LETTERS FROM A SLAVE GIRL: The Story of Harriet Jacobs by Mary E. Lyons
Kirkus Star

LETTERS FROM A SLAVE GIRL: The Story of Harriet Jacobs

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Based on Jacobs's autobiography and presented as letters she might have written from 1825, at age 12, until she escaped north in 1842, a moving evocation of the tragedies inflicted by slavery. Harriet pours out her story as letters to dear ones she has lost. She writes to her dead mother about the family's division after one mistress dies, failing to honor her promise to set Harriet free; to her father when she's denied permission to attend his burial; to the man she loves after he goes north, telling him of her decision to escape the attentions of her master by accepting those of a kinder white man who, though he later succeeded in freeing their children and sending them north, failed to ensure the education he promised them. Meanwhile, Harriet--setting a false trail--hid during the years her children grew from toddlers to young adults, in a tiny space in her grandmother's cabin, as she tells an uncle who's also escaped. The letters here end with her own journey north; a final chapter summarizes the sorrows of the rest of her long life, as well as her many achievements--notably writing and publishing, in 1861, a seminal book on the sexual abuse of slaves. As explained in an excellent note, even the misspellings here are authentic, modeled on real letters, including some from Harriet's brother. The style Lyons creates for Harriet--a luminous character, gentle and resolute--is graceful and direct. A compelling story, then, true in outline and in spirit. Bibliography; family tree; glossary.

Pub Date: Oct. 30th, 1992
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Scribners