Memoirs of a Slave Girl
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Harriet Jacobs was born a slave, but hardly knew it until the death of her highly skilled parents. They had been privileged and independent due to their abilities, but after their death, Harriet found herself a slave among other slaves, subject to the same use and abuse as all in her circumstances. Read her true account, publishd following the Civil War

Customer Reviews:

  • Amazing Account of Our History!!
    Jacobs has contributed a wonderful document to our nation's history of her experiences as a slave. This is a must-read for anyone with an interest in our country's history!!...more info
  • A Woman's Life in Slavery
    Harriet Jacobs' (1813-1897) "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl" is one of the few accounts of Southern slavery written by a woman. The book was published in 1861 through the efforts of Maria Child, an abolitionist who edited the book and wrote an introduction to it. The book had its origin in a series of letters Jacobs wrote between 1853 and 1861 to her friends in the abolitionist movement, notably a woman named Amy Post. Historically, there was some doubt about the authorship of the book and about the authenticity of the incidents it records. These doubts have largely been put to rest by the discovery of the letters.

    The book indeed has elements of a disguise and of a novel. Jacobs never uses her real name but calls herself instead "Linda Brent." The other characters in the book are also given pseudonyms. Jacobs tells us in the Preface to the book (signed "Linda Brent") that she changed names in order to protect the privacy of indiduals but that the incidents recounted in the narrative are "no fiction".

    Jacobs was born in slave rural North Carolina. As a young girl, she learned to read and write, which was highly rare among slaves. At about the age of 11 she was sent to live as a slave to a doctor who also owned a plantation, called "Dr. Flint" in the book.

    Jacobs book describes well the cruelties of the "Peculiar Institution -- in terms of its beatings, floggings, and burnings, overwork, starvation, and dehumanization. It focuses as well upon the selling and wrenching apart of families that resulted from the commodification of people in the slave system. But Jacobs' book is unique in that it describes first-hand the sexual indignities to which women were subjected in slavery. (Other accounts, such as those of Frederick Douglass, were written by men.) The book is also unusual in that Jacobs does not portray herself entirely as a hero but describes the nature of the steps she took to avoid becoming the sexual slave of Flint. Thus, when Flint subjected her to repeated sexual advances from the time Jacobs reached the age of 16, she tried to avoid him by beginning an affair with a white, single attorney with whom she had two children. When Flint's advances persisted, Jacobs formed the determination to try to secure her freedom.

    The bulk of the book describes how Jacobs hid precariously in a cramped attic for seven years waiting for the opporunity to secure her freedom. There are also accounts of her prior attempts to leave slavery, including a particularly harrowing account of several days in a place aptly named "Snaky Swamp."

    Jacobs describes her relationship with her grandmother, a free black woman who was probably the major inspiration of her life. She also describes well her love and concern for her children, conceived through the liasion with the white attorney.

    This book offers a rare perspective on American slavery as it affected women. It is also a testament, I think, to the value of literacy and knowledge as an instrument for winning and preserving free human life. Although this story is not pretty, it is a testament to human persistence in the face of adversity and to the precious character of human freedom....more info

  • A frustrating story about a slave's 9 year escape to freedom
    I had to read this book for school, and I was impressed with some of it. The tone was realistic and believable, and the characters were interesting. But the plot was slow, the book is 200 pages long, and the main character's passive nature makes you want to scream. I don't recommend this book for free reading, but as a slave narrative it meets it's purpose of telling the public about the horrors of slavery. I give it three stars....more info
  • An Important Perspective on Slavery
    Often taught along side Frederick Douglass's Narritive of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl offers an important incite into the abuses that female slaves faced. While Douglass's narrative stresses house slavery emasculated male slaves, Jacbos shows how slavery robbed female slaves of their womanhood. Jacobs' alter-ego, Linda Brent, was never physically beaten, like Douglass; the horrors of slavery for her were sexual horrors. Linda must try to ward of the sexual advances of her master while simultaneously dealing with the sexual jealously of her mistress.

