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Our Nig: or, Sketches from the Life of a…

Our Nig: or, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black (1859)

by Harriet E. Wilson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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What it says on the box. An autobiographical novel, telling the early lifestory of Alfrado/Frado/"Nig", abandoned by her white mother and black father to a family where she was raised as an indentured servant. There's Free and then there's free. As a child, Frado can only dream of being taken to live with the son who most sympathises with her (and indeed would take her if he weren't so ill); she isn't free to attend church or even to openly read the Bible she's been given; it's not until she's eighteen that she can even begin to choose where to live and work, and even this hardly guarantees a comfortable life.

Available from Project Gutenberg. ( )
  zeborah | Jun 5, 2013 |
Wilson's auto-biographical novel is perhaps not great literature, but does keep one's interest and reveals volumes about the society in which she lived. I'd recommend this to anyone interested in our nation's history. ( )
  grundlecat | Nov 12, 2010 |
Henry Louis Gates's introduction to my edition (2002, from Vintage) likes to trumpet the fact that Our Nig is the first known novel written by an African-American and published in America (the continents, not the country). I suspect, however, that if it was the seventh, we'd be much less interested in it. The characters, even Frado, the protagonist, are all thin caricatures (though most of them are good for a joke or two, which helps alleviate that). It does deal with some interesting notions (especially the blindness of white abolitionists in the North), but what Wilson chooses to focus on is often strangely arbitrary: we get the marital shenanigans of Frado's white relatives in excruciating detail, whereas Frado's own marriage happens in two very short pages.

Gates's critical apparatus is really focused on the autobiographical components to the novel, and though they are considerable, the fact that Wilson published a novel and not an autobiography ought to count for something, I think. The introduction spends a lot of time desperately trying to convince the reader that the Harriet E. Wilson of Boston who wrote this novel is the same of the Harriet E. Wilson of Boston who was a seamstress at the same time, which seems fairly self-evident to me, while the endnotes try to match every character to a historical figure and complain vociferously when they can't. Also annoying is the fact that endnotes are not actually indicated in the text, so the reader just has to guess there might be some referring to a specific page and check. I suspect anyone interested in Our Nig would be better off with the new Penguin Classics edition.
1 vote Stevil2001 | Dec 4, 2009 |
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Harriet E. Wilsonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Ellis, R.J.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Foreman, P. GabrielleIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Foreman, P. GabrielleEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gates, Henry Louis, Jr.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gates, Henry Louis, Jr.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pitts, Reginald H.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pitts, Reginald H.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
White, Barbara A.Afterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In memory of Marguerite Elizabeth Howard Coleman and Gertrude Helen Redman Gates
This second edition of OUR NIG is dedicated to Pauline Augusta Coleman Gates and Henry Louis Gates Sr.
First words
Lonely Mag Smith! See her as she walks with downcast eyes and heavy heart. It was not always thus.
Religion was not meant for niggers
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0394715586, Paperback)

The 1859 novel tracing the life of a mulatto foundling abused by a white family in 19th century New England.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:44 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

This seminal autobiographical novel, originally published in 1859, is believed to have been the first by an African-American woman. Harriet Wilson's compelling story describes the life of a mulatto girl who, after the death of her mother, is exploited first by a terrifying Northern family for whom she worked and then by an opportunistic husband. A classic of African-American literature, Our Nig has made an enduring contribution to understanding the lives of free blacks in the nineteenth century. A fascinating combination of slave narrative and sentimental novel, the story traces the hardships and suffering of Frado, who grows up as an indentured servant to a white family in Massachusetts and spends much of her destitute life wandering through New England. A clear and accurate account of race relations and perceptions of race in the antebellum North, Our Nig is essential reading for students of African-American history and culture.… (more)

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