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INTRODUCTION TO VOLUME TWO xxv

for former slaves like Douglass to recount the stories of their bondage. What,
the free populace kept asking, was it like to be a slave? Novelists tried to sup-
ply answers, none of them as successfully as Harriet Beecher Stowe. Fic-
tional depictions of slave life, however, only whetted the public’s appetite for
personal, factual accounts. Stowe tried to satisfy demands for information by
providing excerpts from the narratives of Douglass and other former slaves
in her Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Ultimately, and paradoxically, the Key may
have increased the public’s desire to see, hear, and read about actual former
slaves in much the same way that Stowe’s Uncle Tom's Cabin did when it ap-
peared in 1852. Among the most widely read of antebellum novels, Uncle
Tom's Cabin throughout much of the 1850s excited interest in the autobi-
ographies of former slaves. The New Englander briefly explored the phe-
nomenon in an 1856 review: ‘The literature of slavery is becoming a very
considerable affair... Mrs. Stowe's works, of world-wide fame, are awak-
ening in all quarters a demand for authentic personal narratives of experience
in slavery; and the demand is likely to be well supplied.”34

Swept along by the clamor for written and oral narratives of the lives of
former slaves, Douglass in the 1850s received frequent requests to discuss
his bondage. As demands increased for details of Douglass’s personal his-
tory, publishers sought to convince Douglass to write a second account of
his life. In fact, so frequent were the calls for Douglass to narrate the story of
his life, he became ambivalent about responding to them. On one occasion
in 1852 he reported that “it was most gratifying” to fulfill a request to re-
count the “simple story” of his life. Two years later, however, Douglass ex-
pressed his exasperation over having to satisfy such appeals because he felt
they limited the amount of time he could devote to other interests: “Almost
everywhere I go, 1 am strangely pressed to tell the story of my life; and if I re-
sponded to all the demands made upon me in this behalf, I should have time
for little else. In whatever mood one finds himself, joyous or sad, contem-
plative or talkative, one must tell his experience in slavery.” And even in the
preface to Bondage and Freedom he repeated these sentiments, noting that
he had “often refused to narrate my personal experience in public anti-slav-
ery meetings, and in sympathizing circles, when urged to do so by friends,
with whose views and wishes, ordinarily, it were a pleasure to comply.”35

34. New Englander, 14: 628-29 (November 1856). See also Robert S. Levine, Martin Delany,
Frederick Douglass, and the Politics of Representative Identity (Chapel Hill, 1997), 72-90, 146.
35. FDP, 8 April 1852, 3 February 1854; Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom
(New York and Auburn, N.Y., 1855), vi.

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