skip to Main Content

Environmental Double Consciousness and Thoreauvian Intertextuality in Hannah Crafts’ The Bondwoman’s Narrative

by Megan Cole

This essay proposes that Hannah Crafts’s The Bondwoman’s Narrative (c.1853-1861)—a novel believed to be the first ever written by a fugitive slave—consciously positioned itself within the Transcendentalist tradition and engages intertextually with conceptions of nature popularized by Henry David Thoreau’s contemporaneously published Walden (1854). Rather than praising nature as a transhistorical site of regeneration and retreat, Crafts’s novel cultivates a dialectical tension between nature’s myriad symbolic valences, suggesting that the enslaved subject’s orientation toward the natural world is inherently unstable and evinces what I will call, after Rob Nixon, an environmental double consciousness. In the multilayered psyche of Crafts’s narrator, the meanings ascribed to nature by Crafts’s primarily white Transcendentalist contemporaries are unsettled, and nature becomes simultaneously threatening, inscrutable, and a transcendent site of sanctuary and “total security.” To add Crafts’s Bondswoman’s Narrative to the canon of nineteenth-century American environmental literature, this essay argues, is to complicate the relatively static conceptions of nature theorized and popularized by the Transcendentalists and to re-envision nature as a site marked indelibly by both the traumas of plantation slavery and by the myriad potentialities with which the natural world remains invested.


Get news from the Thoreau Society and learn about ways you can help preserve Thoreau Country as part of our common heritage and as the embodiment of Thoreau’s landmark contributions to social, political, and environmental thought.

The Thoreau Society®, Inc.
341 Virginia Road, Concord, MA 01742
P: (978) 369-5310
F: (978) 369-5382

Educating people about the life, works, and legacy of Henry David Thoreau, challenging all to live a deliberate, considered life—since 1941.


Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Back To Top