The novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) became one of the 19th century's literary superstars with the publication of her most famous work, Uncle Tom's Cabin. The book came into being first as a magazine serial and then as a 2-volume work published in 1852. Besides its status as one of the great anti-slavery polemics of its time, the extremely popular novel features a long cast of interesting characters, a wide geographical sweep, and extensive examples of the rhetorical debates that were common in the decade leading up to the Civil War.
Within a decade of publishing Uncle Tom's Cabin, Stowe met President Lincoln at the White House. The legend developed that he said to her, upon their first encounter in 1862, "Is this the little woman who made this great war?" Whether Lincoln uttered these specific words (or made any similar observation) is unknown. Yet the anecdote does reveal the extent to which Stowe had already become a famous cultural spokesperson, She championed the American civil religion, articulated a conservative message of women's rights and motherhood, and a envisioned a Christian America unified around a strong embrace of Scripture. In short, Stowe gradually became a recognized cultural heavyweight with wide ranging political influence—one of the first American women to achieve that stature.
As great as her reputation was during her lifetime, Uncle Tom's Cabin began taking some critical hits with the advent of a new century. There arose a more modern temperament in literature that grimaced at the book's appeals to sentiment and faith. As a consequence, Stowe's masterpiece was relegated to the ash heap of literary history. But Stowe has been making a comeback ...1
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