"Reverse Passing, Reverse Reading in 19th Century American Literature"
NEMLA (Northeast Modern Language Association)
Buffalo, NY. April 7-8, 2000
This session examines occurrences of reverse passing in novels, short
stories, or poems. Without acceding to hierarchical notions and vertical metaphors, I choose the term “reverse” passing to refer to instances in
which characters of a dominant culture successfully pass among a subordinated culture, as when the slave master in a popular Lydia Maria Child short story passes as a slave during a secret slave meeting. In
addition to ethnicity, reverse passing in literature also occurs along
social and gender boundaries -- the “slumming” well-to-do or the gentleman
in “drag”. The goal of this panelis to investigate and question the way in which such narratives invite or repudiate literary, social, or historical interpretations as well as issues of minstrelsy, masquerade, performative identity, and American classlessness or elitism.
After several interested responses, the timeline of this panel has been
expanded to include 19th century examples as well as late 18th and early
20th (from 1780 to 1930). Also, although the focus must be American, I am willing to accept (and indeed encourage) proposals that refer to texts from other cultures.
Some questions I hope this panel may answer:
How does reverse passing coincide and differ from tradtional passing narratives?
What does reverse passing accomplish?
How are American representations of reverse passing different from those depicted in other cultures?
What are the political and social justifications or prohibitions for such instances?
How are 19th and early 20th century representations different from contemporary and renaissance pastoral examples of passing?
As always, graduate students are most welcome.
Please send a brief (250-500 word) proposal for a 15-20 minute paper to:
with the subject line, "NEMLA 2000".
Submissions are due no later than September 15, 1999.
All participants must be members of NEMLA by November 1, 1999. To join
NEMLA or view the calls for papers visit the NEMLA website at
Michael A. Chaney
Bloomington, IN 47405
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