The Curse of Caste; or The Slave Bride: A Rediscovered African American Novel by Julia C. Collins Paperback – Oct 15 2006
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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.)
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"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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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".
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.
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