American Literature, American Culture

By Gordon Hutner | Go to book overview

in her hand, stood up and said, "I will if I live." When her brother Henry Ward Beecher came to see her a little later, they talked about the odious law. He was now preaching Abolition from his pulpit in Plymouth Church, Brooklyn, and holding benevolent "auctions," in which he brought before his congregation slaves chat had escaped from the South, and called for contributions in order to buy their freedom. He, too, urged Harriet to write a book. She had met, a short time before, at the house of her brother Edward, who now had a church in Boston, a Negro preacher who had once been a slave and both of whose arms had been crippled by flogging, but who had succeeded in escaping to Canada and getting himself an education there; and one Sunday, when she had just taken Communion, the death of Uncle Tom was revealed to her "almost as a tangible vision." Scarcely able to restrain her emotion, she went home and wrote it down; and now the rest of Uncle Tom's story "rushed upon her with a vividness and importunity that would not be denied." She poured it out late in the evenings, after the demands of the household had been dealt with. She does not seem to have planned the story in advance, yet the course that it was taking imposed itself as something uncontrollable, unalterable. The novel appeared first as a serial in an anti-slavery weekly which was published in Washington, and it ran to such length--it continued from June 8, 1851, to April 1, 1852--that the editor begged her to cut it short; but the story had taken possession of its readers as well as of Mrs. Stowe, and when the editor published a note suggesting that the public might have had enough, this elicited a violent protest, and Uncle Tom was spared none of the stages which were to lead him to the final scene which had come to Mrs. Stowe in church.

Dwight MacDonald


Masscult and Midcult

For about two centuries Western culture has in fact been two cultures: the traditional kind--let us call it High Culture--that is chronicled in the textbooks, and a novel kind that is manufactured for the market. This latter may be called Mass Culture, or better Masscult, since it really isn't culture at all. Masscult is a parody of High Culture. In the older forms, its artisans have long been at work. In the novel, the line stretches from the eighteenth-century "servant-girl romances" to Edna Ferber, Fannie Hurst and such current ephemera as Burdick, Drury, Michener, Ruark and Uris; in music, from Hearts and Flowers to Rock 'n Roll; in art, from the chromo to Norman Rockwell; in architecture, from Victorian Gothic to ranch-house moderne; in thought, from Martin Tupper Prowbial Philosophy ("Marry not without means, for so shouldst thou tempt Providence; / But wait not for more than enough, for marriage is the DUTY of most men.") to Norman Vincent Peale. (Thinkers like H. G. Wells, Stuart Chase, and Max Lerner come under the head of Midcult rather than Masscult.) And the enormous output of such new media as the radio, television and the movies is almost entirely Masscult.

____________________
"Masscult and Midcult I and II" by Dwight MacDonald first appeared in Partisan Review, Vol. 27, No. 2, 1949, and Vol. 27, No. 4, 1960, respectively.

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