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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

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With a New Preface, Introduction, and Notes by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. New Afterword by Barbara White A fascinating fusion of two literary models of the nineteenth century, the sentimental novel and the slave narrative, Our Nig, apart from its historical significance, is a deeply ironic and highly readable work, tracing the trials and tribulations of Frado, a mulatto girl aba With a New Preface, Introduction, and Notes by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. New Afterword by Barbara White A fascinating fusion of two literary models of the nineteenth century, the sentimental novel and the slave narrative, Our Nig, apart from its historical significance, is a deeply ironic and highly readable work, tracing the trials and tribulations of Frado, a mulatto girl abandoned by her white mother after the death of the child's black father, who grows up as an indentured servant to a white family in nineteenth-century Massachusetts.


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With a New Preface, Introduction, and Notes by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. New Afterword by Barbara White A fascinating fusion of two literary models of the nineteenth century, the sentimental novel and the slave narrative, Our Nig, apart from its historical significance, is a deeply ironic and highly readable work, tracing the trials and tribulations of Frado, a mulatto girl aba With a New Preface, Introduction, and Notes by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. New Afterword by Barbara White A fascinating fusion of two literary models of the nineteenth century, the sentimental novel and the slave narrative, Our Nig, apart from its historical significance, is a deeply ironic and highly readable work, tracing the trials and tribulations of Frado, a mulatto girl abandoned by her white mother after the death of the child's black father, who grows up as an indentured servant to a white family in nineteenth-century Massachusetts.

30 review for 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

  1. 5 out of 5

    Rita Reinhardt

    I am on the fence about literature developed for the sole purpose of acquiring monetary benefits. Now don’t get me wrong, I know this young lady went through a whole lot (her son took ill, her husband passed away, and she needed money ASAP) however I’m not necessarily captivated by this tale. I have my reasons: 1. Great Imagery: The author gave a great account of a household full of abuse and sadness, as do most books capturing slavery…however, there is just one tiny problem…THIS IS NOT A BOOK AB I am on the fence about literature developed for the sole purpose of acquiring monetary benefits. Now don’t get me wrong, I know this young lady went through a whole lot (her son took ill, her husband passed away, and she needed money ASAP) however I’m not necessarily captivated by this tale. I have my reasons: 1. Great Imagery: The author gave a great account of a household full of abuse and sadness, as do most books capturing slavery…however, there is just one tiny problem…THIS IS NOT A BOOK ABOUT SLAVERY!!!! The “authoress” was never a SLAVE! At most, we can title her an orphan, but a slave or indentured servant would be incorrect titling. 2. Coo Coo For Coco Puffs: There were no indicated reasons for Mrs. Bellmont to walk around the house like a tyrant, and everyone just let her act like a crazed animal! There is much to be said about someone who inflicts abuse just because today is Tuesday. For her to be described as a person whom only dished out physical wounds towards “one” particular person does not make sense to me at all…I think someone got a little bit pen happy, and went in with their pen (smile). If someone is abusive it tends to arise in other areas of the person’s life…this is my two cents and I’m gonna spend them wisely (yep, another smile)… 3. WHY ALL THE GLOOM?: The book starts off on a somber note, “Lonely Mag Smith! See her as she walks with downcast eyes and heavy heart.” When I read those first two lines I was like awww hell! Here we go!!! I knew this was going to be a jacked up tale of mistreatment. Then I started thinking and before long…I was discussing the situation with myself…here is a snippet of the conversation: First Self: Why is this book so gloomy? Second Self: Because she wants to sell books. First Self: Why would sad books sell more? Second Self: Because jacked up circumstances moves units; refer to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. First Self: OH! (insert another smile) CONCLUSION: Folks were buying books about how bad slaves were treated, thus this tale could have been a bit embellished to sale more copies. Or not even written by Harriet at all, but submitted by her for authenticity purposes. 4. COME ON MOMMA: Frado’s mother castrates herself from society and lives a life of solitude until the day her rescuer comes along and offers his hand in marriage, how romantic. She marries an African American and bares two children. Quick thought, while in the care of her biological parents, Frado would have had to witness true love and remember what it was like to be loved by her biological dad. Thus, upon the very first physical blow issued from Mrs. Bellmont, I would like to think that Frado would have been looking for an oust…somewhere to go…a.k.a. the black side of town. You telling me there were no blacks in the whole state of New Hampshire? Come on now…And here comes another thought, the mother is persuaded to just give her children away…are you kidding me!!!! Who is worst? Mag Smith or Mrs. Bellmont? At least Mrs. Bellmont gave pour Frado something to eat, but dang, her mom just dropped her off at some strangers home, and they ended up being (in my opinion) mentally ill. I’m totally done… This is a quick read. You will probably finish it in one day. I found myself a little skeptical…too much bad for someone who was not a slave! I didn’t get it…I have read books where mother’s killed their children to keep them from being a slave and here we have a free girl taking every blow handed…Yes, I am perplexed.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Janette Williams

