Charlotte Forten Grimke (pt2): Poetic Intervals

Have you ever taken long stretches between journal entries?  Maybe for a few days or weeks you just don't feel like journaling; you have a stretch of a couple months where words are just not coming to you; you go through a season where you don't have the time, circumstances are getting in your way, your storyline overwhelms you, etc.  Either way you're not in the mood/ don't have the energy to put into penning your thoughts into a blank book.  

Image: Civil War Talk

Image: Civil War Talk

I think even the most avid of journalers can resonate with periods such as this.  

Charlotte Forten Grimke is the QUEEN of long intermissions between her sparsely-filled journals. Along with stretches of days and weeks in her first 3 journals, journals 4-5 are separated by 20 YEARS!!! In her fifth journal-- filled between 1885-1892--Forten only filled 43/144 pages. In the early days her intervals were caused by her dedication to abolition and preoccupation with employment/looking for work in her field (Literature): when she wasn't working as a literary translator for French and German texts and writing children's stories, she was looking for such work, seeking to maintain her financial independence as much as possible, but finding it rocky and unstable as a young, Black female with literary genius in a day that all but condemned the existence of such women.


Marriage was another contributor to Forten's long drawls of inscriptive inactivity.  In 1878 she married Reverend Francis James Grimke, a man 13 years younger than she, who revered her and shared her zeal for intellectualism and the deliverance of Black people. However, one can easily gather that Charlotte did not receive enough intimacy, encouragement, or creative energy from her spouse to keep her ambition charged as was present in her bachelorette years. During her marriage writes some poetry; however her health begins to deteriorate, as marriage to a Black preacher and fellow intellect turns isolatory, as her friends from the abolitionist movement pass away, and as her peer group of Black women both dissipates and dies away. Her journal proves a means of self-healing and therapy as she processed the loss of their first child Theodora Cornelia early in their marriage sets the tone for a darker, more ill Grimke. 

CFG entry 13.jpg
CFG entry 15.jpg


 Charlotte wrote entries in 1889 but not from 1890-91.   In 1892 she wrote only one entry, which would prove to be the last journal entry she'd ever write:

CFG entry 14.jpg


Illness is the final cause of Charlotte's extensive intervals between entries.  It's not detailed what "illness" Charlotte had but I believe today it would be recognized as a manifestation of depression.  She was incredibly talented and received little-no recognition for her gifts, her poetry. Though she was married she had no true intimacy with her husband, as evidenced by her being able to decompose before her husband's eyes. She struggled with being passionate, vivacious, ambitions,  an intellectual prowess, and reclusive, sickly--that's enough to cause a soulful implosion. However, I would not classify Grimke as an invalid.  Despite the change of pace marriage proved to be she still busied herself as a pastor's wife, organizing a woman's group at the church, etc.  She also continued as best she could with activism and abolitionist duties.  Also, despite her mounting internal challenges she motioned to keep her spirits lifted and health stable, traveling for change of scenery and prognosticating the betterment of her health in the future in her journal entries.


Can you imagine living a life incredibly talented and consistently restricted, constrained, undefined, and in a perpetual delay in both your career and your marriage?  Charlotte fought these battles internally, leaving them with no written record.  

Tangent:  Please understand that keeping your internal struggles undocumented will cause your words to spoil inside of you, poisoning your body. Some battles of the mind need to be outlined on paper.  Some of your struggles need narration in a full journal.  Don't allow voices of negativity, anxiety, fear, stress, depression to echo in your head without your confronting them on your page. TOO MANY WOMEN OF COLOUR have left their pains in their wombs and have struggled with their identity, passing this on to their children or going infertile because of narratorial intoxication.  

By 1892 Charlotte Forten Grimke stopped journaling for what would be the rest of her life (she died in 1914 of a cerebral embolism).

Grimke's Obituary from  The Crisis  1914

Grimke's Obituary from The Crisis 1914


header image: