From Publishers Weekly
With the 1987 edition of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, originally published in 1861, Pace University English professor Yellin recovered the real identity of the author behind the pseudonymous Linda Brent: Harriet Jacobs (1813-1897). With this deeply documented and thoroughly engaging biography, she provides a vibrant account of Jacobs's remarkable lives; in a triptych structure it moves from the slave girl, Hatty, to the writer, Linda, to the activist, Mrs. Jacobs. Yellin clarifies error and memory lapse without argument and frames the speculative responsibly. The first life is the best known: Hatty spends nearly seven years hiding in her grandmother's attic to escape the attentions, threats and abuse of her de facto owner. Where Jacobs omitted what "might detract from the story of her freedom struggle," Yellin goes behind her narrative's foreground (the terror of slavery, particularly for women) to restore "all the extras." Dimension and history are given to the Jacobs family and the Norcross family, as well as the Edenton, N.C., community they share. With the second life, Linda's, Yellin delineates the writing, publishing, marketing and reception of Incidents, as she traces Linda's service to and friendship with Cornelia Willis and Amy Post. In the third and least known of the lives, Yellin recounts the postbellum Mrs. Jacobs, who returned South to do relief work during the Civil War, struggled to establish schools and asylums for the black refugees and saw the rise of peonage, Jim Crow and Klan violence. Incidents presented a life of much isolation; Yellin's work recreates its rich milieu, delving deeply into Jacobs's connections to the literary and abolitionist worlds, tracing the full history of her daughter and her brother. This scholarly account, woven in a reader friendly fashion, restores "an heroic woman who lived in an heroic time" to history and to us. Photos.
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The authorship of the slave narrative Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
(1861) was enigmatic, although the text was widely read, until Yellin's research in the late 1970s conclusively named Harriet Jacobs the author. Yellin's recent research has involved investigating Jacobs' life. The product of her research, this selection, is a meticulously researched and fluidly narrated biography of the woman who both lived and wrote Incidents
. More than simply drawing connections between true circumstances in Jacobs' life and the events in Incidents
, this biography stands on its own as the story of an oppressed slave turned engaged citizen, and especially as an account of Jacobs' impressive achievements as a free person after the Civil War: running a boardinghouse, becoming politically and socially active, traveling, having a family. It also doubles as a contribution to nineteenth-century gender history. Yellin's 20 years of research have clearly paid off and are apparently not yet over: a scholarly compilation of Jacobs' personal papers, including correspondence with other feminist and abolitionist reformers, is presently being prepared. Brendan DriscollCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved