The art of historical fiction is a form of creativity that lifts still photos and dated records into the light of the present for new life. Jewel Parker Rhodes is a fore-runner in her craft and has proven such in her novel Douglass’ Women. In the 21st century Frederick Douglass is just a name in history. Ask any person of the last three generations and at best they will tell you he was a writer and/or a speaker against slavery. Ask of the women in his life and the person is more likely to draw a blank. However, after reading Douglass’ Women, Anna Murray Douglass and Ottilie Assing will stand fast in the memory of time as two love crazy women who willingly suffered through decades of relationship illiteracy for one man who gave his heart to no one.
The page turning captivation of human sexual relationship dysfunction is present in every alternating chapter of the women and their words. Anna the illiterate domestic big hearted superstitious Christian took her last chance at love by offering Frederick Bailey something no man in his position could refuse: freedom. The obligation of being indebted to Anna’s kindness earned him a lifetime of hidden frustration. Douglass however was never without “other” relationships because of his charm, intelligence and charisma. He indulged himself for nearly three decades between the thighs of Ottilie Assing, a German Jew abolitionist who grew up on the fantasy of love painted in her mother’s whimsical nature. Ottilie became not only an emotional slave to the desire for Frederick Douglass but also a prisoner to the enthusiasm of making Anna suffer for being the legitimate spouse.
A scandal on opposite ends of the race spectrum! Just wicked, is the word that can describe many of the actions of the main characters. One can’t help but to feel sorry for the longing, hurt, emptiness and blinding passion each of the characters so freely disclose in their soliloquies. Jewel Parker Rhodes stands with the best of her contemporaries. It is a very necessary task that the historical figures in African American history continue to be lifted from the pages of history into the hands and minds of the new generation. I must admit this novel sparked a new interest in Frederick Douglass the man and has lead me to my library shelves to know more about his legacy and I just had to see those still frames of Anna and Ottilie just for the record!
Dr. Akua Gray
December 26, 2013Houston, Texas