that, to paraphrase Harriet Beecher Stowe's original subtitle for Uncle Tom's Cabin, humans were turned into things.
A final point worth mentioning about Wilson's narrative is its uneasy blending of autobiography and fiction. In his initial introduction to the text, Gates highlights its fictional aspects. But even there he notes how the autobiographical "I" keeps intruding on the third-person narrative, especially near its conclusion and in such chapter headings as "Mag Smith, My Mother." Ultimately, Gates's decision to underscore the narrative's literary dimensions enables him to claim Wilson as a first novelist rather than as but one in a succession of black female- authored autobiographies. Subsequent critics, however, appear divided over the extent to which the narrative is fictional, most resolving the conundrum by referring to the work as a fictionalized autobiography.
Our Nig did not receive even one locatable review or notice when it was originally published. This is puzzling, given the reception of such novels as Clotel ( 1853) and the favorable response, especially within abolitionist circles, to black-authored narratives critical of enslaving conditions. Gates speculates that, in addition to the narrative's criticism of abolitionists, the controversial interracial marriage of Frado's parents might provide the explanation for this neglect (xxviii). Whatever the reason, the novel has been generally neglected by and in anthologies, bibliographies, criticism, or histories from the time of its publication up until the time of its rediscovery. Such neglect has now amply been remedied, for in the more-than-a-decade since its reissue, numerous critics have published chapters of books or articles in prominent journals about the novel, typically addressing issues of genre and/or of bodily representation. To date, however, there exists no book-length study of the author.
For close to 125 years, an audience for this powerful novel was virtually nonexistent. Contemporary critics have made much of the lack of response to Our Nig, its ultimate "failure" to be heard, claiming the text and its history as paradigmatic of a larger societal silence (silencing) of black women's lives and writings. However, these critics--and, for that matter, any reader of this novel-- would concur that if there is a failure associated with Our Nig, it lies not in the narrative but in the audience--in their failure to listen. For ultimately, if Wilson's narrative found no audience, it was most certainly not because she did not speak and in ways that ought to have been heard.
Baym, Nina. Woman's Fiction: A Guide to Novels by and about Women in America 1820-1870. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978.
Brown, Herbert Ross. The Sentimental Novel in America, 1789-1860. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1940.