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Vaucluse's servants: "not slaves of ours"--a nineteenth-century southerners's anti-slavery narrative strategy.

Constance Cary Harrison, nineteenth-century author of over thirty-five novels and numerous articles, garnered the readership of both the North and South through the use of conciliatory prose (1) while presenting progressive characterizations of African Americans (2) in several of her works, particularly the short story "Leander of Betsy's Pride." (3) Her advanced insights possibly resulted from her family's conflicting attitudes toward African Americans at her childhood home, Vaucluse, Virginia, and her familiarity with enlightened French racial perspectives. As followers of Swedenborg, Harrison's family were among the first Virginians to manumit their slaves, and yet, they hired replacement slaves to work as servants. In her autobiography, Recollections Grave and Gay, (4) Harrison discloses the incongruities of a non-slave owning environment immersed in a slave-owning state by rationalizing, "our servants were hired black people, good and faithful souls, but, thank Heaven! not slaves of ours" (22). She expounds on the contradiction of her family's beliefs and their actions in her article, "A Virginia Girl in the First Year of the War," (5) stating that the "people who served us [were] hired from their owners and remain[ed] in our employ through years of kindliest relations" (606). This statement relates the strong inconsistencies within her life at Vaucluse, where, instead of hiring freed African-Americans or servants from other races, the family hired slaves from neighboring slaveowners, a practice which contradicted the Swedenborgian ideal of freedom. (6)

Consequentially, the effects of living with the failure of her family to absolve themselves from the responsibility and guilt of slavery produced within Harrison a unique ability to examine both the pro- and anti-slavery viewpoints. In "Leander," Harrison explores her family's fractured stand on racial equality at Vaucluse by presenting both revolutionary characterizations of African Americans as well as revealing the hypocritical racial attitudes of white Americans based on degrees of color. She reveals an example of the tension created by her family's failure to resolve the slavery issue, even in the limited arena of Vaucluse, by referring to herself in her autobiography as a "budding secessionist," who read Uncle Tom's Cabin (R43). As Harrison once observed:
   In some mysterious way I had drunk in with my mother's milk--who
   inherited it from her stern Swedenborgian father--a detestation of
   the curse of slavery upon our beautiful Southern land. Then, of
   course, omnivorous reader that I was--I had early found and devoured
   "Uncle Tom's Cabin." "that mischievous, incendiary book," as some of
   our friends called it. When the thunderbolt of John Brown's raid
   broke over Virginia I was inwardly terrified, because I thought it
   was God's vengeance for the torture of such as Uncle Tom. (R42)

Harrison mentions her family's ancestral stance on slavery, without discussing their practice of hiring neighboring slaves as servants; however, she acknowledges her fear that John Brown's raid "was God's vengeance for the torture of such as Uncle Tom." Harrison also presents the conflicting perspectives of the family who viewed slavery as "the curse" and the friends who deemed Stowe's work as "that mischievous, incendiary book."

As Harrison "devoured" Stowe's work, she may have internalized several stylistic strategies (7) with which she examined her divided perspectives through her own writings, particularly in "Leander." In this work, Harrison asserts that slavery existed in large part because of hereditary and economic obligations, a point reflected in Stowe's observations in Uncle Tom's Cabin. Furthermore, in these works both authors secured the diverse readerships of North and South by presenting perspectives favorable to widespread audiences, while blending in the volatile message of slavery. However, she foresaw African Americans as more autonomous than did Stowe, possibly as a result of the benefit of time and the outcome of the Civil War. For example, "Leander," Harrison's most progressive short story, published forty-eight years after Uncle Tom's Cabin, in 1899, seems to share the similar plot of white owners in financial straits reneging on a promised freedom for a slave (Stowe's character Shelby). However, Harrison's African American character, Leander Jameson, attains his freedom from slavery without white assistance (8) and, subsequently, lives successfully in France, whereas Stowe's slave characters in Uncle Tom's Cabin need white aid for emancipation and can only enjoy a secure life in Africa.

