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330 of 338 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Woman's Life in Slavery, November 16, 2002
This review is from: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (Signet Classics) (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.) The book is also unusual in that Jacobs does not portray herself entirely as a hero but describes the nature of the steps she took to avoid becoming the sexual slave of Flint. Thus, when Flint subjected her to repeated sexual advances from the time Jacobs reached the age of 16, she tried to avoid him by beginning an affair with a white, single attorney with whom she had two children. When Flint's advances persisted, Jacobs formed the determination to try to secure her freedom.
The bulk of the book describes how Jacobs hid precariously in a cramped attic for seven years waiting for the opporunity to secure her freedom. There are also accounts of her prior attempts to leave slavery, including a particularly harrowing account of several days in a place aptly named "Snaky Swamp."
Jacobs describes her relationship with her grandmother, a free black woman who was probably the major inspiration of her life. She also describes well her love and concern for her children, conceived through the liasion with the white attorney.
This book offers a rare perspective on American slavery as it affected women. It is also a testament, I think, to the value of literacy and knowledge as an instrument for winning and preserving free human life. Although this story is not pretty, it is a testament to human persistence in the face of adversity and to the precious character of human freedom.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 28, 2012 8:55:48 AM PDT
This book sounds like an ideal audio "read". There is a programme bookreportradio hosted by Elaine Charles. Every week she previews five or so books plus has interesting interviews with authors and thos in the know how of books. The weekend of the 31st March has a theme about remarkable women and this book is on the list. Even for other books it is worth visiting the site for previous previews

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 28, 2012 9:05:26 AM PDT
Thank you for the comment.

Posted on Jul 11, 2012 10:00:48 PM PDT
Linda Dusell says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]
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