    This text is important because it shows how the experience of slavery was gendered and how the experience of womanhood was different for people in different classes. Linda's mother, grandmother, and first mistress all believed in the cult of true womanhood, a prevelant ideology in mid-nineteenth century America that said that women should be "pure, pious, domestic and submissive." Linda was raised with these ideas, but failed to live up to them. While Linda feels shameful and guilty for failing to live up to the standards of the cult of true womanhood, she realizes that slave women cannot be judged by the same standards as middle-class white women because their cultural context is so different. This is, perhaps, the most radical and important message in Jacobs' text.

    From the time that the narrative was published (anonymously) until the 1980s, the authenticity of Jacobs' narrative has been called into question. For over 100 years, scholars and historians assumed that the narrative was false, either ghost written by the editor (Lydia Maria Child) or completely written by her without a grain of truth. Thanks to the work of historian Jean Fagan Yellin, we now know that the narrative was written by Jacobs herself and that all the major events in the narrative are true. There is no reason why this book shouldn't be read as an authentic slave narrative. ...more info
  • Very Valuable
    I am a slow to moderate reader, but read this in 3 days.

    Jacobs compiled something of which I did know existed, a real first hand account of slavery. She depicts the plight of her life in North Carolina, and also that of fellow slaves.

    The depictions of the owners shows some to be generous and others to be horrible, such as when her mistress makes a point to spit in all the dinner pots when they are empty as a means to detract the slaves from scraping anything of them together to eat themselves. When I first read this I was thinking, 'what's a little spit to a hungry malnourished person?' but to think of the contrast of Southern gentility with the effort this horrible bitch put into dragging out the most horrendous mucous she could just to detract another that she claimed from nourishment is beyond me.

    Furthermore, there is another scene where Jacobs' aunt passes away, and the mistress, whom the aunt raised and raised the children of, does not know what she will do without her sleeping outside her door any longer. The inhumanity and the lengths that happened over 3 generations of ownership is a must know for all Americans.

