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xxvi INTRODUCTION VOLUME TWO

Douglass protested too much for us to accept entirely the characteriza-
tion of his attitude toward recounting his life story. Sometimes reticent un-
der circumstances that suggested undue vanity or made him merely an
awful example of bondage, Douglass recalled his past over and over, using
editorials as his outlet, and became more accustomed to writing than speaking
his reminiscences. Composing about a half-dozen editorials weekly
from 1847 to 1854 for the North Star and Frederick Douglass’ Paper,
Douglass drew on memories to give weight to his opinions. Those words
became for him a way to systematically order, reconstruct, and recreate for-
mative events and gave readers insight into his changing sense of self. As
time passed, Douglass sensed that his first autobiography no longer pro-
vided the symmetry needed to balance his past and present in the 1850s. He
published Bondage and Freedom to provide this new interpretation.36

Douglass’s decision to revisit his past, though uncommon, was not
unique. He shared the impulse with Americans as diverse as Charles A.
Siringo, Theodore Dreiser, Hamlin Garland, Ludwig Lewisohn, Sherwood
Anderson, and Mabel Dodge Luhan. But Douglass had most in common
with other black Americans and Victorian autobiographers. A “pervasive
reminiscential mood” was characteristic of the Victorians and appeared
clearly in the works of Thomas Carlyle. David J. DeLaura has written of
Douglass’s English contemporaries: “This presentation of one's own past,
as part of a search for new meanings in a deteriorating cultural situation, is
perhaps the most central binding activity of serious nineteenth-century lit-
erature. It is the great ‘task,’ a kind of implicitly shared program for the cen-
tury. This everywhere evident autobiographical pressure of the period...
reaches a kind of climax around mid-century.”37

Many African-American autobiographers have revisited their past. The
impulse is buried in the complex relationship between the history and cul-
ture of blacks in the Americas and symbolized by the repetitive themes in
that most distinctive musical genre, the blues. For some literary critics,
black autobiography is the prose analogue of the blues. To explain the dis-
tinctive features of antebellum slave autobiographies such as Douglass's,
the scholar John Bayliss, for instance, concluded: “The slave narratives are
the Blues in prose.” In her study of black autobiographies, Sidonie Smith
extended Bayliss’s analogy:

36. NS, S September 1848, 25 May 1849, 30 May 1850; FDP 29 April 1853.
37. David J. DeLaura, “The Allegory of Life: The Autobiographical Impulse in Victorian Prose,”
in George P. Landow, ed., Approaches to Victorian Autobiography (Athens, Ohio, 1979), 334, 338.

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