Ultimately, Harrison utilizes several tactics to achieve publication of the radical ideas in "Leander," such as embedding the issue of slavery within phrases that embrace the rationalizations of slave-owners and abolitionists. Also, by inserting "Leander" in the center of a collection of light-hearted romance stories entitled, The Carcellini Emerald with Other Tales, the publishing firm, Herbert S. Stone & Company, follows the pattern of concealing the divisive issue of slavery in socially acceptable packaging. Notably, there is a difference in the tone of "Leander" and the other accompanying stories This unconformity adds to the tension of the story because the surrounding stories involve simplistic and easily resolved themes, such as the theft of an emerald, whereas "Leander" addresses the issue of slavery and the failure of white society.

The socially acceptable packaging of this story does not end with its position in the collection, as Harrison then wraps the volatile slavery story within a pilgrimage story. She cloaks the racially charged didactic message further from her readers' notice by creating regionally unifying characterizations of a Confederate Brigadier-General, narrator of the internal slave story, and a group of young northern tourists, children of abolitionists, who listen to his tales while visiting a southern spa during the summer heat.

As Harrison's northern and southern characters provide a human connection to the regional readerships of North and South, she introduces an undercurrent of physical renewal and rejuvenation through the healing properties of water and heat. Harrison leads the reader to understand these regionally healing powers: "[T]he staid old mountain spa, whither their respective families had journeyed for health and pleasure" (103). Therefore, she suggests that the same healing powers of the South are available to the young northerners, as they had been for their ancestors. Within this sacred setting of restoration, Harrison unites her readership physically in a healing environment before moving to the divisive issue of slavery

Harrison also uses gender to mask further her examination of the treatment of African Americans by portraying one of the young women tourists as the character who initiates the topic of the Civil War because of her desire "to unearth every item concerning this mighty question that had rent asunder for a time the great country she revered" (105). Although this character supposedly seeks an understanding of the war, Harrison never directly addresses the subject of the Civil War. Instead, through the utilization of a time-distance strategy, Harrison forces her readers to face the exploitation of African Americans, while allowing the white readership a time-bracket of innocence. By presenting the narrative in the nostalgic pre-Civil War era, before the fracturing of the nation, Harrison provides her a southern and northern readership a generational distance, which places guilt over slavery into the past, away from any whites of her present period.

Furthermore, Harrison continues to attempt to mitigate racial qualms, while also introducing the undercurrent element of racial bias based on shades of darkness, by creating a bridge to her reader through the degrees of color of African Americans. Harrison, following Stowe's characterization of mulatto slaves, presents a pale-complexioned character, described as "very light mulatto, tall, erect, manly, good-looking as his master," making the slave and master more equal in appearance, apparently seeking to provide her readers the opportunity to perceive the equality of Africans and whites (109). Significantly, Harrison's attempt to equalize the races by whitening the ex-slave character reflects the institutionalized racism within her culture.

Nonetheless, Harrison expands Stowe's plot by not only placing the blame of slavery on whites, but also examining the issue of acceptance by degrees of color, such as empathy toward characters with light complexions and associating evil with darker characters. Like Stowe's slave-trader, the slave-trader character in "Leander." Israel Johns, represents the epitome of evil; however, Harrison strengthens her argument of racial bias based on shades of color by presenting Johns as neither white nor black, but Hispanic. Thus, Harrison explores the treatment of humans based solely of the degree of darkness. Harrison's Confederate character provides the description of the slave-trader as, "a middle-sized, low-browed, swart, powerful fellow, dark as a Spaniard, (9) with thick lips, curly black hair, and black, shifty eyes that couldn't look you in the face" (112-13). Through this racially marked sketch, Harrison introduces the question of prejudice based on degree of color. She creates empathy within the white reader for the character Jameson, while, with the coloring of the slave-trader, she reveals the mounting tensions based on shade. Harrison emphasizes the significance of the shading differences for example, by having an unnamed character in the central story state, "By Jove! It's he that looks like the master, and Johns like the man, I am thinking" (113). This is the only remark from within the central slavery story, whereas either the young northerners or the Confederate delivers all other narrations, thus demanding the reader's attention to the fact that the Southern characters recognized the transitory nature of racism, since it increased and decreased by degrees of darkness and lightness.

