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Comic acts of (be)longing : Performing Englishness in wonderful adventures of Mrs. Seacole in many lands
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Poon, A. (2007). Comic acts of (be)longing: Performing Englishness in wonderful adventures of Mrs. Seacole in many lands. Victorian Literature and Culture, 35(2), 501-516.
THE POWER THAT COMES FROM being English in the Victorian period is crucially dependent on a categorizing imperative that establishes and structures a series of distinctions such as those between citizen and foreigner, colonizer and colonized, and metropole and colony. These distinctions have epistemological borders that require policing, as do all cross-border interactions that threaten to muddy the imperial landscape with unsanctioned forms of knowledge and affiliation. It is against such a framework of constraints for understanding the regulation of Englishness that the story of the Jamaican-bornMary Seacole and her self-styled role as “Mother” Seacole to British soldiers during the CrimeanWar appears particularly pregnant with bothersome possibilities. Seeking self-consciously to identify herself with the “mother” country and the imperial metropole, she constantly tests the waters of reception by English society in the mid-nineteenth century. Seacole deploys the image of her racially different body in various noticeably frontier places, mainly Panama and the Crimea, to induce a recognition of herself, if not as English, then as at least functionally so. In so doing, she disrupts the claim to cultural or national identity that is frequently grounded in racial and geographical specificity. She puts strain on the idea of Englishness as foreclosed essence, demonstrating through performance and reiteration its irreducibly performative nature as discourse.
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