Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Collins published her novel in thirty-one weekly installments in the African American newspaper The Christian Recorder between February 25, 1865, and September 23, 1865. She did not write the last chapter before dying of tuberculosis. In addition to the missing ending, four published chapters from the middle of the book have since been lost.

Scholars asserted in 2006 that Collins’s The Curse of Caste was the first novel to be published by an African American woman. Although Harriet Wilson published the book Our Nig in 1859, that work is now believed to be more of a novelized autobiography than a work of fiction. Hannah Crafts’s The Bondwoman’s Narrative, discovered in manuscript form by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is believed to have been written in the 1850’s, but it was not published until 2002. The identity of the author, moreover, cannot be definitively verified.

Important for the critical context of Collins’s work is author and activist Harriet Jacobs, whose narrative of enslavement was published in 1861 as Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Collins was probably also aware of Sojourner Truth’s work and narrative. Authors that Collins herself may have influenced include Frances E. W. Harper, who published novels in serialized form in newspapers including The Christian Recorder. The popular release of Collins’s novel in 2006 demonstrates the contemporary interest in recovering the work of neglected American women authors of the nineteenth century.