Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself

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Instead, the narrative was published under the pseudonym "Linda Brent. The narrative's formal, sometimes melodramatic style that emulates the style of 19th century romantic novels seemed totally inappropriate for its "delicate" subject matter: the sexual abuse of enslaved black women.

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Its stranger-than-fiction account of a woman who spends seven years hiding in her grandmother's attic to escape her master's insatiable lust seemed too fantastic to be believed. The primary goal of slave narratives was to arouse sympathy among whites and gain their support for the anti-slavery movement led by abolitionists. Because the publication of Incidents coincided with the beginning of the Civil War, it was seen as being published too late to have any social or political impact. The majority of slave narratives were written by men who documented their daring escapes and heroic actions, many of whom — such as Frederick Douglass — went on to become spokespersons or political leaders.

In contrast, Jacobs' story — which focused primarily on her family — was viewed as less important than the stories of her male counterparts. Male narratives generally followed a strictly chronological format, focusing on the narrator's life as he relates the story of his journey from slavery to freedom. In contrast, Jacobs' narrative focuses on "incidents" in her life. Moreover, instead of following a strictly chronological pattern, Jacobs often interrupts her narrative to address social or political issues such as the church and slavery or the impact of the Fugitive Slave Law on runaways. Consequently, her narrative did not fit the pattern of the "authentic" male narrative.

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

However, Yellin's discovery of letters documenting the correspondence between Jacobs and several prominent 19th century figures — including abolitionist Amy Post, author Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Jacobs' editor Lydia Maria Child — has established the authenticity of Jacobs' narrative and distinguished it as one of the most powerful and courageous works of its time. For contemporary readers, skepticism generally revolves around the use of language.

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Critics have pointed out that Jacobs' narrative often depicts Linda as the tragic heroine of British romance novels rather than as an enslaved black woman fighting for survival. They also note that Dr. Flint is sometimes depicted more like a suitor or persistent lover determined to win the hand of his "lady," rather than as a slave owner determined to hold on to his "property.

Readers may also get this idea because Linda, rather than trying to escape, chooses to have two children by Mr. Sands, another white man, a decision that she sees as the lesser of two evils.

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So readers may conclude that she contributes to her own bondage. Thus, although she uses her sexuality to try to escape her fate, she is ultimately trapped by it.

In many ways, the structure of Incidents is similar to that of Samuel Richardson's Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded , an epistolary novel a novel written in the form of letters published in and based on a story about a servant who avoided seduction and was rewarded by marriage. Thousands of accounts, some legitimate and some the fictional creations of white abolitionists, were published in the years between and the Civil War.

These were political as well as literary documents, used to promote the antislavery cause and to answer pro-slavery claims that slaves were happy and well-treated.

  • Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself | work by Jacobs |
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  • Most slave narratives feature graphic descriptions of the violent whippings and severe deprivation inflicted on slaves, attempting to appeal to the emotions and conscience of white readers. Because of its unique point of view, and because of the skilled, novelistic way Jacobs tells her tale, the book has become one of the most celebrated slave narratives of all time. Jacobs knew that her contemporaries would see her not as a virtuous woman but as a fallen one and would be shocked by her relationship with Sawyer and the illegitimate children it produced.

    When it was published, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl was well-received and accepted as a legitimate documentation of the horrors of slavery. Not until the s, when the critic Jean Fagan Yellin discovered a cache of letters from Harriet Jacobs to Lydia Maria Child, did Jacobs again receive credit for her work.

    After writing her book, Jacobs continued to work to help those she had left behind in slavery. During and after the Civil War, she aided black refugees behind Union lines and nursed African-American soldiers. After the war, she returned to the South and worked for many years to help freed slaves, founding two free schools for blacks and traveling to England to raise money for the freedmen. See all 5 questions about Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl….

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    Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

    More filters. Sort order. Jan 29, Petal X rated it it was amazing Shelves: biography-true-story , popculture-anthropology , history , reviewed , reviews , caribbean. Harriet Jacobs book is quite a nuanced account of slavery from the point of view of one who is not physically abused. This does not make slavery any better, being owned and used and having no free will cannot ever be anything but terrible, but it was less painful. For most slave owners slaves were extremely expensive farm animals and only the richest who could afford 'herds' of them would be able to maltreat them on a continual basis.

    If you want hard work from your oxen, and you want to breed f Harriet Jacobs book is quite a nuanced account of slavery from the point of view of one who is not physically abused. If you want hard work from your oxen, and you want to breed from your cows, they have to be kept healthy and in good condition. Well fed, rested, and with down-time. Not a life of ease or quality, not one without the whip, but one designed that the animals will do their job dawn to dusk and breed on a regular basis.

    So it was with slaves. However there is a line in a book Caribbean Slave Society and Economy: A Student Reader by Beckles and Shepherd that says, "Within one year of the free market being established in Kingston, it was run by slaves much to everyone's satisfaction. It says quite a few things. It says that the slaves had time and plots of land big enough to grow produce more than sufficient for their needs and of a high quality.

    Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Ann Jacobs: An Introduction

    It says that some slave masters allowed slaves time to go to market and sell their produce once a week which is allowing entrepreneurship. It says that the slaves were well-organised and commercially savvy. It says they had good customer service skills. What it says most of all was that Slaves were all victimised but not all became victims. And that is why there are so many successful Black islands in the Caribbean.

    But this is not to blame those were victims.

    It must have been very hard to have the strength of mind and character not to be when one is owned, beaten and treated far worse than the family dog. A very enjoyable and instructive book that will have you cheering and rooting for some characters that do some very evil things. You might have to listen to it rather than read it though as it is almost all in Jamaican dialect. Read Jan , reviewed Aug View all 7 comments. This book was first published in and reprinted in the s.

    Scholars initially doubted it was written by a slave. Thankfully, Harvard University Press authenticated and published findings of the s, and Jean Fagan Yellin, Harriet Jacobs' biographer, dug up proof of the authenticity of this autobiography through letters and documents. I only regret not having the Harvard University Press edition edited by Yellin.

    Jacobs seemed to anticipate the doubting Thomas, even as she wrote: I This book was first published in and reprinted in the s. Jacobs seemed to anticipate the doubting Thomas, even as she wrote: I hardly expect that the reader will credit me, when I affirm that I lived in that little dismal hole, almost deprived of light and air, and with no space to move my limbs, for nearly seven years. But it is a fact; and to me a sad one, even now; for my body still suffers from the effects of that long imprisonment, to say nothing of my soul.

    Members of my family, now living in New York and Boston, can testify to the truth of what I say.

    Harriet Jacobs

    Why the disbelief? Jacobs wrote under the pseudonym: Linda Brent, changing the names of the abolitionists and slave owners who had helped her. Legitimate reason for doubt. Jacobs' reason for changing the names, also understandable. Here's where it gets preposterous: Jacobs' prose was being compared to the male slave narratives.

    Instead of being in chronological order hooray for the avid readers of contemporary creative nonfiction who find this cliche , hers was told according to vivid incidents in her life.