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The Confessions of Nat Turner

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  8,973 ratings  ·  283 reviews

The explosive 1967 Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, a gripping and unforgettable portrait of the leader of America’s bloodiest slave revolt

The Confessions of Nat Turner is William Styron’s complex and richly drawn imagining of Nat Turner, the leader of the 1831 slave rebellion in Virginia that led to the deaths of almost sixty men, women, and children. Published at the height
ebook, 480 pages
Published May 4th 2010 by Open Road Media (first published 1967)
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This book caused quite a controversy when it came out in 1967, and judging from some of the reviews here and on Amazon, it's continuing to do so. I didn't know about any of that when I started it, but the more I read the novel, the more dissatisfying and even irresponsible it started to seem.

Some have traced the outcry which followed its release to the simple fact that a white Virginian author was writing his way into the mind of a 19th century black slave, but that is hardly the issue. The book
Much has been made of this book, with criticism ranging from the extreme charge of racism to the milder implication that Styron, as a white man, could not capture Nat Turner's "blackness" the way a black writer could have. I don't wish to address this book within the context of these controversies. Styron may not have been able to capture Turner's blackness the way a black writer could have (as an Asian-American woman myself I will never know), but he did capture Turner the man in a way only a g ...more
Scott Axsom
By turns breathtakingly beautiful and heartbreakingly poignant, William Styron’s The Confessions of Nat Turner ranks among the most beautiful novels I’ve read. Though unavoidably polemical, the book is nonetheless a deeply stirring contemplation of man’s place in the universe and his duties to his fellow man.

The story is told through the eyes of a man convicted of leading one of the most notorious slave revolts in US history. He is a man of God, and the book explores the circumstances that broug
Carol Storm
Terrible book. Just as dishonest as Margaret Mitchell's GONE WITH THE WIND -- but not nearly as entertaining.

William Styron's problem is that he's rotten with self-disgust, and trying desperately to vindicate the guilty south. This book isn't really about "discovering" a new truth about "the Negro," but rather about trying desperately to keep his own illusions intact.

Here's what William Stryon wants to believe:

Slavery, while a terrible curse on both races, cannot be blamed on the South. Especia
Diane Barnes
I didn't even have to think about the 5 stars given this book. Powerful writing, powerful characters, powerful themes; this is what great literature is meant to be. I consider the controversy surrounding this book to be an indication of it's excellence. I won't bother to give a synopsis of the plot, but I will say it paints a painful and depressing view of the institution of slavery and it's effect on white and black people, creating less than human roles for both races. I'm glad I finally got a ...more
During my arrogant youth I signed up for a History of Slavery course, you know, so I could marshall evidence against the man. I went the first day, inspired by Huey Newton, wearing a Ziggy Marley t-shirt, cargo pants and my Barca soccer cleats. I entered the room with Wretched of the Earth prominently displayed and discovered that the class was 80 percent black. This is southern indiana, mind you. I tried to participate and often did, the undertow of history kept clipping my thoughts and outburs ...more
[Review written by my younger self]
Why is a novel that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1967 on my "Hate" list? Author Styron has no question about the important presence his novel has; he states that he is giving readers a fictional presentation of the actual history surrounding our title "character" in 1831. With this, Stryon takes on a certain authorial latitude that can be easily misconstrued with actual history.

I can understand the message Styron wishes to communicate. He presents the historical p
Christopher Conlon
At the height of his fame, William Styron was one of America’s pre-eminent novelists, his name invariably present in any list of the luminaries of the post-World War 2 generation of Big Male Writers: Saul Bellow, Gore Vidal, James Baldwin, Norman Mailer, Truman Capote et al. Yet like some of that group (James Jones comes to mind), Styron’s star has to a large degree faded. Some of the diminishment may be due to the fact that he was never prolific, and his reputation must stand or fall on a tiny ...more
Chad Bearden
I won't really go into whether or not Styron has the right, as a rich white guy, to tell the story of the black slave, Nat Turner. Nor will I engage with those who cry foul at the historical accuracy of these "Confessions". Those that harp on such things are missing the point of this work.

