An Acceptable Happiness: Marriage, Empire, and Other Failures

Book in Progress


An Acceptable Happiness: Marriage, Empire, and Other Failures in Anglophone Domestic Fiction explores two disruptive moments in British imperial history through the lens of popular fiction, journals, letters, and biographies by women, often aimed at a female readership. The first moment is the transformation of an eighteenth-century empire comprised mainly of colonial companies concentrated in the Atlantic into the more expansive Victorian empire. The second examines the collapse of British rule and the rise of Commonwealth independence following the Second World War and continuing into the twenty-first century. This book focuses on texts that in their moment of production, challenge models of identity based upon nation or empire, in favor of a globalized self that operates in trans- or extra-national networks.

Yet in order to be published and to continue to be circulated to readers, their critiques of empire—some of which offer new imperial models rather than call for an end of empire—must be reinscribed into the narratives of identity and empire they challenge. For some, this means sublimating the sexual violence experienced by female slaves into coded scenes to make them acceptable material for a female audience; for others, this means tempering a critique of the domestic into a “happy” ending of marriage for a heroine, which is explicitly caveated in the closing lines. For all though, it meant finding an acceptable compromise between a narrative that would “sell” as well as critique. Former slaves like Mary Prince agreed to heavy editorial intervention for their biographies to be printed; Frances Burney agreed to make her heiress heroine beautiful at a publisher’s request; Ama Ata Aidoo’s critical look at British neocolonialism in Ghana found its voice through a London-based feminist press.

An Acceptable Happiness complicates distinctions between colonizer and colonized, settler and indigenous, by historically expanding the Anglophone literary archive to bring together voices that challenge mainstream narratives of a colonial past and critiques the neocolonial networks shaping the boundaries of our current print world.  But most of all, the book looks how recovery of historical female authors and in the promotion of new postcolonial voices must continually be vetted by publishers, critics, and academics based along routes of conventional imperial power in order to be circulated in the Anglophone literary market.  



Part I: 18th and 19th-Century Anglophone World(s)

  • Chapter 1: Printscapes Past: The Three Lives of Mary Prince
    • Main authors: Mary Prince (1788-c.1833), Susanna Strickland Moodie (1803-1885), Eleanor Eldridge (1784-c.1845)
  • Chapter 2: Archiving the Atlantic: Biography, Publishing Hubs, and Literary Survival
    • Main authors: Charlotte Lennox (c. 1730 – 1804), Leonora Sansay (1781 – ?), and Janet Schaw (c. 1731-c. 1801)
  • Chapter 3: Nelson’s Mediterranean and Macartney’s China in the Caribbean: Atlantic Slavery and Jane Austen’s Vision of a Militaristically Moral Empire 
    • Main Authors: Jane Austen (1775-1817), Frances Burney (1752-1840), Mary Seacole (1805-1881)

Part II: Colonial Critiques and Transoceanic Alternatives to Nation and Empire

  • Chapter 4: Finding Asia in British America: Diaspora, Emigrants, and Canadian Cosmopolitanism
    • Main Authors: Sara Jeannette Duncan (1861-1922), Sui Sin Far/Edith Maude Eaton (1865-1914), Anita Desai (b. 1937), Bharati Mukherjee (b. 1940) 
  • Chapter 5: The Mixed Marriage Plot in Edinburgh and London: (Re)Articulating Domestic Britishness
    • Main Authors: Andrea Levy (b. 1956), Jackie Kay (b. 1961), Zadie Smith (b. 1975)
  • Chapter 6: Representation and Reward in the Circulation of African Authors in in the Global Literary Market
    • Main Authors:Olive Schreiner (1855-1920), Doris Lessing (1919-2013), Ama Ata Aidoo (b. 1940), Farida Karodia (b. 1942)


  • Defining Diaspora and Marketing Nationality: The Booker Prize and American Empires
    • Main Authors:Ruth Ozeki (b. 1956), Jhumpa Lahiri (b. 1967), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (b. 1977)

For other works, published and in progress, see Publications

To contact me about this project, email me.