Tag Archives: Harriet Beecher Stowe

One big happy family

Almost as interesting as the literary connections we’re making on this classical journey are the ties between authors.  It’s almost as if they are one big happy family.  Well, more of a dysfunctional family, but you get the idea.

There was the friendship of Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne that resulted in Moby-Dick being dedicated to The Scarlet Letter‘s author.

Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain were neighbors.

Now thanks to the intro of Invisible Man, I learned that Ralph Ellison tried his hand at writing all thanks to Richard Wright of Native Son fame.

Imagine all of our WEM authors sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner together.  I can hear the table talk now.


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Posted by on November 25, 2013 in Invisible Man


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Who are the people in your neighborhood?


After spending some quiet moments walking through Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Hartford garden, I turned to my family and said, “It’s time for Twain!” while I walked across Stowe’s backyard to Twain’s home.  That’s right.
They were neighbors

MT house 3

Remember the Sesame Street Song “Who are the People in Your Neighborhood?”

“Ohhh…  aaaaan… is a person in your neighborhood,
in your neighborhood,
in your neigh-bor-hood.
An author is a person in your neighborhood.
A person that you meet  each day.

The Stowe family and the Clemens family were neighbors.  Harriet could walk out her backdoor across the lawn to borrow a cup of sugar from Samuel.

Mark Twain’s family did not just live in this home.  They had it designed and built for them.
And, yes, you can imagine him writing Huckleberry Finn in one of those upper rooms because he did!

MT house 2

The cost of tour tickets was prohibitive for our family of five.  We decided to walk the grounds and spend time in the museum.MT house

The museum and gift shop entertained us with details of Twain’s life.  For example, we learned that Samuel Clemens took his future bride Olivia to see Charles Dickens perform!  We also enjoyed reading many of the humorous quotes attributed to the novelist.  One of my favorites was
Clothes make the man.  Naked people have little or no influence on society.”

Quickly it was time for us to return to our van and continue with our travels, but not before I got a chance to see what it felt like to wear that famous white suit.

C as MT


Want to learn more about Twain’s home in Hartford, CT?  Visit their website.  It was there that I enjoyed taking the virtual tour  of home’s interior.


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Harriet in Hartford


On our way west from Mystic, CT, my family graciously agreed to stop in Hartford for the sake of the blog.  What’s in Hartford, you ask?  The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center and house.

HBS house 2

Sadly, we arrived just as a tour of the home was leaving.  Our schedule was not going to permit us to wait for the next tour, so the docent encouraged us to walk on the grounds and take the self-guided garden tour.  After a quick peek at the Visitor’s Center and gift shop we ambled through Stowe’s garden.HBS house

Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin while residing in Maine, but she lived in this home from 1873 until her death in 1896.HBS house 5

As we walked around the home, I kept thinking of the center’s motto:
“Her words changed the world.”


Our visit to Hartford was spontaneous.  Other than reading a couple of sentences in a travel brochure, I didn’t know anything about the Center until we arrived.  If you are going to be in Hartford, I’d encourage you to learn more about the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center and the tours they offer by checking out their website.


Posted by on July 11, 2013 in Uncle Tom's Cabin


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For this edition of “What’s on my nightstand?”, I found a sweet children’s biography about one of our recent authors.

Harriet and the Runaway Book
by Johanna Johnston and illustrated by Ronald Himler

I believe this 1977 elementary level biography is out of print, but it would be worth borrowing from your local library.

The book’s summary says, “A biography of the woman who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, stressing the experiences and impressions which caused her to write the famous book denouncing slavery.”

In one short sitting I quickly finished this charming book with simple text and lovely illustrations.  I read about how demonstrations of Harriet’s intelligence would cause her father to remark “If only she’d been a boy.”  Later Harriet would realize that “There was something she could do even if she was a girl.  She could write so that people paid attention.”

