Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Clotel” as Want to Read:
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview


3.49  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,102 Ratings  ·  67 Reviews
"At a slave auction, a beautiful teenage girl, her sister, and her mother are sold as William Wells Brown's 1853 novel Clotel begins. In making his title character the daughter of Thomas Jefferson, Brown takes advantage of a scandalous and - until recently - unconfirmed rumor. Clotel's new owner falls in love with her, gets her pregnant, seems to promise marriage - then se ...more
Published December 30th 2003 by Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated (first published April 13th 1853)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Clotel, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Clotel

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,741)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
You may place the slave where you please; you may dry up to your utmost the fountains of his feelings, the springs of his thought; you may yoke him to your labour, as an ox which liveth only to work and worketh only to live; you may put him under any process which, without destroying his value as a slave, will debase and crush him as a rational being; you may do this, and the idea that he was born to be free will survive it all. It is allied to his hope of immortality; it is the ethereal p
Jan 01, 2016 poingu rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There is something audacious and true about this book, however fictional. The first time I came to the sentence calling Clotel the daughter of Thomas Jefferson I felt the boldness of that sentence, and the truth of it, that it was known even in 1853 that Jefferson had children who were slaves. The novel is not a novel in the strictest sense since much of it seems culled from the news and then re-enacted with fictional characters, something like a History Channel documentary will use scenes with ...more
"Clotel" is the story of a slave woman who was allegedly the daughter of Thomas Jefferson. At the time the book was published in 1853, rumors were rife about Jefferson's relationship with his slave, Sally Hemings. We now know, through DNA testing, that those rumors were true -- but the author could only go on supposition.

However, Brown's narrative is well-informed for a variety of reasons. Not only is this the first historical novel written by an African-American; Brown was an escaped slave livi
Mar 08, 2010 Mimi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Christopher Campbell
William Wells Brown's Clotel is noted as being one of (if not the) first African-American novels ever written. The work focuses on the fictional slave mistress of Thomas Jefferson named Currer(modeled closely on the historical Sally Hemmings) and her two daughters, Althesa and Clotel. The work is strange hybrid text that meshes fact with fiction and can be a bit disorienting at times because of that fact. Synchronous temporalities also add to this confusion, but in the end, the novel is a partic ...more
Aug 19, 2015 Theresa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Clotel" was the first novel written by an African-American in 1853. It was written by William Wells Brown who was born a slave in Lexington, Kentucky. The story is about the slave daughter of Thomas Jefferson (yes, rumors were going around even then), but mainly consists of pretty much true to life stories from Brown's life. The book is not smoothly written, but is an amazing achievement and the realities of slave life as depicted by someone who actually was one are grim. But it's important to ...more
Nov 29, 2014 Allison rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: YA & Up
William Wells Brown is an amazing man and author. After having stumbled upon this book, I am sorely disappointed that I have only discovered him now (at age 47 in 2014) - and by accident. I sincerely believe that I should have been introduced to him in public school by the time I was a pre-teen. After reading this work of fiction, as well as biographical information about Brown from other sources, I feel that I have a much broader and deeper understanding of the "slave experience". I also believ ...more
Thom Swennes
Nov 28, 2012 Thom Swennes rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All American's, history and freedom lovers throughout the world
I had no idea what to expect when I picked up this book and started to read. I found that I enjoyed the style and the story soon had me on an emotional roller-coaster. Many of the scenes and slave conditions related in the story have been similarly related by others. One particular part started my brain waves storming when invalid and sickly slaves were being collected for a medical school. They were to serve as training cadavers for medical students. Southerners weren't alarmed at this practice ...more
May 21, 2011 David rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book is historically significant. I studied this novel in the African American Women course that I took at Atlanta University from Dr. Farmer. William Wells Brown was ahead of the curve in suggesting that Thomas Jefferson had a black daughter. The theme is one that reoccurs in not only fiction but also in movies(Imitation to Life and Queen. The tragic mulatto was a person who did not life in either the black world or white world; instead,they lived in a type of racial limbo. Also, this book ...more
Dec 22, 2014 Rick rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a workmanlike treatment of a subject that is a hardly imaginable foundation of early America: slavery.
It’s more a documentary than any modern understanding of a novel. Brown does a good job of character development for a limited cast of characters, including Clotel, the “mulatto” daughter of a black slave mother and a white father. The story of many aspects of slavery—disruption of families, cruelty of masters, the abolition movement, the economic importance of slave-based agriculture an
This book is mostly important because it's the first known African American novel and, because it was written by a black man, it's a different kind of abolitionist novel. There are details and a tinge to the anti-black violence that I haven't found in other abolitionist novels, which have the effect of intensifying the anti-slavery argument. In addition, the novel circles around issues of colorism among African Americans, but blames the development of colorism on rapacious slave owners and the w ...more
Oct 25, 2014 Shayla rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Brown fell into the trappings of making Clotel a tragic mulatto/quadroon/barely black person tale. It felt at times that he wanted the reader to pity her even more because she looked white. She shouldn't have been enslaved based on her complexion.

