This Book was not meant for Us: A Fresh Look at the History of Mary Prince

Wednesday 3 November 2021

This Book was not meant for Us; A Fresh Look at the History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave (1831)


Since its republication in 1987 the History of Mary Prince has been hailed as the first slave narrative to be published by a black woman in Britain. In this talk, Ifemu reminds us that Mary’s book is actually made up of three texts: Mary’s own story; the editor, Thomas Pringle’s additional comments and a story of a kidnapped boy called Asa-Asa. Ifemu also reminds black readers in particular that ‘This book was not meant for us.’ It was designed as anti-slavery propaganda for nineteenth-century white readers. Therefore, she encourages readers to focus not only on Mary’s testimonials of slave brutality meted out to her and others, but also to consider Mary’s unspoken words about other parts of her life; such as her mother, her husband, her siblings and her religion. Ifemu argues that only by reading these ‘quieter’ parts of the History of Mary Prince, will we gain a more complete view of Mary and appreciate the relevance her stories have to black peoples in 21st century Britain.

Ifemu Omari Webber is a PhD candidate at the University of Wolverhampton. Her research looks at the supplementary writing in the slave narrative The History of Mary Prince (1831) as well as the nineteenth-century public response to the book. Using archival materials, Ifemu examines how Mary, a semi-illiterate black woman, and her book caused a furore both in Britain and the West Indies. Ifemu’s PhD research and the work which emanates from it, embrace both her skills and passion as a teacher and a creative.

Ifemu Omari Webber was shortlisted for the BBC Radio 3/AHRC New Generation Thinkers in 2021.

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