Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

John Pistelli

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reviewing or criticizing non-fictional documents of an experience such as slavery seems like a category mistake. But in the case of this book, the moral sense as it encounters a testament to suffering does not come into conflict with the aesthetic sense, which desires to find in any autobiography or memoir a life artfully shaped in language, regardless of moral or political worthiness.

Contra some reviewers here, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is certainly not boring. It is a very carefully constructed rhetorical appeal, modeled on sentimental fiction, to the virtuous middle-class white women of the North. The book’s first two thirds alternate between the story of Jacobs’s enslavement and escape and a broader selection of similar or worse stories of enslaved men and women. While it is not pleasant…

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