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Linda Brent was born into slavery; her parents were slaves and as the children follow their mother then this was her lot in life. When her owner dies, she is inherited by a young girl and as she is too young to manage her "property" the father runs her life. Dr Slate treats young Linda reasonably well-unlike other owners he does not starve or beat his young charge- but in common with other slaveholders he decided that he has the right to exploit her in other ways. Linda can see only one way of escaping the Drs clutches and becomes pregnant by another man. Not only does this not deter her master from trying to get his wicked way with her, but it also means that he is the owner of her children and has a rod to use against her. Linda longs to be free but Dr Slate refuses to allow anyone else to purchase her or her children. Will she ever manage to become free of not only Dr Slate but also of slavery itself?
"Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl" was written by Harriet Jacobs, the name Linda Brent was a pen name. It tells the extraordinary story of her life as a slave in the Deep South of the USA from girlhood till she reaches roughly her mid-thirties in chronological order. Most slaves did not learn to read and write but when she was a child, she was taught by one of her mistresses enabling her to read the Bible, newspapers and other important printed material.
Harriet had an eventful life and her story recounts how women were treated in slavery. She grew up surrounded by her family; her aged grandmother (who was freed) was a huge influence in her upbringing and eventually that of her children too. Even though she enjoyed a warm and happy family life, slavery was always in the background. It is an institution which saw children ripped apart from their families in order to be sold at market and she feared this would happen to her children. Although she was treated with relative kindness, she saw many slaves being beaten and denied enough food to sustain themselves properly. It was a world where great cruelties were inflicted but slaves could be surprisingly close to the families who owned them, even wet nursing babies. The book is emotional and heart wrenching in places as Jacobs talks about the inhumanities and sadness's that slaves were forced to endure.
It was surprisingly common for slave owners to father children by their slaves; sexual exploitation of slaves was rife. Escaping the demands of Dr Flint was one of the most important themes in Harriet's life, leading her to extreme measures. It shows how courageous she was and how far she and other slaves were willing to go in order to try and obtain freedom.
I knew little about slavery before I read this book and it has been an eye opener. It would have been good to have a foreword or afterward in the book putting the events in historical context, for example slavery was abolished in 1863 so her book was published nearing the time of abolition. It taught me a lot about the social mood at the time, the political campaigns to have slavery abolished for example and how attitudes varied in different parts of the USA.
The language used in the book is surprisingly formal with the narrative occasionally slipping into slang when recounting speech. It is written as though it is by someone who has a lot of education, far more than the informal lessons at the table would suggest. Perhaps this is due to a lot of editing to make it more acceptable for publishing. It was surprisingly easy to read, I did look up a few words in my Kindle dictionary for clarification but most of the text was easily understandable. Many older books can be inaccessible to modern readers but this book is still fresh and modern.
"Incidents in the Life of a Slavegirl" is available free on Kindle and is a fantastic insight into a way of life which is now gone but is important not to forget.
One of the joys of owning a kindle is that it has opened up to me the choice of books that i read, paticularly books that were written and published a while ago and are now free for downloading to use on the kindle. Incidents in the life of a slave girl was first published in 1861, and chronicles the life of Linda Brent (a pseudonym for the author Harriet Jacobs). Born into slavery in America, she describes her life and (mis)treatment from early childhood until womanhood.
As a piece of writing it is very moving and informative of life in those times, and it was a reminder of how things were and how much life has changed since then. People may still live in poverty in many areas of the world, but not many undergo the mental hardships that slaves endured in that time.
While male slaves underwent hard physical work and sometimes physical abuse, in some ways it was worse for the young girls in slavery, who were objects of lust for the land owners, often raped and impregnated, and then cast aside if it displeased the female of the house. Even worse, any children born to the slave woman were then also the property of their master.
Linda started off life much better than most. Her parents were able to protect her from the life for her first few years due to the length her family had worked for another family. She learned to read and write. Her life changed when her parents both died, and her care was given to a young girl who was the daughter of a man called Dr Flint. While the physical demands on her were not too bad due to her being in a household with her aunt, her Master begins to notice her and try to get her on her own. Linda tries hard to remain pure, but as an act of desperation she goes to another man and falls pregnant so the Dr will not desire her any more, because it is the only way she can control her own destiny.
This removes Linda from the threat of rape, but it does not stop the Dr making her fear for her children and what he might do with them.
The remainder of the novel describes Linda's bid for freedom. She runs away from the Dr leaving her children behind and then goes into hiding for years without any contact from them. Although she eventually finds herself in a better position in a different part of the country, she can never excape the fear that Dr Flint will come for her and drag her back, or he might do something to her children.