    A fascinating fusion of two literary models of the nineteenth century, the sentimental novel and the slave narrative, Our Nig, apart from its historical significance, is a deeply ironic and highly readable work, tracing the trials and tribulations of Frado, a mulatto girl abandoned by her white mother after the death of the child's black father, who grows up as an indentured servant to a white family in nineteenth-century Massachusetts.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Tiffany

    This 1859 [slave] narrative/novel seems to have been written solely for the support of a free-black indentured servant of sorts who has made her way out after a youth of ill treatment leading to an adulthood of ill-health. The main character is Frado, who has encountered many misfortunes and ill health that prevent the sorts of hard labor that characterized her upbringing among the terrible Bellmonts. It describes the background to the ill treatment that she received, and, through much sentiment This 1859 [slave] narrative/novel seems to have been written solely for the support of a free-black indentured servant of sorts who has made her way out after a youth of ill treatment leading to an adulthood of ill-health. The main character is Frado, who has encountered many misfortunes and ill health that prevent the sorts of hard labor that characterized her upbringing among the terrible Bellmonts. It describes the background to the ill treatment that she received, and, through much sentimental address to the reader, moves through her history. I'm going to teach this for the first time this term, in my African American literature class. It's short--a fast read--and relatively dull as a narrative, but the more I consider it, the more fascinated I become at the contrary directions that threads in this novel pull. Here are a few scattered thoughts. There are some standard set-piece items from the period/genre that will be fun, I think, to recognize and think through in their particularity in class: the kind/indifferent/weak white man who can't protect the protagonist from the shrew woman (c.f. Uncle Tom's Cabin), the shrew, the evil child vs. the good child, the religiously laden and unavoidable end of the most kind and pity-filled members of the family, etc. The theological reach of the novel is fascinating. The white character James gets religion, and wants to share it with Frado; he "felt sure there were elements in her heart which, transformed and purified by the gospel, would make her worthy the esteem and friendship of the world....might become useful in originating a self-reliance which would be of service to her in after years." Even James acknowledges that Chrisitanity is a tool of UPLIFT as much as it is one of consolation. That the literacy of the Bible is the main takeaway as much as is the "consolation" Frado is by no means a quick convert, and by no means a simple lamb, however. "It was not possible to compass all this, while she remained where she was." The evil Mrs. B.believes that church represents a reprieve from labor only, that there is no religion for black people. Even Frado wonders--she "became a believe in a future existence--one of happiness or misery" [note how tied to consolation/emotion it is!]. But "her doubt was, IS there a heaven for the black?...She had listened attentively to all the minister said, and all Aunt Abby had told her; but then it was all for white people." Repentence, the text later says, is completely incomprehensible to her--she wants to believe in order to be with the people who have shown her love. Religion, even to MR. B is about "comfort" and "the privilege of being good." For Frado, the Bible, in the end, is her most precious possession, but it is more as an element of uplift than anything else. She is always pursuing work through sickness- "Providence favored her with a friend who, pitying her cheerless lot, kindly provided her with a valuable recipe, from which she might herself manufacture a useful article for her maintenance. Presumably this is a manufactured item--the author sold a hair product for her own maintenance--but it has its linkage to writing, certainly, as well. "This proved a more agreeable, and and easier way of sustenance." Religion is a providence that through language allows her toward uplift: "Nothing turns her from her steadfast purpose of elevating herself. Reposing on God, she has thus far journeyed securely." In Douglass, the narrative makes a sharp distinction between the Christianity of the Bible and the Christianity of the slave holder. It also plays with the idea of Providence (c.f. Benjamin Franklin's narrative), in ways that clearly hint toward theodicy problems. Here, both the acts leading to conversion and the actual content of Christianity are valuable for their USE--they are commodified fascinatingly. Economics in the book are worth the study. The book is a sort of charity drive/enterprise--buy the book for support of the author, who is trying to employ and support herself. The narrative is followed by standard white testimonials that put the novel within the system of paternalistic charity, but the narrative itself functions contrarywise, proving the author a participant in a movement toward free-enterprise and self-sufficiency through herculean, capitalist efforts. But it seems particularly interesting for thinking through the way that outside the ostensible system of slavery, the tentacles of slavery reach and money and language craft systems of oppression. The limitations of sentiment and patronizing charity ("duties to the poor and friendless") for the assuaging of such systemic needs seems clear. The sentimental demand for a feminine charity and sympathy and aid (which functions within a paternalistic system, really), is at odds with the sense of the narrator making her own way and working her own future. Our Nig also seems particularly useful for thinking through the use of the n-word in the antebellum south. Someone always asks me (and I think this happens every term) about the use of the n-word when we read Adventures of Huckleberry Finn--"wasn't it just a value-neutral term for black people then? How could it fair to be offended by Twain's use of the term in the book?" And I've usually forgotten whether I've read studies on it--or the titles of the studies. But then, I'll reread or re-scan Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, and find that the word only appears on the lips of the worst overseers or the most morally degraded characters, at their worst, and I'll mention that in class (as I did just yesterday). This book adds to an informal cache of exemplars of word usage. In this narrative, the title draws immediate attention to the term. There is also a social use of the word between two poor black day laborers, hoopers. "Where you come from, you sly [n-word]?" and "when you come in dis shop again, let a [n=word] know it." Later in the text, only the worst characters--the evil task-mistress Mrs. B, and her favourite evil daughter Mary. Mrs. B doesn't "mind the [n-word] in the child" because it will apparently mean that she will be able to bear more work and bad treatment than other servants. Mary uses it as a term for all that disgusts her in the main character. It is a term for Mrs. B. that is related to losing temper and deliberate degradation. The school children use the term only BEFORE they are instructed by a loving teacher to remember "their duties to the poor and friendless." It seems fair to say that the term is in no-way value-neutral in the text--as the mother says to her son, defending Frado, "You would have that[ [n-word] trample on Mary, would you?" Yet, even without the full term, "Nig," becomes Frado's nickname in the family--and the narration calls her that during her school-days hijinx (minstrelsy?). Even affectionately, the word/name highlights the requirement for the child to be amusing according to her difference. She can be "Nig" because she is, to Mrs. B., and unavoidably in the social sphere, even among those who love her, a [n-word]. Also interested in thinking through the poetic heads to the chapters, but haven't done so yet.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Pam

