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From Sexual Stealing
1. The Abolitionists Plead

be necessity
for esteem merited beyond justice
alliance long engaged
to Count mistake unworthy
to sir honour
surprise   surprise
indignation as words blushing
will speak
of castle
merely grandeur
as torture
with art
deny engagements
deny testimony

William Beckford’s Fonthill Abbey. “View of the West, and North Fronts” in Delineations of
by John Rutter, 1832.

Beaujeu of horrors
scenes only human
deep bottom of base
trembling in grandeur
perspective with travelers
deluded and broken
scream      visit
dejection domain

2. The Master Class

favorite together future
derived world as banks
under calmly evening distance
evening débonnaire
bank then assembled kindness
          used benevolence
spread night
at resign

quiet hand      behind stillness
bank spoke
of stratagem repetition
Count him determined
mention attack
or will
          by torturing
request permission
then aggrandise person darker

penetrate their rude children
plainly pistols
proceed however unprepared
in the Beaujeu

entered white master
happy for toil      painted as little
tears his stillness
of solemn future
the great gothic family
high sprung from ruffian
a heart dusty with now

Beaujeu of horrors
deep bottom of base
trembling in grandeur
and no feelings

3. The Deaf Ear

fire with manners
inferior people
                    beneath names
embroidered while worn
for safety
by owners
of the persecuted
          of little inconveniencies
intestine to grandeur

sunset not pleasant
with overhung air
perfectly refusal unlimited
by state
with insinuating disdain
Count composure      resignation
to intoxicated complacency
                    declared advice
in will promise

refuse promise
resist promise impulse
secretly seconding hatred
of hope
committed suffering to policy
hastened frenzy
ordered and provoked

6th. Get up at half-past four, after an almost sleepless night, thinking of the
state of this wretched country. The heat, too, most overpowering … General
N., &c are returned in a most dreadful heat, their faces quite scarlet and their
hair black with perspiration.
8th. A night of terror and anxiety, but I must not give way, for the sake of my
dear N. and all around me …
9th. A most awful night. For several hours the sky was quite a sheet of fire,
and the thunder came, peal on peal, with scarcely a second between them.

      —Lady Nugent’s Journal of Her Residence in Jamaica from 1801 to 1805, July 1803

4. Boukman’s Soliloquy

useless precipitation
taught prudence to honour
you Sir
affectionate St
smiled and related striking of people

accept tone
suffer insufficient conversation
pursue farther object
constancy is persecution means
revoke repentance
pursue strength
wealth means blameable persons
self-delusion      not humanity
priding practical turn
would teach
                    valuable apathy
the sentiment disgrace

come      readiness
exile being
be one reply
in disturb
deep blue complacency
          below bidding
into pretence resolved    go
to prove grave
efforts of night

5. The Slaves Watch

of night   now wholly presentiment
night selected
and wiped till safe

look at the melancholy conversation
declining ideas till after steps alarmed fears
and thoughtfulness of the unwilling
pressed          further
extensive preparing
and stopped hastily

chateau languor
called suspended fever
disorder taken upon heavy anxiety
detained feelings
visited and concealed hopes
formed recommendation
                                                  dress strikingly
                                                  rest sullenness
                                                            to guilty design
                                                  coloring     modestly sensible aim
                                                  flatter me     and conform
                                                  party continually
                                                  and regard kindness

6. The Slaves Begin

hand be master soon

… I perceived in the gloom a figure which stole from behind a clump of trees
near me: I stood fixed, gazing intently; I could not be mistaken. A flash of
lightning illuminated the object and discovered its shape plainly to me; its
gigantic stature, and the deformity of its aspect …

                                        —Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus, 1818

strengthening shadows
black contour glittered
character now       determined

Miguel López López (?), “Dessalines fled the courage of the French while killing whites” in
Louis Dubroca’s Vida de J. J. Dessalines, gefe de los negros de Santo Domingo, Mexique, 1806.

