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Milton Now pp 247-264 | Cite as

When Milton Was in Vogue: Cross-Dressing Miltonic Presence and William Craft’s Slave Narrative

  • Reginald A. Wilburn
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Part of the Early Modern Cultural Studies book series (EMCSS)

Abstract

The five lines of Miltonic text quoted here appear as an epigraph to William Craft’s slave narrative, Running A Thousand Miles to Freedom (1860). Despite Craft’s citation of Adam’s claim of God-given liberty in the service of his antislavery text, examinations of this Miltonic epigraph have been neglected in literary criticism. Taking this silence as a queer opportunity to re-member John Milton now, this chapter not only takes account of the content of Craft’s quotation of the epic, but also explores his subversive mode of citation. Craft’s unconventional approach to literary appropriation presents a form of queer intertextuality—one, moreover, that showcases how Milton remains in vogue, especially when liberty is the theme and freedom a right to be won. As the editors of Milton und the Grounds of Contention note, “People of varied life experiences—racial, social, gendered, political, educational—will find in the same literary work numerous varied reactions and readings.”2 In Running, Craft inhabits the varied interpretive terrain of “racial and ethnic sexuality” by placing Milton on sartorial display at the top of his slave narrative.3 Rhetorically imitating and referencing the fugitive drag worn by his wife when the couple escaped from slavery to freedom in the North, his appropriation of Milton frames his narrative as a subversive status symbol of queer intertextuality and high literary fashion.

