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The enigma of arrival: 'The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands.'

The republication of The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave (1831) and The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands (1857) in 1987 and 1988, respectively, provides a new understanding of the constitutive relationship of autobiography to the cultural inheritance of the colonial and postcolonial Caribbean. Originally published twenty-six years apart in England, across the great divide of the emancipation of slaves in 1834, the narratives of Mary Prince and Mary Seacole prefigure styles of being and identity in male-centered texts of twentieth-century Caribbean autobiography. They reconfigure Caribbean autobiography, which emerged as a predominantly male enterprise in the twentieth century, as the legacy of two extraordinary women of the nineteenth. The narratives bring into sharp focus the conflicts and contradictions of identity, authority, and freedom built into the relationship between Europe and the Americas, seat of empire and dependent colonies, master and slave, men and women.

If The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave reflects an embryonic nationalism formed in resistance to slavery, The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands reflects an enthusiastic acceptance of colonialism in the aftermath of slavery.(1) In her narrative, Seacole celebrates her subject status in an empire that had systematically exploited and abused her native land and the majority of its inhabitants since the British captured Jamaica in 1655.(2) Though free blacks in Jamaica were not granted the same civil rights as born Englishmen until the Disabilities Act of 1830, and civil unrest continued in Jamaica after the slave rebellion of 1830-32 and the emancipation of the slaves in 1834, Seacole's narrative is not concerned with the degradation suffered by black Jamaicans under British rule.

Mary Prince's passionate articulation of the experiences and aspirations of fellow slaves suffering under British rule, her dream of autonomy and comfortable domesticity, is succeeded by the narrative of a Jamaican doctress and entrepreneur who rejects domesticity as frustrating and constricting. Seacole's narrative is not one of victimization, endurance, and survival, but of accomplishment and achievement. The fundamental freedom articulated in her narrative is the freedom to be a subject of the British Empire and to be celebrated as a unique individual who challenges the boundaries of race, gender, and privilege within the parameters of that Empire. Cultural resistance and autonomy have distinct value to Seacole, the "yellow doctress" from Jamaica, child of a free black Jamaican woman and a Scottish officer, writing her own narrative with great sophistication, two decades after the emancipation of slaves in her native land.

Seacole crafts her self-image in a journey from the perceived margins of civilization bo its center. She graduates from celebrity status among expatriates in Jamaica as a "creole doctress," to notoriety in New Grenada as the "yellow doctress," to legendary status in the Crimea and Britain as Mother Seacole, guardian and purveyor of English values away from home. The values implicit in this journey organize Seacole's narrative of travel, adventure, and ordeal, and project a precursory image of the restless, rootless, wandering West Indian that would become a distinctive feature of colonial and postcolonial West Indian autobiographical consciousness.(3)

The desire to shape a life of personal, social, and cultural significance beyond Jamaica resides at the core of The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole.(4) In explicitly addressing an English reading public, Seacole seeks English recognition and courts English approval. The built-in assumption of the narrative is that it will earn her a place in the "civilized" consciousness of the culture that determines value in her world. The text shows colonial migration to be more than a socio-historical feature of colonial life. The migration experience serves as a vehicle for ideological positioning. The artistic arrangement of the text reveals who Mary Seacole wants to be (and, consequently, is) as a Jamaican woman in the middle of the nineteenth century. Her narrative makes specific the contradictory values of a colonial woman of color who seeks to legitimize her difference at the conservative heart of Empire, in an autobiographical reformulation of her life at the boundaries of Empire in New Grenada and the Crimea.(5)

The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole is illuminating for what it reveals about the psychology of migration and colonialism.(6) The internalized values of a colonial relationship to Britain, with its assumptions of English "supremacy in taste and judgment" (Lammin 27), dominate Seacole's public account of self as creole doctress, Jamaican entrepreneur, and Crimean heroine. In The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole, cultural hybridity surrenders to British imperialism as a civilizing force; however, this surrender is not absolute. Seacole's revolt against the marginalization imposed by race and gender qualifies her embrace of the civilizing values she professes to honor. She does not challenge the idea of Empire, but she does struggle to redefine her place in it. Thus, the energy of the text as West Indian autobiography lies in the tension between accommodation and resistance.(7)

Mary Seacole consistently portrays herself as a champion of English values. The British Empire is a sacred value in her life, whether it represents social and cultural legitimacy at home and abroad, or much desired safety from predatory "Yankees" in New Grenada. But beyond her devotion to Empire, her narrative celebrates her singular status as a Jamaican woman who, at age forty-five, defies English-derived social conventions and carves out a new life for herself as an adventurer, entrepreneur, and professional healer in the Isthmus of Panama and on the battlefields of the Crimea. In the process of telling her life-story, she self-consciously redefines "true womanhood" around her individual accomplishments as a Jamaican woman of color, blurring conventional distinctions between women who are culture-bearers and nurturers and keepers of the hearth and men who define themselves in aggressive encounters with alien and hostile worlds.(8)