Harriet and the Runaway Book:  It was on my nightstand, but now I’m going to pass it on to the nightstands of my children so they can be inspired by Mrs. Stowe’s story.

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Posted by on October 18, 2012 in Uncle Tom's Cabin


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Children and Uncle Tom’s Cabin

At our wrap-up discussion, Jeannette brought up the topic of children’s versions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  For previous novels I have delighted in scouring my library’s database for abridged and annotated children’s copies of our current book.  Jeannette said that she had seen children’s books adapted from Stowe’s classic: some versions focus on one part of the novel such as Topsy.  I promised myself that I would do some research now that summer is here.

I have found nothing.  Countless editions of the unabridged book but nothing specifically written for children.

I searched the Great Illustrated Classics: sixty-six books including such WEM titles as The Red Badge of Courage, Jane Eyre, and Moby-Dick, but no Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  There are over forty titles in the Classic Starts series but still no UTC.

My local library has a couple of children’s biographies about Stowe but nothing else.

Why?  In our wrap-up we discussed the writer’s style.  Stowe the abolitionist wanted to make sure that everyone who read her book understood everything she was saying.  While it took me a bit to “get into” reading the slave dialect, I relied very little on my kindle’s dictionary feature.  My children would be able to handle the vocabulary.

Why am I not finding this classic for children?

Is it the content?  Truthfully, I’ve debated about whether or not I should encourage my children to share in my classical experience; especially as we start Madame Bovary.  Book about adultery?  ummm not sure I want that on their summer reading list.  But a book about slavery?  I can’t imagine Mrs. Beecher Stowe shielded her children from this topic.

Help me out, blog friends.
Have you seen versions of Stowe’s book geared for children?


Posted by on June 14, 2012 in Uncle Tom's Cabin


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Whatever happend to…

Has anyone else missed George and Eliza Harris?  Oh, and little Harry too!

Remember way back in chapter XVII?  They were being aided by Quakers.  We left them holed up with guns, pursued by slave hunters, fleeing for the north.  Now, twenty chapters later, we finally find out what happened to the runaway family.

Excuse me. Mrs. Stowe?  I was beginning to wonder what had happened to your book’s characters.  Thanks for finally filling me in.  So why did you take such a long break from this storyline?

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Posted by on June 7, 2012 in Uncle Tom's Cabin


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What’s the Problem?

Chapter 19 (in which nothing much plot-wise happens) puts forth the theory that the real problem is not the abuse of slavery, but the institution of slavery.   I know that H. B. Stowe uses the entire book as as platform to discuss slavery-related issues, but I think that maybe while writing Chapter 19, she really expresses her personal feelings through the dialogue between Miss Ophelia and St. Claire.  I can almost picture her scribbling furiously at her writing desk, ignoring all impending calamity from her many children, and letting her frustration out.   Listen to the following quotes – don’t you just hear the voice of Harriet?

(speaking of slavery)  Planters, who have money to make by it, clergymen, who have planters to please, politicians who want to rule by it, may warp and bend language and ethics to a degree that shall astonish the world at their ingenuity; they can press nature and the Bible, and nobody knows what else, into the service; but, after all, neither they nor the world believe in it one particle the more.  It comes from the devil, that’s the short of it; and, to my mind, it’s a pretty respectable specimen of what he can do in his own line.

Talk of the abuses of slavery!  Humbug!   The thing itself is the essence of all abuse!

….there have been times when I have thought,  if the whole country would sink, and hide all this injustice and misery from the light, I would willingly sink with it.

Are you such a sweet innocent as to suppose nobody in this world ever does what they don’t think is right?

One thing is for certain – Harriet Beecher Stowe was extremely passionate about the topic of slavery.   She managed to write a book that shows slavery from all possible angles, and must have left every reader either furious, guilty or resolved.   It would be impossible, in my opinion, to read this book and not be very moved.

