Summary and book reviews of The Bondwoman's Narrative by Hannah Crafts

The Bondwoman's Narrative

A Novel

by Hannah Crafts, Henry Louis Gates

The Bondwoman's Narrative
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2002, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2003, 416 pages

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Book Summary

Written in the 1850's by a runaway slave (and recently discovered and edited by Professor Gates), this fictionalized biography offers a unique and unforgettable reading experience and is the only known novel by a female African American slave, and quite possibly the first novel written by a black woman anywhere.

An unprecedented historical and literary event, this tale written in the 1850s is the only known novel by a female African American slave, and quite possibly the first novel written by a black woman anywhere. A work recently uncovered by renowned scholar Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., it is a stirring, page-turning story of "passing" and the adventures of a young slave as she makes her way to freedom.


The Bondwoman's Narrative

"Unpublished Original Manuscript...a fictionalized biography, written in an effusive style, purporting to be the story, of the early life and escape of one Hannah Crafts, a mulatto..."

When Professor Gates saw that modest listing in an auction catalogue for African American artifacts, he immediately knew he could be on the verge of a major discovery. After exhaustively researching the handwritten manuscript's authenticity, he found that his instincts were right. He had purchased a genuine autobiographical novel by a female slave who called herself—and her story's main character—Hannah Crafts.

Presented here unaltered and under its author's original title, The Bondwoman's Narrative tells of a self-educated young house slave who knows her life is limited by the brutalities of her society, but never suspects that the freedom of her plantation's beautiful new mistress is also at risk...or that a devastating secret will force them both to flee from slave hunters with another powerful, determined enemy at their heels.

Together with Professor Gates's brilliant introduction—which includes the story of his search for the real Hannah Crafts, the biographical facts that laid the groundwork for her novel, and a fascinating look at other slave narratives of the time—The Bondwoman's Narrative offers a unique and unforgettable reading experience. In it, a voice that has never been heard rings out, and an undiscovered story at the heart of the American experience is finally told.

In October 2006 The Curse of Caste; or The Slave Bride by Julia C Collins was republished - it was first issued serially by the Christian Register in 1865 but was then lost to oblivion in the archives. Having been rediscovered, it now vies with The Bondwoman's Narrative for the title of oldest known novel written by a former slave (presumably meaning that though it was published in 1865, it was written sometime earlier.

Chapter 1
In Childhood

Look not upon me because I am black; because the sun hath looked upon me.
—Song of Solomon

It may be that I assume to[o] much responsibility in attempting to write these pages. The world will probably say so, and I am aware of my deficiencies. I am neither clever, nor learned, nor talented. When a child they used to scold and find fault with me because they said I was dull and stupid. Perhaps under other circumstances and with more encouragement I might have appeared better; for I was shy and reserved and scarce dared open my lips to any one I had none of that quickness and animation which are so much admired in children, but rather a silent unobtrusive way of observing things and events, and wishing to understand them better than I could.

I was not brought up by any body in particular that I know of. I had no training, no cultivation. The birds of the air, or beasts of the feild are not freer from moral culture than I was. No one seemed to...

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Reviews

Media Reviews

Booklist - Brad Hooper

It is, according to Gates, the first novel written by a female fugitive slave and perhaps the first novel written by any black woman at all. Gates' research into the manuscript's origins led him--albeit circumstantially--to find out more about Hannah Crafts, the author, and his recounting of the pursuit of that inquiry, also related in his introduction, only serves to enrich the whole reading experience of this surprising book. Let it be emphasized that this novel is not simply a historical document but also a vivid, compelling narrative.

Publishers Weekly

The style is sentimental and effusive, but it is also winning.

Reader Reviews

Bettina

This book is an excellent addition to the literary contributions of African-American writers in that it possesses a growing insight of the mind of an American female slave. You must read in between the lines in order to discover that many of the ...   Read More

Brooke Young

I had the oportunity to see Dr. Gates speak at my university about this book. His brilliance and excitement for it prompted me to purchase the book (and add it to my hugs list of books I want to read for quite some time). However, this summer I am ...   Read More

nathan harr

This was a very exciting and wonderful book. I believe everyone should read it!

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