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Read The Bondwoman's Narrative (2003)

The Bondwoman's Narrative (2003)

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3.79 of 5 Votes: 1
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0446690295 (ISBN13: 9780446690294)
grand central publishing

The Bondwoman's Narrative (2003) - Plot & Excerpts

Given the proper context by a very enlightening introductory essay by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (that is about half of this volume's content), the novel written by Hannah Crafts is a pretty remarkable piece of writing, not only for its insight into the life of a slave, but also for the rather clever and immenantly amateur way in which it is written.Ms. Crafts novel is a hodge-podge of styles and genres with entire passages practically lifted straight from the works of Dickens and Poe and the like. She jumps from Dickensian social commentary to gothic horror to Twain-like humor to melodramatic slave narrative, without any kind of connecting tissue to tie it neatly together. You get the sense that upon reading the original works, Ms. Crafts liked them so much, she confiscated entire paragraphs and themes and put them to work to tell her own story. As a whole, the work is kind of a mess, but a very interesting mess.I recently read Styron's "The Confessions of Nat Turner" which deals with a similar era, but to be frank, is written by a real author. Due to his upbringing and education and formal training as a writer, its obvious to see that his Pulitzer winning novel is superior as a consistent work of literary art. But to dismiss "The Bondwoman's Narrative" because it not consistent and literarily sloppy is to miss the point entirely. And that is where knowing the context of this work becomes so important.Enter Robert Louis Gates, Jr., a historian who goes to great lengths to share from where he believes this work originated, and why he thinks that. In essence, he provides very convincing evidence that Hannah Crafts was a pseudonym taken by an actual escaped slave who, upon stealing her freedom, traveled to New Jersey where she started a family, then wrote this novel. Not only that, but he provides further evidence that, although the author claims that this is totally a work of fiction, much of what she writes can actually be traced to real people and real locations in North Carolina. And given the historical accuracy of some of the novel's content, one could extrapolate futher than many (though not all) of the events written about could actually be based on Ms. Craft's actual experiences.Now, Mr. Gates is no David McCullough, but the introductory portion of this volume creates an impressive picture of what this novel represents. Sure, Styron might be a superior writer of fiction, but his writings are based on research (second-hand, by definition) and speculation. David McCullough might be a superior historian, subtly embellishing the facts at hand to draw an engaging narrative from documented history.But Hannah Crafts is almost more impressive because she was not formally trained researcher, and didn't need to be. To her, this largley seems to be a first-hand account. She didn't need any formal education, as she rather cleverly is able to borrow what she needs from numerous great writers to whom she had been exposed.Some may read this and be bored by the language or lack of a strong plot, but the history buff inside me really enjoyed this for what it was: a first-hand account of a dark and intersting time in our history, written from the perspective of a female slave, a class of people with a very small voice in the historical record. On those terms, this was a fascinating read, and to anyone of a like mind, I highly recommend it.

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

What do You think about The Bondwoman's Narrative (2003)?

This book is the only known novel written by a female African American slave. It was bought at an auction and edited/published by Henry Gates. Half the book details the authenticity of the find and provides evidence for who Hannah Crafts really was. That in itself makes the book very interesting just in the fact that it exists. It tells the story of a self-educated house slave who eventually escape to the North. The main theme is that even a slave who is well-treated, etc. lives a sad life because our souls are meant to be free and the fear, anxiety, and unknown effect (affect) a slave even in the best of circumstances. Good point. The story is quite choppy, fascinating at times and drags at others; but I enjoyed it overall. I would recommend it on its historical merit.

In 2001, scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. bought a previously unpublished manuscript from the 1850s, which he believed and it appears now is the first novel written by a fugitive slave. Gates provides a long and detailed introduction explaining the research he did into the manuscript's history, trying to find its author, and the introduction and notes are every bit as interesting as the novel itself.The novel is told, in the first person, by a young slave who flees with her mistress when her mistress's terrible secret is discovered and who experiences a whole host of terrors before reaching safety in the North. Considered purely as fiction, it does leave something to be desired; it's structurally disorganized, and the plot is contrived and, like many Gothic novels, overly dependent on coincidence. Crafts borrows freely from a wide variety of sources, most notably Dickens' Bleak House, and it's interesting to see (using the extensive and useful notes) how she changes her borrowings in order to fit them in to her narrative. The Gothic bits (especially the cursed tree) are often very effective, though, and more than that, the viewpoint and opinions are fascinating. I found the book as a whole reasonably enjoyable on a narrative level and very interesting indeed as a historical document.

Besides being historically significant, it is also a captivating story, providing perhaps the first inside look of slavery, recorded in the 1850's, by a female slave. This subject has always fascinated me, and I have read many books about slavery and the segregation of people in the South. But I have been waiting to read this account, and even the first quarter of the book, documenting the research and background was the discovery of an unknown artifact.The co-author/publisher purchased this handwritten manuscript at an auction and after much research, discovered that was the only known narrative written by a female African American slave, and possibly the first novel written by a black woman anywhere. The Bondswoman's Narrative has been on my list to read for nearly 10 years, although I have never come across a copy. So I bought the ebook the minute I saw that it was a new release ebook through Kobo. So glad to finally have the opportunity to read it!
—Tammy Lee

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