MODERN MEDEA by Steven Weisenburger


A Family Story of Slavery and Child-Murder from the Old South
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Weisenburger relates the historical events upon which Toni Morrison’s Beloved is based: the child-murder committed by Margaret Garner, a fugitive slave who chose to kill her own child rather than see her returned to slavery. In 1856, Margaret Garner and her family attempted to flee Kentucky to the free state of Ohio, just miles across the Ohio River. When surrounded by trackers with no possibility of escape, Garner slid a knife across the throat of her little girl. She had already begun attacking her other children when she was subdued and arrested. This account covers the escape, murder, and subsequent trials of the Garners (particularly Margaret), which inflamed the neighboring states of Ohio and Kentucky with arguments over slavery. Weisenburger, a professor of English and director of the Program in American Studies at the University of Kentucky, unfolds a complicated tale with a fullness that incorporates many social and political aspects. His descriptive chronicle extends the bare specifics of the case into a dramatic narrative that covers issues ranging from Southern antebellum culture and morality to the mythical portrayal of Margaret in poems, paintings, and novels. Most of the historical documents come from white sources (newspapers and legal documents written by white reporters and officials), and through this outwardly simple choice, Weisenburger simultaneously acknowledges the inherent bias of history and forces the reader to remember the woman at the center of the story, even though she “tells” very little of it. Weisenburger is a successful historic storyteller despite the fact that his dogged research (to the point of actually retracing the Garners— escape route) brings up a less-than-complete historical record. His very strength is in acknowledging the partial nature of “the facts.”

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8090-6953-9
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1998


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