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3.56  ·  Rating details ·  1,388 Ratings  ·  89 Reviews
First published in December 1853, Clotel was written amid then unconfirmed rumors that Thomas Jefferson had fathered children with one of his slaves. The story begins with the auction of his mistress, here called Currer, and their two daughters, Clotel and Althesa. The Virginian who buys Clotel falls in love with her, gets her pregnant, seems to promise marriage—then sells ...more
Published December 30th 2003 by Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated (first published April 13th 1853)
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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
"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
Lark Benobi
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
5 FEB 2017 - our Literature of the 19th Century February group read at Yahoo. A good selection for Black History Month, Clotel is written by a man who was both exposed to and personally experienced slavery.

Project Gutenberg -

Literature of the 19th Century at Yahoo -
Feel free to join - everyone is welcome!

25 FEB 2017 - William Wells Brown showed me the many faces of slavery and the abominable treatment of slave women i
Feb 13, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Historically significant novel about the lives of slaves, written by a former slave. The author states that this fictional story is based on true incidents, making the book even more emotionally heartbreaking. The plot was a bit confusing at times, as it jumped around to each character's separate storyline, hence my three star rating. I do think it is still worth reading.
Mar 08, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 29, 2014 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
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
Anna Eklund
How the actual hell have I never heard of this book before?

Clotel: or, the President's Daughter is a masterpiece of historical fiction that rings with historical truth. Based on facts and narratives that William Wells Brown collected on his own journey out of slavery, Clotel unashamedly looks many facets of slavery in the eye and calls them out as the horrors they are. I wish like crazy that this book had been taught to me in school. I learned far more from it than I did from many of the narrati
Thom Swennes
Nov 28, 2012 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 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
Aug 19, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Clotel"--written in 1853, was the first novel written by an African-American. The author was 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. Yet we learn th ...more
Apr 23, 2008 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.
Chioma Chukwura
Jan 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

"The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? Jeremiah 17:9 (NL
Haley Petcher
*Read for grad school (Authorship)
Sep 12, 2011 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.
Nov 10, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Historically significant but boring as hell. Rambling and unfocused, like William Wells Brown had the worst case of ADD ever.
Cheryl Durham
Apr 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The first time I read this book I was a Sophomore in college (mandatory reading). To sum it up, my recollection of the fictional work was that it was simply about a mulatto and the fact that her father was Thomas Jefferson. I recall how in depth the book explored slavery's destructive effects on African-American lives.

What a difference a day.....years and maturity makes. Clotel, was and is, so much more. Clotel is a very tragic story....a stain in America's history that still has repercussions.
Mar 21, 2012 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
Mark Enderle
Historically interesting but somewhat lacking as a novel.
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
Nov 09, 2013 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
Jun 10, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Richard Subber
This is a workmanlike treatment of a subject that is an all too 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. This story of many aspects of slavery—disruption of families, cruelty of masters, the abolition movement, the economic importance of slave-based agriculture
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
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
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
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
Oct 19, 2014 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
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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
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