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Clotel: or, The President's Daughter (Modern Library Classics) Paperback – January 9, 2001
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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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Top Customer Reviews
Even though it is "sold and shipped" by Amazon, you will get a "print to order" book made using CreateSpace. I ordered this book January 16th, 2016. Inside it says it was printed January 17th, 2016. This is not a quality book. The cover is a pixellated image copy and pasted from Google images that has nothing to do with the text. The back cover text is literally just the first bit of the preface. Terrible, terrible, terrible.
Spend the extra seven bucks and get the Penguin Classics version! You won't regret it!
While the narrative contains romance, intrigue, breathless escapes and a cast of memorable characters, Brown is less interested in telling a typical 1800s melodrama than he is in presenting a series of polemical arguments that systematically reveal the “peculiar institution” as inhumane, un-American and, ultimately, sacrilegious. Time and again, Brown interrupts the story to deliver a pages-long diatribe meant to convince the reader of slavery’s evils. As a result, the story keeps tripping over its own agenda.
The story doesn’t even concentrate exclusively on Clotel and her adventures. Rather, it focuses on Clotel, her sister and their mother, and traces the three women’s lives after they are cruelly separated from each other. Clotel becomes a “kept woman” to a white, liberal-leaning gentleman. Cloistered in her own home, she dreams of seeing her mother, sister and – eventually – her own child again. This sets in motion numerous daring escapes as Clotel travels across the country, chasing her dreams and her freedom.
This brief summary actually makes “Clotel” seem like a page-turner. It’s not – and Brown never intended it to be. It’s a series of polemical essays built around a story. As the introduction to this Modern Library edition notes, Brown wrote the book for a European audience and he has no interest in writing a Dickens-esque or Dumas-like adventure, which is too bad since that’s one reason why a more troublesome piece of literature like “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” with its propulsive narrative, remains on high-school reading lists while “Clotel” is consigned to graduate seminars and usually buried deep within university curriculum. After all, if you’re motivated enough to pick up this book, chances are that you hardly need convincing that slavery can never be justified on any level. It’s best, then, to approach “Clotel” as a historical document – a snapshot of a moment in time that captures what pro- and anti-slavery Americans were thinking just before the Civil War that would forever change the course of American history.