ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance
Albert H. Tricomi
"Harriet Jacobs's Autobiography and the Voice of Lydia Maria Child"
According to Tricomi, the time has come to reexamine the relationship between Harriet Jacobs and her white abolitionist editor, Lydia Maria Child, who prepared Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl for publication. With recourse to the correspondence between Jacobs and her confidante Amy Post (housed in the Rush Rees Library at the University of Rochester) and to the private correspondence of Child herself, this essay holds that it is possible to recapture Harriet Jacobs's original--and more militant--abolitionist voice more fully than has been achieved in previous scholarship. It does so by showing four signal ways in which Child's well-meant interventions altered the substance of Jacobs's original manuscript and its subsequent reception. In particular, it contends that Child's momentous emendations include 1) determining the title by which Jacobs's autobiography has come to be known; 2) suppressing names, places, and dates in the original manuscript as well as introducing a pseudonym for its author ("Linda Brent"); 3) reordering the original manuscript so that to a perceptible degree the autobiography is driven away from the political and toward the personal and sentimental; and 4) excising the final chapter on John Brown. This last was a significant political act that prevented Jacobs from publicly voicing her personal response to the great watershed event of her time. Nonetheless, Jacobs's distinctive voice, the essay argues, can be discerned not only in the letters she wrote to Post but in her reflections about the Civil War and God's justice in settling the account for the evils of slavery.