    I recommend this book highly and hope that this review does bring it into new hands....more info
  • Gripping and realistic
    I've read this book a few times over the years. The first being for a college course. It stayed with me then as it did each and every time I've read it. I highly recommend this novel as it is so frighteningly realistic and poignant. I have found myself many times recommending this novel to friends and family. It is rich in culture, history and plot. I highly recommend it....more info
  • A wonderful book
    Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Linda Brent is a deeply touching narrative of a slave woman's journey through the heinous institution of slavery to her eventual emancipation. Through her description of bonded labor, the reader very poignantly realizes what it was like for millions of African Americans to be brutalized and ravaged by slavery. Written in 1861 to educate the Northerners, especially the women, about the evils of slavery, the autobiography is a harrowing account of a woman's life, what the author ironically calls her `adventures'. The abuse that the palpably intelligent and veracious author had to undergo has the power to humble every one of us even today.
    Linda Brent was born as a slave in the household of a miraculously benevolent mistress. She lost her mother at the age of six, but her mistress, who was her mother's half-sister, took good care of her and endowed on her ward the gift of literacy. The degradative reality of slavery was hidden from the author till she entered her early teens, when within a year both her mistress and her father passed away, and she was acquired by the household of Dr. Flint. At his plantation, the author had to bear the full force of slavery. From this time to the author's eventual freedom, the reader gets a glimpse of the persecution that a slave had to face.
    As mentioned above, the book was written to illustrate the depravity of slavery to people living in the North. It is striking to see how humbly, or even apologetically, the author has used her life to explain the circumstances of slavery. She has used fictitious names and concealed the names of places so as not to offend any person, black or white. As one reads the book, the author can definitely be identified as a pious and truthful person, and becomes easy to see why the author places so much emphasis on her secrecy. The book is not written to garner sympathy from readers, but to shock readers into the realities of slavery. It was an appeal to the people who the author thought had the power to defeat slavery to act on it.
    The author's main argument is that slavery is not just about perpetual bondage, but it involves the absolute debasement of a people. She painfully acknowledges that the `black man is inferior', but vociferously argues that it is a result of slavery, which stymies the intellectual capacity of her race. She believes that `white men compel' the black race to be ignorant. Although she was wronged by many Southern white men, she does not blame the white race for her ills. She believes that the institution of slavery has ample negative impact on the household and psyche of a white family as well, and that white males are coerced into being brutal. She rebukes `the Free States' in her own pacific way for condoning slavery in the South. Her stand is that a life of manumit destitution is radically more acceptable than bondage, and that is the general idea that the author wants the readers to remember.
    The book is sequenced more or less in a chronological order. The author's astoundingly comfortable childhood is shattered by the nefarious demands of being a pubescent female slave. She explains how even the body of a slave is not her own, and is considered to be a property of the slaveholder, that can violated or abused according to his wishes. Her analogy to being traded or shot like pigs demonstrates the extent of shame that a slave had to bear with. Her infatuation and blind faith in the goodness of a white man make her the mother of two children, and her determination to keep them away from the evils of slavery becomes her primary goal. In her attempts to flee from slavery, she has to hide in a den above her grandmother's house for seven years. The anguish of a mother who can see her children but not be able to communicate with them is heart wrenching. The story of her escape to the North is also incredible. Even after reaching the north, she had to resist prejudice and fear for a long time before she and her children eventually became free.
    By reading the book, the reader can definitely get to experience the life of a slave. Perhaps the shocking brutality of the truth is shielded in the book by the author's conscious effort to not be a cause of affront. She wrote this book because she had a message to give to the readers, but was held back in a way by her goodness. On the other hand, reading a book written in a simple way, as though the author was narrating her story in front of the reader, goes on to validate her tragedy. It is explained in a more personal way than a historian would explain it, and the harsh emotions experienced by the author break through, even though she tries to suppress her sadness. The author's argument that slavery is humiliating is proved by the fact that the author does not explain exactly how she was mentally and physically abused. She only points out that she had to bear physical and mental decadence, but does elaborate on the techniques of the likes of Dr. Flint.
    It has to be remembered that this book was not written to be a historical text. It is about a woman's personal fight with slavery. It cannot be argued that her emotions were wrong or that her views about slavery can be challenged in any way. Readers who have not experienced slavery are not in a position to do so. This book definitely manages to do what it was intended to do, and that is to make the reader aware that slavery was a harrowing experience for the African Americans. As a book of past injustices and future hopes, it is a must read....more info
  • Truth about slavery
    I don't do well just picking up a book, reading it through and keeping interest throughout. This book was part of a history course and I have found it very interesting as well as informative. Growing up I always heard of how slaves were treated but when you actually read it from a "SLAVES" view, it brings a whole new perspective. I would recommend it for anyone.
    ...more info
  • A priceless legacy...
    Born in 1813, "Linda Brent" (as Harriet Jacobs renames herself) lived to play the role of nurse - as a free woman - during the Civil War. The long journey that took her there began on the day she realized, as a six-year-old who had just become motherless, that she was a slave.

    The first mistress she served treated little Linda kindly. When the girl was 12 years old, and her mistress died, Linda and her family hoped the will might leave her free. Instead, it bequeathed her to the dead mistress's 5-year-old niece. This placed Linda under the control of Dr. Flint, her new little mistress's father, and his selfish, cruel wife. The slaves of the Flint household were always hungry, often beaten; and, if female and attractive, quite likely to bear Dr. Flint's offspring.

    Linda Brent refused to submit to her master's advances. Instead she bore two children to another white man, in hopes her lover might buy and free her - which couldn't happen unless Dr. Flint, on behalf of his daughter, proved willing to sell. But Dr. Flint was anything else but willing to part with his uncooperative property. So began a long battle of wits and wills, one that for Linda had the highest stakes imaginable.

    This well documented true story of a woman's life as property had trouble finding a publisher in its own era. Even today it's not easy reading. Unflinchingly honest even when she's recounting her own errors and weaknesses, Harriet Jacobs leaves the world a priceless legacy in these memoirs of her battle for freedom.