Notably, Jameson is never heard throughout the story, revealing either Harrison's lack of skill at presenting the dialogue of an intelligent African American or her lack of faith in her anticipated readers' acceptance of the French and English speaking pattern necessary to Jameson's characterization. Toni Morrison, (10) however, notes that "to enforce its [race] invisibility through silence is to allow the black body a shadowless participation in the dominant cultural body" (10). Morrison makes a significant point that a voiceless African American, such as in Harrison's work, leaves no shadow of interaction. The reader then sees only the white characters reactions to the African American's life, not the life itself, but the white interpretation of, in this case, Jameson's existence. From this correct perspective, Harrison has fallen short of obtaining her goal, if it was her ambition, to enlighten the South and North on the issue of racism.

However, perhaps as an initial introduction to a discourse on racism, Harrison often uses the Confederate voice to propel the most volatile points of the slavery to the forefront of the story. She appears to use this technique to reduce the discomfort of her southern readers, and for her northern readers. Harrison presents an avenue of acceptance through the northern tourists' absolute trust in the Confederate's observations. For example, the Confederate contrasts the social acceptance of Africans in France (11) to the racist treatment of African Americans in America when be relates how the young men of "Leander," slave and master, travel abroad to France. This change of location provides the Confederate the opportunity to state, "Leander was, of course, received as an equal by his class among the whites" (109). This progressive insight into the treatment of Africans, presented thirty-four years after the Civil War, compares whites' post-Civil War treatment of African Americans in America to whites' pre-war treatment of Africans in France. Ultimately, Harrison presents the French attitude toward Africans as one of equality and the American attitude as lacking respect for African Americans.

Furthermore, Harrison uses the Confederate voice to reveal the failure of whites to uphold the promised freedom for slaves. Familiar with this theme in Uncle Tom's Cabin, she reworks the plot to expose the failure of whites but also to create a slave character who is morally and intellectually superior to his white owners. Through the Confederate voice, she builds the southern readers' confidence in her story by providing an overabundance of extreme rationalizations for the sale of slaves. Harrison exposes the hypocrisy of the South's stance on the treatment of African Americans through the narrative strategy of presenting "the curse of slavery" as an inherited obligation (R42). In The Plantation Mistress, (12) Catherine Clinton explains, "Southerners actually complained that this system had been foisted upon them and that they had simply made the best of their burden" (184) Intimately aware of the Southerners' justifications for slavery, Harrison transfers the blame of slavery to prior southern generations, relieving her southern readership of the guilt over slavery and reducing the readers' defensive attitude. This strategy of transferring blame to past generations, combined with the southern voice of her Confederate narrator, strengthens Harrison's hold on her southern readers. Further, to insure her readership embraces this strategy, Harrison uses the Confederate narrator to state "[i]f anybody ever tells you to the contrary, Miss Eunice, send him to me to be convinced," to close the message which absolves the present age of Southerners from the sin of slavery (111).

To maintain her Northern readership, Harrison presents the listening tourists as attentive and open to the southern portrayal of slavery as an inherited burden. Harrison reduces the need for judgment on the part of her Northern readership by presenting the issue of slavery to her northern audience as an outdated southern lifestyle. The tactic of setting the story in the past frees the northerners from the need to ascertain responsibility for slavery by presenting the view that history was responsible for slavery, not their southern neighbors. Therefore, by pushing guilt over slavery into the past, Harrison maintains both southern and northern readerships until she fully exposes the contemporary generation's unequal treatment of African Americans in both regions of America.

