U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Intellectual History in the New York Times Book Review

Just one of my “hey this is cool” posts:

I was listening to the podcast of the New York Times Book Review this morning and was intrigued by the review of “‘Mightier Than the Sword,’ David S. Reynolds’s informative account of the writing, reception and modern reputation of ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin.'” In particular, I thought it was interesting to discuss the book as a literary work–something that drew praise contemporaneously but within the last fifty years or so has brought derision. Also intriguing is Reynolds’ discussion of the international reception of the book. It sounds a bit, though, like Reynolds’ is too in abeyance to the book. Henry James may have seen it as a boy, but did it shape his aesthetic imagination, the reviewer Andrew Delbanco asks.

Not mentioned in the review, this topic also intrigues me in the sense of how African Americans have related to the character of “Uncle Tom” over the years. He has not always been derided in the way one would suspect, given the connotations the name has. I remember reading something about this a year or so ago. If I stumble across it, I’ll pass along the link.

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  1. Lauren,
    Thanks for drawing our attention to this new book by Reynolds–I wasn’t aware of it. Having read his John Brown book published a few years ago, I am looking forward to this one.

    My understanding is that “Uncle Tom” didn’t get the bad reputation he currently has until stage productions of the story in the 1890s. These plays, evidently, portrayed Tom more as a self-hating buffoon, rather than as a moral and upright, if somewhat naive, human being–which might be one way to describe the character in the 1852 novel by Stowe. (As David Blight has pointed out, the 1890s was the era of “Race and Reunion” in America, when a collective amnesia regarding how issues surrounding slavery caused the Civil War.) Nina Silber may talk about the late-19th century Uncle Tom plays and the rise of the derisive stereotype in “Romance of Reunion.” I’m not sure, though, if she discusses the ways that African Americans related to the character, which seems to be the topic you are interested in addressing.

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