At the margins of Empire in New Grenada and the Crimea, Seacole defines herself in terms of race and gender with relative freedom and self-confidence. But she is more aggressive in highlighting the racism and sexism she encounters in Central America than in acknowledging the complicity of the British Empire in such discriminatory systems of exclusion. While it is true, for example, that she is critical of the London street-boys who poke fun at her complexion and her companion's on her first visit to England, she makes excuses for the authorities who laugh at her offer to go to the Crimea as a nurse: "In my country, where people know our use, it would have been different; but here it was natural enough - although I had references, and other voices spoke for me - that they should laugh, good-naturedly enough, at my offer" (78). After suffering second and third rejections, she describes a short-lived crisis of faith in her status as a colonial subject - "Was it possible that American prejudices against colour had some root here? Did these ladies shrink from accepting my aid because my blood flowed beneath a somewhat duskier skin than theirs?" (79) - but Seacole has no taste for the tragic mulatto role and quickly recovers her energy and focus. When her wish to be sent to the Crimea as a hospital nurse is denied, she decides that she will go anyway: "I made up my mind that if the army wanted nurses, they would be glad of me, and with all the ardour of my nature, which ever carried me where inclination prompted, I decided that I would go to the Crimea; and go I did, as all the world knows" (76). She resists the racist stereotyping evident in the rejection she suffers at the hands of the British War Office and Florence Nightingale's screening procedures (79),(9) falls back on the self-authorization that had characterized her developing sense of mission in Jamaica and New Grenada, and forms powerful alliances with English aristocrats and officers in the Crimea.

Seacole reserves her diatribes against racism and slavery for white North Americans, wherever she encounters them. She describes specific humiliations she suffers at their hands (57), their cruel pursuit of escaped slaves in New Grenada (51-52), and her spirited response to one appreciative American's insulting wish to bleach her complexion to an acceptable white (47-48). The behavior of the white North Americans she meets in New Grenada is consistently contrasted with the conduct of English men and women. The Americans are characterized as racist bullies, violent and uncivilized, whereas the English are civilized, restrained, and free of the prejudice that characterizes the conduct of Americans.(10) Seacole is conscious of her prejudice against Americans and, typically, turns her bias into a clarification of her superior judgment and values: "I think if I have a little prejudice against our cousins across the Atlantic - and I doconfess to a little - it is not unreasonable" (14). Her self-placement becomes elaborate here. She recognizes Britain's historical relationship with the United States as a former colony, yet identifies her own morally superior point of view as intrinsically British. Seacole identifies herself as culturally and politically bonded with both the British and the slave, at times with no visible sense of the inherent ironies in that relationship. She is explicitly British in taste and judgment, and explicitly a woman of color. Seacole accedes to class and color distinctions between her sometimes creole, sometimes yellow self and "the excited nigger cooks" of Cruces (20) and "good-for-nothing black cooks' who "laugh with all their teeth" (141). But she is uncompromising in her anti-slavery position:

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. And, having this bond, and knowing what slavery is, having seen with my eyes and heard with my ears proof positive enough of its horrors - let others affect to doubt them if they will - is it surprising that I should be somewhat impatient of the airs of superiority which many Americans have endeavored to assume over me? (14)

She uses the language of the slave narrative and arrogates its high moral tone. However, she makes no specific reference to the continuing barbarities inflicted on non-whites in the West Indies by the colonial system. Everything pales in comparison with slavery in the United States. What she recalls is the maxim "that on a slave touching [English] soil his chains fell from him" (52). England is safety and security to this creole woman who has left her native landscape to seek fame, fortune, and adventure in other lands. Criticism of the racist structure of colonial society is muted. The values of the text reveal a strong commitment to the British Empire as a national context for self-definition that precludes criticism. As a loyal British subject, she announces herself, at the end of her narrative, "ready to take any journey to any place where a stout heart and two experienced hands may be of use" (198).

Beyond the marginalization of race and colonialism, there are discernible contradictions in Mrs. Seacole's narrative between her radical brand of feminism and her commitment to "English" values. On the one hand, her public account of self challenges literary conventions about the essentially private spheres of true womanhood in Victorian England. She defines herself in action and acts to affirm her sense of herself as a self-made woman. She makes it clear that, after the death of her husband, she remains a widow and "an unprotected female" (8) by choice, she chooses to do battle with the world on her own. She is not afraid to compete with a man, especially if he happens to be a "Spanish doctor, who was sent for from Panama" (27), or that French chef and "great high priest of the mysteries of cookery, Mns. Alexis Soyer" (149). She feels valued for what she can do, and that can be "woman's work" (153) or "the work of half a dozen men" (149). However, while her personality and her exploits contrast sharply with "the housebound, man-dominated Victorian woman" (Middleton 4), Seacole embraces conventions of Victorian womanhood when writing about herself. She complains, for example, about women in New Grenada who dress in trousers and ride their mules "in unfeminine fashion" (20). She scoffs at "those French lady writers who desire to enjoy the privileges of man, with the irresponsibility of the other sex" (20). She repeatedly calls the reader's attention to her own womanly attire even when the inappropriateness of it strikes her as amusing - for example, when she is clambering up a steep and muddy incline in New Grenada (13). When tending to the sick and wounded in Balaclava, her feminine attire is explicitly a sign of her womanly mission in a man's world (97).(11)

