Cover image for Uncle Tom's cabin : authoritative text, backgrounds and contexts, criticism
Title:
Uncle Tom's cabin : authoritative text, backgrounds and contexts, criticism
Author:
Stowe, Harriet Beecher, 1811-1896.
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton, [1994]

©1994
Physical Description:
xviii, 587 pages ; 21 cm.
Language:
English
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 9.3 32.0 16725.
Added Author:
ISBN:
9780393963038
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

It was quickly translated into thirty-seven languages and has never gone out of print. The book had a far-reaching impact and deeply affected the national conscience of antebellum America. The Norton Critical Edition text is that of the 1852 book edition, published in two volumes by John P. Jewett and Company, Boston; original illustrations are included. Annotations are provided to assist the reader with obscure historical terms and biblical allusions. Backgrounds and Contexts includes a wealth of historical material relevant to slavery and abolitionism. Among the documents presented are Josiah Henson's 1849 slave narrative (named by Stowe as one of the sources for the novel); Solomon Northup's eyewitness account of an 1841 slave auction; Harriet Jacobs's narrative of her life as a fifteen-year-old slave; two epistolary accounts by ex-slave and abolitionist William Wells Brown, which document events in Uncle Tom's Cabin; two crucial excerpts from Stowe's Key to "Uncle Tom's Cabin " which provide the real-life basis for characters and events in the novel; and accounts of Tom-Shows and the anti-Uncle Tom literature that sprang up in response to the novel's publication. Illustrative material includes slave advertisements, runaway slave posters, and illustrations for the first British edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin by Britain's premier illustrator, George Cruikshank, as well as popular illustrations from American editions of the novel. Criticism is arranged under two headings. "Nineteenth-Century Reviews and Reception" includes critiques by George Sand, William G. Allen and Ethiop (both from Frederick Douglass' Paper), George F. Holmes, and Paul Laurence Dunbar, among others. Twentieth-Century Criticism collects five of the best critical assessments of the novel's continuing impact on American society. With the exception of James Baldwin's groundbreaking essay, "Everybody's Protest Novel," the critical essays date from the years 1985 to 1992. Jane P. Tompkins investigates why the text was excluded from the canon for most of the twentieth century. Robert S. Levine provides an overview of the text's popular reception and influence since publication, including current critical schools and critics. Hortense J. Spillers takes a textual/linguistic view in her comparison between Stowe and Ishmael Reed as "impression points in the literary imagination of slavery." And Christina Zwarg traces the influence Stowe's feminism had on her treatment of fatherhood and its effect on the home. A Chronology of Stowe's life and work and a Selected Bibliography are also included.


Author Notes

Harriet Beecher was born in Litchfield, Connecticut, one of nine children of the distinguished Congregational minister and stern Calvinist, Lyman Beecher. Of her six brothers, five became ministers, one of whom, Henry Ward Beecher, was considered the finest pulpit orator of his day. In 1832 Harriet Beecher went with her family to Cincinnati, Ohio. There she taught in her sister's school and began publishing sketches and stories. In 1836 she married the Reverend Calvin E. Stowe, one of her father's assistants at the Lane Theological Seminary and a strong antislavery advocate. They lived in Cincinnati for 18 years, and six of her children were born there. The Stowes moved to Brunswick, Maine, in 1850, when Calvin Stowe became a professor at Bowdoin College.

Long active in abolition causes and knowledgeable about the atrocities of slavery both from her reading and her years in Cincinnati, with its close proximity to the South, Stowe was finally impelled to take action with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850. By her own account, the idea of Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) first came to her in a vision while she was sitting in church. Returning home, she sat down and wrote out the scene describing the death of Uncle Tom and was so inspired that she continued to write on scraps of grocer's brown paper after her own supply of writing paper gave out. She then wrote the book's earlier chapters. Serialized first in the National Era (1851--52), an important abolitionist journal with national circulation, Uncle Tom's Cabin was published in book form in March 1852. It was an immediate international bestseller; 10,000 copies were sold in less than a week, 300,000 within a year, and 3 million before the start of the Civil War. Family legend tells of President Abraham Lincoln (see Vol. 3) saying to Stowe when he met her in 1862: "So this is the little lady who made this big war?" Whether he did say it or not, we will never know, since Stowe left no written record of her interview with the president. But he would have been justified in saying it. Certainly, no other single book, apart from the Bible, has ever had any greater social impact on the United States, and for many years its enormous historical interest prevented many from seeing the book's genuine, if not always consistent, literary merit.

The fame of the novel has also unfortunately overshadowed the fiction that Stowe wrote about her native New England: The Minister's Wooing (1859), Oldtown Folks (1869), Poganuc People (1878), and The Pearl of Orr's Island (1862), the novel that, according to Sarah Orne Jewett, began the local-color movement in New England. Here Stowe was writing about the world and its people closest and dearest to her, recording their customs, their legends, and their speech. As she said of one of these novels, "It is more to me than a story. It is my resume of the whole spirit and body of New England."

