves being sexually violated by their white relatives). The links between miscegenation and incestuous crimes ran so deep that American scientist and Harvard professor Louis Agassiz advised that "no effort should be spared to check that which is abhorrent to our better nature, and to the progress of a higher civilization and a purer morality" (quoted in Young 149). Because the mixed-race person was repeatedly labeled as a product of immoral or unnatural passions in scientific discourses, Seacole's articulation as a sturdy and mobile Creole "doctress" who was committed to saving lives in the disease-stricken cities in Jamaica and Panama can be read as a counter-discourse to the midcentury transatlantic racial science. (9) The memoir's description of the 1853 epidemics of yellow fever in Jamaica disproved the idea that racially pure Anglo-Saxon English were a healthier and disease-resistive race than racially mixed Jamaican Creole. As she remarks, "the yellow fever never made a more determined effort to exterminate the English in Jamaica than it did in that dreadful year. So violent was the epidemic, that some of my people fell victims to its fury, a thing rarely heard of before" (2005, 58). Stressing it is English rather than Creole people who were nearly "exterminated" by the epidemics, this passage indicates that the English were more fragile and disease-sensitive than the mixed-race Jamaicans. Moreover, in claiming English as physically and genetically weaker than Creole, Seacole seeks to write back to the transatlantic colonial and scientific racism of her time. As she writes: "It was a terrible thing to see [white] young people in the youth and bloom of life suddenly stricken down, not in battle with an enemy that threatened their country, but in vain contest with a climate that refused to adopt them" (58). Stating that it was the Jamaican climate which "refused" to adopt Anglo-Saxon whites by making them ill, Seacole reversed the gaze of white scientists and writers who had perceived Jamaicans as genetically defective and unfit for assimilation in England, and suggested further that the English were denied residency in Jamaica because of their feeble whiteness. This "nativist" stance allowed Seacole to uncover and critique the interconnectedness of nineteenth-century scientific ethnocentrism and colonialism, as she wryly wrote that the "gain" of English occupation of Jamaica was "pay[ing] a dear price for the possession of her colonies" (58).

Both the English and Afro-Panamanians were represented as weak in the memoir. Instead of identifying with Afro-Panamanians, Seacole despised them, calling them "slavishly" or "cowardly" built and thus unfit for independence. By proving the whites and blacks as "feebler" than the racially mixed "Americans" and "foreigners" like herself, the memoir demonstrates that it was the hybridized or creolized vitality of mixed-race populations that could mediate the internally polarized societies and rivalrous foreign forces in the Isthmus. In this sense, the epidemics of cholera became a metaphor for the Isthmus's intensified racial problems and political upheavals since its decolonization from the Spanish rule, a situation which seemed to anticipate the mediation and transition of "power" represented by mixed-race figures such as the "yellow doctress" and her American friends. As the memoir testifies, after the Cruces people discovered that the Spanish doctor sent to cure the cholera was "nervous and frightened" at his patients' conditions, their sole reliance had been "the yellow woman from Jamaica with the cholera medicine" (Seacole 2005, 31). Thus, by proving herself as an abler physician than the Spanish man, Seacole reclaims Jamaican medical authority while also showing that the Anglo-American presence casted a new imperial force taking over the territories of the Spanish empire in Central America. Further, instead of celebrating such foreign forces wholeheartedly, the memoir undermines the ethnocentric and imperialist underpinnings of Western medicine. For instance, commenting on the causes of cholera, Seacole maintains that it, much like yellow fever, is "contagious" rather than a genetic disease as concluded by the dominant medical discourse (29). The midcentury medical discourse, culminating in Charles Darwin's The Descent of Man (1871), denounced blacks as "inherently" born with and thus resistant to tropical diseases such as yellow fever. As Darwin writes: "it has long been known that negroes, and even mulattoes, are almost completely exempt from the yellow-fever, so destructive in tropical America.... This immunity in the negro seems to be partly inherent, and partly the result of acclimatization" (quoted in Howell 2010, 118). In her refutation of Western scientific racism which had designated peoples of African or Jamaican descent as carriers of tropical diseases such as yellow fever and cholera, Seacole claims instead that these diseases are "contagious" by nature and, according to "[her] people," possibly originated from "a steamer from New Orleans [that] was the means of introducing it into the [Jamaican] island" (17). By stating that it was the large populations of New Orleans Creole who should be blamed for breeding the yellow fever rather than Jamaican Creole, (10) the memoir showcases how the Jamaican "doctress" rebutted Western medical discourse and disrupted the colonial linkages between racial mixing and degeneracy, thus showing implicitly how post-emancipation Jamaica can be a model nation for the decolonizing project in the Isthmus.

