Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave (Cosimo Classics Biography)

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Press: Cosimo Classics (December 1, 2008)
Author Name:Douglass, Frederick; Garrison, William Lloyd; Phillips, Esq Wendell


"Now," said he, "if you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there would be no keeping him. 
It would forever unfit him to be a slave.
He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master.
As to himself, it would do him no good, but a great deal of harm.
It would make him discontented and unhappy." These words sank deep into my heart, stirred up sentiments within that lay slumbering, and called into existence an entirely new train of thought.
It was a new and special revelation...
-from Chapter VI It may be a measure of how far we have come, as a nation and as human beings, to feel shock to realize that one of the greatest Americans ever to have graced the cultural stage-editor, orator, author, statesman, and reformer FREDERICK DOUGLASS (1818-1895)-was born into bondage, merely by dint of the color of his skin.
Taught to read and write by the wife of his owner, however, he escaped into an intellectual world that would become his extraordinary battleground for the freedom of those enslaved and, indeed, for the future of the United States.
This work, first published in 1845, is the first of three autobiographies Douglass penned, and it became one of the most influential documents of a life in slavery ever written, as well as a powerful spur to the then-burgeoning abolitionist movement.
From his childhood of abuse, neglect, and separation from family to his dramatic escape to the North, this is a stunning work of both literature and politics.
An absolute classic not only of African-American history but of the history of the advance of human civilization, this is essential reading for anyone wishing to understand the turbulent story of the United States in the 19th century.


"None so dramatically as Douglass integrated both the horror and the great quest of the African-American experience into the deep stream of American autobiography. 
He advanced and extended that tradition and is rightfully designated one of its greatest practitioners." John W.
Blassingame, from the introduction"

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Book Description

Douglass escaped slavery in 1838 and became a tireless campaigner for abolitionism. 
This autobiography lays bare the realities of slavery in antebellum America.
The eloquence of Douglass' writing, with an immediacy and honesty found shocking at the time, make this an invaluable record of one of humanity's most shameful acts.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From the Publisher

The powerful story of slavery that has become a classic of American  autobiography, now in an authoritative edition.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From the Inside Flap

This Modern Library Paperback Classics edition combines the two most important African American slave narratives into one volume. 
Frederick Douglass's Narrative, first published in 1845, is an enlightening and incendiary text.
Born into slavery, Douglass became the preeminent spokesman for his people during his life; his narrative is an unparalleled account of the dehumanizing effects of slavery and Douglass's own triumph over it.
Like Douglass, Harriet Jacobs was born into slavery, and in 1861 she published Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, now recognized as the most comprehensive antebellum slave narrative written by a woman.
Jacobs's account broke the silence on the exploitation of African American female slaves, and it remains crucial reading.
These narratives illuminate and inform each other.
This edition includes an incisive Introduction by Kwame Anthony Appiah and extensive annotations.
"From the Trade Paperback edition.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From the Back Cover

Former slave, impassioned abolitionist, brilliant writer, newspaper editor, and eloquent orator whose speeches fired the abolitionist cause, Frederick Douglass (1818 1895) led an astounding life. 
Physical abuse, deprivation and tragedy plagued his early years, yet through sheer force of character he was able to overcome these obstacles to become a leading spokesman for his people.In this, the first and most frequently read of his three autobiographies, Douglass provides graphic descriptions of his childhood and horrifying experiences as a slave as well as a harrowing record of his dramatic escape to the North and eventual freedom.Published in 1845 to quell doubts about his origins since few slaves of that period could write the Narrative is admired today for its extraordinary passion, sensitive and vivid descriptions, and storytelling power.
It belongs in the library of anyone interested in African-American history and the life of one of the country's most courageous and influential champions of civil rights."

