Ph.D. Student Anna Stewart publishes "Revising "Harriet Jacobs" for 1865" in American Literature
(Duke University Press, Winter 2010)
Posted: December 9, 2010
Stewart examines the narrative construction of Harriet Jacobs in 1865, when her former editor Lydia Maria Child included a revised selection from Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861) in The Freedmen's Book, a reader Child was developing to help newly freed slaves learn to read and make a life for themselves. Stewart reads the revised selection from Jacobs's narrative as a case study of core tensions in Child's Reconstruction rhetoric and, more broadly, the anxious rhetoric surrounding the postemancipation status of African Americans in 1865. In The Freedmen's Book, Child celebrates a revolutionary tradition with its attendant social disruption at the same time she champions conventional gender roles as a way of patterning much-needed stability in the post-Emancipation United States. Given her involvement in the 1861 publication of Incidents, Child's role in the 1865 narrative raises questions about the slipperiness of textual authority, and Stewart posits that the scholarly debate over Jacobs's authorial legitimacy has perhaps obscured our awareness of her as a textual construction and (Re)construction—a figure whose narrative was ever adapting to a changing political context and the needs of a community in transition.