The Journals of Charlotte Forten Grimké Critical Essays

Charlotte L.Forten Grimké


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

When Ray Allen Billington first published Grimké’s journals in 1953, he omitted large sections covering the years 1854-1862 on the grounds that her musings on friends, family, and literature would not be of much interest to the general reader. The complete journals, published as part of the Schomburg Library of Nineteenth Century Black Women Writers and edited by Brenda Stevenson, restores these missing passages and also includes much of Charlotte Forten’s early poetry in the footnotes.

The result is that a much fuller portrait of a young woman emerges. The entries reprinted by Billington from Charlotte’s teenage years show a young woman deeply committed to the abolitionist cause and widely interested in the great ideas of her day. The complete journals also show her to be a young woman who was a constant victim of deep self-doubts and who craved the community of support she found among her abolitionist friends in Salem. Further, in her recurrent careful considerations of literature, readers can see the development of a young writer trying to train herself for her lifelong pursuit of creating literature.

The South Carolina entries, in Charlotte’s third and fourth journals, may be the section of the most enduring historical interest. As a writer, Forten becomes more mature and assured during this period, as well as more intimate in some ways. She frequently addresses her journal directly, calling it “A,” creating the impression...

(The entire section is 454 words.)