chapter  1
22 Pages

Before Barbary Captivity Narratives

Slavery, Ransom, and the Economy of Christian Virtue in The Good Gerhard (c. 1220) by Rudolf von Ems
WithMario Klarer

The earliest specimens of the European novel drew on North African captivity experiences, as is the case with Miguel de Cervantes, whose four-year captivity in Algiers is indirectly featured in his novels; or Defoe, who introduced elements from seventeenth-century English Barbary captivity accounts into Robinson Crusoe. This line of mutual influencing is astonishing and often surprises the uninitiated reader of captivity narratives. However, what is truly startling, even to experts on Barbary captivity narratives, is that it is not necessarily the “authentic” Barbary captivity experience that influenced literature. In this essay, I would like to argue that, on the contrary, literary versions of North African captivity—at least in the prominent case of The Good Gerhard (c. 1220) by Rudolf of Ems—can predate and foreshadow authentic Barbary captivity experiences or narratives by centuries.