Sapphira and the slave girl

by Willa Cather

Hardcover, 1940




New York, A.A. Knopf, 1940.


Classic Literature. Fiction. Literature. Historical Fiction. HTML: 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..

User reviews

LibraryThing member Bernadette56
A rare subject for white women authors to write about a novel about the hidden history of slavery as it shows the position of the white woman as an owner of slaves - certainly not Gone With the Wind
LibraryThing member janemarieprice
This was a strange read about a Virginia family - the slave owning wife, her unobjecting husband, the family slaves, and their daughter who has become an abolitionist. I’ve loved the other Cather’s I’ve read, and this one flew by spending several late nights reading ‘just one more
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chapter’. But there was something that felt a little simplified about the characters and their reactions. I recommend it, but feel like I’d need a second reading to really fully grasp everything that was going on.
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LibraryThing member arubabookwoman
Sapphira, the wife of a mill owner, has brought to the marriage several slaves. When Sapphira unjustly suspects that her husband may improperly favor Nancy, a young slave girl, she begins a campaign to ruin Nancy. Her efforts include forcing the attentions of her husband's immoral nephew on Nancy,
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resulting in several instances in which Nancy barely escapes rape. Sapphira's daughter's aid to Nancy brings about an irreparable rift between mother and daughter.

Cather writes clearly and poignantly of the hopeless predicament of slaves, even those whose owners are supposedly kind and generous. Believing herself a righteous and good woman, Sapphira unthinkingly and almost playfully seeks to destroy Nancy's life, such as it is. Her husband is fully aware of what his wife is doing, and believes himself to be a progressive anti-slaver, yet he does nothing to contervene his wife's actions.

This book is one of Cather's lesser known works. I heard about it on LT, and I recommend it.
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LibraryThing member bhowell
This book is Alfred Knopf New York 1940 which is the correct publisher and date. Apparently the first edition says First Edition and this book does not have that. The 1st trade ed is worth 200-300 and may be what I have. With this author, because of the scarcity of dust jackets books are valued
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without it and a dust jacket brings a premium. There was also a limited ed which is worth more. For more info see the May 2007 Vol 17, No 5 of Firsts magazine which contains an article on Willa Cather which discusses both the merits of her books, identifies and prices her books and gives an outline of her life.
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LibraryThing member Ashraks
Set in 1856, Sapphira and the Slave Girl explores the life of a middle-aged white woman and her relationship with her family and especially her servants. When Nancy, one of the servant disappears, how does her disappearance affect Sapphira and inturn her family members is what the book is all
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about. Definitely worth a read!
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LibraryThing member CurrerBell
This could have been a much better novel if Cather had written it in a first-person voice, although doing so would have forced her to focus more on a selected story line and just a few characters. The book actually works quite well in the Epilogue, when it shifts momentarily to the first-person
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voice of the then-five-year-old child who witnesses the return of Nancy; but when writing in a third-person omniscient, Cather tends too much to "telling" and not "showing" even to the extent of occasionally sounding on the point of breaking the fourth wall.
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
This was Willa Cather’s last published novel, and not her best. In it, she returned to her Virginia roots and attempted to write a novel about slavery. Sort of. Set in 1856, the eponymous Sapphira is the wife of a mill owner, and rationalizes her black “servants” by not actually buying or
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selling them. Just, you know, enslaving and demeaning them over generations. Oh, okay. No problem.

Sapphira’s husband, Henry, is a spineless character who has essentially moved his residence to the mill he operates. He seems vaguely opposed to slavery but relies on the family’s “servants” to care for his needs. Sapphira’s widowed daughter Rachel is opposed to slavery and keeps her distance, living several miles away with her two daughters. The “servants” are all stereotypically happy in their work, taking pride in making the silver shine and all that. When Henry’s nephew comes to visit and begins to prey upon Nancy, a mixed-race slave of questionable parentage, it seems the only solution is to whisk her away to Canada via the Underground Railroad.

Meh. This novel plods along from one event to another, with no dramatic tension whatsoever. Conflicts and relationship issues are hinted at but left unresolved. Anti-slavery sentiment is expressed, but only half-heartedly, and the narrative is littered with pejoratives that come across as part of Cather’s vocabulary rather than “just” the voice of her characters. Why did I persist to the end? Who knows.
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LibraryThing member DrFuriosa
An engrossing story about the relationship between master and slave--and all the socio-cultural elements that complicate it.



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