Face Value: Ambivalent Citizenship in Iola Leroy

  • Michael Borgstrom
Part of the The Future of Minority Studies book series (FMS)


From the moment of its initial publication in 1892, Frances E. W. Harper’s Iola. leroy, or Shadows Uplifted has experienced a decidedly ambiguous critical reception. In William Still’s introduction to the second edition of the novel, for example, the famed abolitionist records his doubts over Harper’s decision to write “‘a story’ on some features of the Anglo-African race, growing out of what was once popularly known as the ‘peculiar institution.’” Still worries that in focusing on mixed-race characters, “one of the race, so long distinguished in the cause of freedom” risks “[making] a blunder which might detract from her own good name.” While he ultimately praises Harper’s achievement, Still tells us that “it was far from being easy for [him] to think that she was as fortunate as she might have been in selecting a subject which would afford her the best opportunity for bringing out a work of merit and lasting worth to the race.”1


Black Woman African American Woman Racial Identity Civil Liberty Cultural Stereotype 
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  1. 1.
    William Still, introduction to Iola Leroy, or Shadows Uplifted, by Frances E. W. Harper (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 1.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Frances E. W. Harper, Iola Leroy; or, Shadows Uplifted (1892; reprint, New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 9.Google Scholar
  3. 9.
    Valerie Smith, Not Just Race, Not Just Gender: Black Feminist Readings (New York: Routledge, 1998), xxiiiGoogle Scholar
  4. 25.
    Marita Sturken, Tangled Memories: The Vietnam War, the AIDS Epidemic, and the Politics of Remembering (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 7.Google Scholar

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© Michael Borgstrom 2010

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  • Michael Borgstrom

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