Minnies Sacrifice CL

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Author, Frances Smith Foster, Editor
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Author, Frances Smith Foster, Editor Beacon Press (MA) $22 (286p) ISBN 978-0-8070-8332-1
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-0-8070-8333-8
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Harper's Iola Leroy is a classic of 19th-century African American women's fiction. These three recently excavated short novels add depth and historical perspective to her legacy, while displaying new facets of her inspirational voice. Writing about the injustices of slavery and the difficulties faced by black women after the Civil War, Harper combines the clean, elegant style of Austen and Bronte with a powerful talent for social advocacy. Minnie's Sacrifice (1869) is the best of the three, dissecting the difficult choices faced by a light-skinned husband and wife when they learn, after having been raised as white, that their veins run with African American blood. Sowing and Reaping (1876-1877) is less ambiguous; a product of the temperance movement, it offers a sternly moralistic look at the evils of John Barleycorn. The weakest entry is Trial and Triumph (1888-1889), which presents a series of simple, right-or-wrong tales about postwar racial blending that reads like a barely stitched-together collection of short stories. While there is some excellent writing here, Harper's story construction is stilted, and the occasional missing chapter disrupts continuity (the narratives are incomplete because their only prior publication was in serial form, in poorly kept copies of a 19th-century African American periodical, The Christian Register ). Despite these flaws, Harper's trilogy represents a historical breakthrough and a worthy addition to the literature of the period. (June)
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