Uncle Tom's Cabin brought the evils of slavery to the consciences and hearts of the American people by its moving portrayal of slave experience. Harriet Beecher Stowe shows us in scenes of great dramatic power the human effects of an economic system in which slaves were property: the break up of families, the struggles for freedom, the horrors of plantation labor. She brings into fiction the different voices of the emerging American nation, the Southern slave-owning classes, Northern abolitionists, children, the sorrow songs and dialect of slaves, as well the language of political debate and religious zeal. The novel was, and is, controversial, abrasive in its demand for change, yet also brilliant in the deployment of dialogue, with great comic skill and a power of pathos that made it a runaway bestseller in its time that continues to move us today.
Harriet Beecher Stowe was born in Litchfield, Connecticut, in 1811, the seventh child of a well-known Congregational minister, Lyman Beecher. The family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where she met and married Calvin Stowe, a professor of Theology in 1836. Living just across the river Ohio from the slaveholding state of Kentucky and becoming aware of the plight of escaping slaves led her to write Uncle Tom's Cabin, published in book form in 1852. She wrote the novel amid the difficulties of bringing up a family of six children. The runaway success of Uncle Tom's Cabin made its author a well-known public figure. Stowe died in 1896.
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These two publications demonstrate continuing interest in the life and work of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Harvard University's attractive, sturdy, and reasonably priced paperback of Uncle Tom's Cabin provides a brief introduction by David Bromwich (English, Yale) and a short chronology of Stowe's life. The novel was reprinted in various editions in England in 1852 owing to the lack of international copyright agreements at the time; this version follows the first American edition. Belasco's (English, women's & gender studies, Univ. of Nebraska, Lincoln) study of Stowe is an interesting mixture of 38 letters, diaries, and other writings regarding impressions and interactions with Stowe by her family members and contemporaries, as well as a few selections by Stowe. Belasco's knowledge comes across through her substantial introduction and thoughtful editing-each entry is prefaced by an informative paragraph that supplies helpful context and gives details on the author's relationship to Stowe. Writings by several notable figures are included, such as Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Mark Twain. A complex portrait of Stowe, who has been a controversial figure at times, emerges. Belasco's work is recommended for academic and public libraries with American literature collections. Libraries in need of a replacement copy of Uncle Tom's Cabin should consider picking up the new Harvard edition.