Harriet Beecher Stowe

Harriet Beecher Stowe : A Life

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"Up to this year I have always felt that I had no particular call to meddle with this subject.... But I feel now that the time is come when even a woman or a child who can speak a word for freedom and humanity is bound to speak." Thus did Harriet Beecher Stowe announce her decision to begin work on what would become one of the most influential novels ever written. The subject she had hesitated to "meddle with" was slavery, and the novel, of course, was Uncle Tom's Cabin. Still debated today for its portrayal of African Americans and its unresolved place in the literary canon, Stowe's best-known work was first published in weekly installments from June 5, 1851 to April 1, 1852. It caused such a stir in both the North and South, and even in Great Britain, that when Stowe met President Lincoln in 1862 he is said to have greeted her with the words, "So you are the little woman who wrote the book that created this great war!" In this landmark book, the first full-scale biography of Harriet Beecher Stowe in over fifty years, Joan D. Hedrick tells the absorbing story of this gifted, complex, and contradictory woman. Hedrick takes readers into the multi-layered world of nineteenth-century morals and mores, exploring the influence of then-popular ideas of "true womanhood" on Stowe's upbringing as a member of the outspoken Beecher clan, and her eventful life as a writer and shaper of public opinion who was also a mother of seven. It offers a lively record of the flourishing parlor societies that launched and sustained Stowe throughout the 44 years of her career, and the harsh physical realities that governed so many women's lives. The epidemics, high infant mortality, and often disastrous medicalpractices of the day are portrayed in moving detail, against the backdrop of western expansion, the great social upheaval accompanying the abolitionist movement, and the entry of women into public life. Here are Stowe's public triumphs, both before and after the Civil War, and tshow more

Product details

  • Hardback | 526 pages
  • 157.48 x 238.76 x 50.8mm | 997.9g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • frontispiece, 16 pp halftones
  • 0195066391
  • 9780195066395

About Joan D. Hedrick

About the Author: Joan D. Hedrick is the author of Solitary Comrade: Jack London and His Work, and the Director of Women's Studies and Associate Professor of History at Trinity College, Hartford.show more

Review Text

In this definitive biography, Hedrick (History/Trinity; the scholarly Solitary Comrade, 1982 - not reviewed) applies a feminine perspective to the fascinating life and tumultuous times of Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-96), author of what's arguably the most influential novel in history and someone who only 50 years ago was described as "A Crusader in Crinoline" (by Robert F. Wilson in the last full-length Stowe bio, published in 1941). Stowe's life included the common difficulties of 19th-century women - dependency, mismanaged health, exclusion from public life - difficulties shared with the poor and with blacks, creating a natural identity of interests that, Hedrick explains, overcame barriers of race, class, and gender. The author also sees in Stowe the unfolding of literature in 19th-century America, from the instructive and entertaining "parlour literature," written by women for domestic reading aloud, to literature's professionalization after 1860 in journals and universities - a transformation dominated by men. But in 1850-51, when Stowe serialized Uncle Tom's Cabin (no publisher would accept it as a book), women were still creating the new American culture - and this novel captured it, inspiring, by 1893, translations into 42 languages, as well as numerous songs, plays, toys, games, and even wallpaper patterns. Despite her success, though, tragedy plagued Stowe: Her baby son died, an adult son drowned, and two other children became addicts, afflictions for which her Calvanist religion offered no comfort. In The Minister's Wooing, Stowe continued her attack on the abstract world of male clergy and legislators that she'd begun in Uncle Tom's Cabin, affirming the comfort she derived from poor black women rather than from theology. Writing mostly for the male-dominated Atlantic, she was supporting her entire family by the end of her career - an end created, she believed, by a mental exhaustion known only to women. A splendid, balanced representation of an author in her many roles, and of the way she changed her world. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Review quote

"Intelligent, thoroughly researched....An indelible portrait of 19th-century America."--The Wall Street Journal"A masterly biography, the best I've read in a great while. Hedrick's understanding of Stowe and her times is so deep, detailed, and assured that she can concentrate on the narrative, putting information and critical sophistication in the service of the story. This makes for good, rich reading--literary biography at its finest."--Phyllis Rose, author of Woman of Letters: A Life of Virginia Woolf"Will likely create a stampede of new interest in both the writer and her works....Hedrick is a subtle yet forcefully clear writer....Hedrick has ensured that this complex and extraordinary woman, Harriet Bveecher Stowe, will not be so easily forgotten at the next shift in literary taste."--The Virginian-Pilot and the Ledger-Star"Hedrick has demonstrated a striking ability to weave together the varied elements of Stowe's life in a lucid and lively narrative, to use a wealth of letters with originality and grace, and to make Stowe and her world tangible. With this biography, Stowe has taken her place in the incredibly rich social and cultural milieu of nineteenth-century America, an America of revivals, early industrial capitalism, social reform, and women's entry into public life."--Mary Kelley, author of Private Woman, Public Stage: Literary Domesticity in Nineteenth-Century America"Harriet Beecher Stowe is a monumental work of scholarship that provides a brilliant analysis of one of the most powerful, popular, and controversial writers in the annals of American literature."--Lois Rudnick, author of Mabel Dodge Luhan: New Woman, New Worldsshow more

Rating details

92 ratings
3.92 out of 5 stars
5 24% (22)
4 52% (48)
3 18% (17)
2 3% (3)
1 2% (2)
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