Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Contexts, Criticisms

Front Cover
W.W. Norton, 2001 - Biography & Autobiography - 390 pages
0 Reviews
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is the first full-length narrative written by a former woman slave in America.

What people are saying - Write a review

We haven't found any reviews in the usual places.

About the author (2001)

Born into slavery in North Carolina, Jacobs's early life was one of abuse and hardship. At the age of 21, she was sent to work on a plantation as penalty for having rejected the sexual advances of her white owner, whereupon she determined to free herself and her children at whatever cost. In 1842 Jacobs escaped to the North and was placed in the home of the popular New York writer, N. P. Willis. Several years later she moved to Rochester, New York, where she became active in a group of antislavery feminists. It was at their urging that she first came to think of writing her autobiography, since slave narratives were found to be an effective means of turning northern sentiment against the cruelties of slavery. Jacobs worked on her book during the next several years, finally finishing it in 1858, but no publisher was willing to publish it. Only after Lydia Maria Child, a leading white abolitionist, agreed to write a preface to Jacobs's autobiography was the book able to find its way into print in 1861. Coming as it did, however, so close to the beginning of the Civil War, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (published under the pseudonym "Linda Brent") did not win the enormous popularity that other slave narratives had previously enjoyed, such as Frederick Douglass's Narrative (1845). Nor was its popularity increased by its frank depiction of the sexual exploitation of female slaves by their masters. However, white women reader were especially moved by the account of a woman who had fought so heroically to free herself and her children from slavery, even at the cost of her "virtue," and were able to identify with her through the perspective of their own situations as wives and mothers. During and after the Civil War, Jacobs traveled and spoke on behalf of the rights of African Americans, her effectiveness enhanced by the recognition that she had earned as an author.

Nellie Y. McKay (Ph.D. Harvard), General Editor. Professor of American and Afro-American Literature, University of Wisconsin, Madison. Associate editor of the African American Review; author of Jean Toomer--the Artist: A Study of His Literary Life and Work, 1894-1936; editor of Critical Essays on Toni Morrison; co-editor of the Norton Critical Edition of Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Beloved--A Casebook, and Approaches to Teaching the Novels of Toni Morrison.

Frances Smith Foster is an educator, writer, editor, and scholar. Since 1994, Foster has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in African American literature at Emory University. She is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of English and women's studies where her courses have focused on women's writings and the narratives of slaves, as well as the role of Afro-Protestantism in African American cultural life. Foster is a charter member of the Womanist Studies Consortium, an interracial affiliation of scholars that supports feminist research on women of color. Foster has published Written by Herself: Literary Production by African American Women, 1746-1892 and Minnie's Sacrifice, Sowing and Reaping and Trial and Triumph: Three Rediscovered Novels by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper. She served as editor of The Norton Anthology of African American Literature and The Oxford Companion to African American Literature.

Bibliographic information