Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl did not receive a great deal of critical attention until the late twentieth
century, mostly because modern scholars had doubts about its authenticity and the conditions of its
authorship. For many years, the book was understood to be a novel written in the guise of a slave narrative
or an embellished slave autobiography ghost-written by a white author. Critics often assumed that Lydia
Maria Child had composed the narrative, even though she insists in her introduction that her editorial work
was limited to “condensa- tion and orderly arrangement.” Through extensive research, Jean Fagan Yellin
finally offered conclusive proof of Jacobs’s authorship of Incidents and the authenticity of the events
described in the text. Yellin’s 1981 edition of Jacobs’s work alerted scholars to its importance and
transformed its position within the canon. Consider why Jacobs’s authorship was questioned for so long.
Why would scholars have found it so difficult to believe that a black woman raised in slavery could have
written this book? What qualities make the narrative seem fictional?