Friday, January 7, 2011

New Republic in January

OK, we're back!

Way back when, I read Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs, which I highly recommend for reading about slavery. The author, who calls herself Linda in the book, tells the story of her life. As a young woman, she had the misfortune of being attractive, and her owner spent years trying to trap her into a relationship with him. She describes with regret the course that led her to decide to take up with a different white man in an attempt to get away from the owner. She bore him two children, but found that he was useless as a protector. Eventually she 'escaped' by hiding in a tiny shed loft--for seven years. She could peek out a little hole and see her children as they played, but they had no idea that she was near.

It's not an easy book to read, but it's well worth it. 'Linda' is an eloquent narrator.

This week, I decided to ease back into things by looking through my book of American letters. I read any letter dated between 1800-1860. One was a letter from Meriwether Lewis to the Oto Indians, and I realized that I don't know much about the Lewis and Clark expedition--someday I should read more on that. I liked a letter from a Norwegian boy during the Gold Rush, and one from Father De Smet giving advice on going West. There was a long letter from Frederick Douglass to his former master, and a humorous description from a young Abraham Lincoln of how he escaped matrimony to a young lady he didn't like as much as he thought he did (she turned him down, which bruised his ego a bit).

There is also a chapter of love letters from famous authors. The 19th-century style is a little syrupy to modern minds. Edgar Allen Poe in particular is enough to put you off him for life, but the interesting thing is that this terribly elaborate letter, all about how he can't live without her and has tried to commit suicide, is addressed to a married woman who had refused him, while he had another woman--who got letters that were just as fancy--whom he was also in love with. He didn't marry that one either, but fell for a third woman and was engaged to her when he died.

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