Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp

Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp

Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp

Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp

Synopsis

Stowe's second anti-slavery novel is a primary text for students of literature and history - less well-known but now more pertinent than Uncle Tom's Cabin. This vigorous and compulsive read combines thought-provoking themes, rich characterisation, satire and sentiment.

Excerpt

When, in 1863, Abraham Lincoln hailed Harriet Beecher Stowe as "the little lady who made this big war", he was addressing the author of two anti-slavery novels, Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) and its sequel Dred:
A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp
(1856). Of the two, despite its phenomenal success, Uncle Tom's Cabin remains placatory in its intentions, its focus primarily moral and humanitarian. In contrast Dred, with its political and economic emphases, refuses any reparatory fantasy of North-South reconciliation. (After reading the novel, the reviewer for Blackwood's immediately concluded that civil war in America was now a distinct probability.) In later years the reputation of Uncle Tom's Cabin suffered from the accusation of racial stereotyping (memorably expressed in James Baldwin's description of the characters as whites in blackface), and of promoting, in the figure of Uncle Tom, an image of the black man as passive, docile and subservient. A reading of Dred undermines the force of the charge. Originally, Uncle Tom's Cabin was more popular because of its sentimental appeal. Readers in 1856 were less ready for a novel centred on a black revolutionary, or for a thinly veiled portrait of the celebrated black feminist, Sojourner Truth. Tellingly, the reviewer for Tait's Edinburgh Magazine found Dred less congenial because he lacked "the grace of suffering patiently whatever should befall him". Twentieth century readers are more likely to welcome the move away from individual tragedies to the examination of slavery as an entrenched institution, supported by church and law. In DredStowe also revises the literary strategy of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Little Eva and her saintly (and chapter-length) death have had buckets wept over them, but in Nina Gordon Stowe creates a more mature . . .

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