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The Curse of Caste; or The Slave Bride: A Rediscovered African American Novel by Julia C. Collins [Paperback]

Julia C. Collins

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Book Description

Oct. 15 2006
In 1865, The Christian Recorder, the national newspaper of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, serialized The Curse of Caste; or The Slave Bride, a novel written by Mrs. Julia C. Collins, an African American woman living in the small town of Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The first novel ever published by a black American woman, it is set in antebellum Louisiana and Connecticut, and focuses on the lives of a beautiful mixed-race mother and daughter whose opportunities for fulfillment through love and marriage are threatened by slavery and caste prejudice. The text shares much with popular nineteenth-century women's fiction, while its dominant themes of interracial romance, hidden African ancestry, and ambiguous racial identity have parallels in the writings of both black and white authors from the period. Begun in the waning months of the Civil War, the novel was near its conclusion when Julia Collins died of tuberculosis in November of 1865. In this first-ever book publication of The Curse of Caste; or The Slave Bride, the editors have composed a hopeful and a tragic ending, reflecting two alternatives Collins almost certainly would have considered for the closing of her unprecedented novel. In their introduction, the editors offer the most complete and current research on the life and community of an author who left few traces in the historical record, and provide extensive discussion of her novel's literary and historical significance. Collins's published essays, which provide intriguing glimpses into the mind of this gifted but overlooked writer, are included in what will prove to be the definitive edition of a major new discovery in African American literature. Its publication contributes immensely to our understanding of black American literature, religion, women's history, community life, and race relations during the era of United States emancipation.

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Product Details

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. First issued serially by the Christian Register in 1865 and then lost to archival oblivion, this novel by Williamsport, Pa., resident Collins will revise the chronology of African-American literature. It is, according to Andrews and Kachun (professors of English and history, respectively), the "first serialized novel by an African American woman and the first non-autobiographical novel to be authored by a historically verified African American woman"—displacing previous claimants Harriet Wilson (Our Nig) and Hannah Crafts (The Bondswoman's Narrative). Its heroine, "strangely, wildly, and darkly beautiful" Claire Neville, knows nothing of her parentage and can't get the answers from "old beloved nurse" Juno (who definitely knows). After finishing school (courtesy of a mystery patron), she takes a position as a governess for a New Orleans family. The revelations and tearful encounters spiral out from there, and one must surrender to the silent movie spirit in which a pure, innocent young woman's happiness is threatened by a "villain [with] a heart black as the shadows of Hades." The editors provide a wealth of secondary material, but it's not necessary for readers to have a ball with this utterly wild novel. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"This text enlightens today's reader in matters of representations of race, African American women's authorial venues, and the readership of newspapers during Reconstruction. The editing is careful and clear. Essential."--F. Martin, Choice

"The Curse of Caste; or The Slave Bride, is believed by some scholars to be the first novel ever published by an African-American woman. Whatever the case, "The Curse of Caste" provides insights into contemporary attitudes about black women's sexuality and miscegenation."--Dinitia Smith, The New York Times

"This republication of Julia C. Collins' Civil-War era novel represents a remarkable act of literary recovery. Collins' work and the invaluable supporting material accompanying it here deeply enrich our understanding of American life during her turbulent times."--Dickson D. Bruce, Jr., University of California, Irvine, author of The Origins of African American Literature, 1680-1865

"Following the precedent set by Harriet Wilson's Our Nig, Julia Collins' The Curse of Caste is a compelling, imaginative rendering of the intersections of race and class at the close of the Civil War. William Andrews is the leading scholar of 19th century African American literature, and the work of Andrews and Mitch Kachun on The Curse of Caste is a model of judicious and sensitive editing."--Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard University

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great addition to library of 19th century work Nov. 25 2006
By Karen Libman - Published on
I loved this book! The editors' notes are particularly interesting and informative--they really help to contextualize the book. The novel is a hoot as well, a real romp through the time period. I can see this as a movie! 5 stars.
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent! Dec 13 2006
By lulu - Published on
What a wonderful book. This is one to buy for a personal library. It's historical claim of "first novel by an African American woman" is reason enough to purchase a copy, but the book is flat out- a good read. Hollywood, in most cases, destroys a story when put on film, but I too could see this as great film - if done properly (Hello? A&E???).

The Editor's Introduction was also well presentated and informative. I found the 'ending' by Ms. Collins just fine. I did not need the alternate endings. I liked imagining what took place from "And I am Happy".
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Rare Find! Jan. 12 2012
By Tutt - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Although this novel is a rumored autobiography - it is quite refreshing to find further concrete evidence of the cohesion of community, enterprise and "normalcy" that existed among free african-americans in the 18th century - and also the knowledge there were widely-read periodicals, newspapers, books, etc. written and published in the community. Although there is ample evidence of the concerted effort of this country at the time to draw a wall of exclusion over the achievements, successes and lives of black people not bound to the yoke of slavery during the period (it cannot be over-stressed that the price of that wall resulted in a wide-spread ignorance and disdain to this day of the intelligence, productivity and spirit of the black community during the evil and brutality of slavery). It is refreshingly evident by the fact such volumes were written that everyday African-American life was as enterprising and filled with a community that managed to thrive as well as other communities in the country, whose learned theologians, educators, scholars, doctors, lawyers and artisans would not allow the institution of slavery to crush the spirit, but who endeavored and thrived in spite of it.

Although the title character is initially unaware of her true origins - it is evident that "race" has almost nothing to do with the shaping of the human spirit - unless "race" becomes a determining factor in how others reflect the "who" we are back to us and that knowledge fundamentally alters the way we see ourselves. As a first work it is obvious the author, a mixed-race black woman, was attempting to address in her work her own questions regarding the effect of "perceived" race - not only as it shaped her own life - but also in her choice of a main character as well. And because "All the worlds' a stage" - the question became paramount in the lives and circumstances - unnecessarily it turns out - in the roles adopted and "played" by the other characters as well.

Not only is this a unique find but the book has a unique ending as well - it was completed in the 21th century by a group of authors because the original author passed away from tuberculosis before completing the work. An engaging story with a twist.
3.0 out of 5 stars It's okay Sept. 5 2014
By elowyn - Published on
It's ok, that's all.

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