Harriet Beecher Stowe
Uncle Tom's Cabin • The Minister's Wooing • Oldtown Folks
"It [Uncle Tom's Cabin] has rightly been called "the most influential work of fiction in American history."
Read an exclusive interview with Joan D. Hedrick, author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning biography, Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life (PDF, 53 K)
In this Library of America volume are the best and most enduring works of Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811–96), "the little woman," as Abraham Lincoln said when he met her in 1861, "who wrote the book that made this great war." He was referring, with rueful exaggeration, to Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), which during its first year had sold over 300,000 copies. Contemporary readers can still appreciate the powerful effects of its melodramatic characterizations and its unapologetic sentimentality. They can also recognize in its treatment of racial violence some of the brooding imagination and realism that anticipates Faulkner's rendering of the same theme. Stowe was charged with exaggerating the evils of slavery, but her stay in Cincinnati, Ohio, where her father (the formidable Lyman Beecher, head of the Lane Theological Seminary) gave her a close look at the miseries of the slave communities across the Ohio River. People in her circle of friends were continually harboring slaves who escaped across the river from Kentucky on the way, they hoped, to Canada.
Two other novels, along with Uncle Tom's Cabin, show the range and variety of her literary accomplishment. The Minister's Wooing (1859) is set in Newport, Rhode Island, after the Revolution. It is a romance based in part on the life of Stowe's sister, and it traces to a happy ending the conflicts in a young woman between adherence to Calvinistic rigor and her expression of preference in the choice of a marital partner. The third novel, Oldtown Folks (1869) confirms Stowe's genius for the realistic rendering of ordinary experience, her talent for social portraiture with a keen satiric edge, and her subtlety in exploring a wide group of themes, from child-rearing practices and religious controversy to romantic seduction and betrayal. But finally, it is the old town and a way of life that no longer exists that is the true subject of this elegiac novel.
Kathryn Kish Sklar, volume editor, is Distinguished Professor of history at the State University of New York, Binghamton, and co-director, Center for the Historical Study of Women and Gender. She is the author of Catharine Beecher, A Treatise on Domestic Economy and Florence Kelley and the Nation's Work: The Rise of Women's Political Culture.
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