(Bowker Author Biography) Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) remains one of the most influential writers in American history. Following the publication of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" she became an instant celebrity, speaking against slavery in the United States & Europe.

(Publisher Provided)


Reviews 1

School Library Journal Review

Gr 10 Up-Perry Keenlyside's abridged rendering of this classic tale adequately tells Harriet Beecher Stowe's antislavery story. Uncle Tom, a dignified and strong man, endures ownership by two men who treat him kindly: first by George Shelby who keeps Tom's family together until economics forces a sale, and second by Augustine St. Clare who comes to respect Tom's character and all he stands for. When Augustine dies, Tom is sold to the cruel Simon Legree. It is at Legree's farm that Tom dies as a result of one of his beatings. Although Tom suffered a wavering in his faith at the hands of Simon Legree, it is here that Tom has a religious reawakening and dies strong in his faith. In its condensed form, the religious aspects of the novel seem to be given added significance, but perhaps that is only right given the social climate out of which this novel was born. Liza Ross reads the story, assuming several voices for each of the different characters. In a few places, the reading of the tags describing a voice we just heard seems awkward and redundant. Overall, Ross's voice is a convincing one, able to engage even today's visually oriented students. A music interlude signals the break between chapters, a good stopping point for discussion.-Suzanne Goodman, Park High School, Livingston, MT (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