    --Reviewed by Nina M. Osier, author of ROUGH RIDER...more info

  • Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
    Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: This book is diffficult to read because of the horrible reminders of
    the wretched life of American slaves. The book is so
    well written, beautiful prose, detailed descriptions
    of rememberances that I am sure were difficult to
    relive. I highly recommend this wonderful book to any
    one....more info
  • For a true account of slave life, look no futher!
    I just finished reading this book the other day and I really enjoyed reading it. It's basically an autobiography of the author under the name Linda Brent (obviously she doesn't want to use the real names of other characters, and she changes her own name in the book in accordance), who was a slave until I believe her late 20s (maybe early 30s if I'm not mistaken). First published in 1861 it really has a charming 19th century writing style to it that's more simplistic than most things you find from this time period.

    This book really makes you realize how extreme the struggle of a slave woman is and makes you appreciate them more for it. She doesn't dwell too much on any topic and keeps an even progression throughout the whole story. Most important though, she makes you care about who she cares about and despise the people she dislikes. It's a very emotional book and quite a harrowing tale....more info
  • The evils of slavery are shown firsthand in this account
    Harriet Jacobs offers us a truthful view inside the secrets of slavery. This practice was dehumanizing and should be identified as the horrible practice that it is.

    Jacobs tells us that one of the most painful aspects of slavery was the way slave families could be sold and parents would never know where their adolescent children had been sold as slaves. The needs of the White slave owners came first and the sick children of slaves had to be left alone to tend to field labor and domestic chores in the Plantation home. Jacobs points out that White women were hardened to the cries of Negro workers when their children were sold away.

    Jacobs also tells us of the beatings that slave workers often received from their masters. Jacobs admits that sex between masters and slaves was not uncommon and that children born with white fathers and black mothers were cruely treated by the master's wife and were usually some of the first children sold off the plantation.

    Harriet Jacobs thinks that White slave owners introduced Christianity to the Negro slaves so that they could be taught not to murder their White masters. Christianity turned out to be a philosophical and spiritual gift to the Negro slaves who lost their culture when they were shipped from Africa. Slaves soon learned that the Christianity practiced by White slave owners allowed for murder, beating, and all forms of degradation and shame to the slaves justified by Biblical Scripture. The slaves had to learn how to take from Christianity a spiritual gift to give them strength while recognizing that White Christians used the Bible to justify their violence.

    She quotes from the wonderful old spiritual song: "Ole Satan's church is here below; Up to God's free church I hope to go."

    Books such as this reveal the false claim that the Negro race is inherently inferior and thus requires the White race to dominate. Jacobs had to hide her intelligence or risk possible beating and isolation.

    The book tells a story of her life and her escape from slavery after being hidden if a secret compartment within a house for many years. Slave narratives such as this give first hand testimony to the cruelty of slavery and the false beliefs that perpetuated it for hundreds of years....more info
  • Captivating, Monette in Weldon, NC
    This memoir was absolutely enthralling. And yet, I am left with oxymoronic feelings. Reading about the horrors of slavery through the experiences of this slave girl was interesting-as these type of details should be told. At the same time, it was like looking at an accident-what you experienced was imprinted on your mind in an incredibly horrid way. In all the story was extraordinary and despite my feelings, theses types of truths must be shared far more often in this venue and in our national curricula as well....more info
  • Component forces of the Civil War Revolution
    Incidents is typically viewed as an outstanding example of Black feminist resistance to slavery as well as a protest against the fugitive slave laws. Yet, it can also be seen as an assessment of the forces available to eliminate slavery as a whole, part of a debate that unfolded in the years leading up to the civil war about what force could possibly overthrow slavery whose ascendancy not only over the South, but over the entire nation seemed unstoppable when this book was written.

    Its history is a testament to the growth of racism among American literary "experts" and historians. While Harriet Jacobs was celebrated in her time as the author of this book and used this celebrity to advance her struggle to advance the lives of refugee slaves during the Civil War and of freed slaves after the Civil War, the racism that followed the imposition of Jim Crow Segregation and the US grab for colonies in Asia and Latin America in the late 19th and 20th Centuries led to the memory of her work being extinguished. By the 1950s and 1960s the scholarly world had come to believe this book was a fiction written by Lydia Maria Child. No one familiar with Child could think that she would do such a thing.

    We owe Jean Fagan Yellin and her collaborators the honor of resurrecting Harriet Jacob's authorship and career. In a startling masterpiece of research ,Yellin's team documented the truth of everything narrated in this book. We are also enriched by Yellin's recent biography entitled Harriet Jacobs.

