The First American 'Superspy' : Secret Agency and the Black Nation in Martin R. Delany's Blake

Authors

SMITH Jeffrey Alan

Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Citation
Description The polemical intent and seeming artlessness of Martin R. Delany’s only novel, Blake; Or, the Huts of America, have led critics to treat it mainly in terms of its ideas while disdaining its aesthetics. Simply put, it has been viewed as a novel that is historically important but poorly crafted. There has been considerable confusion even over the basic question of the genre to which it belongs. This presention will suggest that we can better address that problem, and also better understand both Delany’s artistic strategies and what Blake intends to say, by noting its many resemblances to a genre that was only beginning to emerge in Delany’s time: the secret agent or “superspy” tale, which would take shape fully only in the twentieth century in figures like John Buchan’s Richard Hannay and Ian Fleming’s James Bond. Delany’s nonfictional writings preceding Blake had identified black Americans as a “nation within a nation,” but a “broken” one, a nation that as yet was unable to act for itself because it lacked agency and self-awareness. In Blake, Delany offers an imagined solution to this problem by presenting a character who is that (secret) nation’s agent, who brings it into existence through his own performance of its superior virtues, and whose free-ranging exploits, first as a spy and then as commanding general of a secret insurgency, track the efforts of this broken nation to repair and constitute itself in preparation for its revolutionary emergence on the world stage.
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