Nat Turner before the bar of judgment : fictional treatments of the Southampton slave insurrection / Mary Kemp Davis.Material type: TextSeries: Southern literary studies: Publisher: Baton Rouge : Louisiana State University Press, c1999Description: xiv, 298 p. ; 23 cmISBN: 0807122491 (cloth : alk. paper); 9780807122495 (cloth : alk. paper)Subject(s): Southampton Insurrection, 1831 -- Literature and the insurrection | Literature and history -- Virginia -- History -- 19th century | Slave insurrections -- Virginia -- Historiography | American fiction -- 19th century -- History and criticism | American fiction -- 20th century -- History and criticism | Historical fiction, American -- History and criticism | Turner, Nat, 1800?-1831 -- In literature | African Americans in literature | Slavery in literatureDDC classification: 810/.9/358 LOC classification: PS374.S725 | D38 1999
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Includes bibliographical references and index.
The politics of repression : Governor John Floyd's official address -- Let the rope talk : the case of the mute defendants -- The kidnapped witnesses : G.P.R. James's The old dominion -- The grand and solemn voice hushed : Harriet Beecher Stowe's Dred -- The accusing eyes of history : Mary Spear Tiernan's Homoselle -- Transgressing the codes : Pauline Carrington Rust Bouvé's Their shadows before -- The crime of innocence : Daniel Panger's Ol' prophet Nat -- The hour of his judgment : William Styron's The confessions of Nat Turner.
An icon in African American history, Nat Turner has generated almost every kind of cultural product, including the historical, imaginative, scholarly, folk, polemical, and reflective. In Nat Turner Before the Bar of Judgment, Mary Kemp Davis offers an original, in-depth analysis of six novels in which Turner figures prominently. This Virginia rebel slave, she argues, has been re-arraigned, retried, and re-sentenced repeatedly during the last century and a half as writers have grappled with the social and moral issues raised by his (in)famous 1831 revolt. Though usually lacking a literal trial, the novels Davis examines all have the theme of judgment at their center, and she ingeniously unravels the "verdict" each author extracts from his or her plot.
According to Davis, all of the novelists derive their fundamental understanding about Turner from Gray's overdetermined text, but they recreate it in their own image. In this fictional tradition that begins with a nineteenth-century romance and ends with postmodern revisions of the form, Davis shows the Turner persona to be multivalent and inherently unstable, each novelist laboring mightily and futilely to arrest it within the confines of art.
Reviews provided by Syndetics
CHOICE ReviewIn this well-researched, unpolemical study, Davis (Florida A&M Univ.) provides detailed interpretations of six novels and several "official" texts produced in response to the Southampton slave insurrection. She makes good use of Henry Tragle's The Southampton Slave Revolt of 1831: A Compilation of Source Material (1971), and she attends not only to Thomas Gray's famous The Confessions of Nat Turner (1831) but also to Virginia Governor Floyd's address to the state legislature, trial transcripts, and newspaper accounts. Davis also works closely with George Payne Rainsford James's The Old Dominion (1856) and Pauline Bouve's Their Shadows Before (1899). Her work complements Albert E. Stone's focus on 20th-century responses in The Return of Nat Turner: History, Literature, and Cultural Politics in Sixties America (CH, Oct'92). Davis's concluding chapter summarizes and then sidesteps the controversy prompted by William Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner (CH, Mar'68), offering instead a study of archetypal images in the novel and commentary on its religious and philosophical import. Davis's final comments on Sherley Anne Williams's Dessa Rose (1986) are brief but insightful. Davis rarely resorts to jargon or theory, though the latter crops up briefly, usually effectively, occasionally as an add-on. Recommended for upper-division undergraduate, graduate, and research libraries. S. Browner Berea College
Author notes provided by Syndetics
Mary Kemp Davis is associate professor of English at Florida A & M University.