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Frederick Douglass was born into slavery on the eastern shore of Maryland in 1818. 
During the course of his remarkable life he taught himself to read and write, escaped from slavery, became internationally renowned for his eloquence in the cause of liberty, and went on to serve the national government in several official capacities.
His early work in the cause of freedom brought him into contact with a wide array of abolitionists and social reformers, including William Lloyd Garrison, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, John Brown, Gerrit Smith, and many others.
As a major stationmaster on the Underground Railroad, he directly helped hundreds of slaves on their way to freedom through his adopted home city of Rochester, New York.Renowned for his eloquence, he lectured throughout the United States and England on the brutality and immorality of slavery.
As a publisher, his abolitionist newspaper the North Star---later, Frederick Douglass' Paper---brought news of the anti-slavery movement to thousands.
Forced to leave the country to avoid arrest after John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry, he returned to become a staunch advocate of the Union cause.
He helped recruit African American troops for the Union Army, and his personal relationship with President Lincoln helped persuade the president to make emancipation a cause of the Civil War.
Two of Douglass's sons served in the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, which was made up entirely of African American volunteers.
All of Douglass's children were born of his marriage to Anna Murray.
He met Murray, a free African American, in Baltimore while he was still held in slavery.
They were married soon after his escape to freedom.
After the death of his first wife, Douglass married his former secretary, Helen Pitts, of Rochester, New York.
Douglass dismissed the controversy over his marriage to a white woman, saying that in his first marriage he had honored his mother's race, and in his second marriage, his father's.In 1872, Douglass moved to Washington, D.C., where he initially served as publisher of the New National Era, which was intended to carry forward the work of elevating the position of African Americans in the post-Emancipation period.
This enterprise was discontinued when the promised financial backing failed to materialize.
In this period, Douglass also served briefly as president of the Freedmen's National Bank and subsequently in various national service positions, including U.S.
marshal for the District of Columbia and diplomatic positions in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
He died in Washington, D.C., in 1895.During his life, Douglass wrote three autobiographies, each successive one building on the previous.
The first and best known is Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.
The other two are My Bondage and My Freedom and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.
Jonathan Reese was trained from an early age in music and theater.
Of his many credits he was proudest of being a founding memberof Berkeley's Straw Hat review.
Formidably intelligent, deeply sympathetic, and highly sensitive to his material, he was perfectly suited for literary narration.
His many audiobooks include The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer, Just as I Am by Billy Graham, Travels in Alaska by John Muir, and Without a Hero by T.
Coraghessan Boyle.
A native Californian, Reese died in San Francisco in 1999.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

