Book Hannah Crafts The Bondwoman's Narrative

ISBN 13: 9780446530088

The Bondwoman's Narrative

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9780446530088: The Bondwoman's Narrative

The Bondwoman's Narrative

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Review:

Few events are more thrilling than the discovery of a buried treasure. Some years ago, when scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. was leafing through an auction catalog, he noticed a listing for an unpublished, clothbound manuscript thought to date from the 1850s: "The Bondwoman's Narrative, by Hannah Crafts, a Fugitive Slave, Recently Escaped from North Carolina." Gates realized that, if genuine, this would be the first novel known to have been written by a black woman in America, as well as the only one by a fugitive slave. He bought the manuscript (there was no competing bid) and began the exhilarating task of confirming the racial identity of the author and the approximate date of composition (circa 1855-59). Gates's excited descriptions of his detective work in the introduction to The Bondwoman's Narrative will make you want to find promising old manuscripts of your own. He also proposes a couple candidates for authorship, assuming that Hannah Crafts was the real or assumed name of the author, and not solely a pen name.

If Gates is right (his introduction and appendix should convince just about everyone), The Bondwoman's Narrative is a tremendous discovery. But is it a lost masterpiece? No. The novel draws so heavily on the conventions of mid-19th-century fiction--by turns religious, gothic, and sentimental--that it does not have much flavor of its own. The beginning of chapter 13 is a close paraphrase (virtually a cribbing) of the opening of Dickens's Bleak House. This borrowing seems to have escaped Gates, although he does quote the assessment of one scholar, the librarian Dorothy Porter Wesley, who had owned the manuscript before he acquired it, that "the best of the writer's mind was religious and emotional and in her handling of plot the long arm of coincidence is nowhere spared." Although not a striking literary contribution, The Bondwoman's Narrative is well worth reading on historical grounds, especially since it was never published. As Gates argues, these pages provide our first "unedited, unaffected, unglossed, unaided" glimpse into the mind of a fugitive slave. --Regina Marler

About the Author:

Hannah Crafts may be a pseudonym for the female slave who wrote this novel in the United States in the mid-19th century. Editor Henry Louis Gates Jr, one of the US's leading African-American academics, bought and authenticated the MS. He lives in Massachusetts.

"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.

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Hannah Crafts, Henry Louis Gates Jr.
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