Tearing the Envelope: Harriet Jacobs’s “Epistolary Activism”
Seiten 373 - 390
This publication is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons License Attribution - NonCommercial - NoDerivatives 4.0. (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
In her debut as an author in June 1853, Harriet Jacobs published a letter in the “New-York Tribune” in which she responded to a transatlantic epistolary exchange that took place between female antislavery supporters in Britain and former First Lady Julia Gardiner Tyler. In this letter and via this transatlantic exchange, I argue, Jacobs was able to inscribe her racial and gendered position as an African American woman into the American body politic. Broadly construed, this essay wants to de-emphasize the dominance of the genre of the slave narrative in African American life writing, and to draw attention to the form and function of letter writing in American antislavery literature. In the context of Jacobs’s work, I argue, letter writing was not only a form of verification and authentication, but also a means of participating in a particular mode of communication that deliberately blurred the lines of the private and public, the amateur and professional, and the national and transnational. While Jacobs very much adhered to the protocols of sentimental literature in her 1861 slave narrative “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl”, we witness in this first published letter how she experiments with and realizes additional literary personae, complementing the figure of the fugitive slave with that of the political commentator and the female activist.
1 Dorr, David. F. A Colored Man round the World. 1858. Ed. Malini Johar Schueller. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1999. Print.
2 Grimké, Charlotte Forten. The Journals of Charlotte Forten Grimké. Ed. Brenda Stevenson. New York: Oxford UP, 1988. Print.
3 Hewitt, Elizabeth. Correspondence and American Literature, 1770-1865. New York: Cambridge UP, 2004. Print.
4 Jacobs, Harriet. “Harriet Jacobs to Amy Kirby Post: ‘My Dearest Amy,’ Cornwall [N. Y.] June 25th .” The Harriet Jacobs Family Papers. Ed. Jean Fagan Yellin. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2008. 201-02. Print.
5 ---. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself. 1861. Ed. Jean Fagan Yellin. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2009. Print.
6 ---. “Life among the Contrabands.” The Liberator 32.36 (5 Sept. 1862): 144. Accessible Archives. Web. 16 May 2018.
7 Kaplan, Amy. “Manifest Domesticity.” American Literature 70.3 (1998): 581-606. Print.
8 Kelly, T. Mills. “America’s First Attempt at Intervention in East Central Europe.” East European Quarterly 29.1 (1995): 1-17. Print.
9 Korb, Scott M. “The Request of a Line: On Editing Harriet Jacobs’s ‘Life among the Contrabands.’” Letters and Cultural Transformations in the United States, 1760-1860. Ed. Theresa Strouth Gaul and Sharon Harris. Farnham: Ashgate, 2009. 239-48. Print.
10 “The Lady Abolitionists: From the London Spectator.” New York Times 15 Jan. 1853: 3. Web. 22 Apr. 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/1853/01/15/archives/the-lady-abolitionists.html.
11 Lee, Jarena. “Religious Experience and Journal of Mrs. Jarena Lee, Giving an Account of Her Call to Preach the Gospel.” 1849. Spiritual Narratives. Ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. New York: Oxford UP, 1988. 1-97. Print.
12 Lenz, Günter. “Toward a Dialogics of International American Culture Studies: Transnationality, Border Discourses, and Public Culture(s).” The Futures of American Studies. Ed. Donald Pease and Robyn Wiegman. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2002. 461-85. Print.
13 “Letter from a Fugitive Slave: Slaves Sold under Peculiar Circumstances.” New-York Tribune 21 June 1853. The Harriet Jacobs Family Papers. Ed. Jean Fagan Yellin. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2008. 197-200. Print.
14 Levine, Robert. Race, Transnationalism, and Nineteenth-Century American Literary Studies. New York: Cambridge UP, 2017. Print.
15 Meer, Sarah. Uncle Tom Mania: Slavery, Minstrelsy and Transatlantic Culture in the 1850s. Athens: U of Georgia P, 2005. Print.
16 Murray, Amelia M. Letters from the United States, Cuba, and Canada. New York: Putnam, 1856. Print.
17 Nolte-Tempe, Judy. “United States: 19th-Century Diaries and Letters.” Encyclopedia of Life Writing. Ed. Margaretta Jolly. Vol. 2. London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2001. 903-04. Print.
18 Pettinger, Alasdair. “‘At Least One Negro Everywhere’: African American Travel Writing.” Beyond the Borders: American Literature and Post-Colonial Theory. Ed. Deborah Madsen. London: Pluto Press, 2003. 77-89. Print.
19 Pratt, Marie Louise. “Arts of the Contact Zone.” Profession 91 (1991): 33-40. Print.
20 Pugh, Sarah. “Women and Slavery: Julia Gardiner Tyler and the Duchess of Sutherland.” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 88.2 (1980): 186-202. Print.
21 Roediger, David. “Making Solidarity Uneasy: Cautions on a Keyword from Black Lives Matter to the Past.” American Quarterly 68.2 (2016): 223-48. Print.
22 Sekora, John. “Black Message / White Envelope: Genre, Authenticity, and Authority in the Antebellum Slave Narrative.” Callaloo 32 (1987): 482-515. Print.
23 Stewart, Maria. “Productions of Mrs. Maria Stewart.” 1835. Spiritual Narratives. Ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. New York: Oxford UP, 1988. 1-84. Print.
24 Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin. 1852. Ed. Elizabeth Ammons. New York: Norton, 1994. Print.
25 Sweeney, Fionnghuala. “Letters from ‘Linda Brent’: Harriet Jacobs and the Work of Emancipation.” The Edinburgh Companion to Nineteenth-Century American Letters and Letter-Writing. Ed. Celeste-Marie Bernier, Judie Newman, and Matthew Pethers. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2016. 391-404. Print.
26 Tyler, Julia Gardiner. A Letter to the Duchess of Sutherland and the Ladies of England in Reply to Their ‘Christian Address’ on the Subject of Slavery in the United States. Richmond, VA: Southern Literary Messenger Press, 1853. Print.
27 Voelz, Johannes. The Poetics of Insecurity. New York: Cambridge UP, 2018. Print.
28 “The Women of Great Britain to the Women of America.” National Era 30 Dec. 1852: 210. Accessible Archives. Web. 10 June 2018.
29 Yellin, Jean Fagan. Harriet Jacobs: A Life. New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2004. Print.
30 ---, ed. The Harriet Jacobs Family Papers. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2008. Print.
31 Zaeske, Susan. Signatures of Citizenship: Petitioning, Antislavery, and Women’s Political Identity. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2003. Print.