Frances Harper is the latest addition to the host of writers featured on the VLE. Hailing from Baltimore, Maryland, Frances was born free in 1825. She devoted her life not just to writing – although she was a very successful author of poems and novels – but to the abolitionist cause, campaigning to help ensure the eventual emancipation of enslaved people in the USA.
Harper also devoted much of her energy to the cause of women’s suffrage. To many she was the veritable “double-headed monster” – not just a politicised woman but a politicised black woman into the bargain. Her gender drew a great deal of criticism when she began to give antislavery lectures, beginning in 1854 - many considered it improper for a woman to speak in public at that point in history, but Harper continued regardless.
Harper included her political opinions in her novels. At one point in her 1869 work Minnie’s Sacrifice, she puts these words into her protagonist’s mouth: “I cannot recognize that the negro man is the only one who has pressing claims at this hour. To-day our government needs woman's conscience as well as man's judgment. And while I would not throw a straw in the way of the colored man, even though I know that he would vote against me as soon as he gets his vote, yet I do think that woman should have some power to defend herself from oppression, and equal laws as if she were a man.”
She certainly wasn’t a dreamer – just a little while later Harper kills off her protagonist, having her fall victim to an act of racial violence. She knew that the times that she lived in were hard and she expressed this reality in her novels.
The extract we have used for the VLE is from “Trial and Triumph” which addresses an issue that can still provoke highly emotive reactions in some – that of the unmarried mother. Following the fashion of the day it is a little melodramatic but is an elegant and very poignant extract, nonetheless.
Here at Pass GCSE English, we want to ensure that the authors we present are as diverse and as interesting as possible – and Frances Harper is certainly a wonderful “find” for us. We have created a quiz based on an the extract mentioned above which covers elements of Paper 1 Question 2 - otherwise known as the language question!
If you know of an author we could include, please let us know!