The Invention of Wings

The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd.  Viking, 2014.

The Grimke sisters, at the center of Kidd’s new novel, were among the 19th century’s first outspoken abolitionists and feminists, yet largely forgotten today. Most abolitionists were Northerners, whose knowledge of slavery was second- or third-hand. The Grimkes, however, had grown up in a Southern slave-holding family, and thus brought a dynamic firsthand perspective about the treatment of slaves to their writings and lecture tours. Their pamphlet “American Slavery As It Is” strongly influenced Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose later widely-read novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin persuaded tens of thousands to oppose slavery.
The Invention of Wings explores themes of tradition, reform, family ties, racism, cruelty and kindness, courage, resistance, the frustratingly limited roles expected of women at the time, and the irrepressible desire for freedom. The story is appealing and the characters well-drawn. I was reminded of another recent novel dealing with Quakers, outsiders, resistance to slavery, and defying the law: The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier (see my review here).
As a novelist, Kidd has chosen not to adhere strictly to the historical facts; she discusses in her Author’s Note her creation of characters and events, and her alteration of some events that actually happened. She refers readers wanting a factual account to The Grimke Sisters from South Carolina by Gerda Lerner.

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