Reading Abolition

Reading Abolition

The Critical Reception of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Frederick Douglass

Brian Yothers

A pathbreaking consideration of the intertwined critical responses to Harriet Beecher Stowe and Frederick Douglass, giants of abolitionist literature.

Harriet Beecher Stowe and Frederick Douglass represent a crucial strand in nineteenth-century American literature: the struggle for the abolition of slavery. Yet there has been no thoroughgoing discussion of the critical reception of these two giants of abolitionist literature. Reading Abolition narrates and explores the parallels between Stowe's critical reception and Douglass's. The book begins with Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, considering its initial celebration as a work of genius and conscience, its subsequent dismissal in the early twentieth century as anti-Southern and in the mid-twentieth century as racially stereotypical, and finally its recent recovery as a classic of women's, religious, and political fiction. It also considers the reception of Stowe's other, less well-known novels, non-fictional works, and poetry, and how engaging the full Stowe canon has changed the shape of Stowe studies. The second half of the study deals with the reception of Douglass both as a writer of three autobiographies that helped to define the contours of African American autobiography for later writers and critics and as an extraordinarily eloquent and influential orator and journalist. Reading Abolition shows that Stowe's and Douglass's critical destinies have long been intertwined, with questions about race, gender, nationalism, religion, and the nature of literary and rhetorical genius playing crucial roles in critical considerations of both figures.

Brian Yothers is Frances Spatz Leighton Endowed Distinguished Professor and Associate Chair of the Department of English at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Interpreting and Reinterpreting Stowe and Douglass
Uncle Tom's Cabin in Its Own Time
The Eclipse of Uncle Tom's Cabin: The Early Twentieth Century
Uncle Tom's Cabin Revived: Race, Gender, Religion, and Stowe's Narrative Artistry
Beyond Uncle Tom's Cabin: The Reception of Stowe's Later Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry
The Critical Response to Douglass's Autobiographies
Anti-Slavery Eloquence: The Critical Response to Douglass's Anti-Slavery Speeches and Journalism
Epilogue: Critical Futures - Stowe and Douglass, Together and Separately
Works Cited


[A]n impressive history of the critical context for two of American literature's most widely read nineteenth-century authors. . . . [E]specially good reading for graduate students, as it offers a rare combination of coverage along several metrics: field, author, historical period, and archival history. H-EARLY AMERICA [Faith Barter]

This reevaluation of Douglass and Stowe allows readers to see them as transatlantic figures who operated within "networks of affiliations" that range from Romanticism to the Civil Rights Movement and whose works embody crucial intersections of gender, race, and national identity. Highly recommended. Upper-level undergraduates through faculty. CHOICE

Also by Author

Also in Series