In her account of her life and work in the Crimea, Seacole represents her bold, adventuresome spirit as the embodiment of womanly love and duty to the warhead of Empire. She substitutes service for submission as the hallmark of true womanhood, and in the process legitimizes her presence in the Crimea as doctress, nurse, and |mother' " (124). She is the "right woman in the right place" (76). She creates a distinguished role for herself as patroness and mother of English "sons" away from home. Her British Hotel furnishes selectively the essentials of English at - homeness to officers and enlisted men. Misunderstood and unappreciated by her English sisters, she sustains "that dream of home in this world" (99) in their fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers.

Mary Seacole's rebellious, independent, competitive, Jamaican woman's spirit creolizes and feminizes the European male space that is the Crimean war zone, but her achievements are represented as individual accomplishments that celebrate service and devotion to patriarchal authority and Empire, as embodied in the British military. There is nothing in her narrative to suggest that her work in the Crimea alters the status of women, or black West Indians generally.(12)

The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole is a success story. Who Mary Seacole struggles to be is what she becomes: a heroine, perceived as heroic by the English. In the war zone of the Crimea, she achieves the authority and recognition from which to launch her autobiography, conceptualized as the glorification of heterogenous Empire and also of her individual Jamaican-woman self: "I shall make no excuse to my readers for giving them a pretty fur history of my struggles to become a Crimean heroine!" (76).(13) Momentarily embarrassed by the self-promotion that characterizes her narrative, Seacole explains that she must sound her own trumpet, if her narrative is to be "more satisfactory to the reader" (124). She is acutely aware of why she is valued and of the centrality of her "services to the brave British army in the Crimea" (124) to her public image.

What saves Seacole from umnediated parasitism and naive individualism is the care with which she establishes her love of travel and adventure, her devotion to the British military, and her professional interest in medicine - all passions formed in childhood and nurtured over a lifetime. The heroic values she celebrates in the English at home and abroad are represented as coinciding with her own; they are not represented as adopted. This is not a conversion narrative. Seacole does not change so much as she matures and grows more confident of her own heroic virtues. She recreates her life in print to reflect the legendary, marginalized figure of a woman of color and a colonial who, by her heroic service, would redefine her individual value and status within the Empire that had colonized her history.

Seacole projects herself as a public but solitary figure who has no real continuing connection with family, with Jamaica, or with other women. As an autobiographical subject, she is disengaged from the Jamaican community and contextualized in the metropolitan heart of Empire. The public and political event that gives her written life meaning is the Crimean War - a European phenomenon, not a West Indian one. Her past, present, and future are subsumed in the heroic values of Empire and the battlefield. She stands alone as a celebrated woman of color in a community of white men, as one heroic, if impoverished, Jamaican woman among heroic English men.(14) She leaves the Crimea regretfully, claiming that she has "no home to go to" (192).(15) She contextualizes herself as the rootless traveler who comes home to the value-defining space she has made for herself in service to the British military. She devalues significant spheres of her Jamaican identity to project herself, ultimately, as the lackey of male privilege and Empire. The success of her life, like the success of her autobiographical enterprise, depends as much on the patronage of the imperial army as on her individual effort. The rugged individualism that characterized her successful exploits in the "frontier" territory of New Grenada surrenders to patronage as a strategy of self-definition in metropolitan Europe.

Seacole's organization of autobiographical time reflects an idealized self as heroic subject of the British Empire. She says very little about her everyday life in Jamaica up to the age of forty-five, and a great deal about her heroic adventures after that in New Grenada and the Crimea. She devotes one short chapter to her childhood; her travels as a young woman to London, New Providence, Haiti, and Cuba; and her married life and widowhood (1-6). She spends another three pages on the death of her mother and her growing skill and reputation as a doctress in Kingston. The next sixty-three pages are organized around her adventures in New Grenada between 1850 and 1854 as a doctress, merchant, hotelier, and gold-seeker. The rest of the narrative (72-200) is organized around her exploits in the Crimean War zone, where she builds and runs a very daring commercial and humanitarian enterprise she calls the British Hotel. It is a general store, restaurant, hotel, and health clinic, and she is celebrated by the British public during and after the war for her heroic initiative on behalf of the officers and enlisted men stationed in the region.

