Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the Afro-American Woman Novelist

Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the Afro-American Woman Novelist

Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the Afro-American Woman Novelist

Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the Afro-American Woman Novelist

Synopsis

A cultural history of the work of nineteenth-century black women writers, this volume traces the emergence of the novel as a forum for political and cultural reconstruction, examining the ways in which dominant sexual ideologies influenced the literary conventions of women's fiction, and reassessing the uses of fiction in American culture. Carby revises the history of the period of Jim Crow and Booker T. Washington, depicting a time of intense cultural and political activity by such black women writers as Ida B. Wells, Anna Julia Cooper, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, and Pauline Hopkins.

Excerpt


Narratives of Slave and Free Women before Emancipation

A survey of the general terrain of images and stereotypes produced by antebellum sexual ideologies is a necessary but only preliminary contribution to understanding how the ideology of true womanhood influenced and, to a large extent, determined the shape of the public voice of black women writers. What remains to be considered is how an ideology that excluded black women from the category "women" affected the ways in which they wrote and addressed an audience. The relevance of this question extends beyond the writing of slave narratives, and I will first examine texts written by free black women living in the North before turning to a slave narrative, Harriet Jacobs Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.

In 1850, Nancy Prince published in Boston her Life and Travels. A free woman, Nancy Prince declared that her object in writing was not "a vain desire to appear before the public"; on the contrary, her book was the product of her labor by which she hoped to sustain herself. In other words, Prince regarded her writing as her work. The publication of her Life and Travels was the occasion for an assertion of Prince's intention to retain and maintain her independence:

The Almighty God our heavenly father has designed that we eat our bread by the sweat of our brow; that all-wise and holy Being has . . .

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