Between Piracy and Justice: Liminality in Maxwell Philip's Emmanuel Appadocca

Gregory A. Wilson


In his introduction to Emmanuel Appadocca; or, Blighted Life. A Tale of the Boucaneers, William E. Cain attempts to place the nineteenth century adventure novel in context with other contemporary works, arguing strongly that along with its kinship with other sea narratives of the period, it both is and is not an anti-slavery work. Commenting on the tension created by such a relationship, Cain suggests that: " . . . Emmanuel Appadocca . . . is . . . a different kind of book, one that both does and does not derive and develop its meanings from slavery and abolition. Philip's novel is forthrightly antislavery in its implications, and its potent critique would be missed if today's readers were unaware of its historical contexts. Yet Emmanuel Appadocca is more metaphysical than this designation implies, for its intent is to dramatize issues of philosophy, ethics, and religion that are only partially tied to slavery. . . . Emmanuel Appadocca is everywhere "about" slavery, yet is at the same time distanced from it." (xxxvii) As Cain goes on to comment, Maxwell Philip might easily have "saturated" the novel with references to the evils of slavery and the urgent need for worldwide abolition; in doing this, he would have placed his work squarely in the slave narrative tradition, which had already gained widespread acceptance in sections of the literary marketplace through the publication of works like Douglass's The Heroic Slave and Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin; particularly in light of Philip's preface, in which he claims to have written his novel in " . . . a high pitch of indignant excitement" over the treatment of slave children by their slave owners, not taking this course seems an odd decision (xxxvii). But Philip does not take it, and instead maintains an uneasy balance between the book's implied subject of slavery and resistance and its explicit premise of being an adventure story and, to a very limited extent, a philosophical treatise on natural law. Cain ultimately suggests that the reason for adopting this difficult method lies in Philip's interests in philosophy and classical allusions, which would have made a pure anti-slavery narrative too limiting a format, but I think in advancing this possibility Cain misses the dominant setting of Philip's work itself: the ship and its relationship to land and the sea. In the remainder of this paper, I argue, following Victor Turner's definition, that this setting is a liminal one, located both physically in the margin between parts of land and politically and philosophically between places where laws of semantic, not natural origins apply. Placing the novel in this liminal context allows Philip to challenge traditional premises of law and autonomy, attacking the principle of slavery and racism at its foundations, without polarizing the novel and alienating a large section of the reading audience to which he must ultimately appeal if he is to be successful. I begin with a brief definition of Victor Turner's concept of liminality, move on to demonstrate the physical and political/philosophical elements of liminality in Philip's book, and conclude with a quick assessment of the effectiveness of his choice.


Maxwell Philip; Liminality; Piracy

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