Monday, July 27, 2009

Stowe and the European Canon

Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin was the best selling American novel of the 19th century. Overall, it was the 2nd best selling book behind the Bible. It was such an influential book at the time that Abe Lincoln referred to her as "the little lady" that started the war. But at the time, the American literary canon did not accept this book as literature. This is probably not only because it was written by a woman, but also because it was a very popular book. To this day, American intelligentsia think of a popular book as non-literature. At the time, the book was well accepted around the world. While great European writers like Tolstoy, Turgenev, Balzac and George Elliot were calling it a masterpiece, American universities wouldn't go near it.

This is one of those books that I started but never finished. Like a Ulysses or The Sound and the Fury, it is difficult read. Not something you pick up and read on the subway. I need a more controlled environment to read something like this. It is on my book shelf awaiting my retirement. Hopefully I get to it before then.

One embarrassing note is that I always assumed that she was a black writer. Apparently, she is not. Every picture I see of her she looks like caucasian. I checked several internet sites that list African American writers of the 19th century and she is not listed. She is from Connecticutt and wrote her most famous novel in Brunswick, Maine. Who would have thought it?

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