This, reader, is an unvarnished narrative of one doomed by the laws of the Southern States to be a
slave. It tells not only its own story of grief, but speaks of a thousand wrongs and woes beside,
which never see the light; all the more bitter and dreadful, because no help can relieve, no sympathy
can mitigate, and no hope can cheer.
-William Wells Brown, Clotel, or The President's Daughter
Clotel would have historic interest simply by virtue of the fact that William Wells Brown appears to have been the first African American to write a novel. But it's not merely a literary curiosity; it is also an eminently readable and emotionally powerful, if forgivably melodramatic, portrait of the dehumanizing horrors of slave life in the Ante-bellum South. Brown, himself an escaped slave, tells the story of the slave Currer and her daughters, Clotel and Althesa, and of their attempts to escape from slavery. The central conceit of the story is that the unacknowledged father of the girls is Thomas Jefferson himself.
There is an immediacy to the stories here--of slave auctions, of families being torn apart, of card games where humans are wagered and lost, of sickly slaves being purchased for the express purpose of resale for medical experimentation upon their imminent deaths, of suicides and of many more indignities and brutalities--which no textbook can adequately convey. Though the characters tend too much to the archetypal, Brown does put a human face on this most repellent of American tragedies. He also makes extensive use (so extensive that he has been accused, it seems unfairly, of plagiarism) of actual sermons, lectures, political pamphlets, newspaper advertisements, and the like, to give the book something of a docudrama effect.
The Bedford Cultural Edition of the book, edited by Robert S. Levine, has extensive footnotes and a number of helpful essays on Brown and on the sources, even reproducing some of them verbatim. Overall, it gives the novel the kind of serious presentation and treatment which it deserves, but for obvious reasons has not received in the past. Brown's style is naturally a little bit dated and his passions are too distant for us to feel them immediately, but as you read the horrifying scenes of blacks being treated like chattel, you quickly come to share his moral outrage at this most shameful chapter in our history.
-ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA : "brown, william wells"
-PROFILE : William Wells Brown : After his 1834 escape to freedom, fugitive slave William Wells Brown used his literary talents for the abolitionist cause and to record the history of America's blacks. (Marsh Cassady, History Net)
-PAL: William Wells Brown (1814-1884)(PAL: Perspectives in American Literature)
-William Wells Brown (Spartacus)
-CLOTEL HOMEPAGE : An Electronic Scholarly Edition Edited by Christopher Mulvey
-ETEXT : Project Gutenberg Edition of Clotel
-William Wells Brown Clotel, or The President's Daughter (1853)
-INTRODUCTORY ESSAY : EDITORIAL INTRODUCTION: An Electronic Scholarly Edition (Christopher Mulvey)
-ESSAY : THE "UNGUARDED EXPRESSIONS OF THE FEELINGS OF THE NEGROES": GENDER, SLAVE RESISTANCE, AND WILLIAM WELLS BROWN'S REVISIONS OF CLOTEL (M. Giulia Fabi, African American Review, Winter93)
-ESSAY : Clotel and the Historicity of the Anecdote (Lee Schweninger)
-ESSAY : Cross Dressing Narratives in Early African-American Fiction the Fictions of Identity (Kim Wells, WomenWriters.net)
-Clotel (1854) Plot Summary
its a very good book.
- Jan-30-2006, 20:22
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