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The Bondwoman's Narrative

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  1,542 ratings  ·  169 reviews
The Barnes Noble Review

Through a sequence of fortuitous events detailed in the introduction, noted scholar and author Henry Louis Gates Jr. has discovered what he and others believe may be the first novel written by an African-American woman -- a discovery made even more monumental by the fact that it was found in its original manuscript form, completely unedited. Extensi
Paperback, 464 pages
Published April 1st 2003 by Grand Central Publishing (first published 2002)
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3.84  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,542 ratings  ·  169 reviews

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Chad Bearden
May 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
Given the proper context by a very enlightening introductory essay by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (that is about half of this volume's content), the novel written by Hannah Crafts is a pretty remarkable piece of writing, not only for its insight into the life of a slave, but also for the rather clever and immenantly amateur way in which it is written.

Ms. Crafts novel is a hodge-podge of styles and genres with entire passages practically lifted straight from the works of Dickens and Poe and the like.
Feb 13, 2009 rated it liked it
This book is the only known novel written by a female African American slave. It was bought at an auction and edited/published by Henry Gates. Half the book details the authenticity of the find and provides evidence for who Hannah Crafts really was. That in itself makes the book very interesting just in the fact that it exists. It tells the story of a self-educated house slave who eventually escape to the North. The main theme is that even a slave who is well-treated, etc. lives a sad life becau ...more
Sep 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone
This is an amazing book, a real page-turner, by a gifted writer who just happens to have been a fugitive slave. It's probably the first novel written by a black woman, it dates from 1853-1861, and it was discovered by Henry Louis Gates in an unpublished, unedited handwritten manuscript, passed down from the estate of Dorothy Porter Wesley, a Howard University scholar of antebellum writing. The story of the manuscript's discovery is fascinating in itself (Wesley bought it for $85 in 1948), and Ga ...more
Aug 21, 2017 rated it liked it
This is a novel likely based on the author's life. The manuscript was found at auction and was the subject of a thesis. It was written by a slave woman who escaped slavery in the 1850's.
Feb 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
This novel was written by a fugitive slave who had escaped from North Carolina named Hannah Bond. It is the only known novel by a fugitive slave and the first written by an African American woman, probably sometime between 1853 to 1861. It is at least partially autobiographical.

I found it fascinating reading. it was definitely a novel of its times, heavy on gothic elements and on Christianity. It also though provided a look into slaves and the relationships between the different types and betwe
Jul 25, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Bondswoman's Narrative is an important historical artifact, but what struck me most forcefully was the book's energy. I found the mix of genres exhilarating rather than amateur-if you are the first to imagine your culture's experience, you want to capture it all, in as many ways as you can. I thrilled to Crafts' allusions, mostly from memory it seems, to a range of literature from the Bible to Byron. There are wonderfully evocative scenes, and a cracking pace. Polished it ain't, but there's ...more
Jun 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is amazing simply for what it is; possibly the first and only narrative written by a female African American slave. The literary analysis and discussion at the beginning is fascinating. Very interesting.
In 2001, scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. bought a previously unpublished manuscript from the 1850s, which he believed and it appears now is the first novel written by a fugitive slave. Gates provides a long and detailed introduction explaining the research he did into the manuscript's history, trying to find its author, and the introduction and notes are every bit as interesting as the novel itself.

The novel is told, in the first person, by a young slave who flees with her mistress when her mistre
May 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
I loved the 70 page introduction and editor's notes almost more than the actual story. However, this novel should be required reading in all k-12 education programs. A first person narrative (non-autobiographical) of a female "house slave" in the Antebellum South written presumably by an actual female house slave shortly before the civil war broke out. It has beautiful prose, clear narrative, and lots of historical tid-bits that are counter-intuitive to what it is like to be a slave that you won ...more
Ronald Wise
Aug 18, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An autobiographical novel discovered as a handwritten manuscript in the early 20th century and acquired at auction by Gates in 2001. There had been suspicions that this was a novel written by an escaped female slave and Gates' investigation seems to confirm that, including an analysis he had done by Dr. Joe Nickell, an investigator and historical-document examiner, which confirmed that the document had most likely been written in the late 1850s by a young African woman intimately familiar with s ...more
This was a fascinating peek into American history, women's literature, slave narratives and gothic novels. I gave it five stars because I'm not going to judge the author's sometimes fractured grammar and spelling. The book was spell-binding.

