September 18, 1851

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Image and link courtesy of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center-Hartford, CT

Transcription of Chapter 15

Chapter XV.—Of Tom’s new master, and various other matters.

Since the thread of our humble hero’s life has now become interwoven with that of higher ones, it is necessary to give some brief introduction to them.

Augustine St. Clare was the son of a wealthy planter of Louisiana. The family had its origin in Canada. Of two brothers, very similar in temperament and character, one had settled on a flourishing farm in Vermont, and the other became an opulent planter in Louisiana. The mother of Augustine was a Huguenot French lady, whose family had emigrated to Louisiana during the days of its early settlement. Augustine and another brother were the only children of their parents. Having inherited from his mother an exceeding delicacy of constitution, he was, at the instance of physicians, during many years of his boyhood sent to the care of his uncle in Vermont, in order that his constitution might be strengthened by the cold of a more bracing climate. In childhood, he was remarkable for an extreme and marked sensitiveness of character, more akin to the softness of woman than the ordinary hardness of his own sex. Time, however, overgrew this softness with the rough bark of manhood, and but few knew how living and fresh it still lay at the core. His talents were of the very first order, although his mind showed a preference always for the ideal and the æsthetic, and there was about him that repugnance to the actual business of life which is the common result of this balance of the faculties. Soon after the completion of his college course, his whole nature was kindled into one intense and passionate effervescence of romantic passion. His hour came—the hour that comes only once; his star rose in the horizon—that star that rises so often in vain, to be remembered only as a thing of dreams—and it rose for him in vain. To drop the figure, he saw and won the love of a high-minded and beautiful woman in one of the Northern States; and they were affianced. He returned South to make arrangements for their marriage, when, most unexpectedly, his letters were returned to him by mail, with a short note from her guardian, stating to him that ere this reached him the lady would be the wife of another. Stung to madness, he vainly hoped, as many another has done, to fling the whole thing from his heart by one desperate effort. Too proud to supplicate or seek explanation, he threw himself at once into a whirl of fashionable society, and in a fortnight from the time of the fatal letter was the accepted lover of the reigning belle of the season; and as soon as arrangements could be made, he became the husband of a fine figure, a pair of bright dark eyes, and a hundred thousand dollars—and of course everybody thought him a happy fellow.

[Continue reading the full text of chapter 15 here.]

Commentary by Catherine Clinton

Chair Professor of U.S. History at Queen’s University Belfast

When Tom is on the riverboat after being sold down the river, Stowe introduces readers to a cast of formulaic characters reflecting popular images of Deep South  slaveholders, having dealt with the horrors of the upper South and the slave markets .   Augustine St. Claire possesses some typical and familiar traits: he is the son of a wealthy planter in Louisiana, he is never punctual and remains easygoing no matter what the occasion. At first, he does not seem driven by the greed of others sullying themselves with slavery, but is portrayed as a man in a bad marriage, a union concocted when he was on the rebound from a broken heart—giving us a sense of his personal flaws plus his faults as a representative of his race and class.

Yet Augustine is given a few twists, including Yankee origins which give him Canadian roots and Vermont relations, to play off against his deep South sensibilities—which offers Stowe opportunity for showcasing sectional and moral conflict. As the North and the South battle it out through characters related by blood, but dramatically opposed in terms of their attitudes toward slavery (but perhaps not towards racial inferiority, it is hinted).

But even more exaggerated and stereotypical, Augustine’s wife Marie St. Claire is portrayed as a  semi-invalid, a mother whose “ceaseless ennui and discontent, united to the ordinary weakness which attended the period of maternity, in course of a few years changed the blooming young belle into a yellow, faded, sickly woman.”  Again, she is branded as a corruption of her environment, someone who was condemned by being surrounded from birth “with servants, who lived only to study her caprices.”  Stowe portrays her as someone damaged, but who also wreaks havoc, as “there is not on earth a more merciless exactor of love from others than a thoroughly selfish woman.”

But Eva, the product of their union, is portrayed in ethereal, symbolic terms—as a child craving goodness and starved of genuine care and true love.

[Continue reading the full text of Catherine Clinton’s commentary here.]

How did Stowe connect this chapter to real-life stories? Find out here!

Check out the top news stories, this week in 1851, here!

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