Favoured Isles: Selfishness and Sacrifice in the Capital of Capital

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An important aspect of The Woman of Colour (1808) is its treatment of the linked concepts of selfishness, self-interest, and sympathy. Although its author does not mention Adam Smith, his discussion of these ideas in Theory of Moral Sentiments offers insights into both the novel’s plot and characters and its engagement with the ideals and practices of commerce, empire, and slavery. The protagonist, Olivia Fairfield, experiences numerous disappointments and betrayals during her stay in England, yet when she is about to return to her Jamaican home, she describes England as a “favoured isle” because it has produced some ideal men. In order for England and Jamaica to become “favoured isles,” it is essential that white residents of both locales abjure the selfishness that pervades imperialist and capitalist accumulation and treat everyone, including enslaved people, with sympathy. Doing so allows the novel’s several heroes to see themselves and be seen by others as benevolent, yet allows them to continue to reap the benefits of empire.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-132
Number of pages20
JournalEighteenth-Century Fiction
Issue number1
Early online date25 Jan 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Jan 2023


  • Englishness
  • Jamaica
  • The Woman of Colour
  • selfishness vs. sacrifice


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