From Robert O'Meally's Introduction to Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American SlaveCrossing Over: Frederick Douglass’s Run for FreedomThe very first time I assigned Frederick Douglass’s Narrative was in the fall of 1972, in Boston, Massachusetts, when I was teaching a high school equivalency night-course for working adults. 
I remember the occasion well because one of the students complained to the school director that I was teaching hate.
The class had met only once, and we had not yet discussed the book at all, so this student, a white nurse’s aide in her late twenties, directed her protest against the fiery book itself, which she took to be an attack upon her and all white people in America.In a peculiarly American turn of events, the director, who like me was an African American, happened also to be one of my friends and hallmates at Harvard, where we both were working on our doctorates.
In the night-school’s hallway, he told me about the complaint with a long, stern face, and then closed his office door so we could laugh until we nearly fell to the floor.
“Ole Brother Douglass is still working them roots,” he said, sliding into the vernacular once we could speak in private.
“Go easy on the lady,” he went on.
“Gentle her into the twentieth century.”At that time Douglass was not considered a canonical American author, though he did sometimes turn up in surveys of nineteenth-century writing and in courses with titles like “The Negro in American Literature.” The revolution in black literary studies was just beginning to catch fire; but still at Harvard, for example, there was no course in black literature offered at the graduate level, and the one such undergraduate course, in which I was a teaching assistant, was offered by a linguist through the Afro-American Studies Department.
(It was an excellent course.) So it was not a shock that this young woman, a few years older than I and not yet a high school graduate, had never heard of Frederick Douglass.
What was surprising was that this slender volume, with its antique figures of speech and rhetorical strategies (as well as literary structures that were so modern they seem to have influenced such creators of modern writing as Hemingway eighty years later) would strike her as so current in its potency that she wanted to swing back at it.Part of the answer to the mystery of her response is that many of white Boston’s citizenry in the early seventies were literally up in arms against the “forced bussing” to and from schools and neighborhoods that had been as firmly closed to blacks and members of other groups considered unwelcome as were their counterparts in Mississippi or Alabama.
No doubt my student was as unaccustomed to a black teacher as she was to a black author.
(What on earth went through her mind when she discovered that the program director was black, too?!)Does not this woman’s bewildered anger indicate that although the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave existed as a mightily effective political weapon, it is much more than a political weapon, which might have dulled over time? That it is also a work of art whose sentences, with their careful twists and balances and their high-speed locomotive drive, continue to evoke a direct, visceral response? Doubtless she felt the power of the book’s stark, biblical last-first/first-last language: the reverse-English of a man belonging to the group counted last in the American social hierarchy but who nonetheless became a leader of his people—meaning (though clearly my student did not realize it) not just blacks but all Americans and indeed all who love freedom.With his Narrative, Douglass succeeded in offering his readers, and eventually also historians of American life, an unassailably reliable record of slavery from the viewpoint of one who had been enslaved.
(It is important to realize that Douglass could not afford to exaggerate or get any name or detail wrong lest the proponents of slavery leap to declare him a fraud, as they were eager to do in the case of such an accomplished former slave.) But the book also brilliantly performed the aesthetic task of a work of art in depicting how it feels to be a human locked in a struggle against tyrannical odds for freedom and culture; a man seeking a place in a world where no place looks like home.
In other words, yes, Douglass was still working those roots.Douglass’s book lures its reader through the unrelenting power of its narrative line—perhaps literature’s most irresistible force.
It is driven by impulses evidently built into the reflex and bone structure of Homo sapiens, the animal that wants a story.
Douglass shapes his story to resonate with certain mythic patterns in the modern world.
The Douglass of this narrative is a poor lost boy a long way from home, one who has no home to miss or to which he can return.
With no place and nothing to call his own, no name, no birthday, no mother to whom he feels closely attached, no father to nurture or even to acknowledge him, this scarred and battered slave boy is an exile in the land of his birth.
What Douglass the hero does not invoke is a sense of special honor or privilege based on lineage.
He knows little about his past—either of his unknown white father’s side or his mother’s—and, even if he did, could make no claim to either side.
This aligns him with many of America’s dispossessed immigrants, black and nonblack, who either were brought to the New World as slaves or who came here under dire economic distress.
Having virtually nothing more than his own health, strength, will, and a strong sense that God’s mysterious power is on his side, Douglass’s task in the new land will be to improvise—that is, not just to find but to help create—a new way of life, a home at last.

From AudioFile

Frederick Douglass's autobiography takes us from his birth to the time he began his activities as an abolitionist. 
In a work filled with pain and pathos, Thompson's low-key and understated, at times almost deadpan, style of reading brings the passion and irony of Douglass's text into bold relief.
It's the perfect way to read this intense work.
One marvels at Douglass's ability to restrain intense emotion in describing the pain and injustice he endured as a slave and his longing to be free.
(c)AudioFile, Portland, Maine

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


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Comment List (Total:16)