    Besides the usual, Incidents represents a catalog of different ways to escape or lessen the impact of slavery. We have the noble faithful servent in the person of Linda Brent's mother who buys herself with the aid of white who honors her position, we have attempts to escape through the sexual favors of a white man, we have people buying their way out of slavery, we have violent and non violent escapes. We also see Linda Brent's resistence and the success of her clandestine life and later her escapes to Philiadephia, then New York, then England, as a result not only of her individual bravery, character, and devotion to her people and her family and her honor, but of the existence of resources beyond the slave and Black community that can free not only the individual slave but put an end to slavery. We also have the racism that made Jacobs feel not totally free in the North.

    This is the crucial place Incidents belongs. The publications (Uncle Tom was first published as a serial in an antislavery newspaper and later published as a book) of Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1850 and 1852 unleashed at the dialog opened among contemporary African American texts about how to eliminate slavery in response to Stowe's great work. Harriet Beecher Stowe had recommended the Christic experience of evangelical Christianity in Uncle Tom, Martin Delany recommended the reculturation of Blacks by a bourgeois independent state's aristocratic and cultural leadership, William Wells Brown pointed to the ship of capitalism coming the vanquish the slave ships.

    Jacob's text enters this debate with an array of forces within the African American slave and free community, as well as within the Southern white community, as well as the Northern and even international community that can be used to defeat slavery. We have the slaves themselves debating, organizing, and resisting. We have freed Blacks North and South helping. We have whites in the South itself helping, if inadequately. We have supporters of women's rights and opponents of slavery among the women of the North. We have the international opponents of slavery in Britain and beyond.

    Jacobs highlights not only her own incredibly courageous resistance to slavery, but to the array of forces available to fight slavery. In the weeks and months after this book was published in 1861, those same forces did in fact overthrow slavery and crush it forever more.

    This is a stirring book written by an articulate and educated writer. Indeed contrary to what is said elsewhere, even narratives written or told by semiliterate African Americans who escaped slavery never contained dialect, but were written in clear standard English. Indeed, scholars have noted that where Jacobs tries to reproduce Black English spoken by unacculturated slaves, she had to fall back on the conventions of theatrical stereotypical imitations of Black English, rather than reproduce real Black English. She had been reared in a standard English environment, had escaped and lived and functioned among an even more stardard English environment, and by the time she wrote this book, almost 20 years after she had escaped from slavery, she was actually unfamiliar with real Black English!

    Not only was Jacobs literate, but she was apparently very familiar with contemporary Womens or sentimental novels exemplified by Uncle Tom and Susan Warner's Wide Wide World.
    Jacobs had spent much time in her bondage in Edenton, reading. Later, in Rochester New York, Jacobs ran a anti-slavery reading room associated with Frederick Douglass's North Star. For nearly a decade in New York, Jacobs worked as a house keeper and nanny for one of the most popular journalists in the country. She also knew and received support from her boss's estranbed sister, the widely popular journalist and fiction writer Sara Payson Willis Parton, known by her pen name Fannie Fern. In Ruth Hall, Parton's famous novel a roman A clef biography, Fanny Fern, there isa chacter obviously modeled after Harriet Jacobs. Jacob's maintained an extensive correspondence with some of leading activists in the womens and antislavery movements of her time in both the United States and Great Britain.

    Incidents follows the styles and conventions of the sentimental novels so well that for decades many believed that it was actually a novel written by a white female sentimental author, not by a escaped slave. The Sentimental novels whose central work is to create sympathy usually signfied by the reader's tears, by the suffering, the righteousness, and ultimately the lack of physical power in a wicked world for its heroines and heroes. To that extent, they reflected the lack of social power and opportunity for liberation of 19th Century women.
    Jacobs has a totally different approach, remarkable given these conventions. Susan Warner, author of the first big blockbuster novel, Wide Wide World, could make a day in the life of a 10 year old girl seem like a life of torture. Yet, Jacobs forgo the obvious, easy opportunity to dwell on Harriet Jacobs's undeniably extreme suffering hiding in an attick. Instead the book focuses on her spirit of resistance, the availability of allies, and the real possibilities for her deliverence through her own power. Rather than the isolated slave mother locked in an attic, Jacob's Linda Brent is a person who is helped in her struggle by white and black, free and slave in Edenton, helped by sailors and antislavery activists up and done the US coast and in Canada, and helped by people as far away as England. Rather than a victim who deserves our tears, Jacobs shows how there are forces to help her fight for freedom, and she wins.

