Sensitive Negotiations

Indigenous Diplomacy and British Romantic Poetry

By Nikki Hessell

Subjects: Romanticism, Indigenous Studies, Nineteenth-century Studies, Literary Criticism
Series: SUNY series, Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century
Hardcover : 9781438484778, 270 pages, August 2021
Paperback : 9781438484761, 270 pages, January 2022

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Table of contents


Introduction: The Power of (Poetic) Promises

1. Truth and Reconciliation: The Case of "the Monster Brandt"

2. Romanticism and Removal: Elias Boudinot, Felicia Hemans, and the Cherokee Phoenix

3. Digressive Diplomacy: George Copway and Byron's Lines on the Rhine

4. "Always Build a Fence around the King's Word": Sol Plaatje and The Deserted Village

5. Petitions and Repetitions: Rēweti Kōhere and the Ashes of Byron and Macaulay

Conclusion: Coming to Terms with Romantic Poetry


Examines how Indigenous figures used British Romantic poetry in their interactions with settler governments and publics.


Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Indigenous peoples in North America and the Pacific engaged with the latest and most fashionable British Romantic poetry as part of transcontinental and transoceanic cross-cultural negotiations about sovereignty, treaty rights, and land claims. In Sensitive Negotiations, Nikki Hessell uses examples from North America, Africa, and the Pacific to show how these Indigenous figures quoted lines from famous poets like Lord Byron and Felicia Hemans to build sympathy and community with their audience. Hessell makes new connections by setting aside European-derived genre barriers to bring literary studies to bear on the study of diplomacy and scholarship from diplomatic history and Indigenous studies to bear on literary criticism. By connecting British Romantic poetry with Indigenous diplomatic texts, artefacts, and rituals, Hessell reimagines poetry as diplomatic and diplomacy as poetic.

Nikki Hessell is Associate Professor of English at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. She is the author of Literary Authors, Parliamentary Reporters: Johnson, Coleridge, Hazlitt, Dickens and Romantic Literature and the Colonised World: Lessons from Indigenous Translations.


"Hessell returns us implicitly to the ethical stakes of quotation and models a citational practice that will undoubtedly benefit scholars within and beyond the field of Romanticism." — Eighteenth-Century Fiction

"Sensitive Negotiations is essential reading for anyone interested in studying the literary history of Indigenous political activism. Among the most innovative works of Romantic literary criticism to have appeared during the past two decades, it provides remarkable new perspectives on Romanticism's central political, aesthetic, and cultural preoccupations." — Kevin Hutchings, author of Transatlantic Upper Canada: Portraits in Literature, Land, and British-Indigenous Relations