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This is a first-person narrative published in 1861 by an author who was herself born into slavery in North Carolina; having endured continual sexual harassment from her owner, and borne two children by his neighbour (who meantime got elected to the House of Representatives), she eventually managed to escape into hiding locally, and took refuge in a cramped space in her grandmother's attic for seven years before finally fleeing to New York, where she eventually became freed and a campaigner for education and emancipation. (It's interesting that women were so visible in the Abolitionist movement - cf Harriet Beecher Stowe, Fanny Kemble.)

It's powerful stuff - Jacobs describes the violence inflicted on slaves in detail, and gives a broad enough account of their sexual exploitation by the white population to appall the northern women who were her primary target. The key point, that she comes back to over and over again, is that slavery acted to destroy families; and unlike Harriet Beecher Stowe, who was constrained to give closure to Uncle Tom's Cabin by the constraints of the novel format, she can tell it like it is and also has the luxury of a narrative that stretches over decades, so it is all the more effective.

Despite her being deprived of formal education, Jacobs' style is fluent and eloquent; and any suspicion that there was a ghost-writer involved is laid to rest by reading her other writings available on-line - for instance her reply to a frankly awful piece by former First Lady Julia Tyler; here several of her letters to Harriet Beecher Stowe and others. Of the various slave narratives I have read over the last few years, I think this is the best.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 8th, 2012 03:21 pm (UTC)
It is a worthy read. Until they actually met the people, like Josiah Henson whose marvelous memoirs inspired Stowe's more "white" friendly Uncle Tom, people did not believe they were written or even dictated by slaves. Some of the stories were too horrid. I would suggest anyone who thinks they are inspired by Uncle Tom's cabin read Josiah Henson's actual memoir however. He is at no point deserves the passive reputation we see in the Uncle Tom story. It is said that Queen Victoria had read both stories and made it a point to have the elderly Mister Henson as a guest when he visited the UK to get support for early human rights for Americans of African ancestry.
Jul. 9th, 2012 02:50 pm (UTC)
I actually have Henson, lent by my mother-in-law, on the shelf waiting to be read. Will try to get to it soon.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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