The Southern voice of the Confederate narrator begins the passage containing the southern rationalizations for slavery by relating the slave-owners' financial and physical difficulties, which led to selling Jameson; then the narrator pauses and shifts the focus away from the slave-owning family to the regional regrets of southerners at the sale of their slaves:
   "Here comes in," went on the General, doughtily, "a chapter
   fortunately not common among the slave-holding families of those
   days. As the negroes on large plantations went on multiplying and
   exacting care and outlay, the revenues of their owners were
   naturally consumed. But it was pail of our religion to hold fast to
   the trust committed to us by our fathers. Nothing but dire want ever
   made a Virginian of 'the real sort' part with a slave for money.
   When dire want came, so much the worse for slave and master. It was
   a degradation that bowed down the seller to the earth with shame--to
   have to part with these people of our black families. If anybody
   ever tells you to the contrary, Miss Eunice, send him to me to be
   convinced." (111)

Subsequently, Harrison portrays the Confederate as deeply moved by his own speech: his face turned red, he gulped, walked back and forth, and finally sat down, preparing to finish his story. However, what he had just related to the readership was that the slaves were responsible for whites' selling African Americans at auction. Harrison introduces this profoundly racially biased aspect into the story just before she relates how Jameson is both morally and intellectually superior to his white master and the slave-trader. As if trying to balance the import of what she wanted to reveal next to the southern readers, she removes as much guilt from southern whites as possible in order to gain their trust long enough to reveal her examination of the treatment of Africans in France and the treatment of African Americans in America based on the degree of color.

Ultimately, Harrison makes her point that the African American slave shows a higher moral standard than that of the master by having the Confederate soldier state:
   When you know that Chester [the white owner] had promised to free
   Leander in order to enable the fellow to go back and marry a Creole
   girl from Martinique whom he had met in Paris, and had died without
   doing so, you see how the affair stood. (113)

In this statement, Harrison not only reveals the moral failure of the whites to hold true to their promise, but also examines the futuristic ramifications of this action as she shows the lives of the African Americans being altered by slavery. Harrison draws the pathways of the future for the reader, defining the two alternatives for Jameson's life: if freed as promised, he would live as an equal to whites in France, whereas if he lost his freedom, he would continue to live as a slave, subject to a master and never as an equal to whites. Furthermore, Harrison's selection of the name Leander reinforces the sense that the reader should consider the futuristic fate of Leander's family, particularly the wife who waits for him in France, since the poetical history of the name Leander suggests a connection to the Greek legend of two lovers, prevented from marriage. Moreover, the Leander of mythology attempts to swim every night to his lover, Hero; however, during one night of darkness he drowns and, subsequently, Hero leaps into the water to perish with him. Harrison, therefore, rewrites the telos of Greek mythology by offering a Leander who, once freed, will marry and live prosperously in a mixed race society as an equal.

Moreover, Harrison concludes the development of her slave characterization with Jameson's escaping to France, without white aid. Yet again, Harrison selects her narrator of choice for revealing radical ideas as the Confederate describes the events by which Jameson acquires his freedom:
   He managed to get his master [the slave-trader] drunk, and on
   arriving at New Orleans to actually sell him for a thousand dollars
   to a buyer before whom Leander had posed as a Virginian planter on
   his travels, encumbered with a tipsy ruffian he was glad to dispose
   of cheap. The complexion, good manners, educated voice, and easy
   diction of Leander made this thing possible. Upon receiving, as was
   agreed, the money down, he at once disappeared. (114)

With these passages, Harrison relates to her readers the intelligence of the African American as well as the whites' failure to free slaves, forcing the slaves to undergo extreme ordeals in order to secure their freedom. Jameson's ability to outmaneuver the slave-trader lets the reader view the African American as independent, astute, and able to overcome adversity.

To bond her readers, both North and South, to the revelation of the ex-slave's successful life in France, the Confederate relates how he recently saw the ex-slave's ghost at the old plantation home. The northern tourists then compare the Confederate's ghost sighting to a newly arrived invalid foreigner, both with identical telltale scars, thus revealing that the two descriptions belong to one man, Jameson, who has returned to view the old homestead once more and then disappear again.