    Our Nig: Sketches from the Life of a Free Black is an autobiographical slave narrative by Harriet E. Wilson. It was published in 1859 and rediscovered in 1982 by professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.. It is considered the first novel published by an African-American on the North American continent. I discovered this book when I lived in New Hampshire.She was from Milford,NH.,a quaint little town with wonderful Antiques & Historical sites.The Oval is the town center, with the Pillsbury Bandstand as its Our Nig: Sketches from the Life of a Free Black is an autobiographical slave narrative by Harriet E. Wilson. It was published in 1859 and rediscovered in 1982 by professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.. It is considered the first novel published by an African-American on the North American continent. I discovered this book when I lived in New Hampshire.She was from Milford,NH.,a quaint little town with wonderful Antiques & Historical sites.The Oval is the town center, with the Pillsbury Bandstand as its centerpiece and the Souhegan River as backdrop. The Oval is formed by a modified traffic rotary in which State Highways 13 and 101A intersect, with northbound 13 and eastbound 101A passing straight through and crossing each other at a right angle with a stop sign for traffic on Route 13.A BANDSTAND IN THE MIDDLE OF TOWN_doesn't get any better than that in today's world & lifestyle! A very good read,I recommend for all you History Buffs out there!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lois

    I found the first few chapters hard to read or get into. Once Frada is with the Belmonts the tone of the text changes slightly or maybe I was just more into it. I like this book, surprisingly. I was a bit worried in the beginning that the novel would follow the 'tragic mulatto' trope and while there are certainly elements of tragedy, Wilson seems to agree with me that blackness is a zero sum game. Mixed race isn't really a viable category for the purposes in which 'race' is used. The entire purpo I found the first few chapters hard to read or get into. Once Frada is with the Belmonts the tone of the text changes slightly or maybe I was just more into it. I like this book, surprisingly. I was a bit worried in the beginning that the novel would follow the 'tragic mulatto' trope and while there are certainly elements of tragedy, Wilson seems to agree with me that blackness is a zero sum game. Mixed race isn't really a viable category for the purposes in which 'race' is used. The entire purpose of 'race' being to separate and elevate whites, everyone else is in effect a 'nigger'. Love the feminist indictment of both black patriarchy and white abolitionism. Powerful condemnation of the abolitionist movement. Abolitionists were usually supporters of racism, just not slavery. Fairly powerful condemnation of Christianity as basically for white folks, which I think is still valid. I've never understood the adoption of the religion of those that enslaved your ancestors by the Diaspora.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Reviews May Vary

    I read this for the readharder challenge this year. I'd say I felt meh, my usual feelings about fiction that feels so closely like a single person's narrative, like this one does. I think I like my historical fiction with more fiction. Let's be honest.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Chanelle

    This is a terrific piece of literature and the connections made from the piece to Harriet E. Wilson's actual history are undoubtedly intriguing. However, I wasn't too interested.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Juliana

    My review: https://theblankgarden.com/2020/11/12... My review: https://theblankgarden.com/2020/11/12...

  9. 4 out of 5

    Valerie

    Interesting from a historical perspective but not a cracking good read.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Domonique Shante (Livre Cafe)

    I read this in one sitting... I'm NOT a fast reader. I was able to find that this book was short and engaging enough even through the antiquated writing, which usually turns me away after 2 pages. This is a book a lot of people don't talk about. I was attracted to this book because of it's complicated and controversial history.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Keating

    Biography of a mulatto woman left to work for a horrible family just before the Civil War. A true story. Reminds me that times were not good in the North for free blacks prior to the Civil War either. Eye opening in many ways. Very much shorter but equivalent to Uncle Toms Cabin in my view.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Aubrey

