Title: The Unvarnished Truth: Personal Narratives in Nineteenth-Century America
Author: Ann Fabian
Year: 2000
Categories: Print Culture, Literary History, Narratives, Authenticity, Individualism
Place: United States
Time Period: 1800s 

Argument Synopsis
Ann Fabian examines the personal narratives of groups of marginalized men in 19th-century America: beggars, convicts, slaves, former soldiers, and former slaves. In a market society of the 19th century that increasingly emphasized the role of the individual, their stories became commodified for sale, and with that came a process of authentication. American readers fed on a booming print culture, but simultaneously were anxious about authenticity more broadly in a society where interactions increasingly took place amongst people who did not know one another. Where was the line between entrepreneur and con-man, between authors and liars? In this context, mediators played a crucial role in making narratives believable to readers. These brokers often took the form of middle-class editors, ministers, lawyers, and abolitionists and engaged in a cultural appropriation process that disempowered the marginalized authors, stripped them of creative outlets, and gave the mediators more control over the message. 

In the case of beggars, middle and upper class readers struggled to distinguish more broadly between the deserving and undeserving poor. For convicts, much of their authenticity had already been "proven" by the courts, so ministers and lawyers used their confessions to demonstrate their own skill in extracting them. Slave narratives, the most important of the four narrative forms, faced a much tougher battle for public opinion. Black people were seen as natural liars and worked against a pervasive background of minstrelsy that painted them as joking tricksters. Finally, in one of Fabian's strongest chapters, she looks at narratives penned by northern prisoners of the Civil War. Fabian argues that these prisoners actively engaged in the construction of race by positing their stories in relation to that of black slavery. Captured prisoners descended to the status of slaves (both materially and racially) before ascending back to white manhood with their freedom. 

Key Themes and Concepts
- A market society means that stories become commodities
- Rise of individualism
- Importance of print culture and literacy
- Mediation - middle-class (ministers, abolitionists, lawyers) had to serve as brokers between marginalized authors and public, and in doing so usurped power from the authors themselves
- Authors have to give up artfulness to fit an unimaginative literary convention in order to prove their authenticity
- Soldiers and Slaves (soldiers used racialized narrative of their captivity to the detriment of slaves)

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