"Hannah Crafts" was a literate slave woman, light-skinned, able to pass for white when she needed to. The extensive research Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. puts into tracking down the author of The Bondwoman's Narrative reads itself like a detective novel, and on
Jan 20, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was actually expecting a more non-fiction analysis by Gates, but the book truely is the novel Crafts set to paper. For an unpublished work, the story is surprisingly good and there is a decent amount of action and suspense mixed with the trials of slavery. I can see this novel used in the classroom (probably for high school as there is a lot of material concerning sex) as Crafts touches upon many of the trials of slavery - from the withholding of education (and even religion) to the separation ...more
Bonnie Wilson
There's no question - for me at least - that reading this narrative is a chore. It commits the worst sins of 19th Century novels in torrential waterfalls of adjectives, pious reflections, and (Oh, Reader!) unlikely coincidences. Even with rapid skimming for essential plot points, I could only ever read a few pages at a time between reading about four other books.

But then, I am not a scholar, have a low tolerance for boredom, and am particularly put off by religiosity. Even so, as an artifact it
Printable Tire
This will probably sound weird, but I listened to the audio book of this when I went to the gym. It may not be the kind of audiobook you'd usually associate with that activity, but more than a mere historical document, the Bondwoman's Narrative is actually a riveting story of sex, violence, intrigue, and... faith. Crafts situates her slave protagonist within the tradition of the Victorian novel heroines of her time, embodying her with a dignity and intellect in bewildering and frightening contra ...more
Dec 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Only had time to read the introduction before returning this to the library, but the story of the acquisition and publishing of this narrative is equally as compelling as the work itself. I read particularly slack-jawed the parts where Gates details how historians came to feel for certain that Hannah Crafts was black, and not a white author passing for black, for abolitionist or other reasons. She treats blackness as the norm, first of all, and if she ever points out color at all, she does it af ...more
Sep 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, memoir
Although this is entitled "A Novel," recent findings indicate that it is truly a memoir, and was indeed written by a slave woman (Hannah Bond) who lived in the Antebellum South. The Introduction to the book (written in 2002) calls into question the authorship and even postulates that it may have been written by a white abolitionist. This has been disproven, as stated above. Since the story is written in the style of the mid-nineteenth century, it can at times be cumbersome and frustrating to mod ...more
Fascinating this is both clearly based on autobiographical details and equally clearly contains embellished storylines. First novel written by an African American fugitive 'slave'. I quite enjoyed this. I read Gates research in uncovering and researching this amazing novel. Hannah is observant and her characterization of the Wheelers is well done. I found the beginning and end of the story somewhat silly, as was the style the novel was in. Otherwise I thoroughly enjoyed the story and was surpris ...more
Feb 18, 2008 rated it liked it
The thing that I found so fascinating about this book is quarter or so of the book itself proving who this woman was and how they came about this information. The writer of those first pages purchased this handwritten manuscript at an auction and discovered that was the only known novel by a female African American slave and possibly the first novel written by a black woman anywhere. The story itself is an interesting read, but the thing that hooked me in general, is all the history and research ...more
Sep 07, 2008 marked it as did-not-finish  ·  review of another edition
Could not get past page 17.
Sep 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Essential read.
Yair Ben-Zvi
Apr 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
If I can be an English Grad student for a moment, let me say that this text is salubrious by way of its inhering sense of the deleterious. The latter aspect, of course, comes from the fact that this is a novel written against and because of slavery in the United States. The former comes from the fact that bucking against its own origins (much like the author herself) this text makes itself known as the impassioned plea of a mixed race woman's humanity under the auspices of one of the more dehuma ...more
Oct 29, 2010 rated it liked it
Few events are more thrilling than the discovery of a buried treasure. Some years ago, when scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. was leafing through an auction catalog, he noticed a listing for an unpublished, clothbound manuscript thought to date from the 1850s: "The Bondwoman's Narrative, by Hannah Crafts, a Fugitive Slave, Recently Escaped from North Carolina." Gates realized that, if genuine, this would be the first novel known to have been written by a black woman in America, as well as the only o ...more
Feb 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Book on tape...