The memoir's most severe critique of racism is directed toward American treatment of blacks. Staying at her brother's place called "Independent House," Seacole encountered a plentitude of white American travelers, many of whom were portrayed as parochial pro-slavery followers who believed in black inferiority and harbored domineering attitudes toward blacks at home and abroad. She states that "if I have a little prejudice against our cousins across the Atlantic--and I do confess to a little--it is not unreasonable"; as she continues explaining, "I have a few shades of deeper brown upon my skin which shows me related--and I am proud of the relationship--to those poor mortals whom you once held enslaved, and whose bodies America still owns" (2005, 21). Referencing Americans as "our cousins across the Atlantic," this statement seems to condemn the brutality and injustice of the American racial system and celebrates the relatively liberal British politics by placing Seacole on the same side of the British so as to downplay her connectivity with the enslaved African American bodies. Yet, implicit in this remark is an appeal for black Jamaicans, who had been "once held enslaved" under the British rule, and were now a free people and should be regarded as equal citizens in England. Thus, by siding with British liberalism against American racism, Seacole's memoir mounts a veiled critique of white racism while remaining strategically a "British" subject. This identification as British also serves to distance Seacole from those Afro-Panamanians "terribly bullied by the Americans," the latter being depicted as a gang of "independent filibusters, who would fain whop all creation abroad as they do their slaves at home.... [It was not until] Englishmen were present, and in a position to interfere with success, this bullying was checked" (43). The memoir notes such attitudes of racial xenophobia in not only American men but also American women, depicting American women travelers in Panama, "the majority [of whom] came from the Southern States of America, and showed an instinctive repugnance against any one whose countenance claimed for her kindred with their slaves" (51). Consequently, by giving contrasting accounts of British and American attitudes toward blacks abroad, Seacole's memoir demonstrates that British notions of race and empire had been somehow modified by their expanded territories and changing colonial relationships to the colonies, whereas American racism merely replicated and projected domestic racial relations onto their foreign relations. It can also be surmised that, perhaps out of her struggles with American racism in Panama, Seacole later adopted a surrogate maternal discourse in her Crimean narrative, which allowed her to envision "British" and "Creole" identities as racially and culturally hybridized and more congenial to each other, and thus capable of generating multiple and alternative forms of cultural belonging.