7. The Plan Launched

Bon Dje ki fè la tè. Ki fè soley ki klere nou enro. Bon Dje ki soulve lanmè.
Ki fè gronde loray. Bon Dje nou ki gen zorey pou tande. Ou ki kache nan
niaj. Kap gade nou kote ou ye la. Ou we tout sa blan fè nou sibi. Dje blan
yo mande krim. Bon Dje ki nan nou an vle byen fè. Bon Dje nou an ki si
bon, ki si jis, li ordone vanjans. Se li kap kondui branou pou nou ranpote la
viktwa. Se li kap ba nou asistans. Nou tout fet pou nou jete potre dje Blan
yo ki swaf dlo lan zye. Koute vwa la libète kap chante lan kè nou.

“The Good Lord who created the sun which gives us light from above, who rouses the sea
and makes the thunder roar—listen well, all of you—this god, hidden in the clouds, watches
us. He sees what the white man does. The god of the white man calls him to commit crimes;
our god asks only good works of us. But this god who is so good orders revenge! He will
direct our hands; he will aid us. Throw away the image of the god of the whites who thirsts
for our tears and listen to the voice of liberty which speaks in the hearts of all of us.”

               —Boukman Dutty at the Bois Caiman assembly, near the Lenormand plantation
                                                                                     in Saint-Domingue, August 22, 1791

knowing     stern
moonlight meeting
                    a fabled tumult
night’s family
now wild smiles
covered valley    with taken road
precipice of enthusiasm
and emotions unveiled
                                        discovered world
          of listening
          of path    forward
                              in billowy chaos
                    stretched rapture
                                        of guard country

lower that look now
          but shiver          and view
                                                            excited landscape
                                                                   plains catching     trembling
                                                  as bring by this never
distinguished terror
extending horizon
of towering blackness
          headlong cloud
character of unite
never stopped
being renewed
                                        vast fires
                                                            carried     duskiness banners along

further the rising     yonder
see full avenue
trees pointing
above chateau emphatically near
agitated residence     roused
not fallen
terror rivulet   sir
sunk      again groan
round listened recesses
to arrested chateau

the habitation feared rattling
once whipped darkness

overhanging wildness   paused
business was night guarded
rows formed         gloomy avenue
along chateau apprehensions
considering darkness
on house honour
house replied
          hasten the alarm
                    call sir God
God is sir question
his no better
noticed     enough domain

… an ancient prophecy … was said to have pronounced, That the castle and
lordship of Otranto should pass from the present family, whenever the real
owner should have grown too large to inhabit it.

                                               —Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto, 1764


Sexual Stealing is a work of poetic nonfiction that has grown from my discovery that English Gothic fiction is intimately linked with the form of chattel slavery practiced in the eighteenth century on the sugar plantations of Jamaica and Saint-Domingue (now Haiti). Of the four major names in early Gothic literature—Anne Radcliffe, Horace Walpole, Matthew Lewis, and William Beckford—all had some immediate connection to the slave trade, Radcliffe through her links to Abolitionism (the Wedgwood circle), Walpole through the policies set in place by his father, Sir Robert Walpole, and Lewis and Beckford as actual owners of sugar plantations in Jamaica. At least three of these showed strong queer tendencies at a time when homosexuality was punishable by death. Beckford, for instance, was thus in the position simultaneously to enact the ultimate theft of which humans are capable—of life, of liberty, of desire—and to suffer the same himself.

In reading the works of these authors, the ancestors of “horror” in modern literature and film, I found them imbued with the violent vocabulary of slavery. This inspired my compositional method, modeled on the mesostics used by John Cage to derive the libretto for his “Roaratorio” from
Finnegans Wake. Using the text of Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, I selected one word from each line. Keeping these in the order in which I found them, I found that stanzas emerged, which seemed to suggest the voices of a number of characters dealing with the experience of slavery and strategies of resistance. I juxtaposed these voices to relevant images and text, mostly from artists and authors of the time on slavery and other matters, working to create a polyphonic text in the manner of some of Paul Metcalf’s.

