Frank J. Webb Criticism - Essay

Harriet B. Stowe (essay date 1857)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Stowe, Harriet B. Preface to The Garies and Their Friends. 1857. Reprint, pp. v-vi. New York: AMS Press, 1971.

[In the following preface to the 1857 edition of Webb's The Garies and Their Friends, Stowe characterizes the work as a “simple and truthfully-told story” of the plight of free blacks, emancipated slaves, and fugitive slaves in antebellum Philadelphia.]

The book which now appears before the public may be of interest in relation to a question which the late agitation of the subject of slavery has raised in many thoughtful minds; viz.—Are the race at present held as slaves capable of freedom, self-government, and progress?

The author is a coloured young man, born and reared in the city of Philadelphia.

This city, standing as it does on the frontier between free and slave territory, has accumulated naturally a large population of the mixed and African race.

Being one of the nearest free cities of any considerable size to the slave territory, it has naturally been a resort of escaping fugitives, or of emancipated slaves.

In this city they form a large class—have increased in numbers, wealth, and standing—they constitute a peculiar society of their own, presenting many social peculiarities worthy of interest and attention.

The representations of their positions as to wealth and education are reliable, the incidents related are mostly true ones, woven together by a slight web of fiction.

The scenes of the mob describe incidents of a peculiar stage of excitement, which existed in the city of Philadelphia years ago, when the first agitation of the slavery question developed an intense form of opposition to the free coloured people.

Southern influence at that time stimulated scenes of mob violence in several Northern cities where the discussion was attempted. By prompt, undaunted resistance, however, this spirit was subdued, and the right of free inquiry established; so that discussion of the question, so far from being dangerous in Free States, is now begun to be allowed in the Slave States; and there are some subjects the mere discussion of which is a half-victory.

The author takes pleasure in recommending this simple and truthfully-told story to the attention and interest of the friends of progress and humanity in England.

Arthur P. Davis (essay date September 1969)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Davis, Arthur P. “The Garies and Their Friends: A Neglected Pioneer Novel.”1CLA Journal 13, no. 1 (September 1969): 27-34.

[In the following essay, Davis emphasizes the significance of Webb's The Garies and Their Friends while also elaborating on its shortcomings and the reasons for its neglect.]

Most students of Negro American literature know The Garies and Their Friends, by Frank J. Webb, only from what they have read in Loggins, Bone, and Gloster; and there is not much to be found in these works. Loggins gives the book two and one-half pages; Bone, one; and Gloster, a half page.2 Moreover, few scholars have been...

(The entire section is 2995 words.)

James H. DeVries (essay date December 1973)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: DeVries, James H. “The Tradition of the Sentimental Novel in The Garies and Their Friends.CLA Journal 17, no. 2 (December 1973): 241-49.

[In the following essay, DeVries argues that Webb's examination of Northern racism in The Garies and Their Friends is thematically incompatible with the conventions of the sentimental novel.]

First published in London in 1857, Frank J. Webb's The Garies and Their Friends is the second novel written by a black American and the first to consider the problems of free blacks in a Northern city. This pre-Civil War novel generally ignores the evils of slavery and instead focuses on the malevolence of...

(The entire section is 3508 words.)

R. F. Bogardus (essay date summer 1974)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Bogardus, R. F. “Frank J. Webb's The Garies and Their Friends: An Early Black Novelist's Venture Into Realism.” Studies in Black Literature 5, no. 2 (summer 1974): 15-20.

[In the following essay, Bogardus maintains that Webb's The Garies and Their Friends transcends popular nineteenth-century melodramatic literary conventions to become a sophisticated literary exercise in social realism.]

In The Negro Novel in America, Robert A. Bone asserts that the black American writer remained tied to romanticism until the 1920's.1 That view is largely true and, as such, only partly misleading. But Bone's opinion that Frank J. Webb's...

(The entire section is 4612 words.)

Phillip S. Lapsansky (essay date 1991)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Lapsansky, Phillip S. “Afro-Americana: Frank J. Webb and His Friends.” In The Annual Report of the Library Company of Philadelphia for the Year 1990, pp 27-43. Philadelphia: Library Company of Philadelphia, 1991.

[In the following excerpt, Lapsansky discusses how Webb's personal life and experiences affected the portrayal of Philadelphia in The Garies and Their Friends.]

For nearly two decades Frank J. Webb's novel The Garies and Their Friends (London and New York, 1857) has eluded us. When we narrowly missed buying a copy three years ago, we alerted international dealer and collector circles of our interest. This year a British dealer finally...

(The entire section is 4048 words.)

Robert S. Levine (essay date 1994)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Levine, Robert S. “Disturbing Boundaries: Temperance, Black Elevation, and Violence in Frank J. Webb's The Garies and Their Friends.Prospects: An Annual of American Cultural Studies 19 (1994): 349-74.

[In the following essay, Levine considers The Garies and Their Friends in the context of the black temperance movement in Philadelphia during the 1830s and 1840s. Further, the critic documents the hypocritical—and even violent—white response to blacks' attempts to improve themselves and assimilate into the white culture.]

At the inaugural 1837 meeting of the American Moral Reform Society, one of Philadelphia's many African American reform...

(The entire section is 13080 words.)

Robert Reid-Pharr (essay date 1997)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Reid-Pharr, Robert. Introduction to The Garies and Their Friends, pp vii-xviii. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.

[In the following introduction to the 1997 edition of Webb's The Garies and Their Friends, Reid-Pharr discusses the principles of domesticity and black ethnicity that were integral to Webb's writings and philosophy.]

It is remarkable that, even as the study of African American literature and culture has become central to any number of projects within American intellectual life, so little attention has been given a work as significant as Frank J. Webb's The Garies and Their Friends (1857). The second novel to be published...

(The entire section is 3473 words.)

Robert Reid-Pharr (essay date 1999)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Reid-Pharr, Robert. “Clean House, Peculiar People.” In Conjugal Union: The Body, The House, and the Black American, pp. 65-88. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

[In the following excerpt, Reid-Pharr examines the methods that Webb uses in The Garies and Their Friends to dismiss the notion of miscegenation as a viable approach to racial integration.]

The book which now appears before the public may be of interest in relation to a question which the late agitation of the subject of slavery has raised in many thoughtful minds; viz.—Are the race at present held as slaves capable of freedom, self-government, and progress?...

(The entire section is 13343 words.)

Anna Engle (essay date spring 2001)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Engle, Anna. “Depictions of the Irish in Frank Webb's The Garies and Their Friends and Frances E. W. Harper's Trial and Triumph.MELUS 26, no. 1 (spring 2001): 151-71.

[In the following essay, Engle emphasizes the similar depictions of Irish Americans and African Americans in the novels by Webb and Harper to demonstrate how ethnicity was often conflated with class in nineteenth-century America.]

In the 1991 movie The Commitments, Jimmy, the manager of an aspiring Dublin soul band, convinces a band member skeptical of playing African American music that the band's class background makes them black. He argues: “The Irish are the Blacks...

(The entire section is 7327 words.)