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Posted by on May 30, 2012 in Uncle Tom's Cabin


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A Tale of Two Writers

Long before I knew Harri got a letter from Chaz I was thinking that the two should really strike up a dialog, I mean, they have so much in common.

First of all, both authors are writing to elicit social change.  Dickens is working to bring awareness of the dismal situation of the poor to his fellow Londoners, and Stowe is obviously working to abolish slavery.  They have chosen literature as their medium.

Both authors rely heavily on humor to carry their message.  I didn’t see this coming with HBS.  For some reason, I always assumed Uncle Tom’s Cabin was nothing more than a dark, sad tale, I didn’t expect to read hillarious scenes like the one with Sam and Andy leading Haley on a wild goose chase down a nonexistent road.  It reminded me a little bit of Fagin’s gang, but with a moralistically superior cause for raising a ruckus.

Both authors utilize sarcasm in their writing, as well.  The narrator’s voice in Dicken’s work drips with the stuff, while HBS is more apt to reserve her sarcasm for specific characters’ dialogs.  My favorite example of this sort of writing is, well, practically every single sentence St Clare speaks in response to his wife.  Even Stowe can’t help but let a little snarkiness out at Marie.  Here’s a bit where the Omnicient Royal We has just given us a full page of hope that the African people will become the highest and noblest kingdom as a result of God’s chastening, and then she turns her attention to the mistress of the house:

Was this what Marie St. Clare was thinking of, as she stood gorgeously dressed, on the verandah, on Sunday morning, clasping a diamond bracelet on her slender wrist?  Most likely it was.  Or, if it wasn’t that, it was something else; for Marie patronized good things, and she was going now, in full force – diamonds, silk, and lace, and jewels, and all, – to a fashionalbe church, to be very religious.  Marie always made a point to be very pious on Sundays.

All these little hints at similarities between the two writers were nothing compared to what I encountered in the last five chapters.  Granted, Stowe didn’t depict Tom’s murder with the gory detail that we encountered in Nancy’s death, but the remainder of the story was completed much like Oliver Twist.  Long lost relatives came out of the woodwork.  There was an end to all the misfortune and bad timing that had plagued the characters thus far.  No story was left hanging, and futures were hopeful on the horizon.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of happy endings, but both books tied up all the loose ends almost too perfectly.  Really, George’s sister just happened to be in the cabin next door?  Rose is Oliver’s aunt?  Quimbo and Sambo were both converted at Tom’s death?  Topsy becomes a missionary?  Oliver gets to live with Brownlow?

Stowe obviously admired Dicken’s work, and it shows in her own writing.  A bit of research on the connection between the two told me that she initiated their professional friendship by sending him a lavender copy of UTC.  She was an amazingly bold woman, wasn’t she?  Apparently their professional relationship continued for years, although he remained somewhat critical of the book.

Maybe she should have sent him a blue copy instead.


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What the Dickens?

I’m reading the Modern Library Classic version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (nope, no volumes) and in the back, there are commentaries from Stowe’s contemporaries.  The first is a letter from Charles Dickens to Mrs. Stowe.

I hope she was totally geeked when she got the letter.  I would have been, dear mother, had I received a letter from this master of social satire.

Imagine what it would have been like as she sat there with her seven children- strike that – she wouldn’t be sitting, not with seven children, no, there would be a lot of hurryscurryation.  She probably sent the middlest child out to get the mail, who then got so excited about the introductory Lincoln Log pamphlet that arrived that he left the rest of the mail on the front porch chair, and it wasn’t until one of the twins accidentally pushed his way out the screen door that she saw the abandoned pile of envelopes lying there, only to adeptly scoop them into into the pocket of her apron.   It wouldn’t have been until later that evening, after the final bits of laundry were folded, the last fork had been washed and dried, and all fourteen eyes were closed in sleep, that Harriet dared to untie her apron strings.  I’m sure that at first the appearance of the stack of unopened mail left her sighing with the knowledge that there was yet one more task to do, but as soon as the foreign postage caught her eye her interest was surely rejuvenated.  I bet she tore that letter open, squealed with delight, read it aloud eight times to her husband, and then flew to her writing desk to send a quick message to her sister and best writing friends.

