Sapphira and the Slave Girl

Sapphira and the Slave Girl

Book - 1940
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In her final novel, Willa Cather departed from her usual Great Plains settings to plumb the turbulent relationships between slaves and their owners in the antebellum South. Sapphira and the Slave Girl is set in Virginia just before the Civil War. Sapphira is a slave owner who feels she has come down in the world and channels her resentments into jealousy of her beautiful mulatto slave, Nancy. Sapphira’s daughter Rachel, an abolitionist, opposes her mother’s increasingly shocking attempts to persecute Nancy. The struggles of these three strong-willed women provide rich material for Cather’s narrative art and psychological insight.
Publisher: New York : A. A. Knopf, 1940
Edition: First edition
Branch Call Number: FIC Cather, W 1940
Characteristics: 295 pages ; 20 cm

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SeattleSaul
Apr 30, 2017

A great example of non-violent, historical writing with real, believable people as characters. Since it takes place on the cusp of our Civil War, one might feel the need to show how badly slaves were treated, the need for the war, sympathy for the slaves, but Cather presents a picture of something more like the reality that it probably was. There is a "break" for one slave , but nothing that hinges on grinding conflict. We get to view slavery (although not a humanistic situation) from the eyes of slavers as well as slaves. We, of course, know that officially slavery did end with the war, but it took another 100 years or so for more equality to emerge. Cather does seem at total ease illuminating the times for us, but her role as a first-person narrator (unless I missed something) at the end of the story seems a bit unusual.

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