    There's something inspiring about the amount of effort that went into this edition. I'm not going to go and rate the book a four or five star because of it, but part of why academia has and continues, despite various hiccups, to attract me is the sheer heroism of certain members of it accomplishing literary excavations of extraordinary value. Wilson's novel was passed over by seemingly all and sundry for decades on end judging by the analytical comments made by Gates, and now her work stands alo There's something inspiring about the amount of effort that went into this edition. I'm not going to go and rate the book a four or five star because of it, but part of why academia has and continues, despite various hiccups, to attract me is the sheer heroism of certain members of it accomplishing literary excavations of extraordinary value. Wilson's novel was passed over by seemingly all and sundry for decades on end judging by the analytical comments made by Gates, and now her work stands alongside Clotel, Incidents in the Life of the Slave Girl, and Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass when it comes to the top of the hierarchy of antebellum African American writing. There's no use crying over spilled milk, but one has to wonder what the impact would have been on the development of literature, and more specifically African American literature, had Wilson's novel not been all but completely suppressed out of her contemporaneous existence and instead acted as cornerstone to further developments made in subsequent publications. Ah well. This isn't my kind of buried gem on an instinctual level, but I do appreciate how much work went into this novel's uncovering, and how many other works likely remain to be revitalized. So much of the introduction and end notes went over the specifics of this book's plot that I feel I read the text three times over instead of one, albeit fleshed out with historical context I find so delicious at either end. The story itself does do interesting things with tropes and taboo subjects of the period as Gates points out, but it's one thing to be told such and another to have viewed the stigma firsthand and thus appreciate the bravery that went into addressing these topics, however sentimentally or racially it was done. Much as it was in 'Middlesex', though, the story ended when the more interesting narrative began, as Wilson's freedom, woeful as it was at many a time, was still more varied in its activities and experiences in a single year than was the entirety of her growth to maturity. One can't expect everything, though, from so early a text composed in such straitened circumstances, but my rating still stands as honestly as I can make it. I'd still recommend this to others as, despite its age, it reads well, and the breadth of Wilson's scholarship, as evidenced by her choice of epigraphs is both surprising and heartening. Again, it's a shame that so little fame or fortune came her way and so little impact was left behind immediately after publication, but as it was with Alice Walker and Zora Neale Hurston, there's good work still to be done, and good black people doing it. This was the first book I finished for Black History Month. I also have Clotel in the running, and I am also going to pick up something more modern to keep my women of color reading category satisfied. It's strange how much time I've been spending in the 19th and early 20th century of late (not to mention the looming eighteenth century bulk of The Story of the Stone that I'm currently on reprieve from), but it's also living proof of how widely one can read without giving into the conventional white boy parade. While it's true I've read many of the more popular works belonging to marginalized demographics of these far flung periods, I still have undiscovered trails to traverse, and my habit of being inspired by whatever recognizable titles or promising looking name come my way through various book sales will always give me something eventually. Wilson's isn't the one I've honestly liked the most out of the works I've read in this fashion, but it's wonderful to have access to something that was forcibly wiped from the collective literary memory for so long. It truly makes the more onerous aspects of the reading experience worthwhile.

  13. 4 out of 5

    E.

    Hard to know exactly how to rate this, as this autobiographical pre-Civil War story seems a bit rough, literarily speaking. Historically, though, it is a significant work, one of the first novels published by an African-American woman in the United States. The story pushes back against Northern racism (which, the text briefly notes, appeared even among abolitionists) and negative popular depictions of black women.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Chanel Hardy

    I felt Frado’s pain when her mother left her and can’t imagine how that must have felt as a child growing up during those times. Frado had to live with a white family, the Bellmont’s where she worked as a servant and suffered unimaginable physical and emotional abuse by the mother, Mrs. Bellmont, and the daughter Mary. From the age of six, she was forced to do exhausting work, and by the age of fourteen, she was doing the hard labor of a fully-grown man. Although the women were cruel, the men tr I felt Frado’s pain when her mother left her and can’t imagine how that must have felt as a child growing up during those times. Frado had to live with a white family, the Bellmont’s where she worked as a servant and suffered unimaginable physical and emotional abuse by the mother, Mrs. Bellmont, and the daughter Mary. From the age of six, she was forced to do exhausting work, and by the age of fourteen, she was doing the hard labor of a fully-grown man. Although the women were cruel, the men treated Frado better. It was Mr. Bellmont who convinced his wife to allow Frado to get an education, where she learned to read and write, but only until the age of nine where she became a servant full time. The brothers James and Jack, were the standout characters for me. It was nice to see that not everyone made her life miserable. I honestly think that if it weren’t for the men, Frado would’ve been killed by those evil women. Particularly, I loved her relationship with the older brother, James. He was her friend and confidant, her peace in the storm, and whenever he was around, he made it his business to make sure Frado was safe and unharmed. There was one scene involving a conversation between Frado and James, (can’t spoil!) that honestly got to me and had me teary eyed. You could tell that during these moments, they really did care for each other, and the bond was strong. I couldn’t understand why Mr. Bellmont allowed his wife to act like a lunatic. Everyone except the sons seemed afraid of her, and James was the only one to ever challenge her. It seems that she ran the house, not the father. He just turned a blind eye to everything. This book is a reminder of why teachings of black history are so important. It’s not about fueling rage in blacks or bringing out the guilt in whites, but people like Harriet have stories that deserve to forever be told. It really was a privilege to read this story, and I hope that after reading this, you decided to pick up a copy. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, due to the 1800’s dialogue, but I got through it well enough to understand what was going on. The actual story is only 72 pages, but the rest of the book is filled with worthwhile information that I wouldn’t pass on.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Dayna

