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The Bondwoman’s Narrative by Hannah Crafts


Rating: (Mildly Recommended)


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A First

Published in 2002, The Bondwoman’s Narrative was written by Hannah Crafts in the 1850s. Thanks to the research of Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who bought the manuscript at auction, this appears to be the first novel written by a black woman anywhere, and is the only known novel written by a female African American slave. Gates’ lengthy introduction is as interesting as the novel itself, which I found weary at times. Here’s an excerpt from chapter 2 of the novel:

“The clouds are not apt to conform themselves to the wishes of man, yet once or twice in a life-time the rain falls exactly when we wish it would, and it ceases raining precisely at the right time. It was so at our place in Lindendale. The weather had been rainy for many days. Mrs. Bry looked over her golden spectacles and through the windows where the rain-drops pattered incessantly and assured me that she had never known such a season since that very unfortunate year which witnessed the loss of her husband’s India ship. And his consequent failure in business; a circumstance that broke his heart and reduced her to the extremity of accepting the situation of housekeeper. She hoped, however, that the weather would improve before the arrival of the bridal party, but had no expectation that it would. It was so apt to rain just when a clear sky was most wanted, and would be best appreciated. The servants were of the same opinion. Of course it would rain; it always did when they desired fair weather – their holidays had been spoiled by rain no one could tell how often. But if left off raining at last and Lindendale revived beneath the sheering influences of wind and sunshine.”

Readers with a strong interest in African American literature will find The Bondwoman’s Narrative as required reading. The rest of us may become impatient at times with the style of writing.

Steve Hopkins, July 17, 2002


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The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the August 2002 issue of Executive Times


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