To the extent that 'the point' is obvious (which it isn't, necessarily), Styron seems to have set out to explore the true story of a fascinating event in the history of American slavery, and to use it to descri
Larry Bassett
This book was published in 1967. It was at the time of black power and the civil rights movement. The book was a big hit and won the Pulitzer Prize and then ran into the headwinds of controversy. I had forgotten that in the many years that passed. How could this rich, white, southern man write about the experience of a black slave?
Soon, though, a group of African American writers attacked the book, accusing Styron of distorting history, of co-opting their hero, and of demeaning Turner by endow
Jennifer Hughes
I think I'm giving up on Pulitzers. I've seen so many now that have very few redeeming qualities and just are rotten reading. So here are "The Confessions of Jennifer Hughes":
Section 1: Hmm. Seems like a really interesting novel based on true historical events of the only effective, sustained revolt in the history of American slavery. I'm thinking 4 or maybe 3 stars here.
Section 2: Confusing, circular method of story-telling. I'm losing interest. Down to 2 stars.
Section 3: Aagh! Horrifying, grue
I'm tempted to give this 1 star, but it does hold some historical perspectives that are worth reading. Just be aware that Styron twisted some facets of history around & subscribed unsupportable motivations to Turner, a religious fanatic & a lunatic, by his own words to Thomas Ruffin Gray. Gray was the lawyer who sat down with Turner while he was awaiting execution & wrote the first 'Confessions'. It's available as a free download & should be read by anyone who reads this book, pr ...more
I read what I think was the 25th anniversary edition with an additional "look back" by the author coming at the end of the book. It was very interesting as it described his process in making some of the decisions he was faced with where there were gaps in the historical record, or when it seemed that something contrary to the record might work better for the purposes of his novel. I won't go into detail for fear of revealing too much, but some of his choices just didn't seem to fit in with the o ...more
Styron's Nat Turner seems to be awash in controversy which makes me hesitate to throw my opinion onto the pile but what they hey? I thought the book well written. It showed another facet of possible antebellum history. Styron threw in the old chestnut of a black man lusting after a white woman which made my head ache. The book opened up a complex set of moral issues for me. Who would condone murder but then who in their right mind would own another person? To juxtapose this book I'm also reading ...more
This was both more entertaining and more graphic than I was expecting it to be. I expected some kind of dry, fact-by-fact account of an event in the history of the U.S. Instead, this book brought Nat Turner to life for me. The author states in the foreword that he had very little to draw from when creating the novel; therefore, he took liberties.

I have no idea why this novel (fiction, mind you) is labeled "racist" by so many. I found myself caring for Nat and although not condoning his actions a
My gut first reaction to The Confessions of Nat Turner was something likewow, holy f---, this is brilliant. Then I started flipping through some of the contemporary reviews, the historians who thought Styron's portrayal of a slave revolt in the 1830s was "psychologically sick" and "morally senile," who said Styron himself possessed a "vile racist imagination."

Oh no.

So... after thinking about it for a bit, here's what I'd say. One way to look at the long, angry controversy around The Confessions
William Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner


Whereupon all members of the congregation are seated.


First Reading

On Being Brought from Africa to America

'Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there's a God, that there's a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
"Their colour is a diabolic die."
Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,
May be refin'd, and join th' ange
A controversial winner of the 1967 Pulitzer Prize

Here we are, 34 years later and The Confessions of Nat Turner is still in the news. Most recently, Henry Louis Gates, Jr made comments (positive ones, now. Originally negative impressions, years ago) about the book. The primary controversy is quite simple - how can a white man, a southerner, and the descendent of slave owners write a novel about one of the few slaves who actually stood up and demanded his freedom by leading a rebellion? Some have
Ned Mozier
A tremendously talented writer is Styron and a fascinating portrait of human bondage, madness and religious fervor gone amok. Very relevant to today on these topics, though set in early part of 19th century Virginia. Great research, exquisite detail and stupendous character development. One of the best "historical" novels I've read, and perhaps my favorite read of the year so far. Looking forward to reading all Styron.
EDIT after reading reviews on Goodreads: Get the f outta town all y'all saying the homoerotic parts of this book are what emascluates Nat Turner's character. ACTUALLY, sexuality is helluv complicated and fluid, and that is true and sometimes goes double in constrained life contexts, even really masculine ones like wars and enslavement and sports. It's pretty sick to read childhood sexual experimentation in a life with almost unlimited lack of privacy & freedom as anything except bravery. Ugh ...more
Karen Chung
Jan 15, 2011 Karen Chung rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: a racist.
Leave it to Styron to write a first-person perspective narrative of a black slave. If you want to revisit the offensive stereotype of a black man constantly fantasizing about sexually assaulting innocent white women, then go ahead and read it. I have no idea why this book won a Pulitzer.
Before reading the book: I have mixed feelings about tackling this book. I love Styron's writing, but at the same time I have read the critiques of the book, and from both that and my experiences in graduate school and as a critical scholar, I understand the complexities that come with the fact of a white man in the 20th century writing about the experiences of a black man in the 19th century. I'm pretty uncomfortable about this, but I still want to read the book.