    I feel kind of bad for giving this book only three stars; it makes a really good point and the author was a daring writer for her times ... it was just too repetitive. At some points I felt as though I was reading one chapter over and over again. It is about a half-black girl named Frado. She is abandoned by her white mother with the Bellmont's, who she is forced to work for until she is eighteen. Some members of the family are kind to her, but the mother is especially cruel and she is treated f I feel kind of bad for giving this book only three stars; it makes a really good point and the author was a daring writer for her times ... it was just too repetitive. At some points I felt as though I was reading one chapter over and over again. It is about a half-black girl named Frado. She is abandoned by her white mother with the Bellmont's, who she is forced to work for until she is eighteen. Some members of the family are kind to her, but the mother is especially cruel and she is treated for the most part as a slave, even though she is free, living in New England ... a region of supposed abolitionists. The book was written (and is, I assume, set in) the 1850s. It is contemporary to and comparable to "Uncle Tom's Cabin" by Harriet Beecher Stowe ... which I have not read. I would say that the difference is that Stowe was writing a novel based on convictions (and in my opinion she maybe benefitted a little too much from the sensationalism) while Harriet E. Wilson was writing more from experience ... she was a free black living in the north and she saw the inconsistancies in the abolitionist movement, acknowledged them, and tried to confront them in this novel. Needless to say it didn't do so well, because Wilson was black, and because she was writing to an audience pointing out their hypocrisy ... and people don't generally want to hear that they hypocrites. Even though the book is addressing an important issue, it is not written all that well, and so the point is a little lost unless you already know it. Someone might say that it is the style of the era in which it was written ... I would say the author just failed to hit the mark. The way it is written is to appeal to your senses, but it is also a slap on the hand, and so it does not read all that well. Still, I would recommend it, and I would say that is is an important piece of literature.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Mandy

    Honestly, I don't know if I've ever been so pissed off after reading a novel. It was going so well, another compelling slave story, this one about a young girl whose mother abandons her outside a wealthy family's home and they decide to take her in as their house servant. The short novel describes her treatment in the house (which is bad) and the few family members who appreciate her (but don't do anything) and it basically goes on like this for the entire book. Now, this is a story of the girl' Honestly, I don't know if I've ever been so pissed off after reading a novel. It was going so well, another compelling slave story, this one about a young girl whose mother abandons her outside a wealthy family's home and they decide to take her in as their house servant. The short novel describes her treatment in the house (which is bad) and the few family members who appreciate her (but don't do anything) and it basically goes on like this for the entire book. Now, this is a story of the girl's entire life so it's not a spoiler to say that she dies, but die she does. After about 50 pages of reading about her life in this house and feeling bad for her and wanting her to get out and make something of herself, the author chooses instead to wrap up the story of her post-18 year old life in about 5 pages and then she just dies. So what was the point? I have no idea. I invested the time in finding out about this little mulatto girl named Frado and feeling bad for her and wishing the people who cared about her would step up and do a little more to help her, but instead, the book just ends-- no moral learned, no nothing. It's possible that that was the point. Maybe it was supposed to piss you off with how hopeless and sad it was that nothing ever worked out in this poor kid's life, but that's not how it comes across. It comes off as the author got lazy or just doesn't know how to finish a novel. If you like stories with disappointing endings, then you will love this. Honestly, there was nothing wrong with the plot, which is why it gets a 2 instead of a 0. It was interesting and I almost finished it in one night, but decided to drag it out, only adding to how upset I am now that the ending could do this to me.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Matt Sautman

    While Harriet Beecher-Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin presents a United States wherein the South is the province of slavery and the North is the province of freedom, with a few boarder states in between serving as the boundaries explored by slave catchers, Harriet E. Wilson's autobiographical novel presents the North guilty of exploitation as well. Centered around a biracial woman named Frado, this novel critiques the practice of indentured servitude in a manner that mirrors the practice to the slave While Harriet Beecher-Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin presents a United States wherein the South is the province of slavery and the North is the province of freedom, with a few boarder states in between serving as the boundaries explored by slave catchers, Harriet E. Wilson's autobiographical novel presents the North guilty of exploitation as well. Centered around a biracial woman named Frado, this novel critiques the practice of indentured servitude in a manner that mirrors the practice to the slave narratives popular in the era. The text is short, moving, and heartbreaking at times. Frado is a victim of her race, but she does not allow herself to be what is distastefully referred to sometimes as a "tragic mulatto." She, like the fugitive John Thompson who produced a slave narrative of his own, are of the colonized bodies who deny themselves perpetual victimhood. It is not surprising that this novel was marginalized by white audiences in its day, which is all the more reason why it needs to be read by modern audiences. Books like these do not only provide glimpses into history. They rewrite it.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Valerie