  •     Very happy to add the book to my collection.
  •     Good read. It took me a little less than 2 weeks to read this book. I only read it on the train to and from work so when I did finish it I had mixed feelings. I wanted to know more about his life once he was finally in the free state. He didn't explain how he navigated through the slave states to reach his final destination. He gave his reasons. Understandable for the time which was before emancipation but I was still curious and looking forward to reading about that. Also at the end he says he sent for his wife...She wasn't mentioned throughout the entire book then she pops up. Where and when did they meet? I'm really nip picking but overall a very good read. I definitely took advantage of the dictionary that was available on Kindle Unlimited. This guys vocabulary was crazy also some words we just don't use in today's world. Looking for another book to get lost in.
  •     This is a very spirited story. The passion for freedom that slavery causes is very clear in these pages. Frederick Douglass improves himself more and dared far greater than I have in my life or most others I know. It is easy to take my freedom for granted, and be lackadaisical about my life and how my time is spent. But after reading this autobiography I can see the passion and fervor missing in my life. What is interesting is that slavery enslaves the slave owners even more than the slaves. It not only corrupts their moral character, but it also makes them lazy in mind and self improvement. The very qualities the slavers try to instill in the slaves to keep them bound. Once in the north, Frederick shows that all the working people without slaves are much more wealthy. Those without slaves in the south are very poor, showing that slavery also damaged even the morals of those without slaves. These same tendencies are evident with the hitech generation. The removal of work has to some degree improvised our ability to better ourselves.
  •     Good book
  •     A simple book reflective of the atrocities of slavery and the hypocrisy of its enforcers. A reminder of the evil that resides within humans and how it becomes evident when...
  •     A bit tough to follow, but a good read.
  •     As a woman, a sister and mother and daughter, it hurts to read what others have experienced. To be considered as a nobody, a piece of property, a commodity of no value, but a few...
  •     This book should be read by middle school students through adulthood. They will learn first hand the injustice that poisoned the early United States.
  •     What you learned in high school may not have been enough. Read this book then have your children read it.
  •     This is the edition close to the original. Be careful as many other editions are out with additional opinions by modern "interpreters". This book, from the original author, needs no added opinions or editorials.
  •     The author offers great insight into the lives of those oppressed by slavery. Foremost is the picture she paints of continuing prejudice in the north even after some slaves had...
  •     I chose a 5 star rating because from start to finish I could not put it down!I particularly loved the author's ability to convey Linda's, the slave, pride, commitment, and...
  •     Orphaned as a young child, Frederick Douglass, the African-American slave, endured overwork, whippings, beatings, prison, brutal and bloodthirsty masters, and additional shocking events. The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass tells in intriguing detail his journey from an illiterate slave to being freed, and becoming a gifted and distinguished author, is one that will have you one moment crying tears of anger and sadness, and the next, tears of joy at his numerous victories. Mr. Douglass fills your mind with vivid descriptions of the hardships and lives of slaves living in the south during the 19th century. This compelling narrative reads like a novel and is a must-read.My only complaint is that he did not give any details about his escape from slavery so that slaveholders would not be prepared to stop slaves from escaping using that method that Frederick used. This makes sense, but it is still a little anti-climatic.
  •     This autobiography was assigned to me when I was a junior in high school. Three years later, as a sophomore in college, I was asked to read the book again for my class on Black Thought and Literature. I wish that I had taken the time to slow down and analyze Frederick Douglass' narrative from a literal, analytical, and figurative perspective. Had I done that the first time around—as opposed to treating the book as another required reading that I needed to speed-read through—I believe that my understanding would have been more in-depth and meaningful. The emotion and conviction with which the author writes is not only poetic and moving, but captivating as well. The imagery, combined with Douglass' views on religion's role in the enslavement of black bodies, masterfully paints a story that (in combination with other narratives) has, unfortunately, been lost throughout time. In fact, many Black writers during this period refused to publish their experiences for fear that they will be caught and returned to slavery. In other cases, some writers used pen names to add some anonymity to their experiences. Nevertheless, such works should be cherished and valued; for they allow us to gain a better understanding of how far our society has come, and how much more needs to be done to ensure a future where everyone is equal (in the truest sense of the word).
  •     Obviously I did not enjoy what happened, and there has much been written about the inhumane institution of slavery, however, I found this page-turner a different perspective. It is the perspective of the so called fair-skinned female house slave. It helps dispel the sometimes careless comparisons of the easy life of the, often fair-complexioned ‘house-slave' and the blistered darker 'field-slave'. The author and her family, despite their access to the homes of their masters, and being genetically tied to their masters, fought vigorously for their freedom from a degrading existence. There was no loyalty to their masters, who were often their cousins, fathers, and foster-children.This is also a story of dominance of women. The author illustrates that regardless of the times, sexual abuse is a matter of control more than pleasure. Ms. Jacobs's master often used financial interest to justify his control but his obsession with Ms. Jacobs seemed obviously a matter of mere control and power which is something that still resonates today.But, the book also shows that some people are compassionate regardless of their status and white privilege, giving hope in humanity.
  •     Even though I am very aware of how my ancestors lived during slavery times its still takes effort to read about it. The book was well written.

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