Seacole begins her public account of self conventionally: "I was born in the town of Kingston, in the island of Jamaica, sometime in the present century" (1). While this self-placement identifies the connectedness of origins, it does not suggest belonging in the sense of nation, home, or community.(16) The organizing center for seeing and depicting, the scales of comparison, and the approaches and evaluations determining how her experiences in New Grenada, Panama, and Europe are to be seen and understood are not located in a Jamaican social reality, but "at home" in post-Crimean England.(17) Mary Seacole's roots may be in Jamaica, but her narrative is rooted in England. It is perhaps the persistent fact of her marginality that makes her authenticating devices - name-dropping documents, letters - necessary in her very public account of self. Although she was never a slave, her perceived need of patronage recalls the authentication strategies of the slave narrative.

Seacole's narrative is self-consciously constructed around a series of events and experiences that explain and contextualism her heroic work in the Crimea. The form and values of her narrative are interchangeable. They reflect her love of adventure, her desire to perform heroic national service and to receive the recognition that is her due in England, the center of civilizing values in her world. Thus, her narrative focuses on the adventures of heroic Mother Seacole in the Crimea as a fulfillment of a destiny shaped in childhood in Jamaica - a destiny which the four years she spends in and out of New Grenada codify to the point of an obsession.

Her pre-Crimean life emerges as both necessary precondition and pre-amble. She situates the inner values of her Jamaican self within the network of civilized values that shaped the British Empire. Her Jamaican identity acquires the weight and authority of Empire. She admits no conflict of interest: To be Jamaican is to be British. She projects a rare harmony of inner and outer being in a narrative of extraordinary silences and omissions.

The multi-faceted world of Mrs. Seacole's Jamaica is the most obvious of these omissions. Jamaica is not recalled except to establish that the primary initiative in her heroic, adventurous life belongs to Mary Seacole herself. The antecedent center of her psyche is Jamaica distilled into the briefest sketches of her parents, her patroness, and her childhood. Her destiny as an adventurous creole doctress is rooted in a few facts of her multiracial, multicultural origins in Jamaica: "My father was a soldier, of an old Scotch family; and to him I often trace my affection for a camp-life, and my sympathy with what I have heard my friends call |the pomp, pride, and circumstance of glorious war.'" To him she attributes her "energy and activity, which are not always found in the creole race" (1). She identifies her mother as a creole who ran a respectable boarding house in Kingston and as "an admirable doctress" and, thus, attributes her own talents as an entrepreneur and a doctress to her mother's influence: "It was very natural that I should inherit her tastes; and so I had from early youth a yearning for medical knowledge and practice which never deserted me." Her mother is specifically named as a role model for her professional undertakings: "I saw so much of her, and of her patients, that the ambition to become a doctress early took firm root in my mind . . . ." She says little else of substance about her parents, or about the "old lady . . . who brought me up in her own household among her own grandchildren" (2).

Her childhood and youth in Jamaica are characterized exclusively in terms of her ambition to become a doctress and her desire to travel. She briefly describes the solitary games she played as a child in imitation of her mother, using first her doll, then dogs and cats, and finally herself to practice on. At the age of twelve she began to assist her mother in running her boarding house and in the task of attending to invalid British officers stationed in Jamaica and their wives (3). As she matures, her desire to travel coalesces around England and the longing to escape Jamaica: "I was never weary of tracing upon an old map the route to England; and never followed with my gaze the stately shops homeward bound without longing to be in them, and see the blue hills of Jamaica fade into the distance" (4). The dynamic of her life is located here in a few facts of her birth and her young life. Childhood is reimagined as the source of ambitions later to be fulfilled, and continuity is established between the Jamaican child and the Crimean heroine.(18)

The virtual exclusion of Jamaican social reality from Wonderful Adventures is one important facet of the self-erasure Mary Seacole calculatedly writes into her life story.(19) "It is not my intention to dwell at any length upon the recollections of my childhood" (2), observes Seacole, who is just as cryptic about her adult working life in Jamaica: "How slowly and gradually I succeeded in life, need not be told at length" (7). She is self-conscious but unapologetic about these omissions. Beyond the bare facts of her birth and parentage, she establishes that she fulfilled her womanly obligations willingly and well. She loved and mourned the deaths of her husband, her patroness, and her mother. She is industrious and successful in her business undertakings and has the will and energy to chart her own recovery from disaster. She writes pointedly, in two casually delivered sentences, about grave personal danger and the loss of her Jamaican establishment in the great fire of 1843:

