The Curse of Caste Summary

Summary (Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Julia C. Collins published The Curse of Caste: Or, The Slave Bride as a serialized novel in 1865, but Collins died in that year, leaving the book unfinished. In the novel, race-based prejudice and the institution of slavery threaten the happiness of a biracial mother and her daughter. Lina, a beautiful woman who does not know that she is a slave and one-eighth black, is purchased by Colonel Frank Tracy. His son Richard has already fallen in love with Lina. Richard arranges for his supposed friend George Manville to purchase Lina so Richard can marry her. After six months of living happily in Connecticut, Richard returns to his family home in New Orleans, Louisiana, to try to mend relations with his father, but Colonel Tracy disinherits Richard and shoots him in a violent rage. While recovering, Richard dictates a letter to Lina to explain his absence, but Manville burns the letter.

Lina dies, faithful to the end yet unaware that her husband truly loves her but is unable to return to her. When Manville learns that Lina has died giving birth to Claire, he gives charge of the infant to the African American nurse Juno Hays. Juno never tells Claire the secret of her birth. Manville lies to Richard, claiming that both his wife and daughter are dead. Manville provides funds for Claire to be educated and to develop her vocal talent. At the beginning of the novel, which is not narrated chronologically, Claire is completing her studies at a women’s school and preparing to become a governess. She takes a position at the home of Colonel Tracy, who she does not know is her grandfather. The servants murmur, however, and likenesses between the two are perceived.

Isabelle Tracy resents Claire and competes with her for the attention of a visiting French nobleman, Count Clayburn Sayvord. Richard returns from France to the United States and learns that his daughter is still alive. Count Sayvord learns the truth about Claire’s parentage and racial background, but he remains determined to marry her. While Claire’s father, grandfather, and the man she wants to marry know of her racial heritage, Claire herself does not yet know. The truth would probably have been revealed in the last chapter of the serialized novel, had the author lived long enough to write it.

The Curse of Caste Bibliography (Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Andrews, William L., and Mitch Kachun. “Editors’ Introduction: The Emergence of Julia C. Collins.” In The Curse of the Caste: Or, The Slave Bride. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. This extended introduction to the first publication in book form of Collins’s novel includes a biographical sketch, discussion of the process of rediscovering Collins, analysis of the novel, and commentary on Collins’s journalistic writing, which is reprinted at the end of the book. This edition also contains the two “alternate endings” proposed for the novel.

Bruce, Dickson D., Jr. The Origins of African American Literature, 1680-1865. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2001. Interpretive overview of early African American literature and themes; one of very few books published before 2006 that mention Collins or The Curse of Caste.

Carter, Tomeiko Ashford. “The Sentiment of the Christian Serial Novel: The Curse of Caste: Or, The Slave Bride and the AME Christian Recorder.” African American Review 40, no. 4 (Winter, 2006): 717-730. Sees the novel as demonstrating Collins’s spiritual and ethical beliefs as also articulated in her journalism for the newspaper that serialized the novel. Collins used the African American religious press to comment on true Christianity, white social responsibility, abolition, and rights for African Americans.

Foreman, P. Gabrielle. “The Christian Recorder, Broken Families, and Educated Nations in Julia C. Collins’s Civil War Novel The Curse of Caste.” African American Review 40, no. 4 (Winter, 2006): 705-716. One of sixteen articles appearing in a special issue of African American Review devoted to Julia Collins, her work, and her cultural contexts. Foreman describes how the newspaper’s cross-class readership followed the novel’s twists alongside the progress of the Civil War. The chapters appeared in the same pages that printed testimonials by black soldiers, requests for information on missing family members, and reports on military developments.

Tucker, Veta Smith. “A Tale of Disunion: The Racial Politics of Unclaimed Kindred in Julia C. Collins’s The Curse of Caste: Or, The Slave Bride.” African American Review 40, no. 4 (Winter, 2006): 743-754. Addresses what Collins does not do in her novel, such as directly indict the southern slaveholding aristocracy, expose northern racism, or appeal directly for the abolition of slavery. Tucker argues that the novel is nevertheless radical as a revision of the tragic mulatta image, an allegorical reflection of the sectional conflict, and a look ahead to Reconstruction.