The Caribbean Imaginary in the Novels of Lucy Holcombe Pickens and Martin Delany
This chapter concentrates on the enduring U.S. fascination with Cuba, beginning with Thomas Jefferson, and culminating in a consideration of two novels, Lucy Holcombe Pickens’s The Free Flag of Cuba, a fictionalized account of the actual Narciso Lopez filibuster attempt to conquer the island, and Martin Delany’s neo-slave narrative about hemispheric insurrection, Blake: or the Huts of America. Both novels are shown to employ a “Cuban imaginary,” a necessity since neither author had travelled there. A parallel between the two quite different writers emerges in their common interest in colonizing lands South of the South, Pickens seeking to strengthen the South’s hand in the looming battle over slavery, Delany looking simultaneously at possibilities for hemispheric revolt and a new colony for emancipated slaves. These narratives are situated against the backdrop of Atlantic competitions between colonizing European powers, the history of the slave trade in the New World, other filibuster attempts, and the perplexing facts of Cuban history. The influences of the picaresque tradition, and that of the sentimental domestic novel - particularly Uncle Tom’s Cabin - receive consideration; a subsidiary subject is the contrast between the ports of New Orleans and Havana, and their common Spanish heritages.
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