Friday, November 30, 2012
Uncle Tom's Cabin,1852
An 1852 edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin, originally owned by my great great grandmother, Mrs. Elizabeth (Hunt) Stanley, was recently shown to me. (See previous post.) I'm trying to imagine what this book meant to Mrs. Stanley or others in the family at that time. Did they read it? What did they think of it? What had been their experience with the institution of slavery? Were they active as abolitionists?
Before I begin digging into family history in an attempt to answer any of those questions, I have been learning more about the book itself, which I'm now reading for the first time. I am really enjoying the writing. I'm glad I didn't have to read this in school (as so many people did); I'm sure I wouldn't have appreciated it so much then. The descriptions of society and politicians and family relations all mean so much more when you have lived many decades, as I have now.
Uncle Tom's Cabin was a controversial and very influential book in the 19th century. It was a "sensation" according to Alfred Kazin (Introduction to the Everyman's Library edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin, 1974): "on publication day in 1852 it sold 3,000; within the year there were 120 editions, 300,000 copies..." It became the first American novel to sell more than one million copies. It has been translated into many, many other langages.
I wonder how many other copies from 1852 have been preserved? I note that the TEXT from the original edition was reproduced in the Everyman's Library edition which I've borrowed from my public library. I also have a version of it on my Kindle, which is convenient to carry as I travel. I don't feel any need to own the fragile original edition. That is a special treasure, but I'm more interested in the ideas within and influence beyond that particular physical artifact.