However, I did think this book was good and important, not so much for the writing but because he examined the inherent contradictions of slavery in the United States, fictionalized actual historic events from revolts, depictions of escapes and made pl
Jun 04, 2008 Greg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Probably the first novel written by an African-American. Brown was way ahead of his time, writing a historical novel about Thomas Jefferson's slave daughters and their trials and tribulations. A fluid novel that zips along and is never dull. Good stuff and educational--reinforces many of the abolitionist arguments of the era effectively.
Skrevet af eks slave i England kort før borgerkrigen. Historien er bygget op om Clotel, datteren til Thomas Jefferson og hans sex-slave Sally Hemmings. Vi får sortes skrækkelige historier. Nogle er selvoplevede, nogle andenhånds og Clotels bygger vel mest på rygter, hvoraf de centrale er blevet verificeret som sande.
Brrown er måske mest oprørt over sexmisbruget. Fine og modbydelige beskrivelser af salg af kønne kvinder. Brown er heller ikke glad over sortes manglende frihed og konstante risiko f
Sep 16, 2011 Lucero rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
More of a slavery-is-bad-and-this-is-why argument rather than a story. I'm not a big fan of those kinds.
Chanel M
Mr. Brown is an amazing writer!

I have read other nonfiction novels about slavery that were extremely heavy or dry (obviously because of the severity of this topic) but Mr. Brown writes of these events in a manner that allows the reader to stay captivated not only by the historical points but also by his writing style and language. He shows the horrors of slavery by revealing the governments', religious institutions', and "good people"'s mistaken points of view.

Amazing read. It dies cover heavy
Until I took a course specializing in thing theory, I had never heard of this book. For the purpose of the class and the theory, people and slaves are things. For this book, that thing is property. Monetary value has been put on the heads of slaves and white people in this novel. I am sure that when it was published it could have been viewed as a good book, now it is only a good example of sensationalist literature. But in this it is exceptional. The hypocrisy of the South is fully exposed in th ...more
Sara Weather I made alternate book cover ideas and cannot figure out how to put them on goodreads

The Good
•There are a lot of oh snap moments. This book adequately addresses and refutes all the pro-slavery arguments. I usually hear the bible scripture about how a slave should obey their master. But, I never have ever heard the counter scripture that refutes that scripture. A lot of the ideas that Williams Wells Brown writes about is ideas that we believe today. I was s
Jun 11, 2014 Nina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 02, 2014 Karen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-writers
The current success enjoyed by the film 12 Years a Slave has resulted in a sales surge for the novel behind the movie and a renewed interest in the slave narrative genre.

Solomon Northrup's Twelve Years a Slave was a bestseller when it appeared in 1853. In the same year another former slave and abolitionist campaigner by the name of William Wells Brown published his own narrative exposing the realities of the practice he abhorred. Like Northrup, Wells Brown showed the degradation and suffering ca
While not the best in this genre, this book definitely has its merit, and I do not regret reading it.

The end for many was, of course, tragic. It is tough to read so much tragedy and wasted life. The cruelty that abounded from slavery was and is staggering.

