The Bondwoman’s Narrative

ISBN: 1586212729
ISBN 13: 9781586212728
By: Hannah Crafts Anna Deavere Smith

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Reader's Thoughts


The Bondwoman's Narrative is really two books in one - first, Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s story of the discovery of the original manuscript and its analysis, and secondly, the actual novel by Hannah Crafts.I found Gates's introduction and literary analysis helpful, although I was puzzled by the extent to which he believed it to be autobiographical.Overall, my enthusiasm for the book was dampened by my general lack of interest in gothic or sentimental literature. As a writer, however, I was greatly impressed by Hannah Crafts's wonderful observation of people, including the evil lawyer, Mr. Trappe.Apart from its importance in the history of fiction, it is an entertaining story.

Lisa Murphy

In 2002, the renown Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. found an unpublished, handwritten manuscript in a lot for sale in the Swann Galleries auction. It turned out to be an authentic slave narrative written in the 1850's, telling the tale of a mulatto woman who lived under, then eventually escaped from slavery in the American South. Ms. Hannah Crafts (not her real name?) carries the reader gracefully through a story of terrible suffering, giving insight into how women thought about and survived the difficult condition of being owned.It is full of detail of everyday life, and the unselfconsciously explores the complex relationship between master and slave. A fascinating book, with an amazing introduction by Professor Gates telling his story of verifying the book's authenticity. A must read for understanding Antebellum America.


I am almost finished with this book. If I understand correctly, it is thought to be the only book written by a female African-American slave and may be the earliest book written by an African-American woman. The introduction is quite long, but it goes into much detail regarding the authentication of the book. Hannah, although uneducated (formally), writes with rich detail and spirit. It is intriguing from a literary standpoint to see how her writing style fluctuates throughout the book, speaking to influences from her own readings.


The thing that I found so fascinating about this book is quarter or so of the book itself proving who this woman was and how they came about this information. The writer of those first pages purchased this handwritten manuscript at an auction and discovered that was the only known novel by a female African American slave and possibly the first novel written by a black woman anywhere. The story itself is an interesting read, but the thing that hooked me in general, is all the history and research that went around the the author and her story.

Angelica Shirley Carpenter

This novel, by an escaped female slave, makes a good companion piece to 12 Years a Slave. They are similar in style, told in first person, full of sadness and the particular horrors suffered by slaves. There is some controversy about the author, and this is fiction, not a memoir, but the text is unquestionably moving and suspenseful.


Je ne m'attendais pas du tout à ce genre de livre lorsque je l'ai acheté par hasard. Je pensais, puisque l'auteur était une esclave noire, que le propos allait être teinté d'amertume et de violence mais non ! L'écriture est naïve (parfois faiblarde vu le peu d'instruction qu'avait reçue l'auteur) et ressemblerait presque à un roman sentimental si ce qu'elle y décrivait n'était pas si abject.C'était la première fois que j'avais l'occasion de lire un livre sur l'esclavage écrit par une esclave. D'ailleurs la manière dont il est parvenu jusqu'à nous vaut son pesant de cacahuètes.Un bon pendant à "La Case de l'oncle Tom" (écrit, lui, par une blanche).

Tammy Lee

Besides being historically significant, it is also a captivating story, providing perhaps the first inside look of slavery, recorded in the 1850's, by a female slave. This subject has always fascinated me, and I have read many books about slavery and the segregation of people in the South. But I have been waiting to read this account, and even the first quarter of the book, documenting the research and background was the discovery of an unknown artifact.The co-author/publisher purchased this handwritten manuscript at an auction and after much research, discovered that was the only known narrative written by a female African American slave, and possibly the first novel written by a black woman anywhere. The Bondswoman's Narrative has been on my list to read for nearly 10 years, although I have never come across a copy. So I bought the ebook the minute I saw that it was a new release ebook through Kobo. So glad to finally have the opportunity to read it!


I was a bit disappointed after finding out this book was fictionalized. However, the book's Introduction is an interesting account of all that Mr. Gates went through to validate the authenticity of the manuscript. The story is a fascinating account of a mulatto woman's life. It is also exciting that historians believe this to be the oldest existing novel written by an African American woman.