    If in the weeks and months in 1860 and early 1861 when this book was written the slave power seemed unstoppable. Yet, the power, the ability to act, the ability to defeat slavery shown in Jacob's book, discloses the forces and the will that would abolish slavery forever in a few brief years.
    ...more info
  • Incident in the Life of a Slave Girl
    Well written and an easy read of a sad time in our history....more info
  • A very poweful tale of the great injustice put on slaves.
    I have read Incidents in the Life of a Slave by Harriet Jacobs, twice! I enjoyed reading her book. Her book is full of rich vocabulary. Her writing skills and the description of events she used was impressive, i.e. the separation of mother and child being sold to slaveholders, I felt the pain. In her writings, she constantly humbled herself because of her circumstances of being a slave and how she felt incompetent to write her life story. I must say that Jacobs did a magnificent job, considering her life of chattel slavery. Besides being courageous, strong and enduring, she was a very wise person. I think Jacob's does not give herself credit for being wise. She was very wise because she had to plan various strategies to outwit her devil master's attempts to capture her. She was wise in not trusting Harriet Beecher Stowe. What was Stowe's purpose of forwarding Jacob's writings to Mrs. Willis, which included her sexual history? Jacobs was no fool. Finally, the most indelible impression on my mind was when she hid in her grandmother's house, above the storage room, for seven years! I was right there with her. Great job Harriet Jacobs!!...more info
  • The mental brutality of slavery depicted by a woman.
    I recently read Linda Brent's novel for the second time and realized that not only does she provide a message about the physical brutality of slavery, but she also gives a description of how emotionally disturbing it was. Anyone who reads this book will be opened up to more than the typical "slavery" issues. I would recommend anyone with an interest to take a good look at the book. With its simple yet well-written language, it reads quickly and effectively paints another side of slavery....more info
  • simple and straightforward
    What I particularly like about this book is how easy it is to read through. The southern vernacular dialect is sparse and not used by Harriet/Linda in the book. Further, the retelling of the horrors of slavery are not overdramatized -- it's not necessary to get the reader's attention. The everyday nature of these attocities are evident in the straightforward reporting of the events.

    The dynamics of the household are fascinating when you read of the jealous mistresses who are infuriated at their husbands' infidelities under their roofs and how they mistreat the slave women who are subjected to their husband's unwelcomed advances.

    Harriet's Grandmother is a remarkable woman of her day -- she became free and through hard work bought many of her own family members. She was a highly respected member of the community lending money to whites and blacks alike.

    Survival and freedom for herself and her children is Harriet's objective and her unyielding determination is inspiring.

    This story tells how difficult it was to be a woman in the south and particularly an attractive woman in slavery...more info
  • This book has affected me for my entire life!
    Throughout my education, this book has been assigned -- from elementary school to college. I have read this book over and over and never cease to find details that astound me. There is an amazing depth to this woman, and the subtle craft of her writing reveal it in full force.

    You may find a comparison between this work and Frederick Douglass' autobiography worthwhile. They are both abolitionists, but they attack that "demon slavery" in very different ways. And personally, I have always preferred Jacob's style of sentiment. She hits you where it hurts the most: in the heart....more info

  • So many things said already...
    I have read a lot of the past reviews and I consider this story as part of the American narrative that can't be dismissed. Yes, it sounds unbelivable when we look at the lives that we lead today but this was reality to so many people in the past. It takes the life of a black woman living in slavery and presents in interesting story that reads a lot like fiction. It is so easy to foget that it was real. Traditionaly women have been left out of history, especially black women, slave women... This is an unseen element of history that has to start being seen. I don't think that I could recomend a better book to read....more info