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Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life Paperback – June 1, 1995

ISBN-13: 978-0195096392 ISBN-10: 0195096398 Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (June 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195096398
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195096392
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 1.4 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #458,095 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Harriet Beecher Stowe, daughter of a preacher, married to a poor Biblical scholar, and mother of nine, had the early good fortune of an education at a school founded by her feminist older sister. To help support her family, Stowe began to write. In 1851, born of evangelical outrage against slavery, her novel Uncle Tom's Cabin made her famous. Today the very name conveys white paternalism and black passivity, but Hedrick points out that this unfairly ignores the "freedom narrative" of a book that had an electrifying effect on the abolitionist cause. When Abraham Lincoln met Stowe in 1862 he joked, "So you're the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war." Hedrick's illuminating biography of this remarkable woman won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

This first major biography of Stowe (1811-1896) in some 50 years offers an insightful account of the life and work of the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin . Hedrick, director of women's studies at Trinity College in Connecticut, is especially good at laying out the context of Stowe's life: the constraints and opportunities for well-born New England women in the 1800s; the influence of the Bible and of "parlor literature and parlor music" on her work; and how the lack of political outlets for women helped fuel her outrage against slavery. In Uncle Tom's Cabin , published in weekly installments from June 1851 to April 1852 in the magazine National Era , Stowe modeled the characters mainly on her own black domestic servants without considering that "her position as white mistress to black servants radically compromised her perceptions." Nonetheless, Hedrick praises her for forcing whites to confront "the voices of a colonized people." Hedrick includes much information on Stowe's family life and lengthy but checkered writing career, noting that while she contributed to a new cultural vitality by supporting the Atlantic Monthly , founded in 1857, she and other women writers were ultimately disregarded. Regrettably, the book ends with Stowe's death and doesn't track the 20th-century debates about the place of Stowe's most famous work in our cultural canon.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

We think that we women of the 21st Century have struggles!
Bizzy Reading
The book is beautifully written, extremely readable, and very well documented.
Anne Rice
Hedrick toughs a terrific job of covering the full spectrum of HBS's life.
a reader

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By tides24 on September 11, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm very glad that some of the negative reviews didn't put me off this book. It is not only a wonderful biography of the life of this great author, but it is an excellent history of so much of the 19th century. Mind you, it's not light, summertime reading. I liked to read a chapter a night, because there was so much to savor and think about. I learned a tremendous amount about life in that time, (how did any of our ancestors survive long enough to bring us into the world?), and about everything from the anti-slavery movement, to women's rights, to the religious fervor of the day. It provided a comprehensive look at the development of a nation and a national character.

Of course, the centerpiece of it all is Mrs. Stowe, and she really came alive for me. The author makes good use of letters, so Mrs. Stowe, her family and friends can speak for themselves. And what a family it was! The famous Beecher clan in all its glory! Through the development of Mrs. Stowe's writing, we also see a change in how literature was viewed. From "Parlor Literature" which led to "Uncle Tom's Cabin" being read by all classes, it eventually became divided into high-class versus popular...what was critically acclaimed as opposed to what the people liked. It's a division that persists to this day, and led to Mrs. Stowe's masterpiece eventually being devalued as just melodramatic women's writing.

I think this is a first-class biography and history. There's a reason why it won the Pulitzer Prize for biography. It will stand as the definitive biography of a great author and a great lady.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By M. Feldman VINE VOICE on April 29, 2010
Format: Paperback
Joan Hedrick's biography of Harriet Beecher Stowe is first rate. It is masterful in the way it tells the story of a prolific author whose life spanned most of the 19th century (1811-1896). What is even better is the way Hedrick places Stowe within the contexts of some of the most dynamic strands of American history and literature in this period: religious perfectionism, the anti-slavery movement, the development of professional authors, women's suffrage, the consumerism of the Gilded Age, and the increase in influence of "high" culture, among others. And, of course, there is Stowe's membership in the wonderful extended Beecher family, including her father, the famous preacher and theologian; her sister Catherine, the educator; her half-sister Isabella, the suffragist; her preacher brother Henry Ward, the subject of a famous scandal. These individuals, along with the long-suffering (and occasionally jealous) Calvin Stowe, her husband, appear and disappear like comets on the pages of this book.

One of the things I most enjoyed is Hedrick's discussion of how Stowe, one of the first women to make a living from her writing, ordered her life in order to make that writing possible. That she produced any work at all from the domestic disorders represented by seven children, scant income, frequent moves (related to Calvin's career as a theologian), and illness, not to mention political turmoil, is a miracle.

This is a scholarly biography, unlikely to appeal to a reader who simply wants to learn a bit more about this compelling woman. However, if you have a particular interest in the period, Hedrick's biography will set you down right in the midst of the turmoil, domestic and historic, that characterized Harriet Beecher Stowe's life. There are, in addition, a well-chosen set of photographs, extensive endnotes, and a fine bibliography.
M. Feldman
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 15, 2004
Format: Hardcover
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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By a reader on October 3, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author covers a lot more than the life of HBS in this book. While Ms. Hedrick does a very strong job of covering her subject, she does an equally thorough job of diving into the social, political, religious and literary issues and events of the era. The author goes in-depth on the role of women in American society including fact-based discussions of voting rights, women's suffrage, sexual subjugation, the 13th and 14th amendments, slavery (obviously) and the role of women in religion. Her coverage of the Calvinist theological precepts and the role that her family played in it in the mid 1800's was very well put together. Same goes for Hedrick's deep dive into the politics of the literary world of HBS's time. I particularly enjoyed reading about the Atlantic Monthly and the literary "powers that were" of that institution and time.

Regarding the bio itself. Hedrick toughs a terrific job of covering the full spectrum of HBS's life. She presents HBS as a devoted mother, a brilliant and authentic author, a disciplined intellectual and a brave soul working very effectively in the male dominated world of the publishing and literary circles. She also covers the nuances and personal shortcomings of HBS as well as her parental challenges and pain.

There are so few great biographies of American women of the 19th century--this is one of them and if you want to learn much about America of that time then this is a must read.
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