After reading the book: I still
With few exceptions (OK one really) I am always disappointed and let down by historical fiction. The lone exception was "Burr" by Gore Vidal which was great because so little is actually known and documented about Aaron Burr. "The Confessions of Nat Turner" started out promising for the same reason. Nat Turner led the only large scale slave rebellion in the US during in 1830's in Virginia. The only historical account is a 7000 word confession transcribed by a court appointed attorney (who was hi ...more
The Confessions of Nat Turner is my first Styron novel, and it proves that Styron is a true writer's writer. It is undeniable that he composes some utterly breathtaking prose. As for the story, which takes the scant historical fact of slave rebellion leader Nat Turner and turns it into a bold feat of writerly imagination, it is disturbing, haunting, and totally engrossing. In a way, Nat Turner is the link connecting two other masterworks of Southern Literature (a genre fast becoming my favorite) ...more
Brutally hard to read the copy of this I had with my blind eyes. I preferred HBS representation but enjoyed Styron's take also. Had no clue this book was and is so controversial - but not surprised. I might have been had it not been for the recent Zimmerman trial and the media bringing to light and maybe baiting a bit a great racial tension today. In 2013. The controversy is related to Nat's sex and fantasy relationships but also because he had a lot of nerve in the midst of the civil rights mov ...more
Regina Lindsey
The Confessions of Nat Turner is the fictionalized account of the motivations behind the only organized slave rebellion in U.S. history. History leaves very little documentation about the man behind the rebellion, leaving virtually a blank canvass for Styron’s imagination. All we know is that Turner, a zealously religious man, led an uprising in 1831, that killed 55 white people (men, women, and children dead) and of those dead only one young, white woman’s death is directly attributable to Turn ...more

I've read Sophie's Choice a long time ago and before this book and I marvel at the fact that an author can ask us to accept so many questions and contradictions that are never resolved, and we are yet inevitably satisfied. In fact we close the book looking more closely at our own mysteries and suddenly start thinking of them as less than mundane.

In 1831, a black slave sits in a jail cell, after leading a slave revolt that let over 50 whites dead, contemplating his impending and running over the
Of William Styron's four main works of fiction (meaning, in this case, full-length novels), the Pulitzer-winning "The Confessions of Nat Turner" is my least favorite. It's still pretty damn good; that should give you an idea of what I think of Styron.

People have thrown stones at Styron for years over his portrayal of Turner, who supposedly was acting on a mandate from God in leading a slave uprising. You know, white guy writing in first-person as a black man, taking liberties with history. The
William Styron's "The Confessions of Nat Turner" most represents a real work of historical fiction, as opposed to what so often passes for the genre today. He ranks right up there in my opinion with C.S Forester, E.M. Forester and Sharon Kay Penman.

Unlike most authors of the genre, who merely write a novel and place it in an earlier era, Styron writes of a real man who lived and died. Relatively few records of the 1831 slave rebellion exist today. However, Styron worked from the sparse data that
Lynn Demarest
The novel is a first-person recounting of the life of Nat Turner, leader of a failed slave rebellion in 1831.

Despite its relatively flattering depiction of Turner -- during the rampage Nat manages to kill only one white, a mortally injured woman who begs him to end her suffering -- Styron was accused of bigotry. How anyone can get that impression from reading this story is beyond me, but I'm often befuddled by people.

Two things in the book came off as false. First, a slave owner is upset becaus
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William Styron (1925–2006), born in Newport News, Virginia, was one of the greatest American writers of his generation. Styron published his first book, Lie Down in Darkness, at age twenty-six and went on to write such influential works as the controversial and Pulitzer Prize–winning The Confessions of Nat Turner and the international bestseller Sophie’s Choice.
More about William Styron...
Sophie's Choice Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness Lie Down in Darkness A Tidewater Morning Set This House On Fire

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“The fairest state of them all, this tranquil and beloved domain—what has it now become? A nursery for Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas. A monstrous breeding farm to supply the sinew to gratify the maw of Eli Whitney’s infernal machine, cursed be that blackguard’s name! In such a way is our human decency brought down, when we pander all that is in us noble and just to the false god which goes by the vile name of Capital! Oh, Virginia, woe betide thee! Woe, thrice woe, and ever damned in memory be the day when poor black men in chains first trod upon thy sacred strand!” 1 likes
“And what else did Christianity accomplish?” he said. “Here’s what Christianity accomplished. Christianity accomplished the mob. The mob. It accomplished not only your senseless butchery, the extermination of all those involved in it, black and white, but the horror of lawless retaliation and reprisal—one hundred and thirty-one innocent niggers both slave and free cut down by the mob that roamed Southampton for a solid week, searching vengeance. I reckon you didn’t figure on that neither back then, did you, Reverend?” 1 likes
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