(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Angelina Grimké’s religious struggle is activated by her growing revulsion with slavery and her ultimate decision to become an abolitionist speaker. The diary is more a spiritual delineation of the scriptural justifications for her changing positions than it is a daily diary; every entry is filled with biblical quotations. Her method is perpetually to find biblical analogies to her situation, and she seems to be able to find comfort in this kind of “proof-texting” when the Presbyterian minister, a friend, or a family member castigates her for her position.

Grimké’s self-doubts are clearly laid out as she decides to take up Quaker practices: “plain speaking” (thee and thou, using “First Day” and “Second Day” instead of Sunday or Monday, “Fifth Month” instead of May, and so on), and the prohibitions against eating rich foods or wearing a lace-trimmed shawl or dress. She describes her destruction of her beloved novels of Sir Walter Scott, her denunciation of her brother for his treatment of his slaves, and her worries about her vexed relationship with her mother over slavery, the expense of redoing the drawing room (her father, an Oxford-educated judge, having died when she was very young), and her other siblings (especially a brother who did not contribute to his own upkeep). All of this is written in amazing particulars. The reader feels as if Grimké were in the room speaking directly to the reader about her spiritual journey of self-doubt to self-knowledge.

Grimké arranges to go to Philadelphia, first for a visit of several months. On returning to Charleston, she thinks she will rejoin the Quakers in Philadelphia within several months but is unable to return until about a year later. Because by this time she had left the Presbyterian Church and was speaking out against slavery to friends and family, she worried daily about the trials of continuing to live in the slave-holding society of South Carolina. Additionally, she was changing her dress, her speech, her...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Birney, Catherine. The Grimké Sisters: Sarah and Angelina Grimké, the First American Women Advocates of Abolition and Women’s Rights. Reprint. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1969. First published in 1885 by a contemporary, the work is remarkably free of nineteenth century laudatory rhetoric.

Browne, Stephen Howard. Angelina Grimké: Rhetoric, Identity, and the Radical Imagination. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1999. Study of Grimké’s rhetoric and language in diary, letters, and speeches.

Lerner, Gerda. The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina: Pioneers for Women’s Rights and Abolition. Rev. ed. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004. This expanded edition, by the women’s history scholar who wrote the first twentieth century biography of the sisters, includes a new introduction and bibliography, as well as speeches and essays of both sisters.

Lumpkin, Katherine DuPre. The Emancipation of Angelina Grimké. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1974. Important biographical work with detail from years covered in Angelina’s diary.