The Sallow Mr. Freely: Sugar, Appetite, and Unstable Forms of Whiteness in George Eliot's Brother Jacob

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Abstract

In this paper, I argue that George Eliot's Brother Jacob (1864) reveals a fluid system of racial production that is inextricably tied to sugar. Brother Jacob is one of Eliot's most unusual narratives. It is written in the tone of a fable, and it concerns confectioner David Faux, who immigrates to the colony of Jamaica. Twice, Faux's plans for fiscal gain are thwarted by his idiot brother, Jacob, and the latter's uncontrollable sweet tooth in ways that warn against the ungovernability of bodies-especially white ones-that desire sugar. My analysis employs the methodologies of critical race studies, as I examine how Eliot's text denaturalizes the frequent invisibility of whiteness (Richard Dyer). And if, as Sara Ahmed argues, we do not face whiteness; it 'trails behind' bodies, as what is assumed to be given, then Eliot's text reveals whiteness when it is in front of bodies, when its construction is rendered seeable. I analyze Eliot's examination of individual and collective white bodies that are ambivalently racialized through their desires for sugar. Throughout, I argue that the plasticity of racial forms connected to sugar suggests that bodies are unruly and cannot uphold coherent systems of racial meaning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)431-460
Number of pages30
JournalVictorian Literature and Culture
Volume50
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Literature and Literary Theory

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