Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl eText - eText

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What is a literary classic and why are these classic works important to the world?

A literary classic is a work of the highest excellence that has something important to say about life and/or the human condition and says it with great artistry. A classic, through its enduring presence, has with stood the test of time and is not bound by time, place, or customs. It speaks to us today as forcefully as it spoke to people one hundred or more years ago, and as forcefully as it will speak to people of future generations. For this reason, a classic is said to have universality.

Harriet Ann Jacobs, born into slavery in North Carolina sometime in the fall of 1813, never knew the exact date of her birth; in fact, she was unaware that she was a slave until the death of her mother, when Harriet was six. Her owner, Margaret Horniblow, taught Jacobs how to read, but this in itself did very little to improve the young girl's life, especially after she was sold to a vicious, cruel, and predatory slaveholder, Dr. James Norcom—“Dr. Flint” in the book.

When Jacobs was a teenager, she tried desperately to avoid being sexually assaulted by Norcom, and she also conceived of a plan by which she could escape to the North. The girl hid in her grandmother's attic for seven years, from 1835-1842, in an attempt to convince Norcom that she had run away successfully.

In 1842, Jacobs was actually able to escape by boat and went to Brooklyn, New York, where her daughter lived. They were eventually reunited, and by 1853, Jacobs began to write letters to newspapers about the conditions of women sold into slavery. She joined the abolitionist movement and also worked for Frederick Douglass's newspaper, The North Star.

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl appeared in 1861, under the pseudonym of “Linda Brent,” but because of the Civil War, the book remained obscure and was not republished until the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement. Jacobs spent the Civil War in Washington, D.C., aiding the North. After the war ended, she traveled between the U.S. and London, raising money for orphans and the elderly.

Numerous critics refused to believe that Jacobs was the actual author of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, but there is no doubt about that authorship today.

Harriet Jacobs died on March 7, 1897.