The Works of William Wells Brown: Using His "Strong, Manly Voice"

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Widely considered the first African-American novelist, William Wells Brown's (ca. 1814-1884) 1853 novel, Clotel, or the President's Daughter, chronicled the fate of the daughter of Thomas Jefferson and his black housekeeper. Yet, in his own day, Brown was perhaps more important as a rousing orator, scholar, and cultural critic. He escaped from slavery in 1834 and worked on Lake Erie steamboats in Buffalo, New York, helping slaves escape into Canada and lecturing for the New York Anti-Slavery Society. After moving to Boston in 1847, he began writing his autobiography, The Narrative of William W. Brown. By 1850, the book had appeared in four American and five British editions and rivaled the popularity of Frederick Douglass's Narrative written two years earlier. Throughout the late 1840s and 50s, Brown continued to lecture to further the antislavery cause and wrote prolifically. In addition to Clotel, he published the first drama written by an African American and the first military history of African Americans.

In his writings and speeches, William Wells Brown deliberately resists the tone of heroic resistance and eloquent outrage set by Frederick Douglass. Brown's rhetorical strategy involved telling stories of individuals and individual encounters in which the art of simple understatement and guileless self-presentation prevailed over cant, bullying, and hypocrisy. Brown's often humorous and deceptively artless tone appealed to politically active women who were claiming the moral high ground not only on questions of abolition but also on temperance and women's rights. Unlike Douglass, whose literary output can be described as a long conversation with the founding fathers and literary lions about freedom, liberty, and what it means to be an American, Brown emphasized— with humor and a cosmopolitan gentility— the concerns of middle class family life: education, parenting, and the damage that slavery was doing to American society.

This volume, with a foreword by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., will introduce readers to Brown's lesser-known, but no less powerful works, placed in the context of the era's debates on slavery, gender, morality, and the discursive limits put on anti-slavery advocacy. The collection presents Brown's anti-slavery works and the contemporary response to them in light of Brown's own attention to the role of women writers and political advocates in this period. Garrett's and Robbins's introduction to these texts emphasizes Brown's awareness and even use of women's voices in political discourse as a way of distinguishing himself from other black male voices of the time. The selection of texts also demonstrates Brown's willingness to use and recycle any texts at hand— including his own— in order to appeal to his immediate audience or readership. While making Brown's more obviously political work available to a wider audience, the book reclaims Brown as an important black influence in the American nineteenth century.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Garrett and Robbins have collected an astonishing, delightful variety of works from Brown's versatile pen: anti-slavery speeches before English audiences, essays, semi-autobiographical memoirs, drama, and letters to newspapers. All reveal Brown's talent and especially his wit. This volume belongs in all academic libraries supporting history and literature coursework." —Catholic Library World

"The new Garrett and Robbins collection of lectures, essays, fiction and other writing by William Wells Brown heralds a Brown renaissance. Energetically demonstrating how our appreciation of Frederick Douglass has led us to overlook the very different and equally important abolitionist contributions of Brown, the editors offer readers a careful tour of Brown's careeer. They highlight its fullness and complexity, and especially its astute engagement with audience expectations. The Works of William Wells Brown is a germinal and exciting collection that will open up important new avenues for studying Brown and the abolitionist movement."—Dana D. Nelson, Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of English and American Studies, Vanderbilt University

"A highly valuable anthology that demonstrates the full range of Brown's contributions to the antislavery movement and to the intellectual culture beyond it. In their provocative introduction and sampling of texts, Garrett and Robbins make a compelling case for the ways in which Brown's literary and aesthetic strategies distinguished him from other writers on the abolitionist circuit, while appealing to a specifically female community of reformers."—Elisa Tamarkin, Assistant Professor fo English, University of California, Irvine

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195309638
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 12/21/2006
  • Series: Collected Black Writings Ser.
  • Edition description: ANN
  • Pages: 528
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.30 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Paula Garrett is an associate professor of English and American Studies, and directs the Millsaps College Writing Program. She received her Ph.D. from Louisiana State University, with a specialization in Nineteenth-Century American writing and rhetoric. Her prior work has focused on Grace Greenwood, the first female correspondent for the New York Times; this research has been published in Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers, Women's Writing, and Studies in American Humor. She is currently at work on a full-length Greenwood project and on an article exploring the humor in Brown's My Southern Home.

Hollis Robbins is a member of the Humanities Faculty at the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University. She received her Ph.D. in English from Princeton University and has an M.P.P. from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard as well as an M.A. in English literature from the University of Colorado, Boulder. Dr. Robbins is co-editor, with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., of the forthcoming Annotated Uncle Tom's Cabin (2006), as well as In Search of Hannah Crafts: Critical Essays on The Bondwoman's Narrative (2003) and she is currently writing an article on Henry "Box" Brown.

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Table of Contents

Foreword   Henry Louis Gates Jr.     ix
Acknowledgments     xv
Introduction     xvii
Speeches     1
A Lecture Delivered before the Female Anti-Slavery Society of Salem at Lyceum Hall, Nov. 14,1847 (Boston: Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, 1847)     3
Speech delivered at the Lecture Hall, Croydon, England, September 5, 1849     19
Speech delivered at the Concert Rooms, Store Street, London, September 27, 1849     24
Speech delivered at the Hall of Commerce, London, August 1, 1851     29
Speech delivered at the Town Hall, Manchester, England, August 1, 1854     33
Autobiographical Writings     41
From Narrative of William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave, Written by Himself(Boston: Anti-Slavery Office, 1847)     43
From My Southern Home; or, The South and Its People (Boston: A. G. Brown, 1880)     63
Travel Writings     139
From Three Years in Europe; or, Places I Have Seen and People I Have Met (London: Charles Gilpin, 1852)     143
From The American Fugitive in Europe: Sketches of Places and People Abroad (Boston: John P. Jewett; Cleveland: Jewett, Proctor & Worthington; New York: Sheldon, Lamport & Blakeman, 1855)     164
Fiction     219
From Clotel; or, The President's Daughter: A Narrative of Slave Life in the United States (London:Partridge and Oakey 1853)     221
The Escape; or, A Leap of Freedom: A Drama in Five Acts (Boston: R. F. Walcutt, 1858)     264
Writing Race and Gender     309
From The Black Man: His Antecedents, His Genius, and His Achievements (New York: Thomas Hamilton; Boston, R. F. Wallcut, 1863)     313
From The Rising Son; or, The Antecedents and Advancement of the Colored Race (Boston: A. G. Brown, 1874)     353
From The Negro in the American Rebellion: His Heroism and His Fidelity (Boston: Lee & Shepard, 1867)     439
Selected Letters     445
In The Liberator, July 12, 1850     447
In Frederick Douglass' Paper, October 2, 1851     452
In Frederick Douglass' Paper, March 16, 1855 (reprinted from the Anti-Slavery Standard)     456
In The Christian Recorder, January 22, 1874     458
Teaching William Wells Brown: Four Versions of an Anecdote     461
From Clotel (1853)     465
From The Escape (1858)     466
From Clotelle (1865)     468
From My Southern Home (1880)     469
Bibliography     471
Index     475
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