I found this book so incredibly moving. While reading it i was not aware it was set so far back in the 1800s. The events that were happening were described so well you could really picture it, and feel the pain of the people that were involoved. It was inspiring and moving in equal measures, and i found it hard to put the book down.
As a mother i felt such horror at the way children were being exploited physically, mentally and sexually, and this being in a fairly civilised family with a Dr at the helm. Stories like slave mothers being forced to stop breastfeeding their own baby so they could feed the baby of their master instead just horrified me, and i can't understand how they could do it. Human beings were so degraded, and i believe there is still a lot of ignorance about this whole period. I certainly learned a lot from reading this account, and i am not uneducated myself, just never having thought about this part of history from this angle before.
Yet in spite of this treatment, Linda and a lot of her peers tried to be good christians and worship regularly, and live a good and pure life. One elderly man goes to great lengths and risk to learn how to read the bible so he would go to heaven.
This story has really stood the test of time because at the heart of it is a story of a mother who will do anything within her power to keep her children safe from harm. I think in that case, life has not changed so much in 150 years.
I feel it is important to read works such as this to understand how much things have changed both for black Americans and women since it was written. Also, knowledge of the past hopefully prevents similar incidents in the future.
One bit that got me thinking was that Linda took a trip to the UK and arrived in Liverpool. I visited Liverpool last year for the first time, and some of the architecture of the buildings includes carvings which are references to slavery during that period, so it brought it home to me a bit more about how the UK was involved in the practice of slavery.
Reading this as a Kindle book, the book occasionally had formatting issues in the text where one line finished in the middle of the page, and the sentence carried on at the start of the next line. Also, when new sections were started, there was not always a logical gap left on the page like you would see in a novel. I didn't find this detracted my attention from the story however.
I am really glad that i did find and read this book. Currently at the time of writing this review, it is available for free via amazon in this format. You can now download kindle for your phone, PC and ipad, so it is worth thinking about just to read such informative work as this.
Thanks for reading.
Although Linda has been treated fairly well, she is still a slave and as such suffers from the degradations and deprivations that all slaves suffered in the southern states of America during the eighteen hundreds. Incidents in the Life of A Slave Girl tells of Linda's struggles and triumphs over her 'condition' in her own words, spanning several decades....
Although I love to read this isn't a book that I would have really bought for myself, I much prefer science fiction or horror to biographies. But as the Kindle edition was free to download and I have the Kindle for Android app on my phone I decided to give it a go and found it was quite a revelation. Although the book is in no way graphic, we are left in doubt as to how difficult and humiliating life is for a young woman growing up as the property of another man. As the book progressed, I really found myself sympathising with Linda and rooting for her in her quest for freedom for both herself and her children.
In the main part the language used is easy to read and the conversational style almost makes it feel as if we're sitting next to Linda as she tells us her story. There are a few points in the book where she uses patois, which I found a little harder to follow, and there are also points where the 'N' word is used. Thinking long and hard about it, the fact that this book is a slave girl telling us this story, means that this language is exactly how she would have spoken, and to remove those words because we now find them would have been offensive to her memory. Throughout the whole book you really do get to understand Linda's motivations and empathise with her, as she recounts both her own and the stories of those around her with just the right level detail. Her love and respect for her Grandmother really did show through as did her fear of disappointing those who had given up so much for her.
Due to the subject matter there are obviously some very emotional points in the book, there were a couple of chapters that brought tears to my eyes and the ending was a true depiction of triumph over adversity. Although there are no graphic descriptions of the treatment that Linda and other slaves received, nothing is glossed over. So it's easy to picture the fear that countless thousands of men, women and children lived in and how hard life must have been for them. But this isn't just the story of a slave, it's the story of a grand-daughter, mother, and indeed a whole country.
Unlike other books that I have read that cover the subject of slavery, there's no glossing over of the North's involvement in the vile trade. By the last page we are left in no doubt of the North's complicity in returning those slaves who have escaped persecution back to their masters. All in all this book gives a fascinating insight into the life of slaves, in particular females slaves, their hopes and fears and the attitudes of those around them, all from the view point of a very brave woman, who was willing to lay her life down to secure freedom for herself and her children. While I wouldn't particularly recommend this to the youngest of teenagers, I do think it's a worthwhile read for anyone aged fifteen and up. And I feel this book would probably be of far more interest to female readers than male, only because it is the story of a very strong, inspirational woman. As far as stars out of five go, I've no hesitation in giving Incidents From The Life Of A Slave Girl, five out of five, and there's no doubt that I will at some point be reading it again, as well as encouraging friends and family to give it a try.