© Paul P. Reuben
Chapter 3: Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896)
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Source: Library of Congress
A Brief Assessment
"So you are the little woman who wrote the book that created this great war." - Abraham Lincoln, 1862 (on meeting HBS)
Contributing Editor Jane Tompkins (Heath Anthology) has identified three concerns regarding the teaching of Stowe: "(1) the assumption that she is not a first-rate author because she has only recently been recognized and has traditionally been classed as a 'sentimental' author, whose works are of historical interest only; (2) by current standards, Stowe's portrayal of Black people in Uncle Tom's Cabin is racist; and (3) a lack of understanding of the cultural context within which Stowe was working."
Ms. Tomkins suggests that we teachers handle the first issue by discussing "how class and gender bias led to the selection of works by white male authors." For the second, we need to explain how assumptions about race have changed over the centuries; though well-meaning, Stowe uses stereotypes. As for the third concern, Ms. Tomkins suggests that we inform the students about the nineteenth century expectations of the purpose of life in the context of the legacy of puritanism. Other pertinent issues are the abolitionist and the women's suffrage movements.
Although Stowe's views of Blacks are dated, attention should be given to Stowe's works. She was the most popular American writer of her time and her use of literay realism anticipates the writings of Howells, Twain, and Crane.
Uncle Tom's Cabin, 1852; The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin, 1853; Dred, 1856; The Minister's Wooing, 1859; The Pearl of Orr's Island, 1862; Oldtown Folks, 1969; Lady Byron Vindicated, 1870; Pink and White Tyranny, 1871; Sam Lawson's Oldtown Fireside Stories, 1872; Poganuc People, 1878.
The Annotated Uncle Tom's Cabin. Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. and Robbins, Hollis. eds. NY: Norton, 2007.
Uncle Tom's Cabin. Diller, Christopher G. ed. Peterborough, ON: Broadview, 2009.
Selected Bibliography 1980-Present
Adams, John R. Harriet Beecher Stowe. Boston: Twayne, 1989. PS2956 .A6
Belasco, Susan. ed. Stowe in Her Own Time: A Biographical Chronicle of Her Life, Drawn from Recollections, Interviews, and Memoirs by Family, Friends, and Associates. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 2009.
Bennett, Michael. Democratic Discourses: The Radical Abolition Movement and Antebellum American Literature. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2005.
Boydston, Jeanne, Anne Margolis, and , Mary Kelley. The limits of sisterhood: the Beecher sisters on women's rights and woman's sphere. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1988. HQ1236.5 .U6 B69
Brown, Gillian. Domestic individualism: imagining self in nineteenth-century America. Berkeley: U of California P, 1990. PS374 .D57 B7
Donovan, Josephine. Uncle Tom's cabin: evil, affliction, and redemptive love. Boston: Twayne, 1991. PS2954 .U6 D66
Ellsworth, Mary E. Two New England writers microform Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mary Wilkins Freeman. Thesis (Ph. D.)--Columbia University, 1981. PS2957 .E55x 1981b
Finseth, Ian F. Shades of Green: Visions of Nature in the Literature of American Slavery. Athens: U of Georgia P, 2009.
Gossett, Thomas F. Uncle Tom's cabin and American culture. Dallas: Southern Methodist UP, 1985. PS2954 .U6 G67
Hedrick, Joan D. Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life. NY: Oxford UP, 1994.
Kimball, Gayle. The religious ideas of Harriet Beecher Stowe: her gospel of womanhood. NY: Mellen P, 1982. PS2958 .R4 K55
McFarland, Philip. Loves of Harriet Beecher Stowe. NY: Grove, 2007.
Meer, Sarah. Uncle Tom Mania: Slavery, Minstrelsy, and Transatlantic Culture in the 1850s. Athens: U of Georgia P, 2005.
Morgan, Jo-Ann. Uncle Tom's Cabin as Visual Culture. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 2007.
Noble, Marianne. The Masochistic Pleasures of Sentimental Literature. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2000.
Riss, Arthur. Race, Slavery, and Liberalism in Nineteenth-century American Literature. Cambridge UP, 2006.
Ryan, Susan M. The Grammar of Good Intentions: Race & the Antebellum Culture of Benevolence. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 2003.
Showalter, Elaine. ed. The Vintage Book of American Women Writers. NY: Vintage, 2011.
Stepto, Robert B. A Home Elsewhere: Reading African American Classics in the Age of Obama. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2010.
White, Barbara A. The Beecher Sisters. New Haven: Yale UP, 2003.