The memoir's accounts of the growing visibility of black foreigners in Panama illustrate an emerging form of black solidarity arising from internal and global racial struggles for equality and decolonization. The post-independence Panama appeared to be a culturally diverse society. Commenting on its multicultural vitality, Seacole's text singles out the US runaway slaves as key contributors to the new force: "the same negro who perhaps in Tennessee would cower ... like a beaten child or dog beneath an American's uplifted hand, would face him boldly here, and by equal courage and superior physical strength cow his old oppressor" (2005, 44). An "enterprising" and "superior" people, according to the memoir, these ex-slaves soon formed a crucial socio-political force in the newly founded Republic of New Granada, of which Panama was a part of between 1830 and 1858. In the new government, they served as anti-American lobbyists, trying to defend New Granada against American colonial encroachment: "the New Granada people were strongly prejudiced against the Americans," the memoir reports, "when the American Railway Company took possession of Navy Bay, and christened it ... the native authorities refused to recognize their right to name any portion of the Republic" (51-52). As a "colored" foreigner, Seacole's portrayal of this bustling "New World" is reminiscent of Paul Gilroy's concept of the "black Atlantic" universe. Gilroy has defined the "black Atlantic" as a space that may move beyond "the structures of the nation state and the constraints of ethnicity and national particularity" in order to highlight both cultural specificity and solidarity--rather than choose one over the other--among black diasporic subjects (1993, 19). The memoir's midcentury Panama exemplifies such a space. Seacole celebrates the Panamanian multiculturalism along with African Americans by stating that: "it is one of the maxims of the New Granada constitution--as it is, I believe, of the English--that on a slave touching its soil his chains fall from him" (52). Just as this celebratory account reflects Seacole's desire to claim affinities with both black Americans and the British across national boundaries, it nonetheless reveals that her idea of interracial solidarities reinforced British exceptionalism through an anti-American rhetoric.

In her analysis of Seacole's memoir, Sandra Gunning cautions against the increasing study of mixed-race texts as necessarily in support of cross-racial solidarity. As she comments, "the displacement of national in favor of racial affiliations does not necessarily preclude black racism or announce the complete repudiation of power relations established under European colonialism" (2001, 967). What Gunning lays bare is the way that current scholarly endeavors to seek evidence of interracial or international solidarity may eclipse a more thorough reading of racism and colonialism in their multiple and transnational formations. It is true that Seacole sometimes availed herself of British cultural superiority even as she attempted to subvert its valence of whiteness. While I am not arguing against Gunning's cautionary claim about the stakes and problematics of coalitional scholarship, I want to highlight here the importance of fostering interracial dialogues in and across texts in order to see how they not merely affirm but also satirize and critique hybridity as well. This is particularly evident in Seacole's accounts of the racial mixture and tensions in post-independence Panama. On the night before her departure for the Crimean War, an American friend proposed a toast to her in front of a house of guests, saying regretfully that "she ain't one of us.... Providence made her a yaller woman... if we could bleach her by any means we would--, and thus make her as acceptable in any company as she deserves to be" (2005, 49). Seacole retorted sharply: "If it [my complexion] had been as dark as any nigger's, I should have been just as happy and as useful, and as much respected by those whose respect I value." As to the idea of "bleaching" her, her reply was rather sarcastic, "to his offer of bleaching me, I should, even if it were practicable, decline it without any thanks... judging from the specimens I have met with here and elsewhere, I don't think that I shall lose much by being excluded from it" (49). This rejection to enter an interracial marriage and to be "bleached" by the white society demonstrates Seacole's desire to remain both "British" and "Creole," simultaneously blending the two categories. Despite the fact that the memoir's creolized maternal, culinary, and healing practices suggests a hybridized notion of identity--as it represents British, Jamaican, and Creole identity at the same time and refuses to be pinpointed by any of these identitarian categories--such creation of a gendered diasporic Creole subjectivity in Seacole's text provides a new venue for considering these varied racial struggles, exploitations, solidarities, and realignments shared among the "colored peoples" of the long nineteenth-century transatlantic world.


I thank the anonymous readers for their generous and incisive suggestions to help strengthen the essay's arguments and structure. I owe a special thanks to Dr. Yu-Fang Cho and Dr. Anita Mannur for their readings and inspirations of the earlier drafts of this essay as a part of my dissertation at Miami University, Ohio.

(1) In their studies of nineteenth-century British and US cultures of empire, Amy Kaplan (20 02) and Inderpal Grewal (1996) have identified the inter-dependency of "home" and "empire" in specifically female spheres of influence. Kaplan coins the term, "manifest domesticity," in her analysis of women's magazines and domestic fictions, which sought to represent home as a domestic and national sphere of empire that remotely controlled places such as central America and Africa. In a British Indian context, Grewal illustrates how Victorian discourses of domesticity such as home and femininity became popular tropes in female travel narratives about Indian incivility and opacity, and how an emerging Indian nationalist discourse aimed to counter and revise these domestic rubrics established by English colonialism.

