FIRES OF JUBILEE by Stephen B. Oates


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This is a straightforward account of Nat Turner, his slave uprising, and the Virginia backwater in which it took place. Oates describes Turner's brilliance as a child, his marriage, his expectations of being freed and his shattered hopes after he was sold. The gory rampage itself and its quick suppression take up a good part of the book. Oates does not engage in psychological speculations or explicit clashes with either William Styron or Styron's critics; he notes that Turner scarcely knew Margaret Whitehead, the white woman he himself killed, and briefly relates that Turner returned to the home of his former owner's brother-in-law after hiding out from militias and posses. The book credits his dictated ""Confessions"" as genuine. The subsequent developments interestingly included a wave of emancipationist sentiment among the white farmers of Western Virginia, though not of course the coastal planters. There is a rather embarrassing epilogue about the small, silly experiences of Oates and his wife visiting Southampton County. The book as a whole indirectly suggests that Turner was both brilliant and a rather deranged religious visionary; no slave revolt could have succeeded, and he would have done most for freedom by escaping North like Frederick Douglass. Useful -- those who prefer elaborate discussions of scholarship and hypothesis within the text will find it pedestrian, others unusually readable.

Pub Date: March 26th, 1975
Publisher: Harper & Row