OUSD > Urban Dreams > Language Arts > Extended Literature > Grade 11 > Wilso


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Although lost to the reading public for over a century, Harriet Wilson's fictional autobiography, Our Nig; or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black (1859), is of dual importance within the American literary tradition. Not only does it echo the conventions of eighteenth and nineteenth-century slave and captivity narratives like those written by Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs, but its sentimentalism typifies the style of much of nineteenth-century American popular fiction, particularly that written by women like Lydia Maria Child and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Imbued with these diverse literary influences, Wilson's story of an indentured servant named Frado indicts slavery vis-a-vis the cultural cache that nineteenth- century sentimental fiction lent to the domestic sphere.

The story unfolds as Frado's "fallen" mother and stepfather abandon the little girl to years of servitude within the Bellmont homestead, a "two-story White House , North." Under the abusive command of the "she-devil" matriarch, Mrs. Bellmont, and despite the sympathetic efforts of Mr. Bellmont, his sons, and invalid sister; Frado's daily reality becomes one of harsh physical labor, endless menial tasks, and violent exchanges between herself and the stormy Mrs. Bellmont. Crafting this horrific surrogate mother for her fictional alter-ego Frado, Wilson reconfigures her audience's expectations of domestic serenity into its shockingly-realized antithesis. Rewritten in this way, the mythic trappings of sentimental fiction lend themselves well to exposing the realities of slavery in pre-civil war New England "Showing that Slavery's Shadows Fall Even here." More...


Websites about Our Nig:

Author Biography:

Harriet E. Adams Wilson is believed to be the first African-American woman to publish a novel in English. Rediscovered by literary scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in 1981, Wilson displaced Frances E. W. Harper as the mother of the African-American novel. Previously, Harper's novel Iola Leroy (1892) on by an African-American woman. Wilson's only published work, Our Nig; or, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black, in a Two-Story White House, North. Showing that Slavery's Shadows Fall Even There. By "Our Nig." (1859), is an autobiographical novel based on her life as a black indentured servant in New England. More...

http://voices.cla.umn.edu/authors/HarrietEAdamsWilson.html (Voices from the Gaps)

Websites about Harriet Wilson:

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