So, my first day with the book on tape was cool. I had to learn how to use the cassette player in my car...there's no pause button, which is strange...surprised that VW wasn't up on that. What if you get a call (which I did) or go through a drive-thru (which I did--for Starbucks, not junker food)? Understandably, not everybody's rockin' it out to cassette tapes anymore, but was very inconvenient.

The novel d'audio is really interesting. Strange though, 'cause I'm sure I
Jun 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating account of life as a slave written by a female African-American around 1855, making it possibly the first novel by a black woman. I found the distinctions even among the slaves to be rather intriguing; it is clear that the author considers herself, as a light-skinned, educated and well-read slave, above the "degraded" fieldhands, who are much darker in skin tone and who appear to her to be far more vulgar. This novel makes it so very clear why slavery is such a terrible thing, for ...more
Tammy Lee
Mar 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
Besides being historically significant, it is also a captivating story, providing perhaps the first inside look of slavery, recorded in the 1850's, by a female slave. This subject has always fascinated me, and I have read many books about slavery and the segregation of people in the South. But I have been waiting to read this account, and even the first quarter of the book, documenting the research and background was the discovery of an unknown artifact.

The co-author/publisher pu
I don't feel like I can really rate this book because it's so many different types of books all in one. This is possibly the first novel written by an African-American woman and/or a female slave, and the work that Henry Louis Gates did to trace this book through history is easily as fascinating as the novel itself. Definitely do not skip the preface for this book - it's as vital to the story as anything.
The novel itself was captivating and probably one of the most accurate portrayals of slavery
Apr 07, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: year-of-women
This may be one of the more historically important books I've read, being one of the earliest examples of a novel written by a woman who was a slave in the US. What's more, it's a fictionalized autobiography that's a fairly ripping read and highly recommended for fans of gothic novels, since the author (who may or may not be a woman named Hannah Crafts) borrows tropes liberally from that popular literary form. It's not the most elegantly-written or subtle of books to be sure, but I find the narr ...more
Nov 23, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lisa Murphy
In 2002, the renown Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. found an unpublished, handwritten manuscript in a lot for sale in the Swann Galleries auction. It turned out to be an authentic slave narrative written in the 1850's, telling the tale of a mulatto woman who lived under, then eventually escaped from slavery in the American South. Ms. Hannah Crafts (not her real name?) carries the reader gracefully through a story of terrible suffering, giving insight into how women thought about and survived th ...more
Mar 22, 2016 rated it liked it
Very interesting read. The original manuscript was bought at auction by Henry Louis Gates Jr. who also wrote the forward about the provenance of the book. The novel itself was followed by a scientific report on the physical manuscript.

Although written in a very flowery and/or Gothic manner, the book is easy to read as it flows well and the story captures the reader right at the beginning. It is very hard to believe it was written by a slave, especially since it was against the law for anyone to
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Hannah Bond, pen name Hannah Crafts (, was an African-American writer who escaped from slavery in North Carolina about 1857 and went to the North. Bond settled in New Jersey, likely married Thomas Vincent, and became a teacher. She wrote The Bondwoman's Narrative by Hannah Crafts after gaining freedom, which may be the first novel by an African-American woman. It is the only known one b ...more
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