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Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life

by Joan D. Hedrick

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1293171,823 (4.14)6
"Up to this year I have always felt that I had no particular call to meddle with this subject ... But I feel now that the time is come when even a woman or a child who can speak a word for freedom and humanity is bound to speak." Thus did Harriet Beecher Stowe announce her decision to begin work on what would become one of the most influential novels ever written. The subject she had hesitated to "meddle with" was slavery, and the novel, of course, was Uncle Tom's Cabin. Still debated today for its portrayal of African Americans and its unresolved place in the literary canon, Stowe's best-known work was first published in weekly installments from June 5, 1851 to April 1, 1852. It caused such a stir in both the North and South, and even in Great Britain, that when Stowe met President Lincoln in 1862 he is said to have greeted her with the words, "So you are the little woman who wrote the book that created this great war!" In this landmark book, the first full-scale biography of Harriet Beecher Stowe in over fifty years, Joan D. Hedrick tells the absorbing story of this gifted, complex, and contradictory woman. Hedrick takes readers into the multi-layered world of nineteenth-century morals and mores, exploring the influence of then-popular ideas of "true womanhood" on Stowe's upbringing as a member of the outspoken Beecher clan, and her eventful life as a writer and shaper of public opinion who was also a mother of seven. It offers a lively record of the flourishing parlor societies that launched and sustained Stowe throughout the 44 years of her career, and the harsh physical realities that governed so many women's lives. The epidemics, high infant mortality, and often disastrous medical practices of the day are portrayed in moving detail, against the backdrop of western expansion, the great social upheaval accompanying the abolitionist movement, and the entry of women into public life. Here are Stowe's public triumphs, both before and after the Civil War, and the private tragedies that included the death of her beloved eighteen month old son, the drowning of another son, and the alcohol and morphine addictions of two of her other children. The daughter, sister, and wife of prominent ministers; Stowe channeled her anguish and her ambition into a socially acceptable anger on behalf of others, transforming her private experience into powerful narratives that moved a nation. Magisterial in its breadth and rich in detail, this definitive portrait explores the full measure of Harriet Beecher Stowe's life and her contribution to American literature. Perceptive and engaging, it illuminates the career of a major writer during the transition of literature from an amateur pastime to a profession, and offers a fascinating look at the pains, pleasures, and accomplishments of women's lives in the last century.… (more)
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This book required a long slow read. Stowe`s influence on the Civil War was certainly important. Really surprised at all the other issues she dealt with in a time when women had little opportunity to speak out. I`m glad I persisted, as this book was tedious. ( )
  kerrlm | Jan 7, 2015 |
What I said on Amazon:

This is an excellent scholarly biography of Stowe, wonderfully researched and clearly written. Hedrick quotes generously from Stowe's letters, so the reader gets a feel for her voice and those of her family members. She puts Stowe's life in context beautifully, so besides being a great biography, it's also an excellent source on 19th-century millenialist, abolition, and suffrage movements and on the case of women writers & canon formation. Anyone who has read and liked Mary Kelly's Private Woman, Public Stage will like this book, too.

My only complaint is that the end rushes in -- Hedrick covers something like 14 years in the last chapter. Granted much of this time Stowe seemed to be developing Alzheimer's, but I would have liked a bit more detail. What was she doing in her lucid periods? What was her feminist sister Isabella doing and how did Stowe's youngest ne'er-do-well son go from a ship's boy to a Harvard student? These are quibbles, though. In fact, one of the things I most like about this book is that Hedrick doesn't supply information when there isn't any to be found. There's very little speculation here, no inappropriately imagined scenes, no "Stowe must have thought" or "Stowe must have done." For Hedrick, either it happened or it didnt; she knows the difference between a biography and a novel. ( )
  susanbooks | Feb 15, 2010 |
2621 Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life, by Joan D. Hedrick (read 26 Jun 1994) (Pulitzer Biography prize for 1995) Stowe was born in Litchfield, Conn., June 14, 1811 and died in Hartford, Conn., July 1, 1896. This book is written from a feminist standpoint, but this did not bother me. This is a good book. The blurb for it is "Magisterial in its breadth and rich in detail, this definitive portrait explores the full measure of Harriet Beecher Stowe's life and her contribution to American literature" and for once I agree the blurb is accurate. ( )
  Schmerguls | Apr 7, 2008 |
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"Up to this year I have always felt that I had no particular call to meddle with this subject ... But I feel now that the time is come when even a woman or a child who can speak a word for freedom and humanity is bound to speak." Thus did Harriet Beecher Stowe announce her decision to begin work on what would become one of the most influential novels ever written. The subject she had hesitated to "meddle with" was slavery, and the novel, of course, was Uncle Tom's Cabin. Still debated today for its portrayal of African Americans and its unresolved place in the literary canon, Stowe's best-known work was first published in weekly installments from June 5, 1851 to April 1, 1852. It caused such a stir in both the North and South, and even in Great Britain, that when Stowe met President Lincoln in 1862 he is said to have greeted her with the words, "So you are the little woman who wrote the book that created this great war!" In this landmark book, the first full-scale biography of Harriet Beecher Stowe in over fifty years, Joan D. Hedrick tells the absorbing story of this gifted, complex, and contradictory woman. Hedrick takes readers into the multi-layered world of nineteenth-century morals and mores, exploring the influence of then-popular ideas of "true womanhood" on Stowe's upbringing as a member of the outspoken Beecher clan, and her eventful life as a writer and shaper of public opinion who was also a mother of seven. It offers a lively record of the flourishing parlor societies that launched and sustained Stowe throughout the 44 years of her career, and the harsh physical realities that governed so many women's lives. The epidemics, high infant mortality, and often disastrous medical practices of the day are portrayed in moving detail, against the backdrop of western expansion, the great social upheaval accompanying the abolitionist movement, and the entry of women into public life. Here are Stowe's public triumphs, both before and after the Civil War, and the private tragedies that included the death of her beloved eighteen month old son, the drowning of another son, and the alcohol and morphine addictions of two of her other children. The daughter, sister, and wife of prominent ministers; Stowe channeled her anguish and her ambition into a socially acceptable anger on behalf of others, transforming her private experience into powerful narratives that moved a nation. Magisterial in its breadth and rich in detail, this definitive portrait explores the full measure of Harriet Beecher Stowe's life and her contribution to American literature. Perceptive and engaging, it illuminates the career of a major writer during the transition of literature from an amateur pastime to a profession, and offers a fascinating look at the pains, pleasures, and accomplishments of women's lives in the last century.

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