American Literature, American Culture

By Gordon Hutner | Go to book overview

going outside the law, in his betrayal, his imprisonment, and release, and even in the somewhat cloudy circumstances surrounding his death--the actual facts about Cortez's life (so far as we know them) follow the Border-hero tradition that was already well established before Cortez made his celebrated ride.

It was as if the Border people had dreamed Gregorio Cortez before producing him, and had sung his life and his deeds before he was born.

Edmund Wilson


Harriet Beecher Stowe

From Patriotic Gore

Let us begin with Uncle Tom's Cabin.

This novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe was one of the greatest successes of American publishing history as well as one of the most influential books--immediately influential, at any rate--that have ever appeared in the United States. A year after its publication on March 20, 1852, it had sold 305,000 copies in America and something like two million and a half copies in English and in translation all over the world. As for its influence, it is enough to remember the greeting of Lincoln to Mrs. Stowe when she was taken to call on him at the White House: "So this is the little lady who made this big war." Yet, in the period after the war, the novel's popularity steadily declined. Mrs. Stowe's royalty statements for the second half of 1887 showed a sale of only 12,225, and eventually Uncle Tom went out of print. Up to the time when it was reprinted, in 1948, in the Modern Library Series, it was actually unavailable except at secondhand.

What were the reasons for this eclipse? It is often assumed in the United States that Uncle Tom was a mere propaganda novel which disappeared when it had accomplished its purpose and did not, on its merits, deserve to live. Yet in continued to be read in Europe, and, up to the great Revolution, at any rate, it was a popular book in Russia. If we come to Uncle Tom for the first time today, we are likely to be surprised at not finding it what we imagined it and to conclude that the postwar neglect of it has been due to the strained situation between the North and the South. The Northerners, embarrassed by the memory of the war and not without feelings of guilt, did not care to be reminded of the issue which had given rise to so much bitterness. In the South, where before the war any public discussion of slavery had by general tacit agreement been banned, nothing afterwards was wanted less than Northern criticism of pre-war conditions. It was still possible at the beginning of this century for a South Carolina teacher to make his pupils hold up their right hands and swear that they would never read Uncle Tom. Both sides, after the terrible years

____________________
"Harriet Beecher Stowe" from Patriotic Gore by Edmund Wilson. Copyright 1966 by Oxford University Press.

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