Sapphira and the slave girl

by Willa Cather

Hardcover, 1940





New York, A.A. Knopf, 1940.


Sapphira Colbert proceeds to persecute a once happy slave girl, Nancy, when Sapphira suspects her husband admires Nancy.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Donna828
This was Cather's last published novel and the only one set in her native Virginia. It is an example of a powerless woman's manipulation of her slaves. Sapphira was not the ordinary backwoods miller's wife in the mid-1800's. She came from an arisocratic English family, had her own money, and liked to have her own way. She suffered under the constraints of the time she lived in as well as the debilitating disease of dropsy, which left her confined to a wheelchair.

When she becomes irrationally jealous of her lovely young slave Nancy and is overruled by her husband Henry in her desire to sell her, Sapphira comes up with a plan to ruin the girl. So she invites the womanizing nephew Martin for an extended visit. Helpless in her vulnerability, Nancy turns to Rachel, who demonstrates the compassion that her mother Sapphira lacks.

This was a thought-provoking book, but it did not pack the emotional punch with me that some of Cather's other novels elicited. It gives yet another view of slavery, this time depicting slaves as objects helpless to their master's whims. As Rachel came to believe, "it was the owning that was wrong. no matter how convenient or agreeable it might be for master or servant."
… (more)
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 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.… (more)
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 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, 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.
… (more)
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 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.… (more)
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 about. Definitely worth a read!



Page: 0.2771 seconds