Dr. Henigman 3 credits
Abraham Lincoln, on meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe during the Civil War, was supposed to have said to her, “So you’re the little lady who started this big war.” His remark, possibly legendary, was an apt testimony to the power of literature, for Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Stowe’s best seller of a decade previous, had stoked the passions of the abolitionists and anti-abolitionists alike, and would outlive slavery in popular engravings and melodramas. A century later, readers were less kind to Stowe – denigrating the sentimentalism of the novel, decrying what appears to be its racism. Stowe’s place in one of the leading literary families of her time – a family of ministers, suffragists, and other reformers -- locates her squarely in the middle of American literary and political life, and hers was a voice critical not only to the abolitionist movement but also to nineteenth-century conversations about sexuality, gender, and power. Her status as a celebrity author, together with her complicated posthumous reputation, make her career an important window into the issue of canonicity: What did it mean for a woman to write a popular protest novel in nineteenth-century America? How are we to understand the sentimental rhetoric in the book? And what, in general, makes a book worth our time today? How have contemporary writers and artists coopted Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the service of 20th and 21st century concerns? The rest of Stowe’s career, so often overshadowed by her famous blockbuster, spans the nineteenth century; we will turn to her post-Uncle Tom’s Cabin work to map out the development of the feminist movement and reformist literary practices over that time.
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