The Poisoned Table by Diane Michael Cantor

Slavery

The Poisoned Table by Diane Michael Cantor

The Poisoned Table by Diane Michael Cantor was published in 2015 and is 400+ pages long. I read this for my local book club in northeast Florida. I have a particular interest in slavery, so looked forward to this selection. The two slave plantations mentioned in the book are nearby, on islands off the coast of southeast Georgia. Most book club members have been to these islands, or near them.

I found the book to be confusing at first, as it switched back and forth between the two lead characters.  The fact that they were both actresses who performed Shakespeare and loved the same man added to the confusion. I had not read about the book in advance, so did not know how it was constructed. After a few chapters I found it less confusing. Yet I still found myself mixing up details pertaining to the lives of the two lead characters.

I found descriptions of the slaves on the plantations to be the most interesting part of this book.  These descriptions were influenced greatly by real journals written by the (real life) actress Fanny Kemble.  These were published in 1863 and titled “Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839.” These descriptions are appalling. Yet their detail about minutia leads me to I believe that they are horrendously accurate.

Perhaps the book would have been stronger with only one lead female character – Fanny Kemble. It certainly would have been less confusing. Instead of having two similar lead females, I think the book would have been stronger if it contrasted Fanny Kemble’s experiences in America with those in Britain. Then there would have been opportunity to explore the difference between British thought on slavery vs. American ideas.  In addition, more about female emancipation and laws restricting females could have been explored. Despite the confusing structure, I still found this book to be an informative and interesting read.