. . . I very nearly lost my life, for I

would not leave my house until every

chance of saving it had gone, and it

was wrapped in flames. But, of course,

I set to work again in a humbler way,

and rebuilt my house by degrees, and

restocked it, succeeding better than

before; for I had gained a reputation

as a skilled nurse and doctress, and

my house was always full of invalid

officers and their wives . . . . (7)

These lines do not become an occasion to say anything about the cause of the great fire in Kingston, or civil unrest in Jamaica, or the status of creole women. Seacole carefully avoids the politics of colonialism as a lived reality in the Jamaica of her day. Instead, she establishes her longstanding relationship to the British military, and briefly sketches aspects of her character and personal values. She informs us that she prizes happiness over money and that she is a woman of action, determinedly optimistic in the face of misfortune: "Although it was no easy thing for a widow to make ends meet, I never allowed myself to know what repining or depression was, and so succeeded in gaining not only my daily bread, but many comforts besides, from the beginning (6-7). Her tone is mature, reflective, and self-confident. She is a woman of experience and discretion. The Jamaican social and cultural landscape is reduced to her narrow professional interests (her island property and business, she informs us, have been left in the care of a female cousin). Self-revelation does not begin in earnest until her departure for Panama at the age of forty-five.

There are other conscious omissions to which Mary Seacole calls the reader's attention, but these are casually or carefully explained. About halfway into the narrative, she announces that she does not want to weary the reader with details of her voyage to Constantinople, because that voyage "is already worn threadbare by bookmaking tourists" (82). Later, she explains her philosophical reasons for not focusing on "the nameless horrors" of the spring of 1855 in the Crimea: It is contrary to the veteran's code of conduct to dwell on the horrors of the battlefield (136), and it is not part of her narrative design as "the historian of Spring Hill" (146). The excluded details of Mary Seacole's Jamaican life are not privileged in exactly the same way: The image of self she crafts in her narrative is detached from the Jamaican landscape without explanation. What is essentially Jamaican in her skillfully crafted self-image is embodied in her traveling person. With her expertise in caring for the sick comes an expertise in running an establishment that is at once a boarding house and a clinic. And this expertise is portable, not tied to a cultural context or a landscape. It facilitates her love of travel, her thirst for adventure, her professional ambitions, and her desire to define herself in alternative social and geographical spaces. Seacole erects rhetorical barriers between her Jamaican origins and her public image, between the very idea of an organic, collective Jamaican community and her identity as a loyal British subject.

Mary Seacole is the inheritor of a native tradition of healing that provides her with a valuable means of economic and personal independence in nineteenth-century Jamaica (Alexander and Dewjee 13-14, 42n8). She learns eagerly from experience and from the doctors with whom she works. Her medical knowledge and entrepreneurial skills give her the power to create a community around her wherever she goes. The point of this public account of her travels and adventures is to explain how she came to choose service to the British military in the Crimea as a context for self-fulfillment, as self-appointed nurse/mother and hotelier/sutler to the British military camp in the Crimea at mid-century. Despite the carefully contrived harmony of inner and outer being she writes into her narrative, the rhetorical arrangement of the text suggests unidentified areas of conflict between the Jamaican core of her fate and personality, and her struggle to become a Crimean heroine.

Despite the "friendly and confidential" (8) tone Seacole assumes with her readers, and her philosophical interludes, her story takes shape as an entirely public account of self. She reveals nothing of herself that might not be the substance of conversations with others. Her life-story, skewed to public approval and public patronage, erases the interior core of Mary Seacole along with Jamaica. Seacole was a much celebrated public figure when she returned to England from the Crimea, thanks to the reporting of London Times correspondent William Howard Russell (Alexander and Dewjee 28n25), and everything she mentions emanates from and reinforces that pre-formed public character.

The revelation of that public character and personality begins in earnest in the New Grenada section of her narrative. Seacole followed her brother Edward to the Isthmus of Panama in 1850, driven, she says, by her "reviving disposition to roam" and the desire to be of use to him" (9). The trip would become a search for adventure and new money-making opportunities. In Cruces and Gorgona, her money-making ventures acquire an overlay of civilizing mission. Seacole describes Panama as a lawless place under the "weak sway of the New Grenada Republic" and inhabited by "the refuse of every nation" (10). She not only makes money in Cruces and Gorgona, but she performs a vital function as a medical practitioner. She is "pleased and gratified" when she recalls her efforts in caring for the sick and dying during an outbreak of cholera in Cruces (25-26). Her speculative ventures are represented as bastions of "civilized" values, in places where civilization does not yet rule. She establishes standards of conduct and values, and guards these fiercely. Her frame of reference is consistently England: English rivers (15), "the English at home" (40), "any Englishman" (41), "as is the case in civilized England" (44), and always her ideal English reader - sympathetic, understanding, and of course, prejudiced against Americans, Spaniards, Spanish Indians, Greeks, Turks, the Maltese, and Catholics.

