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Mightier Than the Sword

Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Battle for America
Mightier Than the Sword: Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Battle for America. Norton. Jun. 2011. c.352p. ISBN 9780393081329. $27.95. LIT
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For Reynolds (English & American studies, CUNY; Walt Whitman's America) Uncle Tom's Cabin (1851) is a kind of antebellum Talk Soup into which Harriet Beecher Stowe stirred all the Christian reform movements of her era, including abolitionism, temperance, socialism, perfectionism, and many more. In the more compelling first half of his book, Reynolds's dogged research demonstrates that Stowe's best-selling book blended all these currents of thought and feeling to spur Northerners from polite distaste for slavery to ardent abolitionism that led to war. In his even more thoroughly researched second half, Reynolds shows how the book and its characters continued to pervade American popular culture after the war, often through dramatized versions (not by Stowe) performed everywhere and often for 50 years or more. Reynolds convincingly argues that even in popular 20th-century renditions of the Old South, e.g., Thomas Dixon's The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan and Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind, Southern writers were still trying to refute Stowe's critique of slavery. VERDICT While this book may prove to be heavy going for the general reader, all serious students of 19th-century American literature and culture will want to read it.—Stewart Desmond, New York
For Reynolds (English & American studies, CUNY; Walt Whitman's America) Uncle Tom's Cabin (1851) is a kind of antebellum Talk Soup into which Harriet Beecher Stowe stirred all the Christian reform movements of her era, including abolitionism, temperance, socialism, perfectionism, and many more. In the more compelling first half of his book, Reynolds's dogged research demonstrates that Stowe's best-selling book blended all these currents of thought and feeling to spur Northerners from polite distaste for slavery to ardent abolitionism that led to war. In his even more thoroughly researched second half, Reynolds shows how the book and its characters continued to pervade American popular culture after the war, often through dramatized versions (not by Stowe) performed everywhere and often for 50 years or more. Reynolds convincingly argues that even in popular 20th-century renditions of the Old South, e.g., Thomas Dixon's The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan and Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind, Southern writers were still trying to refute Stowe's critique of slavery.
VERDICT While this book may prove to be heavy going for the general reader, all serious students of 19th-century American literature and culture will want to read it.—Stewart Desmond, New York

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