With the 1987 edition of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, originally published in 1861, Pace University English professor Yellin recovered the real identity of the author behind the pseudonymous Linda Brent: Harriet Jacobs (1813-1897). With this deeply documented and thoroughly engaging biography, she provides a vibrant account of Jacobs's remarkable lives; in a triptych structure it moves from the slave girl, Hatty, to the writer, Linda, to the activist, Mrs. Jacobs. Yellin clarifies error and memory lapse without argument and frames the speculative responsibly. The first life is the best known: Hatty spends nearly seven years hiding in her grandmother's attic to escape the attentions, threats and abuse of her de facto owner. Where Jacobs omitted what "might detract from the story of her freedom struggle," Yellin goes behind her narrative's foreground (the terror of slavery, particularly for women) to restore "all the extras." Dimension and history are given to the Jacobs family and the Norcross family, as well as the Edenton, N.C., community they share. With the second life, Linda's, Yellin delineates the writing, publishing, marketing and reception of Incidents, as she traces Linda's service to and friendship with Cornelia Willis and Amy Post. In the third and least known of the lives, Yellin recounts the postbellum Mrs. Jacobs, who returned South to do relief work during the Civil War, struggled to establish schools and asylums for the black refugees and saw the rise of peonage, Jim Crow and Klan violence. Incidents presented a life of much isolation; Yellin's work recreates its rich milieu, delving deeply into Jacobs's connections to the literary and abolitionist worlds, tracing the full history of her daughter and her brother. This scholarly account, woven in a reader friendly fashion, restores "an heroic woman who lived in an heroic time" to history and to us. Photos. Author tour. (Jan.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is on the reading lists of most American students. Jean Yellin's biography of its author, then, belongs on the reading list of every teacher who uses the original story of the young female slave who spent seven years hiding in an attic in Edenton, North Carolina in order to protect herself and her children from the wiles of her lascivious master. Yellin not only documents in detail the early life and eventual 1842 escape from slavery of Harriet Jacobs, but also chronicles her pre-Civil War anti-slavery activities and then her post-war activities on behalf of the freedmen of the South. Most interesting, perhaps, are the intense efforts of Harriet and her daughter Louisa on behalf of black refugees in Savannah, Georgia, who were in desperate need of shelter and care at the conclusion of the war. Yellin, who was featured at length on this topic in the 2005 PBS series Slavery and the Making of America, writes with the smooth phrasing of the expert scholar. Her exhaustive (and periodically exhausting) research is documented in over 100 pages of notes. She also provides a select bibliography. Most highly recommended for teachers. (NB: There is an odd erratum on page 36 where Nat Turner's rebellion is dated 1859 instead of 1831.) KLIATT Codes: A*Exceptional book, recommended for advanced students and adults. 2004, Perseus, 394p. notes. bibliog. index., Ages 17 to adult.
Harriet Jacobs explained that in writing her autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, she had "striven faithfully to give a true and just account of [her] own life in slavery." Yellin, biographer of Jacobs and editor of the most recent edition of Incidents, here presents a powerful account of Jacobs's life after many years of research. Jacobs is portrayed as a remarkable woman who, until recently, was largely lost to American memory. Consulting correspondence, diaries, family papers, government records, and newspaper accounts, Yellin pieces together Jacobs's story, paying special attention to the forces that shaped her long life and work, such as her grandmother Molly and her brother John, the Civil War and Reconstruction, the antislavery movement, and the women's rights movement. As Yellin ascertains, Jacobs deserves to be recognized for many reasons: for authoring and publishing a narrative that "became a weapon in the struggle for emancipation," for freeing herself and her children, for working with black refugees in the South during the Civil War, for establishing schools and hospitals, and for working to further the Equal Rights Amendment. The Harriet Jacobs that emerges is, in her own words, "a soul that burned for freedom and heart nerved with determination to suffer even unto death in pursuit of that liberty which without makes life an intolerable burden." Highly recommended for academic libraries.-Kathryn R. Bartelt, Univ. of Evansville Libs., IN Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Graceful, honorable portrait, extensively documented and annotated, of the woman who wrote Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Yellin, who previously edited a modern edition of Jacobs's 1861 classic, makes no bones about being an Old Lefty and, out of that tradition, being drawn to the powerful slave narrative. Many scholars have cast doubt on the authenticity of the book's story and questioned whether Jacobs actually wrote it; Yellin dug deep, pulling together her subject's extant letters (of which there are a gratifyingly substantial number) and deciphering the names of the real characters behind the pseudonyms. She makes it clear where the evidence is scant, but finds a syntactical identity between the letters and the narrative. Yellin fixes Jacobs's early experiences in the social history of Edenton, North Carolina, home to freeborn, emancipated, and slave populations, as well as the white families for whom she worked. The author is rightly wowed by a woman who learned to read despite anti-literacy laws and, unlike Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, actually wrote her own autobiography-with the help of Lydia Maria Child, granted, but in her own words. During the Civil War, Jacobs did relief work for refugees and the poor and wrote about it for Northern newspapers. Later, she helped establish schools, gardens, orphanages, and old-folk homes, operating at ground level as an activist in the true sense, as strong a resister of racism as the ex-slave desperadoes of the antebellum South. Yellin displays a pleasing and unusual ability to be both euphonious and punchy as she weds Jacobs's story to the politics of the times: Nat Turner and David Walker's Appeal, Frederick Douglass's NorthStar, and Samuel Cornish's Rights of All. In her final years, Jacobs ran boardinghouses, fed the poor, even worked cleaning houses, always engaged with life on a fundamental level. Yellin's fine reconstruction of an impressive personality should firmly embed Jacobs in American cultural history. (16-page b&w photo insert, not seen)