06/13/01
Harriet Beecher Stowe
    by Rita Smith

Harriet Beecher Stowe did write books and stories specifically for children but they have sunk into obscurity, when compared to her masterpiece, Uncle Tom's Cabin, published in book form in 1852.

Adaptations for children of Uncle Tom's Cabin began to appear almost immediately. A note in Pictures and Stories from Uncle Tom's Cabin, published in 1853, declares, "This little work is designed to adapt Mrs. Stowe's touching narrative to the understanding of the youngest readers and to foster in their hearts a generous sympathy for the wronged Negro Race of America."1 Many other adaptations appeared throughout the next half century, the writers trying to be faithful to the story, but omitting, as one of them states, "those passages ...which refer especially to matters which need not be placed before the minds of the young" and suggesting that the reading of the full novel should be "wisely left till years of maturity."2

But it is evident that Stowe herself felt the book in its original version was suitable for children. She read the chapters on Little Eva to her class of school girls. In fact, the firstscene she wrote, the death of Uncle Tom, was read immediately to her sons, ages 10 and 12. She was at church when a powerful vision of this scene came to her. She rushed home and wrote it down and, since her husband was away, she read it to her two boys. Upon hearing it, according to an introduction to an 1880 text, the boys "broke out into convulsions of weeping, one of them saying through his sobs, "Oh mamma, slavery is the most cursed thing in the world!"3 As she continuted writing, the weekly installments were always read to her entire family before they were sent off to National Era, the newspaper which serialized the story.

Perhaps the most compelling evidence that she saw her audience as including children is the appeal to her young readers which appeared with the final install- ment: "Dear children," she wrote, "you will soon be men and women, and I hope that you will learn from this story always to remember and pity the poor and oppressed. When you grow up,... do... all you can for them. Never, if you can help it, let a colored child be shut out from school or treated with neglect or contempt on account of his color. Remember the sweet example of little Eva...Then when you grow up, I hope the foolish...prejudice against people merely on account of their complexion will be done away with."4

1 Quoted in Lenz, Millicent, "Harriet Beecher Stowe," DLB, v. 42, p. 345.

2 Stowe, Harriet Beecher, Uncle Tom's Cabin or Life among the Lowly; a tale of slave life in America, p. 7

3 Stowe, Harriet, Uncle Tom's Cabin, a new edition, p. xi.

4Quoted in Lenz, Millicent, "Harriet Beecher Stowe," DLB, v. 42, p. 345.

Sources:

Lenz, Millicent, "Harriet Beecher Stowe" Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol.42, American Writers for Children Before 1900, Glen E. Estes, editor. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research Company, 1985. p. 338-350. Stowe, Harriet Beecher, Uncle Tom's Cabin, or, Life Among the Lowly, a Tale of Slave Life in America, abridged for young readers. London: John Hogg, ca.1903.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher, Uncle Tom's Cabin, a New edition with illustrations by George H. Thomas and a Bibliography of the work by George Bullen, together with an introductory account of the work. London and New York: George Routledge and Sons, 1880.

Copyright 2001 by Rita Smith

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