October 16, 1851

Click on the image for a larger/readable version of the National Era

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

Transcription of Chapter 18, Part 2 and Chapter 19, Part I

Chapter XVIII.—Continued.[1]

Our friend Tom, who had been in the kitchen during the conversation with the old rusk woman, had followed her out into the street. He saw her go on, giving every once in a while a suppressed groan. At last she sat her basket down on a door-step, and began arranging the old, faded shawl which covered her shoulders.

“I’ll carry your basket a piece,” said Tom, compassionately.

“Why should ye?” said the woman. “I don’t want no help.”

“You seem to be sick, or in trouble, or somethin,” said Tom.

“I aint sick,” said the woman, shortly.

“I wish,” said Tom, looking at her earnestly, “I wish I could persuade you to leave off drinking. Don’t you know it will be the ruin of ye, body and soul?”

“I knows I’m gwine to torment,” said the woman, sullenly. “Ye don’t need to tell me that ar. “I’s ugly—I’s wicked—I’s gwine straight to torment. Oh, Lord! I wish I’s thar!”

Tom shuddered at these frightful words, spoken with a sullen, impassioned earnestness.

“Oh, Lord have mercy on ye! poor crittur. Haint ye never heard of Jesus Christ?”

“Jesus Christ—who’s he?”


Note 1

your muslins. ¶ Chapter XVIII.—Continued. ¶ “Our friend Tom, | Era pg. 165

your muslins. ¶ [omit] ¶ “Our friend Tom, | Jewett (1852) vol. 1, pg. 310

In the 16 October installment of the Era serial, chapter 18 resumes with a new scene. To close the previous installment, Miss Ophelia dismissed Jane and Rosa, who had been bantering with Adolph and Dinah, and the new installment opens with Tom, who follows Prue onto the street after she departs the St. Clare household. Because in the serial the previous installment ended and a new installment begins, subscribers waited a week before they could resume reading this chapter, and the passage in time probably enforced a sense that the chapter, though continuing, had passed the equivalent of a scene change or a section break.

For readers of the two-volume Jewett edition—or any printed volumes—the reading experience is radically different. At this moment, the shift from the domestic scene to the street blends smoothly together with Tom’s movement from one location to another: only a paragraph change marks the shift. And the material form of the book enforces the sense that one is at the midpoint of the book, as volume 1 ends on the following page. The shift from domestic scene to street is almost imperceptible, and readers of the Jewett edition (or any bound volume) have at least a general sense that one is near the midpoint of the book.

Contextual clues from the newspaper as a publication environment would lead readers to believe that Stowe’s work is nearly complete. Bailey in this installment announces that Stowe had reached an agreement with publisher John P. Jewett: “The stereotyping commences this week; and it will be corrected, complete, from the press, immediately after its close in the Era.” Era editor Gamaliel Bailey advertised fiction to entice new subscribers at the start of each calendar year, and he required subscribers to pay their 12-month subscription in advance. In October of 1851, Stowe’s readers could hardly imagine that the story is only half complete. [Back]

[Continue reading the remaining text of chapter 18 and beginning of chapter 19 here.]

Commentary by Hollis Robbins

Professor of Humanities at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University

After the chase scene, a gunfight, and the return to St. Clare’s household, Stowe continues Chapter 18….

In the first part of the chapter, “Miss Ophelia’s Experiences and Opinions,” we saw a selfish and perhaps only mildly brutal tale of a mistress demanding that her slave wait on her all hours of the night.  We also saw how Stowe’s narrator emphasized Ophelia’s and Uncle Tom’s shared interest in domestic economy.  Uncle Tom is uneasy at St. Clare’s wanton spending – as well he should be, since Shelby’s financial imprudence began the novel and necessitated the sale of Uncle Tom and little Harry.  Finally we saw the frivolity and indifference of the St. Clare house servants generally – unsympathetic characters created, Stowe suggests, by the particular conditions of slavery in the St. Clare household.

Chapter 17 ends with the departure of old Prue from Dinah’s kitchen.  Tom follows her and we hear brutal story of a mistress demanding that her slave wait on her all hours of the night.

Prue’s sorrowful tale would have been familiar to readers of abolitionist literature, which often featured stories of slave mothers kept as a breeder, whose own children were neglected or sold away, but Stowe particularizes Prue’s story to serve several narrative purposes.  Notice that Prue’s master was one of those fine, kind Kentucky men Stowe seemed to praise in previous chapters.  The selling of the slave children is sorrowful enough to raise sympathy in white mothers, but the final insult, the painful and audible death of a baby Prue hoped to keep, is heart-wrenching. Not only would white mothers know the anxiety of “losing one’s milk” but also many of them had most likely lost a child to illness, listening to its dying cries.

The episode of putting the crying infant out of earshot recollects the story of Hagar and Ishmael in Genesis 21:15-6, after Hagar, the slave/maidservant of Abraham (and mother of his child Ishmael), was sent by Abraham’s wife Sarah into the desert after the birth of Sarah’s son Isaac.  Hagar (called a ‘bondwoman’ in some translations) runs out of water in the desert and does not want to hear the cries of her dying son:

When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes.  Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob.

The figure of Hagar was used regularly by African American writers and artists who saw the obvious parallels between Hagar’s story and the suffering of too many female slaves before and after the Civil War. From sculptor Emonia Lewis to writes such as Frances Harper, Pauline Hopkins, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Richard Wright and Toni Morrison, Hagar became a primary literary figure for the suffering female slave.[1]

[1] Cf. Pauline Hopkins’s story, “Hagar’s Daughter: A Story of Southern Caste Prejudice,”

1901-02; sculptor Edmonia Lewis’s “Hagar in the Wilderness,” 1868;  Romare Bearden & Henderson, Harry. A History of African-American Artists from 1792 to the Present, Pantheon Books (Random House), 1993;  Hagar, Sarah, and Their Children: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives, Eds.  Phyllis Trible and Letty M. Russell, Westminster John Knox Press (March 2, 2006).

[Continue reading the full text of  Hollis Robbins’ 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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