From Amanda Claybaugh's Introduction to Uncle Tom's Cabin The publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin lifted Stowe out of a purely Beecher orbit and put her in the stratosphere of international fame. But the novel is nonetheless indebted, as Joan D. Hedrick shows in her Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life (1994), to the many and varied Beecher family projects. The father's battle for the soul of the nation, the brothers' Christian ministries, one sister's advocacy for women and slaves, another's celebration of the properly run home-all of these can be found in Uncle Tom alongside Stowe's own gifts: her ear for dialect and her eye for detail, her masterful handling of suspense and pathos, and her sympathetic embrace of all the nation's regions. The result was a novel more popular, and more influential, than anyone could have imagined. When Calvin Stowe negotiated Uncle Tom's contract on his wife's behalf, he confided to the publishers that he hoped the novel would be successful enough so that his wife could buy a "good black silk dress" (Thomas F. Gossett, Uncle Tom's Cabin and American Culture , 1985, p. 165). The novel turned out, of course, to be far more successful than that. Within the first week of publication, Uncle Tom's Cabin sold 10,000 copies; within its first year, 300,000 (this in a nation with a total population of only 24 million). Uncle Tom's Cabin was the first American novel to sell more than a million copies, and no book of any kind, except for the Bible, had ever sold so well. Astonishing as the sales figures are, even they fail to suggest the full extent of Uncle Tom's popularity. For the book was published in an era when novels were still treated as a kind of communal property, borrowed from circulating libraries, passed from hand to hand, read aloud to entire households at a time; knowing this, one reviewer speculated that Uncle Tom had ten readers for every copy sold. The best measure of Uncle Tom's popularity lies, then, not in numbers, but rather in the kind of anecdotal evidence that Thomas F. Gossett has collected in the book noted above. Reading through the letters and journals of Stowe's contemporaries, Gossett finds Richard Henry Dana, Jr., noting that four men were reading Uncle Tom in a single railway car and Ralph Waldo Emerson observing that it was the "only book that found readers in the parlor, the nursery, and the kitchen in every house-hold" (p. 165). Such popularity produced a flood of subsidiary merchandise, as Eric J. Sundquist recalls in his introduction to New Essays on Uncle Tom's Cabin (1986). There were innumerable plays, poems, and songs, all elaborating and exploiting the pathos of the novel's most affecting scenes; there were also, more surprisingly, Uncle Tom dioramas, engravings, figurines, candles, plates, busts, embossed spoons, painted scarves, needlepoint, and games, including one in which players competed to reunite the families of separated slaves. By the end of the year, three hundred Boston babies had been christened "Eva," in honor of the novel's heroine (Gossett, p. 164). The success of Uncle Tom was not limited to the United States. In Britain, the novel was equally popular, and it was during a triumphal tour of Britain in 1853 that Stowe experienced the consequences of her fame at first hand. When she landed in Liverpool, she found the docks thronged with people who wanted to be the first to catch a glimpse of her. Her subsequent travels toward London confirmed that Stowe could go nowhere in public without attracting crowds who would call out her name and cheer. In London, the Lord Mayor held a dinner in her honor; she was seated across from Charles Dickens and toasted along with him. Over the course of her visit, Stowe was introduced to the most important figures in Britain: the Earl and Countess of Shaftesbury, the Duke and Duchess of Argyll, the Duchess of Sutherland, the Earl of Carlisle, Lord and Lady Palmerston, Lord John Russell, and William Gladstone. Everywhere Stowe went, she was presented with extravagant tributes: a gold purse filled with 130 pounds; a silver salver covered with one thousand pounds; an agate cup filled with one hundred gold sovereigns; and a heavy gold bracelet, made to resemble slave shackles, engraved with the date on which slavery was abolished in the British colonies (Hedrick, pp. 233-252). Uncle Tom was received quite differently, of course, in the southern states. In some regions, the book was not sold at all, while in others it was not advertised. Those southerners who did read the novel were nearly all outraged, and it was the subject of scathing reviews. While a few of these reviews limited themselves to defending the South from what were taken to be Stowe's unfair attacks, the majority of them took the occasion to attack Stowe in turn. George Frederick Holmes, of the Southern Literary Messenger, called her "an obscure Yankee school mistress, eaten up with fanaticism, festering with the malignant virtues of abolitionism, self-sanctified by the virtues of a Pharisaic religion, devoted to the assertion of women's rights, and an enthusiastic believer in many neoteric heresies" (Gossett, p. 189). William Gilmore Simms went even further, in the Southern Quarterly Review: "Mrs. Stowe betrays a malignity so remarkable," he claimed, "that the petticoat lifts of itself, and we see the hoof of the beast under the table" (Gossett, p. 190). Nor was the southern response confined to reviews. It also took the form of an astonishing new genre, what Gossett calls the anti-Uncle Tom novel (pp. 212-239). The titles of these novels often reveal their agendas: Mary H. Eastman's Aunt Phillis's Cabin; or, Southern Life as It Is (1852); Robert Criswell's " Uncle Tom's Cabin" Contrasted with Buckingham Hall, the Planter's Home; or, A Fair View of Both Sides of the Slavery Question (1852); and John W. Page's Uncle Robin, in His Cabin in Virginia, and Tom without One in Boston (1853). Despite the references to slaves in their titles, these novels tend to focus on the debate between slave owners and abolitionists. Sometimes abolitionism is shown to be merely foolish and misguided; more often, however, it is shown to be a form of hypocrisy, as when abolitionists prefer to sympathize with distant slaves than to care for the exploited workers around them or, worse, when abolitionists use the cause as a pretext for pursuing cross-racial desires. The slave owners, on the other hand, tend to be wise and humane, but their widely varying attitudes toward physical punishment suggest a deep confusion about what, in a slave-owning society, wisdom and humanity might mean. In some of these novels, for instance, the owners do not punish their slaves at all, for reasons either of kindness or self-interest; in others, they punish their slaves only on the rare occasions when it is deserved; in still others, they punish their slaves often because it is only through punishment that slaves can be governed; others insist that it is only the rare owner who punishes his slaves and that he is sure to be shunned for his cruelty, or that it is only overseers who punish and that they do so without the consent of the owners. With such confusion about the ethics of slave-owning, these novels leave it to the slaves themselves to articulate a defense of slavery, which they are remarkably happy to do. In postbellum novels nostalgic for plantation life, a genre that culminates in Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind (1936), slaves tend to be passionately devoted to their masters and mistresses; in these antebellum novels, by contrast, loyalty matters less than self-interest. As one slave says in Martha Haines Butt's Antifanaticism: A Tale of the South (1853), "Dis nigger never leab his massa to go wid nobody, 'caze he know dat nobody ain't gwine treat him good no how like massa does" (Gossett, p. 224). Other slaves offer a more abstract defense of slavery as the system best suited to the needs and capacities of blacks. Some of these slaves may wish to be free themselves, but they recognize that freedom is not possible for the majority of those in their position. Aunt Phillis would have been very happy, the narrator tells us, to receive her freedom, but she "scorned the idea of . . . obtaining it otherwise than as a gift from her owner" (Gossett, p. 228). As Phillis lays dying, her owner at last offers to free her and her children, but she refuses, arguing that her children will be more secure enslaved on a plantation than free in the North or in Africa. The sheer number of anti-Uncle Tom novels offers an inadvertent measure of the popularity of Uncle Tom, while the vehemence of their attacks on abolitionism is a backhanded tribute to its potential to effect political change. This potential was ultimately realized. Twelve years after Stowe published Uncle Tom's Cabin , Abraham Lincoln emancipated the slaves, and the connection between these two events is vividly condensed in the much-repeated story of Stowe and Lincoln's meeting. In December 1862, after the Emancipation Proclamation had been announced but before it went into full effect, Stowe was invited to the White House to have tea with Lincoln and his wife. It was on this occasion that Lincoln is famously rumored to have called Stowe "the little woman who made the great war." Hedrick can find no evidence that he actually said this: In a letter written to her husband that evening, Stowe describes nothing more specific than "a real funny interview with the President," and her daughter's diary concurs that their visit was "very droll" (p. 306). While the story may be apocryphal, it nonetheless captures a crucial truth. Uncle Tom may not have "made" the war single-handedly (a host of political, economic, and social differences had made sectional war all but inevitable), but it did help to set the terms on which the "great war" would be fought and won. For the novel not only increased the number of antislavery activists and strengthened their resolve, but it also, in doing so, provided the North with a powerful language through which the long struggle for union could be articulated and sustained. By taking slavery to be the chief difference between North and South and by framing the issue of slavery in apocalyptic terms, Uncle Tom's Cabin , like Julia Ward Howe's "Battle Hymn of the Republic," made the coming war seem inevitable, righteous, even holy. Excerpted from Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.