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The American Romantic Movement

Harriot Beecher Stowe
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Biographical information

Harriet Beecher Stowe
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Harriet Beecher was born June 14, 1811, the seventh child of a famous protestant preacher. Harriet worked as a teacher with her older sister Catharine: her earliest publication was geography for children, issued under her sister's name in 1833. In 1836, Harriet married widower Calvin Stowe: they eventually had seven children. Stowe helped to support her family financially by writing for local and religious periodicals. During her life, she wrote poems, travel books, biographical sketches, and children's books, as well as adult novels. She met and corresponded with people as varied as Lady Byron, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and George Eliot. She died at the age of 85, in Hartford Conneticutt.

She wrote ten novels but her first and most famous is Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Begun as a serial for the Washington anti-slavery weekly, the National Era, it focused public interest on the issue of slavery, and was deeply controversial. In writing the book, Stowe drew on her personal experience: she was familiar with slavery, the antislavery movement, and the underground railroad because Kentucky, across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, Ohio, where Stowe had lived, was a slave state. Following publication of the book, she became a celebrity, speaking against slavery both in America and Europe. She wrote A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin (1853) extensively documenting the realities on which the book was based, to refute critics who tried to argue that it was inauthentic; and published a second anti-slavery novel, Dred in1856. In 1862, when she visited President Lincoln, legend claims that he greeted her as "the little lady who made this big war": the War Between the States. Many other woman fighting the same cause used her work to campaign.

 The story line of Uncle Tom's Cabin is as follows, Uncle Tom is sold by his well-intentioned Kentucy owner Mr Shelby in financial straits. He is bought first by the idealistic Augustine St Clare. In his New Orleans house, Uncle Tom makes friends with St Clare's daughter, the saintly Little Eva, and her black friend, the impish Topsy. 'Never was born!' persisted Topsy... 'never had no father, nor mother, nor nothin'. I was raised by a speculator, with lots of others.' Eva dies in a highly sentimental death scene from a weakened constitution, and St. Clare is killed in an accident. Tom is sold to Simon Legree, a Yankee and a brutal cotton plantation owner. Two of his female slaves pretend to escape and go into hiding. Tom will not reveal their whereabouts and Legree beats the unprotesting Tom to death just before Shelby's son arrives to redeem him. A parallel plot centeres on Eliza, her child, and her husband George who escape to freedom in Canada using the 'underground railroad.

 

Uncle Tom's Cabin
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