Seacole uses New Grenada to establish who she is on her own terms; that is, on the basis of her experience in negotiating chaotic social situations, whether because of a cholera epidemic, a lack of basic amenities, or a desire to impose English standards of value in the most unlikely settings. Details of Seacole's everyday life in New Grenada establish the virtues and values of Mother Seacole in the Crimea at every turn. From dealing with thieves, hiring help, erecting a physical plant from very little, and creating a center of order and social comfort to dispensing medical services, her experiences in New Grenada directly anticipate her experiences in the Crimea. She gives elaborate details regarding her material circumstances: how she establishes a medical practice, how she treats cholera and conducts a post-mortem examination, how she builds and runs her stores and hotels. Her professional self-consciousness as a doctress and business woman, briefly introduced as the substance of her adult life in Jamaica, is particularized here. In the freedom of frontier towns like Cruces, Gorgona, and Escribano, she acquires new knowledge and new skill, she tends to knife and gunshot wounds and stitches back slit ears (16-17).

The temporal and spatial values of Mary Seacole's adventures in New Grenada reveal her worthiness as a British subject in terms that preclude the contentiousness of West Indian colonial politics in mid-century. In New Grenada, Seacole can be historically and politically aware without having to be critical of the way the Empire does its business. She expresses her opinion on a wide range of concerns, from the construction of the Panama Canal, to the superiority of the black slaves who had fled south and settled there, to Catholic practices. She is acutely aware of how power functions, and is forthright about how she negotiates corruption, racism, and male dominance in a frontier environment. Her travels and adventures provide a context for self-definition that minimizes ancestry and emphasizes experience, knowledge, and practice. She creates an image of self in foreign lands that is concrete and substantial.

Seacole is no polite observer or passive recorder of exotic, alien worlds. In New Grenada she participates fully in "frontier" life as a businesswoman and a doctress. The biographical values established here - initiative, intelligence, chastity, courage, fearlessness, physical and emotional strength, skill as an entrepreneur and nurse, and fidelity to the "civilizing" values of the British Empire - take rhetorical precedence over the long years spent establishing a reputation as a businesswoman, doctress, and loyal colonial subject in Jamaica. They affirm her identity and preparedness for her Crimean initiative without reference to the social and political conflicts of her life in colonial Jamaica.

The tone of Mary Seacole's public account of self changes as she moves from New Grenada to the Crimea.

The dramatic unfolding of her multi-faceted and unconventional character has been accomplished. In the Crimean episode, she presents herself as a known entity. What has been a rubric of self-revelation in new and unexpected situations degenerates into a rubric of glorification and heroization. The vitality of Mary Seacole's ideal antecedent self, constructed in the neutral territory of New Grenada, is coopted by her profound respect for her public image as a Crimean heroine, and her excessive gratitude for the honors and the patronage she has received. Her rhetorical strategy evolves from self-glorification to an extravagant, uncritical glorification of everything English, from "the English boy, in all his impudence and prejudice" (106), to Lord Raglan, whose tragic death becomes a testament to her influence with his attendants and survivors, and the distribution of the Order of the Bath awards:

I was anxious to have some personal share in the affair, so I made, and forwarded to head-quarters, a cake which Gunter might have been at some loss to manufacture . . . . I received great kindness from the official at the ceremony, and from the officers - some of rank - who recognized me; indeed, I had quite a little levee around my chair. (168-69)

There is little in the lengthy Crimean section of the narrative to foster autobiographical expression of Mary Seacole's private self-consciousness. Self-glorification grows stilted and stereotyped, and ossification sets in. Individual success, happiness, and merit are totally invested in glorification of the imperial warhead. What is vital and dynamic about Mary Seacole in New Grenada becomes predictable in the Crimea, as she assimilates and internalizes military codes of conduct, value, and response. The first woman to enter Sebastopol from the English lines" (173) must have her mementos of the conquest and, like any stout English lad, thrashes an American sailor, who has gotten her arrested as a Russian spy, while he is pinned down by French soldiers. Her descriptions of battle scenes are rendered with no perceptible difference in sensibility. As "kind-hearted officers" make time to bid her goodbye at the end of the war, she observes, without a trace of irony, that "war, like death, is a great leveller, and mutual suffering and endurance had made us an friends' (191).

Public self-consciousness erases private self-consciousness and self-evaluation. The details of her everyday life in the Crimea, celebrated as evidence of heroic service, say very little about the inner core of Mary Seacole; what she does and says is who she is. Even when she complains, as the British army withdraws, that she has no home, or smashes cases of expensive cheeses with an axe rather than let the Russians have them cheaply, her mounting frustration reflects a longing for reconnection rather than disillusionment and doubt. The self-revelation of the New Grenada section has been reduced to verification of a public image. Her song of praise renders mute and invisible the dynamic Jamaican creole woman who defines herself in full self-confidence. Self-imaging is too tied to patronage and to expressions of gratitude for recognition received.

