Sunday, June 14, 2009

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Today is the birthday of the most influential novelist America has ever produced. Never mind J. D. Salinger and John Updike. Hemingway persuaded Americans to write shorter sentences, but Twitter would have done that eventually. Melville's novel didn't result in a ban on whaling. No, the most influential novelist in American history was a mother of seven from Cincinnati.

Harriet Beecher Stowe was born on June 14th, 1811, in Litchfield, Connecticut, the daughter of an abolitionist preacher. In 1852 she published Uncle Tom's Cabin. She was 40 years-old. The book went on to sell over a million copies. It was the first American novel to do so. It sold 10,000 copies in the first week, an astonishing thing considering there were no superstores then, no Amazon. In place of the author tour of radio stations and television talk shows, though, there were abolitionist lectures and meetings all across the North, where Uncle Tom's Cabin was talked about and quoted. It supplied the mythic underpinnings to the moral outrage that led to the American Civil War. A decade later, in 1862, there was the famous meeting between Harriet Beecher Stowe and Abraham Lincoln, when Lincoln said "So you're the little woman who wrote the book that started this Great War!" It was true.

Harriet Beecher Stowe appears on page 154 in A Book of Ages.

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