Frederick Douglass hardly needs to be defended, right? In case you haven't read this, and think it might be speechy or difficult to read, it's not. Douglass is smart enough to know he doesn't have to tell you how to feel; his story is plenty gripping enough without editorializing. And while he's an eloquent writer, and will occasionally engage in rhetoric, the thing's only 100 pages long; it flies. (Besides, he earns his rhetoric. Remember that hundreds of slave narratives were written. Douglass' is the classic because it's very, very good. They didn't pick his name out of a hat.) It's an amazing piece of work, and I can't imagine a reason not to read it.Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
was new to me, but it's almost as good. Jacobs isn't as polished as Douglass, but she has a directness that's really appealing, and a boldness that's sortof awesome. She writes unflinchingly about the widespread rape of slaves by white men. Douglass does too, but she focuses relentlessly on it. Incidents
becomes a twisted mirror image of Pamela: this is how that book turns out if it's set in American and the serving woman is a slave. (And if you throw some Anne Frank in for good measure.)
I was really happy to see this edition, combining both accounts; it's smart to put them together. Brilliant stuff.
For some context, the best essay I read was Caille Millner's "The Slave Narrative" in A New Literary History of America.