Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Bondwoman's Narrative

In 2001, a preeminent professor of African-American Studies, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., acquired a manuscript at the Swann Galleries in New York. It was believed to be the first novel written by an African-American woman who used to be a slave. Gates was the only bidder for the manuscript, which he acquired for $10,000.

Gates set out to explore the history behind Hannah Crafts' story, presumed to be based on her own life. The book is 1/3 back story (how he tried to research the history behind the manuscript), 1/3 the actual novel, and 1/3 extensive footnotes. Here is a review in the New York Times and a PBS interview with Gates.

Although the novel is written in a highly melodramatic, romantic form (reminiscent of a little-known romantic novel I read a few years back by Louisa May Alcott, A Long Fatal Love Chase), I found it compelling and fascinating. What's most remarkable is the fact that it was written by a former slave, who had no formal education. The author had some very unique insights about slavery, such as the preposterousness of slaves marrying and procreating, because they were merely perpetuating the idea of slavery (and risking severe emotional pain because the families were often separated).

Having read much about the Underground Railroad, abolitionist movement, and slavery in general, I didn't necessarily learn anything new about slavery...but what an amazing woman this "Hannah Crafts" was, to write such a complex, well-drawn-out story given her humble beginnings and lack of education.

It's definitely worth reading and an excellent addition to the 19th-century American literature canon.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds lika a very interesting book! ..I just read your post about the bar of soap in bed! I am going to try it..I have pain in my hips sometimes! I'll pass it on!