“The Wedding Gift” by Marlen Suyapa Bodden, author and human rights attorney at The Legal Aid Society in New York City, is an historical novel about slavery before the Civil War.
This story is based on an actual 1840s court case in Talledega, Ala. The author’s knowledge of modern and historical slavery creates a compelling and enlightening novel, as she weaves into her story the Abolitionist movement that was in direct opposition to slavery.
The reader gets versions of the story from both sides, both from the perspective of the slave woman, Sarah, and the voice of the owner’s wife Theodora. In some ways, Theodora was as much a slave as Sarah, because she was subject to the will of her husband, as were her slaves.
The novel follows the life of two half-sisters, one, Clarissa, the white daughter of Cornelius Allen, a wealthy plantation owner and slave master, and her half-sister, Sarah Campbell, whose mother, Emmeline, is a house slave. Clarissa is a Southern belle, ambitious to love whom she chooses. Sarah, her maid, hides behind the façade of a docile house slave, all the while planning her escape.
“The Wedding Gift” is an account of tactics used to control slaves as well as free women. This novel portrays how some Southern men ruled their families with total authority. Women were to be seen but not heard. Clarissa is made to marry the man, Mr. Cromwell, her father has chosen for her, a son of a business partner who will strengthen Mr. Allen’s holdings.
Sarah, as a house maid, has had an easier life than that of a field slave, yet she too longs for more – above all to be free. She and Clarissa had played together as children. They were even schooled together-which was illegal at that time- by Theodora Allen, wife of Cornelius.
“The Wedding Gift” describes the complexities of relationships between family members, especially between the maids who were slaves and the oppressed white women.
The author used her knowledge of modern and historical slavery to present a compelling story about freedom and a woman’s role in society and family.