    I have a different edition than this. I have to say that on a personal level, I hated this book. Some people either are, or come across as, unlikeable. The first person narrator of this book has that unfortunate distinction. On a historical level, however, it fills an important gap. There are slave narratives in numbers, and there are stories told about antebellum life that include slaves to one degree or another. The life of a free black at the time is rarely discussed, either from the point of I have a different edition than this. I have to say that on a personal level, I hated this book. Some people either are, or come across as, unlikeable. The first person narrator of this book has that unfortunate distinction. On a historical level, however, it fills an important gap. There are slave narratives in numbers, and there are stories told about antebellum life that include slaves to one degree or another. The life of a free black at the time is rarely discussed, either from the point of view of someone who experienced it, or from other perspectives. I just wish the author had been a more congenial person. But I recognize the importance of Ashleigh Brilliant's comment "Be kind to unkind people. They probably need it the most." Unpleasant people don't, and shouldn't, be neglected on that account alone. So though I probably won't reread the book (and regret having bought a copy rather than checking it out from the library), I'm glad I read it once.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jan Priddy

    I have read more than a few preachy, cliché-ridden nineteenth century novels. This was one of the worst. A researcher who connected strongly with this text believes the "novel" is memoir. That makes sense, but it is still a sad tale that makes everyone look bad—not just the abolitionist whites but blacks too. No doubt indentured servitude has always been abominable. I still did not like this book. "Boggis began to study the text of Our Nig. She searched Milford for homes that matched description I have read more than a few preachy, cliché-ridden nineteenth century novels. This was one of the worst. A researcher who connected strongly with this text believes the "novel" is memoir. That makes sense, but it is still a sad tale that makes everyone look bad—not just the abolitionist whites but blacks too. No doubt indentured servitude has always been abominable. I still did not like this book. "Boggis began to study the text of Our Nig. She searched Milford for homes that matched descriptions from the book. Eventually, she found a match. It's now owned by a family, whom Boggis has befriended, and working with them, she has located the crawl space where Wilson likely slept as a child."—from NPR

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mj

    This is the first novel written by an African American woman, which should put it on quite a few radars. Unfortunately, this one seems mostly lost to scholarly discussion rather than popular culture. Part of that might be the fact that this book never quite reaches the quality of other like narratives. To be blunt, I found this book to be a bit boring at times. However, think about what is written here! At its core, Our Nig is about a woman who doesn't know why such awful things are happening and This is the first novel written by an African American woman, which should put it on quite a few radars. Unfortunately, this one seems mostly lost to scholarly discussion rather than popular culture. Part of that might be the fact that this book never quite reaches the quality of other like narratives. To be blunt, I found this book to be a bit boring at times. However, think about what is written here! At its core, Our Nig is about a woman who doesn't know why such awful things are happening and she strives to change that system. And for something written in the 1850s? That is inspiring.

  21. 4 out of 5

    QNPoohBear

    This story is slightly fictional and very powerful. It gives good insight into what being a woman of color was like in 19th century New England. It will shock you and make you think twice about what you thought you knew. It's not a happy story by any means but an important one in the literary canon. Scholars of women's history, African-American history and working class history should read this story

  22. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    Just taught this again for the first time in five years. It's pretty sobering how much Wilson anticipates the tension and hypocrisy around race that we still see today... or maybe it's more accurate to say that way too little has changed since she wrote this book.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kristin

    It's hard to rate a book written in 1859, especially an autobiographical novel written by a Free Black. The brutality of the author's "owner", recounted in great detail, is heartbreaking. I wanted to know more about her adult years, and wished the book had gone on for a couple more chapters.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Caitlin Vaille

    I can't really give a rating to this book, because it wasn't intended for enjoyment. It was written in hopes of obtaining financial sustainment and telling the author's own story. The perspective that Harriet Wilson's life provides adds yet another dimension to the image of the American North directly after abolition that is largely glossed over.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tamara Evans

