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Novel BondageSlavery, Marriage, and Freedom in Nineteenth-Century America$
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Tess Chakkalakal

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780252036330

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252036330.001.0001

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Between Fiction and Experience

Between Fiction and Experience

William Wells Brown’s Clotel

Chapter:
(p.15) 1. Between Fiction and Experience
Source:
Novel Bondage
Author(s):

Tess Chakkalakal

Publisher:
University of Illinois Press
DOI:10.5406/illinois/9780252036330.003.0002

This chapter reads William Wells Brown's preoccupation with marriage through both his fictional and autobiographical accounts of slavery. Generally believed to be the first novel by an African American, Brown's Clotel; or, The President's Daughter continues to be the subject of considerable critical controversy and debate. Of course, the source of the novel's controversy rests not on marriage but rather on its absence. Purporting to tell the stories of Thomas Jefferson's slave mistress, daughters, and granddaughters, Clotel provides one of the earliest fictional accounts of the now scientifically verified conjugal relationship between the nation's founding father Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings. Moving from this scandalous piece of the nation's history, Brown's romance provides something of an antidote to history. Relying, in part, on the lessons of Brown's own marriages, this chapter's analysis of his fiction rests on the disjunction between his autobiographical and fictional accounts of slave-marriage.

Keywords:   William Wells Brown, Clotel, slavery, Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings, slave-marriages

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