My Bondage and My Freedom (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

My Bondage and My Freedom (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

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by Frederick Douglass
     
 

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My Bondage and My Freedom, by Frederick Douglass, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of BarnesSee more details below

Overview



My Bondage and My Freedom, by Frederick Douglass, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:

  • New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholars
  • Biographies of the authors
  • Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events
  • Footnotes and endnotes
  • Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work
  • Comments by other famous authors
  • Study questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectations
  • Bibliographies for further reading
  • Indices & Glossaries, when appropriate
All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works.

 

Born a slave, Frederick Douglas educated himself, escaped, and became one of the greatest social leaders in American history. Although usually identified with the monumental Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Douglass produced two additional autobiographies, the second of which he called My Bondage and My Freedom.

A richer, deeper, and far more ambiguous work than the earlier Narrative, My Bondage and My Freedom reveals Douglass’s increased intellectual sophistication and maturity. In the decade that had elapsed since Douglass wrote Narrative, he had broken away from his antislavery mentors, successfully toured England, and established himself as an inspired speaker and writer. With the publication of My Bondage and My Freedom in 1855, Douglass became the country’s foremost spokesman for American blacks—free and enslaved—during the tense and politically charged years preceding the Civil War.

One of the highlights of My Bondage and My Freedom is the appendix, which contains excerpts from several of Douglass’s speeches, including perhaps his most famous, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”

Brent Hayes Edwards is Associate Professor in the Department of English at Rutgers University. He is the author of The Practice of Diaspora: Literature, Translation, and the Rise of Black Internationalism (Harvard University Press, 2003) and of numerous articles on twentieth-century African-American literature, contemporary poetry, Francophone Caribbean literature, surrealism, and jazz.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781411432734
Publisher:
Barnes & Noble
Publication date:
06/01/2009
Series:
Barnes & Noble Classics Series
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
432
Sales rank:
401,030
File size:
3 MB

Read an Excerpt



From Brent Hayes Edwards’s Introduction to My Bondage and My Freedom

With the publication of My Bondage and My Freedom by the New York house of Miller, Orton, and Mulligan in August 1855, Frederick Douglass became the first African American to compose a second autobiography. His previous effort, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, had appeared only ten years earlier, and it had by no means faded from view. On the contrary, particularly given the celebrity Douglass had gained as an anti-slavery lecturer and newspaper editor during the intervening years, the Narrative had already taken its place as one of the best known of the few dozen narratives by former slaves printed in the decades leading up to the Civil War. With the “sheer poetry” of its taut style and the “unrelenting power of its narrative line,” Douglass’s 1845 book is often considered to have set the high water mark of literary composition for an entire generation of African American authors attempting to pen their life stories under the pressures of the abolitionist cause (Stepto, From Behind the Veil, p. 21; O’Meally, “Introduction” to Narrative, pp. xiv–xv; see “For Further Reading”). The appearance of My Bondage and My Freedom would seem to beg the question, then: Why would Douglass have been compelled to write the story of his life again?

Interestingly enough, contemporary reviewers in the 1850s appear to have been little troubled by this question; they took My Bondage and My Freedom as the kind of autobiographical effort befitting a public figure of Douglass’s achieved stature: The second book, more than three times longer than the first, was read “more as a conventional account of the life of an unusual man than as an antislavery document” in the model of the Narrative (Blassingame, “Introduction to Volume Two,” in The Frederick Douglass Papers. Series 2, vol. 2, p. xxxi). Sales were robust, as they had been with the Narrative: reportedly My Bondage and My Freedom sold 5,000 copies in the first two days it was available (with a thousand copies purchased in its first week in the city of Syracuse alone). A second edition appeared in 1856 and a third in 1857; more than 20,000 copies had been sold by 1860, when the German translation of the book appeared. One might not expect such a success if the book were only a half-hearted rehashing of the Narrative. Nevertheless, as John Blassingame and others have pointed out, twentieth-century readers have often had the tendency to consider My Bondage and My Freedom as no more than a “propagandistic and didactic gloss on Douglass’s ‘real’ self-portrait, the Narrative” (p. xlii). Until recently, the few literary critics who took the time to discuss the book tended to dismiss it as “diffuse and attenuated,” a “flabby” sequel to the pristine and “righteous” Narrative (quoted in Andrews, To Tell a Free Story, pp. 266–267). At best, they have characterized the second book as though it were simply a second edition of the Narrative, an update taking into account Douglass’s activities between 1845 and 1855, as when Stephen Butterfield in his 1974 Black Autobiography in America opined blandly that My Bondage and My Freedom “includes most of the material from the early Narrative, with some rewriting, plus the experiences and development that occurred after 1845” (quoted in John David Smith’s “Introduction,” p. xxi).

In the past decade and a half, a handful of scholars such as William Andrews, Eric Sundquist, John Blassingame, John David Smith, and C. Peter Ripley have begun to draw our attention to the importance and independent accomplishment of My Bondage and My Freedom. In the words of Ripley, it is crucial to recognize that Douglass’s three autobiographies—the last, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, was published in 1881 and revised and expanded in 1893—appeared “at distinct periods of Douglass’s life for different reasons” (p. 5). Andrews, whose work has made the most forceful and sustained case for the significance of Douglass’s second book, has wondered in pointed terms just why the Narrative is so habitually seen not just as prior but as privileged, even authoritative: “If the second autobiography can be seen as the successor of the first, why can’t the Narrative be examined as the precursor of My Bondage and My Freedom?” (To Tell a Free Story, p. 267).

It is necessary to read the two books carefully, side by side, to begin to get a sense of exactly how different they are. Clearly, with its expanded length and its twenty-five chapters in the place of the Narrative’s eleven, the 1855 autobiography is “bigger, roomier, more detailed, and more expository” than its predecessor (Andrews, “Introduction to the 1987 Edition,” p. xvii). But more significantly, even given the parallels in narrative, argument, and phrasing, My Bondage and My Freedom is written from an entirely different vantage point—one might almost say that it is composed by an entirely different writer. If the second book contains a more mature style, it is directly related to what Douglass had been doing over the past decade: not just speaking against slavery, traveling the country, and raising subscriptions for abolitionist periodicals such as the Liberator, but also reading and writing—that is, giving himself a thorough training in literature and journalism, in a way that (for obvious reasons) he had never had the chance to do before composing the Narrative.

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