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Clotel: or, The President's Daughter (Modern Library Classics) Paperback – January 9, 2001

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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Classics
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library; 2000 Modern Library Pbk. Ed. / edition (January 9, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679783237
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679783237
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #767,707 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Gr 9 Up—This historically significant book was written by an escaped slave who eventually made his way to Great Britain. Clotel was first published in 1853 and is believed to be the first novel by an African American writer. The book traces the fictitious life of one of Thomas Jefferson's daughters, Clotel, born to one of his slaves. The story of Clotel—living as a mistress to her master, being sold when she loses favor with his wife, being separated from her daughter, her escape and attempt to rescue her daughter from slavery, ending in her suicide—is interspersed with vignettes of other slaves' mistreatment and failed escape attempts. The novel doesn't mince details about the brutality of slave families being torn apart and the discrimination that is experienced by those of mixed-race heritage. Narrator J.D. Jackson has a wonderfully clear, deep voice, and he does a terrific job with the formal language indicative of the time. The novel is available in the public domain with a free audio download that is read by volunteers, but Jackson's version resonates beautifully. However, because of the stilted language, minimal dialogue, and the disjointed nature of the book, teens may have a difficult time relating to the audiobook. It may be of use in higher level history classes. Beautiful cello music introduces and ends the narrative.—Julie Paladino, East Chapel Hill High School, NC --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.


"A remarkable beginning for African-American fiction."
--Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By claimingkin on April 14, 2001
Format: Paperback
The genre of African-American fiction began in 1853 with the publication of this historical novel in England. Even though William Wells Brown, a fugitive slave from America, wrote four versions of this story, the first version was not published in the United States until 1969. The reason this novel was not introduced into American society until this time was because of its reference to the relationship Thomas Jefferson had with his slave, Sally Hemmings. The idea that Sally bore him children, which he sold as slaves, was enough to keep this novel out of the American public's eye forever! Still, this novel found its way here and in later versions, Jefferson's connection to Sally vanished all together. This novel centers on three main characters: Currer, a slave who was once Thomas Jefferson's housekeeper and mistress, and their two daughters, Clotel and Althesa.
The separation of Currer and her two daughters in the beginning of the story provides the actual framework of this novel. Through this separation, Brown is able to create three separate story lines united by the institution of slavery.
The first story line involves Currer's life as a concubine of Thomas Jefferson and later a slave to a Reverend John Peck. Through her life, Brown presents the hypocrisy of the slave owner owning another human being as well as some Christians' biblical approval of it. Brown uses the second story line of Clotel and her relationship with Horatio Green, to depict how vulnerable and hopeless life was for black women under slavery. Horatio adores Clotel so much that he provides her with a home of her own to raise their daughter, Mary. But Horatio desperately wants to further his political career and does so by marrying a white woman by the name of Gertrude.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Orrin C. Judd VINE VOICE on February 20, 2001
Format: Paperback
This, reader, is an unvarnished narrative of one doomed by the laws of the Southern States to be a slave. It tells not only its own story of grief, but speaks of a thousand wrongs and woes beside, which never see the light; all the more bitter and dreadful, because no help can relieve, no sympathy can mitigate, and no hope can cheer. -William Wells Brown, Clotel, or The President's Daughter
Clotel would have historic interest simply by virtue of the fact that William Wells Brown appears to have been the first African American to write a novel. But it's not merely a literary curiosity; it is also an eminently readable and emotionally powerful, if forgivably melodramatic, portrait of the dehumanizing horrors of slave life in the Ante-bellum South. Brown, himself an escaped slave, tells the story of the slave Currer and her daughters, Clotel and Althesa, and of their attempts to escape from slavery. The central conceit of the story is that the unacknowledged father of the girls is Thomas Jefferson himself.
There is an immediacy to the stories here--of slave auctions, of families being torn apart, of card games where humans are wagered and lost, of sickly slaves being purchased for the express purpose of resale for medical experimentation upon their imminent deaths, of suicides and of many more indignities and brutalities--which no textbook can adequately convey. Though the characters tend too much to the archetypal, Brown does put a human face on this most repellent of American tragedies. He also makes extensive use (so extensive that he has been accused, it seems unfairly, of plagiarism) of actual sermons, lectures, political pamphlets, newspaper advertisements, and the like, to give the book something of a docudrama effect.
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By Dawn H. Mcclung on May 20, 2014
Format: Paperback
I could not even finish this book. It is poorly written with no real story development. It jumps around to different characters and never develops any of them. I finally had to quit about half way through the book because I JUST COULDN'T"T TAKE IT ANY MORE!!
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Luisah Teish on January 2, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am so happy to have received this book in this edition and style. I'm holding on to it as a collector's item.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful By %%%% on January 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover
"Clotel, Or the President's Daughter" is a very easy, straightforward book. The language is simple, smooth, direct. The story is easy to follow. It's not too long. I was able to finish it in 2.5 days.

There are some glaring issues regarding its storytelling.

The character development is nonexistent. We don't get much about any of the characters' personalities, histories, or feelings, which makes you view them all with a slight sense of apathy. This fact pertains even to the protagonist, whose name is found in the title. Not to give away any spoilers, but I'll just say that certain characters are introduced randomly and suddenly become front-and-center. And certain characters who were front-and-center suddenly fade off and we never hear from them again.

The story is about slavery, obviously, but you don't get anything revolutionary. It's the same nutshells: slaves get taken away from their families; slaves get whipped; slaves try to runaway to Canada; Southerners are wicked; Canada is heaven, etc. Most people with an elementary school education are already aware of such details involving slavery. I don't see how anyone can derive mental or intellectual stimulation from reading this book.

The narrative, as others have noted, is awfully syrupy. Almost every chapter has some incident involving tears. A slave gives a speech? People have to cry. A slave is bought at an auction? Some people have to cry. A slave runs away and gets lynched when he caught? People cry. I'm not being insensitive, but it becomes repetitive to see tear-jerking moments every 2-3 pages.

Lastly, the whole thing about Clotel being Jefferson's daughter (which is not a spoiler; its in the synopsis) is a gimmick.
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