Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

April 1, 2011 

Dolen Perkins-Valdez’s novel Wench provides a glimpse into the life of a slave woman favored by her Master.  It depicts the complicated consequences of bearing his children and coping with the precarious possibility of falling out of favor.  It’s an unsettling tableau of 1850 Southern slave practices particularly American white slave masters vacationing without their wives rather preferring their slave concubines.  The protagonist Lizzie labors under a complicated burden torn between loving and despising her master.

The setting is the resort Tawawa House near Xenia Ohio, and where now stands Wilberforce University.  The story opens during the summer 1852.  The plot focuses on the relationship of Tennessee planter Nathan Drayle and his slave concubine Lizzie.  Other subplots delve in the lives of five other slaves particularly the women and their masters.  Plans to escape to freedom are hatched with assistance and extinguished by betrayals.

Reading Wench one cannot help but wonder:  What kind of man would lay with a woman at night then tie her up like a dog on a grounded spike the next morning as did Lizzie’s master?  Slave women were forced to comply with sexual advances by their masters on a regular basis. Consequences of resistance often came in the form of physical beatings; thus, an enormous number of slaves became concubines for these men.

Most often the masters were already bound in matrimony, which caused tension and hatred between the slave and the mistress of the house. Many “mulatto” or racially mixed children also resulted from these relations.   The “status of the child” followed that of his or her mother, the child of a white man would not be freed based upon patriarchal genealogy.  Born into slavery these children also became a sore reminder for the mistress of her husbands’ infidelity.  Undeniably those slave masters are the ancestral forbears of a great many White and African Americans.

Publisher:  Harper Collins (Amistad); New York Fiction: ISBN:  978006170647  Date:  2010, 290 pages

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