Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Summary and …
Harriet Jacobs was the first woman to author a fugitive slave narrative in the United States. Yet she was never as celebrated as Ellen Craft, a runaway from Georgia, who had become internationally famous for the daring escape from slavery that she and her husband, William, engineered in 1848, during which Ellen impersonated a male slaveholder attended by her husband in the role of faithful slave. (1860), the thrilling narrative of the Crafts' flight from Savannah to Philadelphia, was published under both of their names but has always been attributed to William's hand. Harriet Jacobs's autobiography, by contrast, was "written by herself," as the subtitle to the book proudly states. Even more astonishing than the Crafts' story, represents no less profoundly an African American woman's resourcefulness, courage, and dauntless quest for freedom. Yet nowhere in Jacobs's autobiography, not even on its title page, did its author disclose her own identity. Instead, Jacobs called herself "Linda Brent" and masked the important places and persons in her narrative in the manner of a novelist, renaming Norcom "Dr. Flint" and Sawyer "Mr. Sands" in her narrative. Despite her longing to speak out frankly and fully, Jacobs dreaded writing candidly about the obscenities of slavery, fear that disclosing these "foul secrets" would impute to her the guilt that should have been reserved for those, like Norcom, who hid behind such secrets. "I had no motive for secrecy on my own account," Jacobs insists in her preface to Incidents, but given the harrowing and sensational story she had to tell, the one-time fugitive felt she had little alternative but to shield herself from a readership whose understanding and empathy she could not take for granted.
Harriet A. Jacobs (Harriet Ann), 1813-1897
Praised by the antislavery press in the United States and Great Britain, was quickly overshadowed by the gathering clouds of civil war in America. Never reprinted in Jacobs's lifetime, it remained in obscurity until the Civil Rights and Women's Movements of the 1960s and 1970s spurred a reprint of in 1973. Not until the extensive archival work of Jean Fagan Yellin did begin to take its place as a major African American slave narrative. Published in Yellin's admirable edition of (Harvard University Press, 1987), Jacobs's correspondence with Child helps lay to rest the long-standing charge against Incidents that it is at worst a fiction and at best the product of Child's pen, not Jacobs's. Child's letters to Jacobs and others make clear that her role as editor was no more than she acknowledged in her introduction to : to ensure the orderly arrangement and directness of the narrative, without adding anything to the text or altering in any significant way Jacobs's manner of recounting her story.
Harriet Ann Jacobs escaped slavery and went on to write Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, one of the most influential slave narratives of all time.