Chad Bearden

Given the proper context by a very enlightening introductory essay by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (that is about half of this volume's content), the novel written by Hannah Crafts is a pretty remarkable piece of writing, not only for its insight into the life of a slave, but also for the rather clever and immenantly amateur way in which it is written.Ms. Crafts novel is a hodge-podge of styles and genres with entire passages practically lifted straight from the works of Dickens and Poe and the like. She jumps from Dickensian social commentary to gothic horror to Twain-like humor to melodramatic slave narrative, without any kind of connecting tissue to tie it neatly together. You get the sense that upon reading the original works, Ms. Crafts liked them so much, she confiscated entire paragraphs and themes and put them to work to tell her own story. As a whole, the work is kind of a mess, but a very interesting mess.I recently read Styron's "The Confessions of Nat Turner" which deals with a similar era, but to be frank, is written by a real author. Due to his upbringing and education and formal training as a writer, its obvious to see that his Pulitzer winning novel is superior as a consistent work of literary art. But to dismiss "The Bondwoman's Narrative" because it not consistent and literarily sloppy is to miss the point entirely. And that is where knowing the context of this work becomes so important.Enter Robert Louis Gates, Jr., a historian who goes to great lengths to share from where he believes this work originated, and why he thinks that. In essence, he provides very convincing evidence that Hannah Crafts was a pseudonym taken by an actual escaped slave who, upon stealing her freedom, traveled to New Jersey where she started a family, then wrote this novel. Not only that, but he provides further evidence that, although the author claims that this is totally a work of fiction, much of what she writes can actually be traced to real people and real locations in North Carolina. And given the historical accuracy of some of the novel's content, one could extrapolate futher than many (though not all) of the events written about could actually be based on Ms. Craft's actual experiences.Now, Mr. Gates is no David McCullough, but the introductory portion of this volume creates an impressive picture of what this novel represents. Sure, Styron might be a superior writer of fiction, but his writings are based on research (second-hand, by definition) and speculation. David McCullough might be a superior historian, subtly embellishing the facts at hand to draw an engaging narrative from documented history.But Hannah Crafts is almost more impressive because she was not formally trained researcher, and didn't need to be. To her, this largley seems to be a first-hand account. She didn't need any formal education, as she rather cleverly is able to borrow what she needs from numerous great writers to whom she had been exposed.Some may read this and be bored by the language or lack of a strong plot, but the history buff inside me really enjoyed this for what it was: a first-hand account of a dark and intersting time in our history, written from the perspective of a female slave, a class of people with a very small voice in the historical record. On those terms, this was a fascinating read, and to anyone of a like mind, I highly recommend it.

Tom Schulte

This audiobook is framed by a forward from and then interview with editor and discoverer Henry Louis Gates, Jr. of what he purports to be an unprecedented historical and literary event, possibly the first novel by a black woman anywhere, maybe even a female former African-American slave. The story itself is part Gothic ghost tale, melodramatic adventure novel and in other ways very period although parts come across as modern and innovative to me.Personally, I felt the book was more likely written by an educated white novelist with abolitionist leanings and slavery primary sources, but he research and argument of the added interview makes a compelling case for Gates' view.


Book on tape...So, my first day with the book on tape was cool. I had to learn how to use the cassette player in my car...there's no pause button, which is strange...surprised that VW wasn't up on that. What if you get a call (which I did) or go through a drive-thru (which I did--for Starbucks, not junker food)? Understandably, not everybody's rockin' it out to cassette tapes anymore, but was very inconvenient. The novel d'audio is really interesting. Strange though, 'cause I'm sure I'd enjoy it more if I got to make up the voices of the characters in my head. You know what I mean? It's kinda spoiled it for me a seeing the movie before reading the book. I feel like I still want to actually read the book for the full effect. Plus the lady who's telling the story is quite obviously from Canada, or wherever else "about" is pronounced "aboot". It's distracting. I think people who do books on tape should have an English accent...or be James Earle Jones. Why not? The English accent is the most pleasant accent to listen to hours on end is it not? And James Earle Jones...I don't even have to explain that one. He would be the perfect voice of God in movies. Remember him in Lion King? Didn't he do the Bible on tape too? Anyway, aside from the Canadian accent, the book on tape thing is really working out, or oot.. I bet a romance novel on tape would be pretty awkward to listen to.


According to Henry Louis Gates, Jr. who wrote a piece for this book, The Bondwoman's Narrative is the first book ever written by an African-American woman. I found out about it because of the interest I have in Gates after I heard an interview with him on NPR one saturday during which he explained the research he was doing on African-American DNA in this country. In case you don't know, he is a professor at Harvard and was arrested trying to "break in" to his house in Boston. It turns out that the policeman who arrested him and Gates have DNA in common:)


The Bondwoman's Narrative is incredible simply for what it is and represents in American history and culture. I found myself fully invested in Craft's characters and her journey to freedom. Because of this investment, however, I felt let down in the last few pages. I wanted more of what Craft must have been feeling as she finally attained the freedom she so courageously sought. It was as though she "landed" and that was it. Regardless, I do recommend this read. It is an important literary contribution, and it is quite impressive the level of skill that Craft, a woman trapped by the bonds of slavery, shows in this memoir.

Marsha Moyer

This may be the first book written by an exslave. The first by an African American. Henry Louis Gates Jr. came by this book, bought, and then researched the author. There is no definitive way of knowing for sure who the author was, but he's narrowed it to two likely female ex-slaves. I suggest reading the narrative first, then go back and read Gates' preface.


Simply amazing. It is a slave narrative thought to be written by the first African American author. I wish I had read this in high school instead of the standard Uncle Tom's Cabin as this seemed like a more authentic experience to me. I felt very proud of it and I loved it! Skip the intro (major snooze) until you read the book, then it will all make sense.

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