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The first published novel by a black American author combines real-life stories, including his own story of escaping slavery and recollections he heard while helping others escape, with abolitionist agitprop, revealing ephemera from the newspapers of the time, and sympathetic (if somewhat melodramatic) characters. What emerges from this collage is an indictment of slavery and of American hypocrisy about liberty that found an enthusiastic and enraged audience when it was published in 1853.
Clotel has a complex publishing history, with four separate editions published between 1853 and 1867. These editions contain huge differences in characters and plotting, so much so that they might each be considered separate novels in their own right. This edition is based on the first edition of 1853.
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