(2) I use the hyphenated "post-colonial" to highlight both the fissure and particularity of a social state after colonialism. This usage underscores the distinctions between "post-colonialism" and "postcolonialism" in current studies, as Bill Ashcroft states: "the hyphen puts an emphasis on the discursive and material effects of the historical 'facts' of colonialism, while the term postcolonialism has come to represent an increasingly indiscriminate attention to cultural difference and marginality of all kinds, whether a consequence of the historical experience of colonialism or not" (2001,10).

(3) For the legacy of Caliban or Sycorax in contemporary Caribbean writings, see Mehta (2009), Paget Henry (2000), and Consuelo Lopez Springfield (1997)) especially the introduction. Although some Shakespeare scholars have pointed out that the imaginary island in the play refers to the Mediterranean rather than the Caribbean, my intention here is not to join this debate but to discover how the figure of Sycorax can serve as a cultural referent to the historical colonization of Caribbean subjects by the European forces.

(4) The term "creolization" has received substantial attention in the studies of racial migration for the last few decades. Since the influential works by Caribbean diaspora theorists Stuart Hall, Paul Gilroy, and Edouard Glissant, this concept has been reworked from being an instrument of the anti-colonial nationalist movements in the 1960s to being "capable of challenging nationalist projects for forging a more supple theory of non-essentialist identity formation and transnational belonging" (Ahmed et al. 2003, 279). In this article, I use the more dynamic term, "creolization," as an equivalent to "Creoleness" in order to avoid what Lionnet and Shih point out as the increasingly "harden[ing] and reififi[cation]" of the "-ness" connoted in the second term (2011, 24).

(5) Nightingale's biographer depicts her as a heartfelt supporter of British participation in the Crimean War. Dismissing Russia as the "tyrant of the world," she is cited to vow that she would "like to have seen the Crimean archipelago held by us as the outpost of civilization" (McDonald 2010, 9).

(6) A number of critics have commented variously on the memoir's maternal discourse and its functions to challenge the sexual stereotypes of mixed-race womanhood. Nicole Fluhr argues that the memoir fashions a hybrid maternal ideal by "juxtaposing English and Jamaican, middle-and working-class, and black, mixed-race, and white mothering practices" (2006, 97). Cheryl J. Fish (2004) views these maternal images as Seacole's attempt to construct a "mobile" subject who is able to recreate home wherever she travels. Deirdre H. McMahon analyzes how these images reflect the idea of "interracial kinship" as a contested category in the nineteenth century. In her words, "discursive maternity desexualizes Seacole... lending respectability to her presence among the many men with whom she constructs long-standing, intimate, but discursive bonds of kinship" (2008,195).

(7) For more information on Soyer's memoir on the Crimean War and its reception in England, see Paul Thomas Murphy (2007).

(8) As Sean X. Goudie points out, approximately sixty percent of the labor force in the Panama Railroad project (1849-1855) was composed of black Jamaican men (2008, 300). In his article, Goudie reads Seacole's memoir as evidence of her resistance to the US's competition with the declining European powers over influences on Central American and the Caribbean regions.

(9) For ideas about how the memoir conjures up an anti-scientific "constitutional" discourse, see Jessica Howell (2010).

(10) According to Arnold Hirsh and Joseph Logsdon's Creole New Orleans, by 1840, the population of Creoles in New Orleans has reached twenty thousand, composing "a fully articulated community with complex class structure, that occupied far more than the fringes of society" (quoted in Pegues 2010, 3).


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TAN-FENG CHANG, PhD. in Literature. I am currently a post-doctoral research assistant at National Cheng Kung University, Tinan, Taiwan, working on a project titled "Asian America in Asia."

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Author:Chang, Tan-Feng
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Geographic Code:2PANA
Date:Sep 22, 2017

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