Furthermore, through the appearance of an aging Jameson, Harrison depicts a positive example of an African American's existence through his affluent life: as the Confederate narrator observes, "the ex-slave had prospered in circumstances his appearance and surroundings left no room to doubt" (118). This tension between a haunted past and a successful life aids Harrison in her efforts to sustain a mixed readership until she is able to reveal the equal treatment of Africans in France compared to the hypocritical views of white Americans toward African Americans in America. Subsequently, she forces the reader to witness the uneasy fact that Jameson had suffered more in his homeland than in France, his "adopted home;" America was "the scene of his birth and of his early tragedy" (118).

Only in the last paragraph does she again wrap this short story in conciliatory passages, having made her point on the treatment of African Americans with its prejudice based on degree of color. Here, at the last moment, she relates that the young woman who initially sought "to unearth every item concerning this mighty question" now decides to shift her attention away from the Civil War and concentrate her efforts on only one man (105). By reintroducing the subject of gender, Harrison softens the aspect of needing to know the truth about slavery and prejudice as being essentially a female's curiosity. This gender strategy in the last moments of the story does not reduce the significance of the racially charged message, but it does allow Harrison to maintain her hold on her readers throughout the work, without leaving the post-Civil War whites offended by the residual suggestion that they too had failed to follow the French example and treat African-Americans as equals, not just pre-Civil War whites.

Harrison was a non-slave-owning adolescent at the beginning of the War, but her family's failure to resolve the issue of slavery created within her a multifaceted perspective. The sliver of difference between direct ownership and the practice of hiring slaves from their owners obscured the responsibility of a non-slave owner living in a slave-owning state. This divisive environment placed Harrison at the axis of the race conflict, forcing her to reexamine the reality of white responsibility for slavery and to reassess Civil War and Reconstruction era white racial attitudes. Moreover, Harrison reveals nineteenth-century American culture through her explorations on the issue of slavery and racism in "Leander of Betsy's Pride." *

(1) Sherrolyn Maxwell notes in "Constance Cary Harrison: American Woman of Letters, 1843-1920" (Diss., U. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 1977), Harrison's use of conciliatory prose, stating, "Constance attempted ... to present all possible viewpoints on a given issue, but to assert a conciliatory stance through a central and clearly admirable character" (159). Unfortunately, although Maxwell provides unique quotes from Harrison's diaries, she does not assess Harrison's use of narrative strategies. Remarkably, Maxwell quotes a significant diary passage from October 18, 1890, which exemplifies Harrison's awareness of her readers' expectations and the resistance Harrison felt toward submitting to these literal, restraints. The quote regards her work, Anglomaniacs, published in 1890. nine years before "Leander:"
   I am abused for it in the roundest terms by the old-fashioned novel
   readers who want the conventional happy ending---and in spite of all
   they say, my conviction remains unalterable--my story could not have
   ended otherwise (Maxwell 170)

(2) Because of her use of racially marked passages and conflicting perspectives, scholars often concluded that Harrison was a racist. For example, Kathy Ryder writes, "the most interesting and well written of her Confederate romances, both rationalizes and denounces slavery" "Constance Cary Harrison," (221:201), in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, American Women Prose Writers, 1870-1920, ed. Sharon M. Harris (Detroit: The Gale Group, 2000). From this observation Ryder concludes. "Harrison, a racist and elitist, did not speak for, but certainly spoke to, a large audience of genteel middle-class Americans whose conservatism was affirmed by her work" (202).

(3) The Carcellini Emerald with Other Tales (Chicago and New York: Herbert S. Stone, 1899).

(4) (New York: Scribners, 1911: London: Smith, Elder. 1912). Henceforth, referred to as R.

(5) The Century Magazine (Aug. 1885).

(6) Emanuel Swedenborg, The Heavenly City: A Spiritual Guidebook, trans. Lee Woofenden (West Chester, PA.: The Swedenborg Foundation, 1993).

