Reading Between the Strike-Outs: Moments of Agency in Hannah Crafts’ Revisions

My favorite part of The Bondwoman’s Narrative are the fleeting glimpses of Hannah Crafts’ editing pen, the bold strikeouts of sentences she rearranges anew. Her occasional revisions to the text add another dimension, an extra layer of meaning to interpret. What Crafts presents to the reader is both the final draft and the draft in its initial stages all in one manuscript. The reader reads both of these versions simultaneously. What can be interpreted multiplies. That narrative is hauntingly beautiful and Crafts resides as much in the strikeouts and edits as she does in the revised words.

I always get the feeling that in addition to the narrative Crafts constructs, I’m also following a map of her mind and even her muse as she wrote the manuscript after escaping slavery. The narrative seems to live and breathe a little differently each time I read it. When I encounter a revised sentence, I read it once and then go back and reread it in its revised form.

I feel like there’s a certain integrity and raw honesty to finishing a manuscript and publishing it with its “flaws”. For me, each strikeout seems to represent another aspect of Crafts voice extending out of the two dimensional world of the paper page. Each strikeout is a small act of agency, a negotiation on the page between the arrangement of words and the writer’s intended meaning.

A particular revision that resonates with me is at the very beginning of Crafts’ narrative. The original sentence reads: “I said he came and went, that is he was only visible at times, and then you would see him leaning speechless against a pillar, or sitting silently in a corner perhaps leaning speechless against a pillar, or sitting silently in a corner”. The major revision of this sentence is the word ‘perhaps’. The word is significant, I think, because it reveals that Crafts is honing her personal voice. It is a stylistic choice, but one which strengthens the scene she recreates in this section of the narrative. This is all the more important considering The Bondwoman’s Narrative is the only known novel by a fugitive slave woman.

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About nuancednadia

I write. I read. I gyaff. Occasionally, I travel.
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