A Student Project by Sara Reeves
Harriet Beecher Stowe has become one of the most renowned writers of the 19th century. Her greatest achievement is undoubtedly her 1852 novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, as it promoted her to fame and prominence. However, Uncle Tom's Cabin is just one book in a long list of literary works by Stowe. Her early life before Uncle Tom's Cabin was significant for minor publishings, and during her later life, achieved a fame that was almost unheard of for a female writer. We must remember, however, that Harriet Beecher Stowe was not just a writer. She was a member of the prominent New England Beecher family, the wife of Professor Calvin Stowe, and a mother to seven children. Throughout her life, Harriet Beecher Stowe juggled her writing and family life.
Harriet Elizabeth Beecher was born on June 14, 1811, in Litchfield, Connecticut. She was the daughter of Lyman Beecher and his first wife, Roxanna Foote. Lyman Beecher is characterized as a fiery evangelical preacher, an avid devotee of Jonathan Edwards, and was undoubtedly one of the greatest influences on his daughter Harriet. Another family member who dominated Harriet for most of her life was her elder sister, Catherine. It was Catherine who educated Harriet through her school, the Hartford Female Seminary. In 1832, the entire Beecher family relocated to Cincinnati, Ohio. It was in Cincinnati that Harriet published her first short story in the Western Monthly magazine. It was also in Cincinnati that Harriet Beecher met and married Calvin Ellis Stowe, a professor of Biblical Literature at Lane Theological Seminary, where her father served as president. Stowe and Harriet married on January 6, 1836, and together they had seven children. Calvin and Harriet Beecher Stowe shared fifty years of marriage that was characterized by frequent absences, yet affectionate letters show their love for one another.
In 1850, after the Stowe's relocation to New England, Harriet begins her publishing in earnest. Her writing is seen as important to the family's income, and on June 5, 1851, the first installment of her novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, was published in the National Era magazine. The following year saw the publication of the book. Uncle Tom's Cabin was an instant success and propelled Harriet Beecher Stowe to fame. Uncle Tom's Cabin also contributed to Stowe's unpopularity in the South. The novel was almost immediately converted to a play, from which Harriet received no royalties. However, it did provide financial success for the Stowes, and provided her an entrance into literary society. The Stowes made their first journey to Europe in 1853, where Harriet met with such people as Lady Byron, and even an audience with Queen Victoria. Her second novel, Dred, was published in 1856. The years between 1857 and 1878 saw more of writings being published. Three of her novels, 1859's, The Minister's Wooing, 1862's The Pearl of Orr's Island, and 1869's Lady Byron Vindicated were published first as serial installments of magazines. Her last three novels, Oldtown Folks, published in 1869, Palmetto Leaves, published in 1873, and 1878's Poganuc People, her last novel, were published in book form only. After the death of Calvin Stowe in 1886, Harriet's last years were characterized by illness, fatigue, and memory-loss. Harriet Beecher Stowe died on July 1, 1896.
Harriet Beecher Stowe was influenced by many people. The most prominent influences in her life were her father, Lyman, Catherine, her sister, her younger brother, Henry Ward Beecher, and Calvin, her husband. She drew from these influences a strong sense of morality, which appears in the Puritan style of her characters, her religious identity, and a belief in the equality of women. Her sense of equality for all people is evident from Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Dred. In her later life, Stowe met with and was certainly influenced by prominent Victorian writers Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The influence that Stowe gave to her generation and those following it is seen with her success after Uncle Tom's Cabin. Although Harriet Beecher Stowe has today fallen in a category of literature that has had to make room for others, it is my belief that Harriet Beecher Stowe should be brought back into the primary circle of literary curriculum. Her novel, written during the Romantic period of American literature, contain Puritan ethics and style that is a fascinating contrast to other novels of that day. Harriet Beecher Stowe was one of the first female writers to gain fame and respect during the 19th century, and she continues to gain both of these today.
Adams, John R. Harriet Beecher Stowe. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1963.
Gerson, Noel B. Harriet Beecher Stowe, A Biography. New York: Praeger Publishers, Inc., 1976.
1. What makes a literary work "good"? Can ideas of what is good change over time? Why in our own century was Stowe ignored in favor of writers like Hawthorne and Melville?
2. What's the role of emotion in understanding a work of literature? Is Stowe's writing too emotional?
3. From its origins in Harriet Beecher Stowe, regionalism as a genre took women characters and women's values seriously. Analyze Stowe's portraits of Eliza in the excerpt from Uncle Tom's Cabin and Huldy in "The Minister's Housekeeper," and discuss the values explicit in Stowe's work.
4. Stowe's regional sketch "The Minister's Housekeeper" ends in comedy, with Huldy's marriage to the minister. Argue that the sketch does or does not belong to the literary tradition of early-nineteenth-century American humor.
MLA Style Citation of this Web Page:
Reuben, Paul P. "Chapter 3: Harriet Beecher Stowe." PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. WWW URL: http://web.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap3/stowe.html (provide page date or date of your login).
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