(7) After extensive research I have not found any scholars who have analyzed Harrison's progressive anti-slavery narrative strategies. Furthermore. she had on several occasions successfully published works regarding the social issues of gender and race through the use of narrative strategies, with her most popular success, The Anglomaniacs (New York: Cassell, 1890), progressively addressing issues of gender. Still, no scholar has noted her success in publishing advanced perspectives on African Americans, although Harrison first accomplished this literary maneuvering during the Civil War by reproducing a portion of an abolitionist poem in the Southern Illustrated News (Richmond: Aug. 8 1863). She cloaked the passage in much the same manner as in "Leander," by embedding the divisive issue within pro-Confederate conciliatory prose. Although the surrounding rhetoric is repulsive, the facts remain. Harrison not only read abolitionist writings, site published the following during a period of intense censorship: "So pleads the proud planter. What echoes are these? / The bay of his blood-hound is borne on the breeze / And lost in the shriek of his victim's despair His voice / dies unheard" (37). She leaves the last two words on a line alone, perhaps to emphasize the effect of the slave's anguish at not being heard and ultimately not treated as a human by the slave masters.

(8) This point is critical to Harriett Jacobs in her work, Incidents in the Life of a Slave: Written by Herself (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2000). In fact she deeply resented not obtaining her own freedom, but instead had white assistance "to pay for her freedom. As she stated. "The more my mind had become enlightened, the more difficult it was for me to consider myself an article of property; and to pay money to those who had so grievously oppressed me seemed like taking from my sufferings the glory of triumph" (199).

(9) The Spanish-American War began in 1898, "Leander's" publication year; therefore, Harrison's description of the slave-trader may be evidence of increasing racial tensions against Hispanics.

(10) Paying in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1992).

(11) Harrison's familiarity with nineteenth-century France stems from the influence of her French governess and several trips to France, including an excursion with her mother immediately after the Civil War. In Recollections and "My Favorite Novelist," My Favorite Novelist: Three Essays by Frank R. Stockton, Mrs. Burton Harrison, and Paul Bourget on Their Favorites of Prose Fiction (Cleveland: Burrows. 1908). Harrison describes a meeting in France that possibly influenced her perspective on African Americans. Mademoiselle Letellier, Alexandre Dumas' sister, presented her with a Dumas manuscript and spoke at length concerning racial issues and quite possibly about the mademosielle's African grandmother. Marie-Cessette Dumas, a slave from Jeremie, Saint-Domingue. In fact, Letellier presented a lock of her "sainted father's" head to Harrison and inquired whether it was similar to the general population of the South (246). It is possible that she relates this story to bring attention to racism and the treatment of slave women by white slave owners, particularly since Harrison notes that Letellier thought they shared the same African ancestry. Moreover. Harrison, apparently not offended by the assessment, presents their relationship as close, thus suggesting that Letellier's progressive views on race had an impact on Harrison and perhaps served to further enlighten her on racial equality.

(12) The Plantation Mistress: Woman's World in the Old South (New York: Pantheon Books. 1982).

* I wish to thank Marshan University for the Marion Alexander Blake & Merrill Clifford Blake Scholarship in Confederate Literature. winch provided the research funding necessary for the completion of this paper and subsequent thesis. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Marshall University's English professors, in particular, David Hatfield and Katharine Rodier. who patiently guided me toward an understanding of Harrison's southern literary narrative strategies. Because of the scholarly neglect of Harrison's work, locating her numerous manuscripts, novels, articles, and essays demanded a great deal of assistance cheerfully given by Marshall's interlibrary staff, including the greatly appreciated efforts of Cathy Alford and Stephen Tipler. Additionally, Rare Collections Librarian Lisle Brown, and Confederate bibliographer, Jack Dickinson, provided invaluable assistance in analyzing numerous nineteenth-century works from Marshall University's Rosanna Blake Confederate Library.




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Title Annotation:Constance Cary Harrison
Publication:West Virginia University Philological Papers
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2003
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