The pre-formed public image of Mary Seacole as a woman who serves the needs of England's fighting men in her British Hotel and on the battlefield is particularized as an elaborate and heartfelt gesture of love and devotion to her English "sons." Whether she is making cakes and lemonade from temporary quarters in an ammunition shop on the Black Sea (101) or supplying the comforts of home from the British Hotel (138-40), Mary Seacole celebrates energetically and enthusiastically her extraordinary devotion to the British military. Mother Seacole is the descriptive term that she most favors. Family consciousness as a sign of organic connectedness to origins is reformulated as organic connectedness to the military. Family consciousness had drawn her to work alongside her brother in New Grenada. After his death and her departure for England and the Crimea, it is the military that provides a comprehensive framework for her interlocking aspects of self-doctress, business woman, traveler, and adventurer. Her autobiographical self-consciousness is organized around her organic connectedness to the heroic possibilities of military life. Her professional self-consciousness as a doctress and business women is redefined in the context of camp-follower and sutler.

Mary Seacole's Wonderful Adventures reflects a colonial psychology that is the polar opposite of Mary Prince's peasant rootedness. Seacole provides a direct and sharp contrast to viewing one's own story as a return to the African and peasant heart of the Caribbean, as a coming home to a New World identity. In Seacole's narrative, the freedom to possess the Caribbean as native space legally as well as culturally is reconstituted as the freedom to possess the imperial center as a site of self-definition. The freedom to travel, to participate freely in capitalist enterprise, to define herself professionally as a doctress in circumstances of her own choosing - these define her movement away from a Caribbean that is too small a place for Seacole's energy and ambition. Through sheer will and energy, she forces a redefinition of her creole Jamaican self from a marginalized, redundant, colonial woman of color to the celebrated Mother Seacole - Crimean heroine, and uncompromising purveyor of English values at the margins of Empire. Paradoxically, even while she surrenders to the "superior" values and judgment of British culture, she exerts a powerful, muscular energy that forces new perimeters on the imperial center as a site of self-definition.


(1) Opposition to colonial protection had no significant support among those who were politically active at the time, even among those who agitated for social and political reforms (Braithwaite, "Caliban" 42-43; Bigelow 46). (2) Ziggi Alexander and Audrey Dewjee provide important background information in the introduction to their edition of Seacole's Wonderful Adventures. So does Edward Brathwaite, Development and "Caliban." (3) Writers like Claude McKay, George Lamming, Sam Selvon, V. S. Naipaul, Edward Brathwaite, and Jean Rhys have etched the many-faceted dimensions of journey and exile into the symbolic systems that make up West Indian literature. (4) Mikhail Bakhtin provides a useful framework for analyzing the values that shape the adventurous-heroic type of biographical consciousness: "Adventurous-heroic biographical value is grounded in the will or drive to be a hero - to have significance in the world of others; in the will to be loved; and, finally, in the will to live life's |fabular' possibilities, the manifoldness of inner and outer life, to the full" (Art 155). (5) Writing about adventurous-heroic biographical value grounded in the will to be heroic, Bakhtin observes, "To strive for glory is to gain consciousness of oneself within the civilized mankind of history (or within a nation); it means to found and build one's own life in the possible consciousness of this civilized mankind" (Art 156). (6) One hundred years later, classic statements on the cultural effects of colonialism make Mrs. Seacole seem the perfect case study. Chief among these are Frantz Fanon's Black Skins, White Masks (1952), George Lamming's The Pleasures of Exile (1960), and Edward Brathwaite's The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica (1971) and Contradictory Omens (1974) (7) In a review of Naipaul's The Enigma of Arrival, Derek Walcott makes a point that is equally applicable here: "There is the real enigma: that the provincial, the colonial, can never civilize himself beyond his province, no matter how deeply he immures himself in the woods of a villa outside Rome or in the leafy lanes of Edwardian England. And that is not pathetic; it is glorious" (31). (8) Toni Morrison makes a useful, if conventional, disfunction between "the black woman as parent, not as mother or father, but as parent as a sort of umbrella figure, culture-bearer, . . . . with not just her children but all children" and the fearless, adventurous black woman who is possessed by what she calls "the traveling Ulysses scene" ("Intimate" 226-28). (9) The literary assault on cultural and racial others within the British Empire continued unabated in Seacole's time. Consider, for example, the invidious racialism of publications like Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre (1847) and Thomas Carlyle's "Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question" (1849). (10) It is interesting to compare William Wells Brown's Anglophilic Three Years in Europe (1852) and The American Fugitive in Europe: Sketches of Places and People Abroad (1854) with Seacole's Wonderful Adventures, considering the pride its author takes in her colonial status. Both authors perceive Europe not as the source of American slavery and corruption but as the civilizing center of the world. (11) Dorothy Middleton points out that preoccupation with "proper" female attire was one of the ways that Victorian lady travelers tried to hold on to "a high ideal of womanhood" (8-9). (12) It is Worth noting that Mary Seacole volunteered her services in the Crimea in 1854, the year that the 2nd West India Regiment volunteered for posting to the Crimea and was turned down. The officers were white, and the units were segregated (Alexander and Dewjee 12, 41n5) (13) In "Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity," Bakhtin explains the heroic constituent in biographical values as characterized by this organic sense of oneself within the heroized mankind of history; by the organic sense of being a participant in it of experiencing one's essential growth within it, of taking root in it and gaining full consciousness and understanding of one's own works and days within it" (Art 156). (14) This is what Toni Morrison describes as the "how I got over - look at me - alone - let me show you how I did it" kind of autobiography which she contrasts with classic African American autobiography: "My single and solitary life is like the lives of the tribe; it differs in these specific ways, but it is a balanced life because it is both solitary and representative" (339-40). (15) Perhaps she judged that this would assist the fundraising efforts on her behalf. One such effort coincided with publication of her book: "On 25 July, 1857, the illustrated London News recommended the book to its readers and in the same issue announced a Grand Military Festival to be held for Mrs. Seacole's benefit on the four nights of 27-30 July, at the Royal Surrey Gardens" (Alexander and Dewjee 31-32). (16) In exploring the values of place as "a national-cultural community, as a sovereign entity and place set against other places," Said observes that "this idea of place does not cover the nuances, principally of reassurance, fitness, belonging, association, and community, entailed in to phrase at home or in place" (8). (17) In writing about the travel novel, Bakhtin makes the point that "the author's own real homeland . . . serves as organizing center for the point of view, the scales of comparison, the approaches and evaluations determining how alien cultures are seen and understood (it is not compulsory that the native country be evaluated positively, but it must absolutely provide us with a scale and a background)" (Dialogic Imagination 103). (18) Gaston Bachelard explores the links between childhood reveries and adult reveries about childhood in The Poetics of Reverie: "Thus, childhood images, images which a child oould make, images which a poet telll us that a child has made are, for us, manifestations of the permanent childhood. Those are the images of solitude. They tell of the continuity of the great childhood reveries with the reveries of the poet" (100). (19) Edward Said describes culture as "a system of exclusions legislated from above but enacted throughout its polity, by which such things as anarchy, disorder, irrationality, inferiority, bad taste, and immorality can be identified, then deposited outside the culture and kept there by the power of the State and its institutions" (11).

