When the American writer Harriet Beecher Stowe died in 1896, The Times minced no words about her antislavery book “Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or Life Among the Lowly,” the century’s best-selling American novel.
“In the English language, the Bible and Shakespeare’s works are its only rivals,” The Times noted.
Rapidly translated into at least 20 languages, including Russian, Spanish and Finnish, it was also an overnight international phenomenon.
Stowe, born on this day in 1811, lived for years across the Ohio River from Kentucky, meeting fugitive slaves and seeing Southern plantations firsthand. But her novel had another inspiration as well: the loss of an adored son to cholera.
She once wrote, “It was at his dying bed and at his grave that I learned what a poor slave mother may feel when her child is torn away from her.”
The book began as a newspaper serial in 1851. With evocative characters — saintly Uncle Tom, the slave child Topsy, the villainous master Simon Legree — it stirred outrage about slavery.
“No book in American history molded public opinion more powerfully,” the critic David Reynolds wrote in “Mightier Than the Sword,” a book about the novel’s writing, reception and modern reputation.
Nancy Wartik wrote today’s Back Story.
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