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The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967)

by William Styron

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2,748385,329 (3.93)223
In the late summer of 1831, in a remote section of southeastern Virginia, there took place the only effective, sustained revolt in the annals of American Negro slavery. The revolt was led by a remarkable Negro preacher named Nat Turner, an educated slave who felt himself divinely ordained to annihilate all the white people in the region. This story is narrated by Nat himself as he lingers in jail through the cold autumnal days before his execution. The compelling story ranges over the whole of Nat's life, reaching its inevitable and shattering climax that bloody day in August.… (more)
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English (37)  Spanish (1)  All languages (38)
Showing 1-5 of 37 (next | show all)
Written in 1967 this book was and remains controversial. I found the book very well-written, timely and thought provoking. ( )
  Chrissylou62 | Apr 11, 2024 |
A must read. Styron would not be able to publish this today, not without the help of James Baldwin and he's no longer with us. ( )
  ben_r47 | Feb 22, 2024 |
I am still suspect of Pulitzer Prize winning books, even those predating the '90s, and find it interesting that my copy of The Confessions of Nat Turner, first printed fifteen years after winning the award, bears no indication of its achievement. I suspect this is due to the subsequent controversy arising from a white man imagining what a slave would think and feel. Personally, I think fiction is doomed if we continue down the path of restricting authors to writing characters matching their personal backgrounds.

The Confessions of Nat Turner is William Styron's first-person narrative of the events surrounding a short-lived slave rebellion, told by the man who led it. In spite of the controversy the book caused, I found it a mostly believable depiction of what might have led to the insurrection. Nat—whose assigned surname is actually that of his owner—is an intelligent, mostly sympathetic character whose major character flaws Styron invented. There is nothing in the historical record documenting the relationships he had with any of the victims, particularly his obsession for a white woman who is, according to the real confession, the only person he personally murdered. There are also several unnecessary (ill-considered?) scenes whose homoerotic undertones and lack of clarity regarding who was doing what to whom work against what the novel was attempting to achieve. I also found the practice of writing speech in dialect distracting, but that was more prevalent (less objectionable?) when the novel was written.

The Confessions of Nat Turner is not of the same quality as Sophie's Choice, perhaps because it is told from the perspective of the main actor rather than by an observer, adding an (intentional?) element of unreliability to the novel's events rather than subjecting them to simple misinterpretation. Given the paucity of historical documents about both the events and the people involved (including significant discrepancies in the number of people murdered), Styron wrote a book worthy of reading. Buy a copy with his afterword, where he elaborates on the objections to his inventions and explains some of the choices he made as an author. ( )
  skavlanj | Oct 29, 2023 |
Good historical novel of a slave who led a revolt against their masters in the early 1800s in Virginia. Makes you think about slavery and what it does to people. I listened to it as an audiobook. ( )
  kslade | Dec 8, 2022 |
Here's what I wrote after reading in 1985: "Fictional characterization of the 1831 slave revolt leader, Nat Turner. Violence, hatred, and sorrow throughout." Won a Pulizer but was critiqued for a variety of ways in which Styron characterized both whites and blacks, slaves and slave-owners, in the novel. Based on actual event, a slave revolt in VA led by Nat Turner who was found guity and killed. ( )
  MGADMJK | Dec 11, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 37 (next | show all)

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
William Styronprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bacon, PaulCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To James Terry and to Lillian Hellman and to my wife and children
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TO THE PUBLIC - The late insurrection in Southampton has greatly excited the public mind and led to a thousand idle, exaggerated and mischievous reports.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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This is William Styron's novel The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967). It is not the same work as The Confessions of Nat Turner (1831), edited by Thomas R. Gray from his interviews with Nat Turner.
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In the late summer of 1831, in a remote section of southeastern Virginia, there took place the only effective, sustained revolt in the annals of American Negro slavery. The revolt was led by a remarkable Negro preacher named Nat Turner, an educated slave who felt himself divinely ordained to annihilate all the white people in the region. This story is narrated by Nat himself as he lingers in jail through the cold autumnal days before his execution. The compelling story ranges over the whole of Nat's life, reaching its inevitable and shattering climax that bloody day in August.

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