March 18, 1852

Transcription of Chapters 39 to 41

Chapter XL.—The Young Master.

Two days after, a young man drove a light wagon up through the avenue of China trees, and, throwing the reins hastily on the horse’s neck, sprang out, and inquired for the owner of the place.

It was George Shelby; and to show how he came to be there, we must go back in our story.

The letter of Miss Ophelia to Mrs. Shelby had, by some unfortunate accidents, been detained for a month or two at some remote post office before it reached its destination, and, of course, before they could read it, Tom was already lost to their view among the distant swamps of the Red River.

Mrs. Shelby read the intelligence with the deepest concern; but any immediate action upon it was an impossibility. She was then in attendance upon the sick bed of her husband, who lay delirious in the crisis of a fever. Master George Shelby, who in the interval had changed from a boy to a tall youth, was her constant and faithful assistant, and her only reliance in superintending his father’s affairs. Miss Ophelia had taken the precaution to send them the name of the lawyer who did business for the St. Clares; and the most that in the emergency could be done, was to address a letter of inquiry to him. The sudden death of Mr. Shelby, a few days after, brought, of course, an absorbing pressure of other interests for a season.

Mr. Shelby showed his confidence in his wife’s ability, by appointing her sole executrix upon his estates; and thus immediately a large and complicated amount of business was brought upon her hands.

Mrs. Shelby, with characteristic energy, applied herself to the work of straightening the entangled web of affairs; and she and George were for some time occupied with collecting and examining accounts, selling property, and settling debts; for Mrs. Shelby was determined that everything should be brought into tangible and recognisable shape, let the consequences to her prove what they might.

[Continue reading the full text of part 2 of chapter 39, chapter 40, and part 1 of chapter 41, here.]

Commentary by Wesley Raabe

Assistant Professor, Kent State University

In his 1895 memoir, William Dean Howells, one of the leading American writers of his era, recalls reading Stowe’s novel in his youth as it “came out week after week in the old National Era, and I broke my heart over Uncle Tom’s Cabin, as every one else did.”[1] To the delight of readers as enthusiastic about Stowe’s work as the young Howells, publisher John P. Jewett in an Era advertisement on 11 March had promised that Stowe’s book “will be ready march 20” and available from the “principal booksellers in the United States.”[2] Doubtless many of the earliest copies of Jewett’s edition went into the hands of Era subscribers—impatient readers who chose not to wait a week, or two, and instead sought one of the 10,000 copies of the book that would be sold before Stowe’s story completed its serial run. To imagine the experience of such readers, those who read the ending in the Jewett edition before the serial installment arrived in the mail this week, the next, or the next can alert us to the complexities of reading Stowe’s work in multiple publication forms.

The readers who purchased a copy of the Jewett edition before the serial installment arrived no doubt quickly found their way to the top of page 273 in the second volume, where chapter 40 picked up from the 11 March installment. But for readers who knew the work as a series of weekly installments, the chapter number must have prompted some questions—because the Jewett edition’s “chapter 39,” entitled “The Martyr,” a chapter which had begun on 11 March, was numbered chapter 40 in the Era. In this 18 March installment, the serial reader would find the remainder of that chapter; chapter 40, “The Young Master”; and part of chapter 41, “An Authentic Ghost Story.” Perhaps some dedicated readers eventually figured how the chapters came to be renumbered, but many may have surrendered to the inevitability of misprints and errors or decided to trust the book as the more likely product of the author’s careful consideration. But if readers today consider closely this moment in the text’s publication history—when some members of Stowe’s audience had two versions of her text before them—we might recognize that the antislavery reader that Stowe anticipates in the Era is somewhat different than the reader she anticipates in the Jewett edition.

Notes are available on the full-length post. See link to full text below.

[Continue reading the full text of Wesley Raabe’s commentary here.]

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