In 1831 Nat Turner awaits death in a Virginia jail cell. He is a slave, a preacher, and the leader of the only effective slave revolt in the history of 'that peculiar institution'. William Styron's ambitious and stunningly accomplished novel is Turner's confession, made to his jailers under the duress of his God, a first-person narrative that depicts a good man's transformation into an avenging angel. Encompasses the betrayals, cruelties and humiliations that made up slavery - and that still sear the collective psyches of both races.
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(198mm x 130mm x 27mm)
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
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US Kirkus Review »
Few first novels promised so much for a new writer as Styron's Faulknerian Lie Down in Darkness; with only one flawed major book in between, now sixteen years later it is difficult to relate this to the early book except for the emotional charge of some of the writing, most effective when descriptive. In the fulminating first person of Nat Turner, Just before he is to be killed, this reviews at black heat the "ruction" he incited - a mass murder and rape in the Virginia of 1831. "Nigger preacher," self-designated prophet, Nat is primarily a man who for the last half of his thirty-one years has nursed a "pure and obdurate" hatred for white men (and a less pure desire for their women). In the language of the law he's just an "animate chattel" although he had acquired the "lineaments not just of literacy out of knowledge" through one master who had educated him to be emancipated, then sold him because of economic pressures. On the one hand Nat thinks many bitter, contemporary thoughts about the Negro's imputed intellectual, spiritual and biological (but not sexual) inferiority; on the other hand, the novel is full of Yassuh-Massa survival stereotypes and situations from a much older literature (i.e. memories of his mother submitting to the white overseer; of blonde Miss Emmaline sullied and "ravished" by her cousin, etc.). This makes the book uneasy to reconcile - whether as a polemic or a novel; and then again there is no congruence between the Nat Turner who lived and died before the Civil War and the Nat Turner who seems to be a superimposition of the '60's, resurrected in some flagrantly modern scenes. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - William Styron
William Styron (1925-2006), a native of the Tidewater region of Virginia, was a graduate of Duke University and a veteran of the Marine Corps. His books include Lie Down in Darkness, The Long March, Set This House on Fire, The Confessions of Nat Turner, Sophie's Choice, This Quiet Dust, Darkness Visible and A Tidewater Morning. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, the Howells Medal, the American Book Award and the Legion d'Honneur. With his wife, the poet and activist Rose Styron, he lived for most of his adult life in Roxbury, Connecticut, and in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts.