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John Gabriel Stedman

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 6 months ago


    Stedman’s accounts of Surinam and the slave society are drawn from his ability to describe the world around him accurately and truthfully.  Surinam was a New World, full of amazing complexities that were both familiar to the young, ambitious Stedman, but at the same time very foreign. (xiv-xxiv)  It was this contrast that pulled lured in the young officer. 


    The way in which Stedman approached the study of Surinam was also contrasted.  Torn between the roles of “incurable romantic”(xxiv) and scientific observer, Stedman attempted to maintain an objective distance from this strange new world, but was drawn in by its natural beauty and exoticness. (xxiv)  He was known to float throughout social society and could speak English, Dutch, French, and the slave language of Sranan (English-based creole). (xxv) 


    Stedman made a daily effort to retain journals and take on the spot notes, using anything material in sight that could hold a letter.(xxv)  His intentions were to ultimately use these notes and journals to produce a book.(xxv)  Stedman’s first months in Surinam made for glamorous entries.  His writings tell of the multitudes of women that were available at his beckoning.  These writings represent a time in Stedman’s life that gleamed with youthful vigor and lust for life, women, and the fulfillment of desire. (xxv)  Stedman also made a point to write clearly and distinguish truth from hearsay.  He was diligent about facts and separated accounts, primarily focusing on first-hand. (xiii)  His writings were descriptive and illustrative and was usually filled with a richness of truth and understanding.(xiii) 


    On 15 June 1778, just a year after returning to the Netherlands from Surinam, Stedman began piecing together these notes and journals into what would ultimately become the foundation of his “Narrative”. (xxvii)  In 1787, Stedman began showing pieces of his “Journal”(later to become his “Narrative”) to friends in an attempt to secure a financial backing for the publication of his manuscript.  During this time he also sent attempted to gain potential subscribers in London, Edinburgh, York, Liverpool, Bath, Bristol, Exeter, Portsmouth, and Plymouth. (xxxiv)  On 8 February 1791, Stedman sent the first edition of his newly completed manuscript, as well as a list of 76 subscribers - many of whom were friends of Stedman - requesting 96 copies, to publisher Joseph Johnson.(xxxiv)


    At age 42, Stedman wrote a second narrative recalling the events of his life up to the age of 28.  In the book, Stedman portrayed himself much in the style and tone of such characters as Tom Jones and Roderick Random.(xiv)  The young Stedman was depicted as a rebellious misfit and practical joker.  He elaborated on his opposition to authority figures, which he also described during his time in Surinam, and his extreme sensitivity, which led him to be overly sympathetic with all creatures as well as humans unnecessarily punished or tortured.(xv)  In the book, Stedman tells of his experiences of ordering slaves not to be hurt and women not to be abused.  The book was criticized and said to be an embellishment of his true life.  Stedman defended the book by stating that he did not write it with the intention of gaining success or fortune.(xviii)  He explained that he wrote “purely following the dictates of nature, & equally hating a made up man and a made up story.”(xviii)


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