    This book provides a fictional biographical account of a mixed woman from her birth in 1828's New Hampshire to her adulthood as a free black woman in Massachusetts. Frado's story begins by introducing her white mother, Mag Smith, a poor white woman who is shunned by those in town. She is befriended by an African man named Jim who seeing her plight, decides to marry her. Mag tolerates being married to Jim since he takes care of her and even has children with him but eventually, Jim dies due to con This book provides a fictional biographical account of a mixed woman from her birth in 1828's New Hampshire to her adulthood as a free black woman in Massachusetts. Frado's story begins by introducing her white mother, Mag Smith, a poor white woman who is shunned by those in town. She is befriended by an African man named Jim who seeing her plight, decides to marry her. Mag tolerates being married to Jim since he takes care of her and even has children with him but eventually, Jim dies due to consumption. After Jim dies, Mag is alone again and after a time, marries another man named Seth. Seth and Mag decide to move away and chose to leave six year old Frado with a the Belmonts, a nearby family with the promise to return when times are better. Mag never returns for Frado and she becomes a servant for the Belmonts. From the ages of six to almost twenty, Frado is trained wash dishes and clothes as well as other duties. Although Mr. Belmont is friendly, his wife and daughter Mary are harsh to Frado and constantly berate her. Mrs. Belmont beats her and accuses her of being lazy yet Frado relies on her faith in God to sustain her. Frado's only relief is seen though her love of a dog named Fido and friend Aunt Abby. As Frado gets older, she finds a friend in the Belmonts son James who feels pity for her and wants to see her free from the tyranny of his mother and sister. Eventually, James dies after a long illness and Frado's health declines as well. Frado is removed from the Belmont home in order to get better. As her health improves, Frado begins to work as a knitter but it falsely accused of not really being severely ill. The severity of Frado's illness is proved by the assistance of her former employer and she is able to rest and get better. The final part of the novel focuses on Frado as an adult woman who marries a free black man named Samuel. Samuel travels a lot for speaking engagements which leaves her by herself for long periods of time. During one of Samuel's absences, Frado gives birth to a son. Although Samuel returns for a time, her eventually leaves again and later dies of yellow fever in New Orleans. Once Frado's son is old enough to be left alone, Frado leaves him with a friend and moves to Massachusetts to find a way to support her and her child. Upon securing a home, she retrieves her son and the move to Massachusetts. The novel ends with Frado providing for her child by creating merchandise in a store. What makes this novel notable is that this is viewed as the first novel published by a African-American in the United States, as well as the first novel published by a black woman in 1859. The content of this book is both engaging as well as heartbreaking considering that Frado never fit in with black people nor white people. Frado's resilience and steadfastness are qualities that are timeless and should be exhibited by people today regardless of skin color or gender.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Leigh Anne

    This is one of the first novels written by an African American woman (literary scholars are still arguing over whose was "first" and what is meant by "novel"; they're funny that way). It's more interesting as a historical document and literary artifact than as a pleasure read, but that is no reason not to read it, especially if you are interested in black history. Penguin Classics puts out some really good annotated / scholarly-yet-readable editions, and this one is no exception. The notes and su This is one of the first novels written by an African American woman (literary scholars are still arguing over whose was "first" and what is meant by "novel"; they're funny that way). It's more interesting as a historical document and literary artifact than as a pleasure read, but that is no reason not to read it, especially if you are interested in black history. Penguin Classics puts out some really good annotated / scholarly-yet-readable editions, and this one is no exception. The notes and supporting materials are almost longer than the text itself, but that's awesome because you get to understand the historical context of the work more deeply. The novel is highly autobiographical, and the point-to-point correlations are pointed out, as well as where reality differs from fiction. The end notes are especially helpful to anyone not already versed in the Bible and/or 19th century American history, as Wilson does some really subtle wordplay with Scripture. This novel was suppressed when it first came out because it did not paint a very flattering picture of white people in the North who, while not slave owners, weren't all that much more enlightened when it came to treating black folks like human beings. Abolitionists worried that this would ruin their "North good / South bad" arguments, so they distanced themselves from it and did not review or praise it. This makes Wilson's novel that much more important, as it sheds some much-needed light on the northern black experience. The story revolves around Frado, a biracial girl who is abandoned by her family and hired as an indentured servant to a white family. The mother and eldest daughter treat Frado like crap, while the other members of the family are kinder, though still not nice enough to give her the environment she would need to thrive. For most of the novel, her best friend is Fido the dog, and that speaks volumes. The novel comes to a seemingly abrupt, not altogether UNhappy end, but still not exactly sunshine and roses for Frado. You really need to see this to appreciate it. I'm glad I read it, even though it made me incredibly uncomfortable, because that's kind of the point. And I always like learning more about actual American history, even if I'm not always happy with what I learn. Better to know than not.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Melinda

