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Indeed, according to Hark, she once flattened him up against the porch wall and made him repeat this homily until he had committed it to memory. I have no doubt that she was more than a little cracked, but this did not diminish my intense dislike of Miss Maria Pope, though occasionally I felt myself feeling sorry for her against my better nature.

But Miss Maria is, in a manner of speaking, only incidental to a man I am trying to get at in roundabout fashion-namely, Mr. Jeremiah Cobb, the judge who was about to sentence me to death, and into whose earlier acquaintance I was led by a complicated series of transactions which I must here try briefly to describe.


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I was born the property of Benjamin Turner, about whom I remember very little. Upon his abrupt death when I was around eight or nine a miller and dealer in timber, he was killed while felling a cypress tree, having turned his back on the monster at an improvident moment , I passed by bequest into the possession of his brother, Samuel Turner, whose property I remained for ten or eleven years.

These years, and those preceding them, I shall return to in due course. Thomas Moore-a sale which a weakness for irony impels me to remark was effected at the instant I reached my manhood, on the very day I became twenty-one.

The Confessions of Nat Turner

I was the property of Mr. Moore, who was a small farmer, for nine years until his death. Another bizarre misadventure: Moore broke his skull while presiding at the birth of a calf. I had very little use for Moore, and my grief was meager, yet at the time I could not but help begin to wonder if ownership of me did not presage a diminution of fortune, as does the possession, I am told, of a certain kind of elephant in India.

Upon Mr. The following year that is to say, the year before now, or Mr. Miss Sarah, married Joseph Travis, a childless widower of fifty-five desirous of offspring who lived in this same country region of Cross Keys, an expert wheelwright by trade and the last person so luckless as to enjoy me in the pride of ownership.

Thus when Miss Sarah wed Joseph Travis and became domiciled beneath his roof, I turned into a kind of twofold property-not an unheard-of arrangement but additionally unsatisfying to property already half-deranged at being owned even once. Travis was moderately prosperous, which is to say that like a few of the other inhabitants of this backwater, he managed to eke out slightly more than a living.

Like most of the other property owners of the region, Travis was also a small farmer, with fifteen acres or so in com, cotton, and hay, plus an apple grove whose principal function it was to produce cider and brandy. Since the relative success of the wheel shop, however, Travis had cut back on his farm holdings, leasing out his acreage to others, and retaining just the apple orchard, and a small produce garden and patch of cotton for his own use.

Over a week period there were demonstrations in cities, capped by the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr. One night the Styrons, Jack, and Jackie found themselves at a party at J. Many of the guests were theater people. The president and the Styrons made eye contact. Kennedy flattered the couple with teasing blarney. That was Friday, November 8. Two weeks later, Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.

The previous summer, Styron had begun. He nudged a No. The most methodical of novelists, he demanded utter silence, even with small children in the house. He had a stone wall built in front to try to muffle the noise of passing vehicles, according to his daughter Alexandra in her memoir, Reading My Father. His pattern was all but inviolate.

Up at noon, leisurely lunch or brunch with Rose. Once he was done he tinkered very little. Roxbury was becoming a hub for artists and writers. On occasion, Styron, an animated reader, pulled out pages of Nat Turner , and Loomis, having driven up from 11th Street, in the Village, heard much of the novel in progress. Gay Talese listened to bits of it, too.

Interest was radiating outward. Styron had seized the great subject of the moment: protests turning violent and moving out of the South and into the North. The nation felt under siege and adrift, recovering from J. Out of these conflicts, however, sprang progress and hope. The president was now ready to sign it and needed remarks for the ceremony. To help draft the speech, Goodwin enlisted Styron, trusting his sensitivity toward racial issues and his feel for the elevating phrase.

Subsidiary deals were already being made that would eventually bring him a million dollars. Once he reached the climactic scenes of violence, however, the pages came quickly.

It had taken four and a half years, during which nonviolent protests had given way to blood in the streets. For Styron, as for many southern writers, the form connoted dumbed-down costume drama—camellias and crinoline, the cloying scent of Gone with the Wind.

Nat Turner is not a lesser being, diminished by captivity, but someone observant and sensitive, a fellow mortal. I felt awkward and naked, stripped down to bare black flesh, and a wicked chill like cold water filled the hollow of my gut as the thought crashed in upon me: Yes, I am a slave. The praise still adorns paperback editions of the book.

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That was the spirit in which Styron had begun writing in But did it still apply in ? It was the book of the moment. He, in turn, brought on Norman Jewison, who had directed In the Heat of the Night , a film that had broken a long-standing taboo when its big-city black detective, played by Sidney Poitier, struck a plantation owner in the face while a stunned white sheriff, played by Rod Steiger, looked on.

Meanwhile, the backlash had been building. Styron had miscalculated. Murray was a gentleman critic of the old school.

William Styron’s ‘Confessions of Nat Turner’ was a best seller

Others were less polite. Styron came under attack at public panels and events. The contributors had tallied up the many liberties he had taken. The doubts and indecision Styron imputes to Turner had no factual basis. And why would Turner lust after a young white woman when there was evidence he was married? Styron himself, despite the support he would receive from important writers and academics, would later summarize the verdict against him.

Daily, the violence of state power, the bald injustice of white supremacy, and the anger and desperation they had wrought were on frightening display.

When a white author wrote a slave narrative novel in 1967, black writers were outraged

Against this backdrop, William Styron, a white writer, penned The Confessions of Nat Turner, a novel written from the point of view of a black slave facing execution. For white and black readers alike, it made quite an impact. Time magazine has called it one of the best English-language novels of the last 50 years. The real Nat Turner was a slave in Southampton County, Virginia who led an insurrection against white slaveowners in August of The event holds a unique place in the American imagination.

It is pointed, directed specifically and exclusively at white people, and it offers a cold, satisfying glimpse of something else entirely, something precise, swift, and savage: retribution. And it was bloody. Slaves rising up and turning their tools on their masters was one of the animating fears of plantation life in the antebellum South, so much so that paranoia about this eventuality is inseparable from the condition of bondage itself.

Which is to say, Nat Turner and his army were a literal nightmare come to life for white slaveholders, and their impact was lasting and haunting, a cautionary tale.