Keywords

Slave Owner White Attestor Paradise Lost Drag Performance Fashion Accessory 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Craft changes Milton’s “He” at the start of his quotation to “God”: “God made us only over beast.” Running A Thousand Miles to Freedom (London: William Tweedie, 1860), 1. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the chapter. All references to Milton’s Paradise Lost are from Paradise Lost: Norton Critical Editions, ed. Gordon Teskey (New York: W. W. Norton, 2004) and are cited in the chapter.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Mark R. Kelley, Michael Lieb, and John T. Shawcross, eds. “Introduction” in Milton and the Grounds of Contention (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 2003), 1.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    E. Patrick Johnson, “‘Quare’ Studies, or (Almost) Everything I Know About Queer I Learned From My Grandmother,” in Black Queer Studies, ed. E. Patrick Johnson and Mae G. Henderson (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005), 126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Judith Butler, Gender Trouble (New York: Routledge, 1999), 174.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    E. Patrick Johnson and Mae G. Henderson, “Introduction: Queering Black Studies/‘Quaring’ Queer Studies,” in Black Queer Studies (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005), 5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 9.
    Aliyyah I. Abdur-Rahman, Against the Closet: Black Political Longing and the Erotics of Race (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012), 3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 10.
    Mchael A. Chaney, Fugitive Vision: Slave Image and Black Identity in Antebellum Narrative (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008), 105; 107.Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    Dorothy Sterling, Black Foremothers: Three Lives (Old Westbury: The Feminist Press, 1979), 13.Google Scholar
  9. 12.
    Barbara McCaskill, “A Stamp on the Envelope Upside Down Means Love; or, Literature and Literacy in the Multicultural Classroom,” in Multicultural Literature and Literacies: Making Space for Difference, ed. Suzanne M. Miller and Barbara McCaskill (Albany: SUNY Press, 1993), 84.Google Scholar
  10. 14.
    As Roland Barthes argues, the structure of a photograph is not isolated from accompanying matter such as a title, caption, or the text itself. “Only when the study of each structure has been exhausted,” he contends, is it “possible to understand the manner in which they complement one another.” Roland Barthes, Image, Music, Text, trans. Stephen Heat (New York: Hill and Wang, 1977), 16.Google Scholar
  11. 25.
    Raymond Hedin, “Strategies of Form in the American Slave Narrative,” in The Art of Slave Narrative, ed. John Sekora and Darwin T. Turner (Macomb: Western Illinois University Press, 1982), 25.Google Scholar
  12. 27.
    Henry Louis Gates Jr., “Preface to Blackness: Text and Pretext,” in African American Literary Theory: A Reader, ed. Winston Napier (New York: New York University Press, 2000), 149.Google Scholar
  13. 28.
    Darlene Clark Hine and Earnestine Jenkins, “Introduction: Black Men’s History: Toward A Gendered Perspective,” in A Question of Manhood: A Reader in U.S. Black Men’s History and Masculinity, vol. 1, ed. Darlene Clark Hine and Earnestine Jenkins (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 14.Google Scholar
  14. 29.
    On the concept of the “white envelope,” see John Sekora, “Black Message/White Envelope: Genre, Authenticity, and Authority in the Antebellum Slave Narrative,” Callaloo 32 (Summer, 1987): 502.Google Scholar
  15. 30.
    E. L. McCallum and Mikko Tuhkanen, ed. “Introduction,” Queer Times, Queer Becomings (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2011), 3.Google Scholar
  16. 31.
    Homosociality “describes social bonds between persons of the same sex” marked by the affective force of “‘desire’ rather than ‘love.’” Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), 1–2.Google Scholar
  17. 33.
    Monica L. Miller, Slaves to Fashion: Black Dandyism and the Styling of Black Diasporic Identity (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009), 14.Google Scholar
  18. 37.
    William L. Andrews, To Tell A Free Story (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986), 213.Google Scholar
  19. 39.
    Frances Smith Foster, Witnessing Slavery: The Development of Ante-Bellum Slave Narratives, 2nd ed. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984), 15, 17.Google Scholar
  20. 42.
    Erik Gray, Milton and the Victorians (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009).Google Scholar
  21. 43.
    Allen Dwight Callahan, The Talking Book: African Americans and the Bible (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), xi.Google Scholar
  22. 44.
    James H. Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation, 20th Anniversary Edition (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1990), 31.Google Scholar
  23. 45.
    Henry H. Mtchell, Black Preaching: The Recovery of a Powerful Art (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1990), 56.Google Scholar
  24. 46.
    Stanley Fish, Surprised by Sin: The Reader in Paradise Lost, 2nd ed. (Boston: Harvard University Press, 2001), 57.Google Scholar
  25. 48.
    See Jameela Lares, Milton and the Preaching Arts (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 2001), on Raphael and Mchael’s speeches in Paradise Lost as sermonic discourses.Google Scholar
  26. 50.
    Mary Ellen Doyle, S. C. N. “The Slave Narratives as Rhetorical Art,” The Art of Slave Narrative, ed. John Sekora and Darwin T. Turner (Macomb: Western Illinois University, 1982), 87.Google Scholar
  27. 52.
    Codification of the Statute Law of Georgia ed. William A. Hotchkiss (Augusta, 1848), http://academic.udayton.edu/race/02rights/slavelaw.htm.Google Scholar
  28. 54.
    Ibid. For more details concerning the school’s demanding academic schedule, see R. J. M. Blackett, Beating against the Harriers (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1986), 102.Google Scholar
  29. 56.
    Mary Nyquist and Margaret W. Ferguson, “Preface,” and ed. Re-Membering Milton: Essays on the Texts and Traditions (New York: Methuen, 1988), xiii.Google Scholar
  30. 57.
    To “throw shade” in black queer parlance is to cast an attitudinal affect of punctuated condescension onto another. One throws shade, more precisely, through any number of performative behavioral acts, gestures, or inflected intonations of voice. These affects range from being “somewhat closed or short with” another to “giving attitude or treating [one] badly.” I use the term similarly but extend its meaning to highlight a mode of queer intertextuality that bestows upon any given word in the English language a range of new subversive meanings as a result of shading its conventional or dictionary-bound term with a figurative and cultural cover of interpretive difference. E. Patrick Johnson, Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008), 556.Google Scholar

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© Catharine Gray and Erin Murphy 2014

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  • Reginald A. Wilburn

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