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Mightier Than the Sword: Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Battle for Americaby David S Reynolds
Synopses & Reviews
is likely the most influential novel ever written by an American. In a fitting tribute to the two hundredth anniversary of Harriet Beecher Stowe's birth, Bancroft Prize-winning historian David S. Reynolds reveals her book's impact not only on the abolitionist movement and the American Civil War but also on worldwide events, including the end of serfdom in Russia, down to its influence in the twentieth century. He explores how both Stowe's background as the daughter in a famously intellectual family of preachers and her religious visions were fundamental to the novel. And he demonstrates why the book was beloved by millions--and won over even some southerners--while fueling lasting conflicts over the meaning of America. Although vilified over the years as often as praised, it has remained a cultural landmark, proliferating in the form of plays, songs, films, and merchandise--a rich legacy that has both fed and contested American racial stereotypes.
"In 1868, a writer in the Nation coined the phrase 'the great American novel' to describe Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1851 Uncle Tom's Cabin. Distinguished historian Reynolds (Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson) does his best to support this debatable epithet, quoting endless contemporaries who asserted that Stowe's novel ignited the Civil War and emancipated the slaves, its impact extending well into the 20th century. Reynolds's most fascinating research illuminates Stowe's skillful use of popular culture — from Stephen Foster's songs to the cult of domesticity — and her Christian faith (exemplified by Tom and little Eva St. Clare) to make her radical antislavery stance palatable to Northerners indifferent to the brutality of slavery and the humanity of the black slaves. As Reynolds shows, Uncle Tom's Cabin itself became a cultural phenomenon, with commercial tie-ins (called Tomitudes), Southern ripostes, and myriad Uncle Tom plays and movies. He discusses these in more detail than any but cultural historians will need, digressing into Gone with the Wind and the depiction of blacks in early movies. Reynolds's narrow focus on Stowe and her novel also leads him to skim important events leading to the war, and relegate giants like Frederick Douglass to supporting roles. But Reynolds's discussion of the novel's mid-20th-century ill repute and the 'Uncle Tom' slur comes full circle with the novel's recent literary resurrection, to which he contributes with his exacting research. By highlighting the book's immense impact and literary value, and by showing Tom as not subservient but a strong, dignified man who sacrificed his life in defying his cruel master, Simon Legree, Reynolds shows Stowe's novel to be a passionate, powerful, acid-etched critique of slavery that remains an American classic. 15 illus. (June)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Book News Annotation:
Reynolds (English and American studies, City U. of New York Graduate Center) examines the elements that contributed to Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1852 novel an immediate bestseller and also follows its political, cultural, and social impact through to the present. While the book is credited with jump starting abolitionism in the North, it received a variety of responses from Southern readers: from admiration for its portrayal of Southerners to absolute condemnation. The author makes it very clear why Stowe's book has had such far-reaching and long-lasting impact on so many elements of society. Annotation ©2011 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
A fascinating look at the cultural roots, political impact, and enduring legacy of Harriet Beecher Stowe's revolutionary bestseller.
About the Author
David S. Reynolds is a Distinguished Professor of English and American Studies at the City University of New York. His works include the award-winning Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson, Walt Whitman's America, and John Brown, Abolitionist. He lives on Long Island in New York.
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