The Known World begins with the death, at the age of 31, of Henry Townsend, a black farmer in Manchester County, the largest county in antebellum Virginia. Among the property bequeathed to his widow are 13 women, 11 men and 9 children – for Henry, once a slave, was an owner of slaves himself… Edward P. Jones has created a richly imagined novel, in which a multitude of moral contradictions are revealed and explored.
…Jones loops backwards and forward from the day of Henry’s death, in prose that is generally measured and restrained, but with passages of intense lyricism and outbursts of casual savagery. Vividly conceived and profoundly humane, The Known World is a remarkable re-creation of a world we might have thought we already knew.
Henry Townsend, a black farmer, boot maker, and former slave, has a fondness for Paradise Lost and an unusual mentor — William Robbins, perhaps the most powerful man in antebellum Virginia’s Manchester County. Under Robbins’s tutelage, Henry becomes proprietor of his own plantation — as well as of his own slaves. When he dies, his widow, Caldonia, succumbs to profound grief, and things begin to fall apart at their plantation: slaves take to escaping under the cover of night, and families who had once found love beneath the weight of slavery begin to betray one another. Beyond the Townsend estate, the known world also unravels: low-paid white patrollers stand watch as slave “speculators” sell free black people into slavery, and rumours of slave rebellions set white families against slaves who have served them for years.
Ranging seamlessly between the past and future and back again to the present, The Known World weaves together the lives of freed and enslaved blacks, whites, and Indians — and allows all of us a deeper understanding of the enduring multidimensional world created by the institution of slavery.
Meet our judging panel for 2024 Dublin Literary Award
VideoJune 2 2023
Highlights from the 2023 Dublin Literary Award Ceremony
Katja Oskamp and translator Jo Heinrich win the prize for Marzahn, Mon Amour.
VideoMay 26 2023
2023 Award Winners in Conversation with Rick O’Shea
Author, Katja Oskamp and translator, Jo Heinrich in conversation.
VideoMay 25 2023
Flowers Say it Better, Love – A poem by Sarah Creighton Keogh
Commissioned for the 2023 Dublin Literary Award Ceremony.