Harriet Beecher Stowe
by Joan D. Hedrick
Choice Although Uncle Tom's Cabin, the most popular novel in America during the 19th century, continues to be read, studied, and discussed, the life of its author has been neglected since Forrest Wilson's Crusader in Crinoline (1941). Hedrick's biography relies heavily on Stowe's correspondence, contains more than 70 pages of scholarly notes, and includes photographs of the Stowe family. The book is easy to read and balanced in its treatment of controversial material such as Stowe's own racial prejudices, her bungling attempts to vindicate Lady Byron by exposing Lord Byron's incestuous affair with his half-sister Augusta Leigh, and her refusal to use profits from sales of Uncle Tom's Cabin to support Frederick Douglass's project for an industrial school for black men. Stowe's mind is not the most interesting one of the period, yet she captured the popular literary imagination and cannot easily be ignored by cultural historians. Unfortunately Hedrick's reliance on feminist jargon dates the book. Nevertheless, this biography provides all students of Stowe with updated, accurate, and well-documented information. Undergraduate; graduate; general. S. M. Nuernberg; University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Publishers Weekly This first major biography of Stowe (1811-1896) in some 50 years offers an insightful account of the life and work of the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin . Hedrick, director of women's studies at Trinity College in Connecticut, is especially good at laying out the context of Stowe's life: the constraints and opportunities for well-born New England women in the 1800s; the influence of the Bible and of ``parlor literature and parlor music'' on her work; and how the lack of political outlets for women helped fuel her outrage against slavery. In Uncle Tom's Cabin , published in weekly installments from June 1851 to April 1852 in the magazine National Era , Stowe modeled the characters mainly on her own black domestic servants without considering that ``her position as white mistress to black servants radically compromised her perceptions.'' Nonetheless, Hedrick praises her for forcing whites to confront ``the voices of a colonized people.'' Hedrick includes much information on Stowe's family life and lengthy but checkered writing career, noting that while she contributed to a new cultural vitality by supporting the Atlantic Monthly , founded in 1857, she and other women writers were ultimately disregarded. Regrettably, the book ends with Stowe's death and doesn't track the 20th-century debates about the place of Stowe's most famous work in our cultural canon. (Jan.)
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Book list It's been 50 years since the last biography of the once adulated, eventually maligned author of Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), Harriet Beecher Stowe, was published, and it's high time for a new look at this hugely influential writer. Hedrick, a dynamic social and literary historian, has made great use of previously unavailable materials and written a far-reaching and brilliantly synthesized narrative that not only relates Stowe's complex personal story, but also captures the ferment and verve of America's antebellum era. Born in 1811 into the industrious evangelical Beecher family of Massachusetts, Stowe came of age in unison with the emergence of America's fledgling national consciousness. After receiving an unusually thorough education for a woman of her time, Stowe began her writing life in the thriving frontier city of Cincinnati, winning over magazine readers with her conversational tone, acute observations, pioneering use of dialect, shrewd irony, and unabashed melodrama. As Hedrick tracks Stowe's progress from a scribbler of "parlor literature" to a world-renowned novelist and abolitionist, she makes certain that we understand just how much the status of women and the lack of reliable birth control shaped Stowe's daily life and moral outlook. It was the trauma of the deaths of several of her seven children that sensitized Stowe to the horrors of slave life and inspired her most famous work. A major achievement, this respectful and empathic portrait illuminates a crucial figure in our history. ~--Donna Seaman
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
Library Journal In writing this biography of Stowe, the most substantial since Forrest Wilson's Crusader in Crinoline won a Pulitzer Prize in 1941, Hedrick (women's studies, Trinity Coll., Ct.) has created an engaging and informative book that brings to life not just the complex and fascinating woman and writer but also the 19th-century America that shaped her and was shaped by her. Hedrick manages to weave into this immensely readable biography a history teeming with the domestic detail of the famous Beecher clan, the settling of the West, and the impact of the Civil War and the abolition movement. At the same time, Hedrick constructs a fascinating portrait of women's lives in the 19th century. Stowe rarely failed to give an adoring public what it wanted, from her wildly popular serial novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1851-52) through the long, lucrative career that filled America's nostalgic need for novels about old New England. This biography is worth adding even to collections that own Wilson's book. Highly recommended.-- Ellen Finnie Duranceau, MIT Lib.
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