The Bondwoman's Narrative


The Bondwoman's Narrative

infobox Book |
name = "The Bondwoman's Narrative"
title_orig =
translator =


image_caption =
author = Hannah Crafts
illustrator =
editor = Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
cover_artist = Giorgetta B. McRee
country = United States
language = English
series =
genre = Novel
publisher = Warner Books
release_date = 2002
english_release_date =
media_type = Print (Paperback& Hardback)
pages = 365 pp
isbn = ISBN 0-446-69029-5 (Paperback) ISBN 0-446-53008-5 (Hardback)
preceded_by =
followed_by =

The Bondwoman's Narrative is a 2002 bestselling novel written by Hannah Crafts, a self-proclaimed runaway slave from North Carolina. The story is preceded by a description of how the story was acquired by and eventually published by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. The novel, speculated by Gates to have been written sometime between 1853 and 1861, is possibly the first novel ever written by an African-American woman.

Plot summary

The novel focuses on the exploits of Hannah, a house slave. The story begins with the narrator’s explanation of how she was taught by a kind old couple how to read and write when she was a child, until the couple was discovered and reprimanded.

The narrative then progresses to when Hannah is a young woman, still working as a house slave. Her master holds a large wedding, and, through the course of the party, Hannah notices an unsightly old man subtly following her new mistress. Hannah concludes that “each one was conscious of some great and important secret on the part of the other”. Indeed, in the coming weeks, after observing her new mistress lock herself away most of the day, Hannah comes to learn that the old man is Mr. Trappe, a crooked lawyer who has uncovered that the mistress is actually a fair-skinned mulatto.

Hannah and the Mistress decide to flee the estate in the middle of the night. After getting lost and discovering that Mr. Trappe is closely pursuing them, they decide to stay in a shack in the forest. The shack is clearly the scene of a murder, with bloodstained weapons and clothes cached within. Under such conditions, the Mistress starts to go insane.

In spring, the women are found by a group of hunters who begin to escort them to prison. One of the hunters, Horace, informs Hannah that her master slit his own throat after their escape. The women are taken to prison, where they meet Mrs. Wright, a senile woman who has been imprisoned for trying to help a slave girl escape. The Mistress’ insanity worsens.

After several months, the women are moved to a house, where conditions are much better but they are still unable to leave or know the identity of their captor. Finally, after another long imprisonment period, it is revealed that their captor is Mr. Trappe. The Mistress, upon learning this, has a brain aneurysm and dies.

Hannah is then sold to a slave trader. However, the horse pulling the cart becomes distressed and runs the cart off a ledge. The slave trader is killed instantly and Hannah wakes up in the home of Mrs. Henry, a kindly woman who treats Hannah very well. As Hannah recuperates, Mrs. Henry is informed that Hannah’s previous owner wishes to claim her. Despite Hannah’s pleas, Hannah finds herself once again a house slave, this time for Mrs. Wheeler.

Mrs. Wheeler is a vain, self-centered woman. Hannah is to go into town to retrieve a facial powder when she hears news of Mr. Trappe’s death. After returning with the powder, Mrs. Wheeler finds that it reacts with her fragrance, causing a blackening effect. Mrs. Wheeler has temporary blackface, causing her much discomfort. After the family moves to North Carolina and another house slave replaces Hannah, Mrs. Wheeler suspects her of telling others about the blackface incident. As punishment, Hannah is ordered to the fields, but before she can join the field slaves, she flees yet again.

Hannah eventually makes it into the care of Mrs. Hetty, the kind woman who originally taught Hannah to read and write. Mrs. Hetty facilitates Hannah’s escape to the North, where she resides with her mother.

Characters

* Hannah—The narrator of the story. She is a young slave woman turned two-time runway. It is purported that the character is analogous to Hannah Crafts, the author of the book, though the name is most likely a pseudonym.
* The Mistress— The Mistress (who remains unnamed throughout the novel) is a fair-skinned mulatto who was mistakenly switched at birth and raised a wealthy aristocrat. After her secret is discovered by Mr. Trappe, she is manipulated until she finally succumbs to the pressure and dies.
* Aunt Hetty— the kindly old woman who originally teaches Hannah to read and write. After escaping a second time, Hannah’s flight to the North is aided by Hetty. The existence of a real-life counterpart is unknown.
* Mr. Trappe— The main antagonist of the story. A crooked lawyer, Mr. Trappe makes it his business to discover and exploit the secrets of rich families. The character is clearly modeled after Mr. Tulkinghorn from Charles Dickens’ novel "Bleak House".
* Mrs. Wheeler-- An incredibly vain woman who buys Hannah after her accident. She has little respect for Hannah, and, after a humiliating blackface incident, ordered Hannah to the fields. Hannah subsequently fled.

Major themes

Hannah Crafts was clearly influenced by the popular literary trends of the day. Gates hypothesizes that she must have read prominent works of fiction (such as "Bleak House", which was a clear influence on the story) in Frederick Douglass's newspaper, which had a high circulation among runaway slaves.

Major Literary Styles include:
* Sentimentalism
* Gothicism
* Slave Narrative

Acquisition of the Story

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. first acquired the story through an annual auction by Swann Galleries. The catalogue described the novel as an “Unpublished Original Manuscript; a fictionalized biography, written in an effusive style, purporting to be the story, of the early life and escape of one Hannah Crafts.”

Gates, surprised by the lack of interest, bought the manuscript at a low price. He subsequently began the process of verifying the truthfulness of the text. Wyatt Houston Day, a bookseller and authenticator, wrote “ I can say unequivocally that the manuscript was written before 1861, because had it been written afterwards, it would have most certainly contained some mention of the war or at least secession.” Kenneth Rendell identified the original ink as iron gall ink, which was most widely used up until 1860. Gates concluded that Crafts was most likely black because of the way she refers to other black characters; the intricate, insider knowledge of specifics regarding slave escape routes; and her numerous conventional mistakes.

The [http://orbis.library.yale.edu/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?v2=1&ti=1,1&CallBrowse=1&PID=HXGscYxL30e-66OE86f4IwEku_Cz original manuscript version of The Bondwoman's Narrative ] is now in the collection of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.


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