This is the instagram photo of Charlie writing his letter to Harriet, don’t you think?

Sorry, sometimes I get a little caught up in thinking about how this simple Christian mother made such a huge difference in our society with the simple use of powerful words, and it gets my romantic expectations all piqued.

Anyway, back to Charles Dickens.  This is a portion of what he wrote to my new BFF Harriet:

I have read [Uncle Tom’s Cabin} with the deepest interest and sympathy, and admire, more than I can express to you, both the generous feeling which inspired it, and the admirable power with which it is executed.
If I might suggest a fault in what has so charmed me, it would be that you . . .

Okay, this is the part I’m going to skip, folks, because if Harri (can I call her that?) is anything like me, this is the part that kept her awake at night, and possibly brought her to tears, and left her husband saying things like, “Honey, remember that part where he talks about how much he admires your book?  Really, he used the word ‘inspired.’   I think he likes you.”  Let’s just say that Dickens thought she went overboard with her kindness of slaves.  Your husband is right, Har, his criticism is actually a compliment.  Okay, back to the letter:

Your book is worthy of any head and any heart that ever inspired a book.  I am much your debtor, and I thank you most fervently and sincerely.

Forget the squealing, I might have just fainted right over.  Charles Dickens thought she was cool.  So cool.  But I believe it, because I saw the similarities between the two.  But that, my friends, will have to wait until tomorrow, because I’m still a little swooney from reading that letter from Chuck.  I always did like that guy.


Posted by on May 28, 2012 in Uncle Tom's Cabin


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Always Good

I did it.  I made myself read the chapter titled “Death”.  As I suffered along with the St. Clare family during Eva’s final days, something Ophelia said made me think of a hymn.

Eva has given all her curls away to the slaves.  The only people left in the room are Eva, Ophelia and St. Clare.  The father is crushed by the thought of his sweet daughter’s impending death.

     When they were all gone, he sat so still.
“Papa!” said Eve, gently, laying her hand on his.
He gave a sudden start and shiver; but made no answer.
“Dear papa!” said Eva.
I cannot,” said St. Clare, rising, “I cannot have it so!  The Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me!”  and St. Clare pronounced these words with a bitter emphasis, indeed.
“Augustine! has not God a right to do what He will with his own?” said Miss Ophelia.

Ophelia’s rhetorical question made me think of the hymn “What God Ordains Is Always Good” (Lutheran Service Book 760).   The text is by Samuel Rodigast (1649-1708).  Here’s the last stanza of this hymn of hope and comfort.

What God ordains is always good:
This truth remains unshaken.
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine.
I shall not be forsaken.
I fear no harm.
For with His arm
He shall embrace and shield me:
So to my God I yield me.

Later at Eva’s death-bed…

     Tom had his master’s hands between his own; and, with tears streaming down his dark cheeks, looked up for help where he had always been used to look.
“Pray that this may be cut short!” said St. Clare, — “This wrings my heart.”
“O, bless the Lord! it’s over, –it’s over, dear Master!” said Tom; “look at her.”

“O, Eva, tell us what you see!  What is it?” said her father.
A bright, a glorious smile passed over her face, and she said brokenly,–“O! love, –joy, –peace!” gave one sigh and passed from death unto life!

“What God Ordains Is Always Good”
stanza 5

What God ordains is always good.
     Though I the cup am drinking
Which savors now of bitterness,
     I take it without shrinking.
          For after grief
          God gives relief,
My heart with comfort filling
And all my sorrow stilling.

I love that Harriet Beecher Stowe says Eva passed from death into life.
For a Christian, this is hope and comfort in the midst of grief.

Beautiful response, Ophelia.


Posted by on May 27, 2012 in Uncle Tom's Cabin


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