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“Every life hath its chapter of sorrow. No matter how rich the gilding or fair the pages of the volume, Trouble will stamp it with his sable signet.”

So begins the novel Treading the Winepress; or, A Mountain of Misfortune by Clarissa Minnie Thompson Allen, which, had it appeared in book form in 1885–1886 instead of serialized in The Boston Advocate, would have been the second novel published by a black woman in the United States. Instead, Allen has been mostly forgotten by literary history. Now, thanks to the painstaking efforts of editors Gabrielle Brown, Eric Willey, and Jean MacDonald, an edition of Allen’s Treading the Winepress; or, A Mountain of Misfortune is available to readers for the first time as an open access, hybrid book from Downstate Legacies, part of its ongoing translation and lost books series, Undiscovered Americas.

In this novel of manners set in Capitolia (a thinly veiled stand-in for Columbia, South Carolina, the author’s hometown), Allen recounts the entangled lives of the De Vernes and the Tremaines, two well-to-do black families. The novel unfurls the stories of multiple tragedies endured by each family through episodes of romance, mystery, and murder. Chief among these is the love triangle involving protagonist Gertie Tremaine, esteemed doctor Will De Verne, and Gertie’s sister Lenore “Gypsy” Tremaine. The heartbreaks that follow lead Gertie to lament the “mountains of misfortune” she and her family endure. Even though Allen regarded the novel as “a girlish protest against what seemed to be serious dangers threatening our race,” she insists her “object was not to gain ‘name and fame’ but to call the attention of thinking people to these blots in our social firmament.” It is with great excitement that we reintroduce this overlooked classic to contemporary readers.



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Downstate Legacies




Fiction, African American Fiction, Fiction by Women, Novel, Novel of Manners, Clarissa Minnie Thompson Allen, Clarissa M. Allen, Boston Advocate, Nineteenth Century American Fiction, South Carolina, Southern Fiction, Columbia


African American Studies | Fiction | Literature in English, North America | Literature in English, North America, Ethnic and Cultural Minority

Treading the Winepress; or, A Mountain of Misfortune