    Unknown to many, Harriet Wilson was the first female African American to publish a novel. Wilson published the novel in 1859 to support herself and her child after her husband abandoned the family. Our Nig, semi autobiographical novel tells of Fado, a mixed-race young girl abandoned by her caucasian mother after the death of her African American father. Abandoned by her mother and stepfather, Frado is left as an indentured servant to a family with a violent mistress as well as a daughter just Unknown to many, Harriet Wilson was the first female African American to publish a novel. Wilson published the novel in 1859 to support herself and her child after her husband abandoned the family. Our Nig, semi autobiographical novel tells of Fado, a mixed-race young girl abandoned by her caucasian mother after the death of her African American father. Abandoned by her mother and stepfather, Frado is left as an indentured servant to a family with a violent mistress as well as a daughter just as violent. Our Nig tell of Frado's experiences in the abusive Bellmont household. The physical violence Frado suffered is heartbreaking. How another person can inflict such pain and suffering on another is beyond me. Frado endured such emotional trauma from the abandonment and at the hand of Mrs Bellmont and Mary her sadistic daughter. Mrs Bellmont was obviously experiencing some underlying mental illness, as for Mary, she was just plain cruel and enjoyed inflicting pain plain and simple. Mind you Frado was a 'free slave', image what she would have languished otherwise in the clutches of Mrs Bellmont, I shudder thinking about it. Despite her numerous beatings which led to poor health under the extreme conditions, Frado managed to find her way. She managed to overcome obstacles and never gave up. Breaks my heart when I read stories of how one person undergoes numerous trials and tribulations. I am so thankful Frado experienced some kindness and gentleness by Bellmont family members sans Mrs Bellmont and Mary. Frado's strength of mind, body and spirit is inspiring and impressive. An incredibly strong woman as well as her predecessors suffering the injustices of ignorant, intolerant people. Every one should read this arresting story of this nations history, a reminder of the cruelty and unnecessary injustices we should never partake in again. A moving story of an innocent child coming of age and conquering cruelty in its lowest form.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    Our Nig is the first novel written by an African-American woman, Harriet Wilson, whose harrowing early life provides the backbone for the story of a little girl called Frado who is abandoned by her desperately poor mother and stepfather. They conspire to leave her with a family in the neighborhood too crazy to keep a servant, who therefore could use an unofficially indentured six-year-old to function as housemaid. And so Frado spends her childhood working her fingers to the bone and sleeping is Our Nig is the first novel written by an African-American woman, Harriet Wilson, whose harrowing early life provides the backbone for the story of a little girl called Frado who is abandoned by her desperately poor mother and stepfather. They conspire to leave her with a family in the neighborhood too crazy to keep a servant, who therefore could use an unofficially indentured six-year-old to function as housemaid. And so Frado spends her childhood working her fingers to the bone and sleeping is a drafty attic. Frado prays for a summons to live with the family's oldest son and his wife in a different town, but he falls ill and dies, and she is comforted by her Christian faith, which her mistress tries to prevent her from partaking in, because the woman, while on the fence about the souls of black folks, doesn't believe attending meetings one evening a week can be more edifying than washing the dishes and tending cows. Beatings, hardship, Christianity, a pet dog, and wishing she could run away fill the years until Frado turns eighteen and can take a job as a domestic for saner people. Her health ruined from the years of hard labor, she cannot work regularly and moves about, lives on charity, takes in sewing, marries, and is abandoned. One reviewer made the point that, although Our Nig is written to the conventions of the sentimental novel of the day, marriage does not resolve Frado's situation, instead the control of her own labor is Frado's goal and redemption, and the real life Ms. Wilson's novel based on her life story is another attempt to her make her own way financially in the world where most Black Americans were still enslaved, which is, it's argued, why Our Nig did not receive the attention of, say, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, which is easier for the abolitionist to stomach than a narrative of oppression in the free North. Our Nig is an excellent historical document, although its merits as a novel are not of particular note. On the other hand, it's quite short. http://surfeitofbooks.blogspot.com/20...

  29. 4 out of 5

    TheBlackLadyReads

    3.5 stars This was a read for class. I enjoyed the convergence of genres, elements of novel and autobiography. Frado's story broke my heart and at the sametime boiled my blood. The character Mrs.Belmont was so thought provoking because of her 'southern sentisibility' and the volatile family dynamic it created. Although I am not a fan of early American literature, this was enjoyable.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    Our Nig is probably one of the most important novels to look at in American history ... I mean, come on; it was the first one written by an African American woman! Unfortunately, Our Nig is also just a bit on the boring side. Boring is a bit harsh, because if we consider the novel in the time that it was written, it was revolutionary ... it has a free African American woman radically speaking her mind and telling a horrifying tale about the cruelties of Northern women. This is the kind of stuff t Our Nig is probably one of the most important novels to look at in American history ... I mean, come on; it was the first one written by an African American woman! Unfortunately, Our Nig is also just a bit on the boring side. Boring is a bit harsh, because if we consider the novel in the time that it was written, it was revolutionary ... it has a free African American woman radically speaking her mind and telling a horrifying tale about the cruelties of Northern women. This is the kind of stuff that was saved for the South, people. That's how radical this was. Unfortunately, we have become desensitized to this kind of story. Anyone that has spent some time in an American survey course will have already read Frederick Douglass' Narrative, and this just doesn't quite measure up to that kind of storytelling. Wilson gives us a rushed account of her character, and she doesn't really spend time getting into Frado's characterization as Douglass does with his autobiography. Instead, we see this awful woman doing awful things to Frado, and we don't really understand why this is happening. But maybe that's the point -- even Wilson doesn't understand why people are so mean. She just knows that we should change it. There are strong messages for equality in here, and Wilson was easily one of the earlier civil rights leading women. Her post-Our Nig life fascinates me, and I would love to read a fictional biography of that period of her life as well. Hair tonic saleswoman, Spiritualist leader ... too bad Wilson didn't write a sequel! Overall, Our Nig is an important book to read. It's really quick, really short, and it won't eat up too much time ... even if it's not the most exciting piece of 19th century fiction to pick up.

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