The story as a whole loosely follows the daughter of Thomas Jefferson and his slave woman. Their daughter and her daughters go through a multitude of experiences, from the "best" slave situation, to choosing death over their endless plight. The
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 21, 2013 Julesmarie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
The president mentioned in the title is none other than Thomas Jefferson, he of the famous "all men are created equal" Declaration of Independence. Mr. Jefferson not only owned slaves, but had two children by one of them. The slave's name is Currer and their two daughters are Clotel and Althesa.

This book turned out to be much, much different from what I'd anticipated. I'd expected a biography of Clotel. What I got were little alternating snippets about the family that Currer is sold to, Clotel a
Monique Liddle
Notes as of pg 75 - This bk is a clear reminder of what happened to people in the slavery of the southern states and how it stripped the people of personhood and their sense of identity. However, it does not read like a traditional novel. The telling of the story is not one in which the author is in first-person, third-person omniscient, etc. Rather, William Wells Brown as author is as much a character in the book as Clotel, Currer, Althesia & Horatio. He interjects his philosophies, his per ...more
Clotel is an important piece of African-American literature, using the then rumors about Thomas Jefferson’s affairs with slaves, William Wells Brown wrote a novel which points out the hypocrisy of having the man who penned the Declaration of Independence having children who could be subject to slavery. In the novel the main characters are three slave women: Currier, Clotel and Althesa and the tragic nature of their existence as being women and therefore expected to act in a way that connects to ...more
Dec 22, 2015 Poli rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
Just as my rate says, is ok.
That is all I felt for this narrative.
I guess I was expecting something richer, more in the line of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" but the way the story is told is somewhat dettatched from the characters.
It's almost like the author felt the need to constantly expose his own views on slavery instead of leting the characters' story speak for themselves, which was so well achieved in "Uncle Tom's cabin".
So while I rooted and wept for those vivid characters in the latter, here thos
Jay Mehta
I thought I knew everything there was to know about slavery in America, and for the most part I did. However, just reading it from a first person experience is eye opening. The hypocrisy in those days in the land of the free was truly cringe worthy.
Apr 11, 2014 Tracy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not going to lie, sometimes it was really hard to read with all the racism. But the story was good and I appreciated that all the events were based on fact. The story doesn't focus much around Clotel though, but many different stories. Also, not a very happy ending.
Vanessa (V.C.)
Clotel: or, The President's Daughter is known to be the first work of fiction ever published by an African American. What impressed me about this novel was not so much the plot or the story, but the issues that is touched upon, such as the plight of mulattoes, the stigma behind mulattoes versus darker skinned slaves, slavery and religion (the Bible), love and sexuality between master and slave and the children they produce with each other, the rights and freedoms of slaves, and so forth. Brown w ...more
Alice Gold
Great slave narrative. Disturbing, as all slave narratives are, but William Wells Brown's honest portrayal is though-provoking and very much relative to contemporary race issues in America.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 91 92 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Iola Leroy: Shadows Uplifted
  • The Marrow of Tradition
  • Hope Leslie: or, Early Times in the Massachusetts
  • Our Nig
  • Black No More
  • The Heroic Slave (African American Heritage Book)
  • Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus: A Ghost Story and a Biography
  • The Forsaken Inn
  • Black Culture and Black Consciousness: Afro-American Folk Thought from Slavery to Freedom
  • Hobomok & Other Writings on Indians by Lydia Maria Child
  • The Blacker the Berry...
  • The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism
  • The Garies and Their Friends
  • Contending Forces: A Romance Illustrative of Negro Life North and South
  • Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen
  • There Is Confusion
  • The Tragic Muse
  • The Norton Anthology of African American Literature
William Wells Brown was a prominent African-American abolitionist lecturer, novelist, playwright, and historian. Born into slavery in the Southern United States, Brown escaped to the North in 1834, where he worked for abolitionist causes and was a prolific writer. His novel Clotel (1853) is considered the first novel written by an African American; it was published in London, where he was living a ...more
More about William Wells Brown...

Share This Book