Works Cited

Alexander, Ziggi and Dewjee, Audrey. "Editors' Introducton." The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands. By Mary Seacole. Bristol: Falling Wall, 1984. 9-45. Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Reverie: Childhood, Language, and the Cosmos. Trans. Daniel Russell. Boston: Beacon, 1960. Bakhtin, M. M. Art and Answerability. Trans. Vadim Liapunov. Austin: U of Texas P, 1990. _____ . The Dialogic Imagination. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: U of Texas P, 1981. Bigelow, John. Jamaica in 1850. Or, The Effects of Sixteen Years of Freedom on a Slave Colony. 1851. Westport: Negro UP, 1970. Brathwaite, Edward Kamau. "Caliban, Ariel, and Unprospero in the Conflict of Creolization: A Study of the Slave Revok in Jamaica in 1831-32." Comparative Perspectives on Slavery in New World Plantation Societies. Ed. Vera Rubin and Arthur Tuden. New York: New York Academy of Sciences, 1977.41-62. _____ . The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica, 1770-1820. Oxford: Clarendon, 1971. Lamming, George. The Pleasures of Exile. 1960. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1992. Middleton, Dorothy. Victorian Lady Travellers. London: Routledge, 1965. Morrison, Toni. "Intimate Things in Place: A Conversation with Toni Morrison." With Robert B. Stepto. Chant of Saints. Ed. Michael S. Harper and Robert B. Stepto. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1979. 213-29. _____ . "Rootedness: The Ancestor as Foundation." Black Women Writers 1950-1980. Ed. Mari Evans. Garden City: Anchor, 1984. 339-45. Said, Edward. The World, the Text, and the Critic. Cambridge: Harvard U P, 1983. Seacole, Mary. The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands. 1857. New York: Oxford UP, 1988. Walcott, Derek. "The Garden Path." New Republic 13 Apr. 1987:27-31.

Sandra Pouchet Paquet is Associate Professor of English at the University of Miami, where she teaches courses in Caribbean and African American literature. She is author of The Novels of George Lamming and is writing a book on Caribbean autobiography.
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Author:Paquet, Sandra Pouchet
Publication:African American Review
Article Type:Biography
Date:Dec 22, 1992
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