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date: 28 January 2021

Abstract and Keywords

The appropriation by U.S.-American blacks of the Egyptian enslaved woman, Hagar, as she appears in the book of Genesis, is epitomized in black art, literature, and cinema. Yet less familiar is the appropriation of Hagar by nineteenth-century, middle-class, white women novelists, who mostly lived during the antebellum Southern era. Their novels feature a dark, wild, female protagonist named Hagar who appears as a racially ambiguous woman. She is usually orphaned or abandoned, and she overcomes many obstacles and adversaries to fulfill her life’s purpose in the domestic sphere. Sometimes she is openly compared with the biblical Hagar, depicted as having African ancestry, and characterized as an untamed woman who is free of society’s gender constraints. Nineteenth-century domestic novels thus present stories about Hagar as a temporary escape for middle-class white women’s perceived enslavement to traditional gender expectations, as they experienced them in their individual lives. At the same time, the domestic novels disregard the experiences of nineteenth-century enslaved black women.

Keywords: biblical Hagar, cult of true womanhood, slavery, domestic fiction, nineteenth-century women writers, passing, antebellum South, biblical interpretation

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