This excerpt is from the beginning of Part Two of the book.


Image of Fonthill
In 1799 Beckford returned from his long exile on the Continent and started to build the folly of the age, Fonthill Abbey, an architectural amalgam of Portuguese Gothic and English monastic church, serving as shrine, showplace, home, refuge, and tomb. Its enormous central tower fell down three times in thirty years. It housed the countless treasures of Beckford’s collecting mania. He built it, and its surrounding six-mile-long wall, largely in response to society’s rejection, and in consequence it became the desire of “everyone who was anyone” to visit it. But the only two people Beckford ever invited there were Lord Nelson and Emma Hamilton.

Lady Nugent’s Journal
Lady Maria Nugent (1771–1834) was born Maria Skinner to a prominent New Jersey family who were Loyalists during the War for Independence. After the war, they moved to Britain where Maria met and married Field Marshal Sir George Nugent, later Governor of Jamaica. During her husband’s governorship, from 1801 to 1805, Maria Nugent kept a diary that provides a rich picture of an aristocratic lady’s adjustment to the island’s life during a politically critical period. Though she felt sympathy for the slaves, and even expressed guarded admiration for Toussaint L’Ouverture, she was not an abolitionist. Her political conservatism notwithstanding, she was appalled by the majority of plantation owners and sugar itself became for her the stuff of nightmare.
     Following the news from Saint-Domingue, Jamaica in July 1803 was extremely tense. In 1802, General LeClerc, commander of Napoleon’s army, whose mission was to quash the rebellion and reclaim the island, died of yellow fever. France was trying to evacuate its surviving colonists, but the British Navy had mounted a blockade to prevent an influx of French reinforcements. A few months after this journal entry by Lady Nugent, the last battle of the revolution in Saint-Domingue would be fought near Cap Haitien. The rebels under Dessalines defeated the French under Viscount Rochambeau. On January 1, 1804, Dessalines declared the island’s independence and renamed it Haiti, an Arawak word meaning “mountainous land.”

On Boukman
Boukman Dutty was the first leader of the Saint-Domingue Revolution. He was headman on one of the larger plantations of the northern plain, and a coachman, which facilitated his contacts with slaves throughout the region. It seems that he got his name, Bookman in English, from the fact that he carried a book, probably a Koran, with him to Jamaica, his first place of servitude. He was literate, and being of the professional slave class, was able to follow political developments to some extent, through written sources, oral communication, and overheard conversations. He was large, strong, and charismatic. He became a voodoo priest and developed a huge network of contacts throughout the island. It is quite possible that he saw himself as a warrior marabout.

On Boukman’s Speech
On the night of August 22, 1791, thousands of slaves gathered on a mountain in the forest above Le Cap. It was the beginning of the uprising. Boukman delivered instructions and led a voodoo ceremony. He exhorted the slaves with the quoted speech, which was remembered and repeated. Then, that same night, he and other leaders led their bands to attack the plantations, kill their owners, raise the slaves, and set fire to the crops and buildings.

Image of Dessalines
This image, possibly by the artist Miguel López López, appears in a biography of Toussaint’s general and successor Dessalines published in Mexico. The author, a teacher of oratory rhetoric named Louis Dubroca (1757–1835) was commissioned by the Bonapartist government to write propaganda vilifying the Haitian Revolution in the hope that such accounts would incite counterrevolutionary action in the Caribbean.

On Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto
A discussion of Walpole’s seminal novel can be found in my essay “Sexual Stealing and the Gothic.”

Wendy Walker’s books include The Secret Service; The Sea-Rabbit, or, The Artist of Life; Stories Out of Omarie; Blue Fire; and My Man and Other Critical Fictions. She is the editor of Proteotypes.