Cross-Genre Explorations in Black British Narratives of Slavery and Freedom: Bernardine Evaristo and Andrea Levy

Sofía Muñoz-Valdivieso, University of Málaga
Vol. 41, No. 2 (Fall 2022), 223-245

This article considers Bernardine Evaristo’s Blonde Roots (2008) and Andrea Levy’s The Long Song (2010) as innovative works of fiction that experiment with the form of the slave narrative to produce new visions of Atlantic slavery. The authors maintain the genre’s original political intent to bear witness to unspeakable realities, but they also channel their ethical commitment into fictions that flout the expectations of restraint and seriousness and deploy humor as a complex mechanism that both involves and distances readers. Evaristo and Levy grant their narrators humorous voices and weave in elements from disparate literary genres at odds with the slave narrative, such as speculative fiction and Augustan satire in Evaristo’s text and the intrusive narrator and other conventions of comic, self-reflective eighteenth-century fiction in Levy’s case. Blonde Roots and The Long Song repurpose these writing traditions to critically intervene in the dominant narratives of the British nation and the role of slavery in it. The essay argues that humor can have a distancing effect that is not necessarily alienating but that can work to connect readers with the enslaved lives presented while revealing the impossibility of full identification with and understanding of these experiences. The aesthetic innovations in the novels are thus linked to their ethical commitment to remember the past of slavery and make it relevant to not only Black history but British history.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]