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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave & Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (Modern Library Classics) Mass Market Paperback – December 28, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Published in 1861, this was one of the first personal narratives by a slave and one of the few written by a woman. Jacobs (1813-97) was a slave in North Carolina and suffered terribly, along with her family, at the hands of a ruthless owner. She made several failed attempts to escape before successfully making her way North, though it took years of hiding and slow progress. Eventually, she was reunited with her children. For all biography and history collections.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Review

A reprint of an autobiography first published in 1861 under a pseudonym. It tells the story of a woman born a slave in 1813 and how she struggled all her life to free herself and those she loved--indeed, as an active abolitionist she fought for the freedom of all the slaves. This may be the most important story ever written by a slave woman, capturing as it does the gross indignities as well as the subtler social arrangements of the time. An introduction is invaluable in clarifying many incidents and personalities...The author writes with passion and insight into the peculiar institution of slavery. Her writing, modern in several respects, prefigures many of the developments in the later literature of the South. (Kirkus Reviews)

Harriet A. Jacobs was not an ordinary slave girl, and her autobiography is not an ordinary account of the miseries of slavery. She was a slave who triumphed not only by luck or piety or passivity but by skillful planning and effective deceit...Excellent introduction...Even for those who have read extensively about the South's peculiar institution, this autobiography of a slave will not easily be forgotten. (American Heritage)

Of these female slave narratives, Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself is the crowning achievement. Manifesting a command of rhetorical and narrative strategies rivaled only by that of Frederick Douglass, Jacobs's autobiography is one of the major works of Afro-American literature...Jacobs's narrative is a bold and gripping fusion of two major literary forms: she borrowed from the popular sentimental novel on one hand, and the slave narrative genre on the other. Her tale gains its importance from the fact that she charts, in great and painful detail, the sexual exploitation that daily haunted her life--and the life of every other black female slave...Ms. Yellin's superbly researched edition insures that Harriet Jacobs will never be lost again.
--Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (New York Times Book Review)

[The book] is a major work in the canon of writing by Afro-American women...Jacobs's book--reaching across the gulf separating black women from white, slave from free, poor from rich, 'bad' women from 'good'--represents an early attempt to establish an American sisterhood.
--Wayne Lionel Aponte (The Nation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Classics
  • Mass Market Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library; Reprint edition (December 28, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345478231
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345478238
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1 x 6.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (838 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #38,953 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

332 of 340 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 16, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Harriet Jacobs' (1813-1897) "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl" is one of the few accounts of Southern slavery written by a woman. The book was published in 1861 through the efforts of Maria Child, an abolitionist who edited the book and wrote an introduction to it. The book had its origin in a series of letters Jacobs wrote between 1853 and 1861 to her friends in the abolitionist movement, notably a woman named Amy Post. Historically, there was some doubt about the authorship of the book and about the authenticity of the incidents it records. These doubts have largely been put to rest by the discovery of the letters.
The book indeed has elements of a disguise and of a novel. Jacobs never uses her real name but calls herself instead "Linda Brent." The other characters in the book are also given pseudonyms. Jacobs tells us in the Preface to the book (signed "Linda Brent") that she changed names in order to protect the privacy of indiduals but that the incidents recounted in the narrative are "no fiction".
Jacobs was born in slave rural North Carolina. As a young girl, she learned to read and write, which was highly rare among slaves. At about the age of 11 she was sent to live as a slave to a doctor who also owned a plantation, called "Dr. Flint" in the book.
Jacobs book describes well the cruelties of the "Peculiar Institution -- in terms of its beatings, floggings, and burnings, overwork, starvation, and dehumanization. It focuses as well upon the selling and wrenching apart of families that resulted from the commodification of people in the slave system. But Jacobs' book is unique in that it describes first-hand the sexual indignities to which women were subjected in slavery. (Other accounts, such as those of Frederick Douglass, were written by men.
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143 of 144 people found the following review helpful By MarvelousMarla VINE VOICE on April 1, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This autobiographical condemnation of the south's Peculiar Institution puts a face on the suffering of the enslaved. American history is full of accounts of slavery which tend to broad overviews of the institution, whereas this book is written by an escaped slave who does not flinch at sharing every detail of her miserable life. Unlike other narratives which distorted the slave's voice through the perspective of the interviewers/authors who were notorious for exaggerating the uneducated slaves' broken english, this book is largely Ms. Jacobs' own words. She was taught to read and write as a child by a kind mistress, so she was able to put her thoughts on paper with clarity that surprised many. Ms. Jacobs had an editor, but this book seems to be her unfiltered view of the world.
It is one thing to hear about how slaveholders took liberties with female slaves, it is quite another to read in stark detail about women being commanded to lay down in fields, young girls being seduced and impregnated and their offspring sold to rid the slaveholder of the evidence of his licentiousness. The author talks about jealous white women, enraged by their husbands' behavior, taking it out on the hapless slaves. The white women were seen as ladies, delicate creatures prone to fainting spells and hissy fits whereas the Black women were beasts of burden, objects of lust and contempt simultaneously. Some slave women resisted these lustful swine and were beaten badly because of it. It was quite a conundrum. To be sure, white women suffered under this disgusting system too, though not to the same degree as the female slaves who had no one to protect them and their virtue. Even the notion of a slave having virtue is mocked.
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74 of 75 people found the following review helpful By Orchid Goddess on May 1, 2009
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I wish everyone could read this book. Jacobs writes a story about herself as a Black American slave. Her tale brings the light the terror of people who can take power and abuse, as well, as the compassion of a people who take care of each other. In her writings she not only explains her experiences but also weaves her true tale of other experiences of slavery. She explains the differences between a black male slave and a black female slave experience. Both horrid but very different with the same outcome trauma. Anyone interested in understanding slavery should take the time to read her story. Her story is avaliable for free or a few dollars- and believe me it will be worth your time in doing so.

Before I stop writing, her writing is very visual and very well-written. She even explains how she learned to write so well.

Read it!
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61 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Robert J. Crawford on February 19, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This is the book that brought home a dimension of slavery to me that I had never understood: the psychological repercussions of someone presuming that they can own someone else. Perhaps it had to be written by a woman, who was regarded as the sexual property of a horrible man.
The story of how she escapes and frustrates her "owner" is indeed enthralling, a triumph of human will in the worst adversity. She hid under the slanted roof of her mothers house for years, permanently injuring her back and watching he children grow up from afar. It is such a moving story that I imagined turning it into a play, with the narrator reminising of her life while hidden in that cramped space.
As this is a memoire, the characters in it are very very real, all too human and without the black-and-white quality of too many novels on this bizarre twist of American history. While the writing style is so superb that it had to have been edited by an expert writer, the story and voice are so vivid that it must be real.
I have given this book to literally dozens of friends, and almost to a one they have marvelled at the depth of the story. This is the best and most complete account of an aberration in American history of which we all must bear some sense of responsibilty.
Get this: it cannot disappoint.
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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave & Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (Modern Library Classics)
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