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Pictures and Stories from Uncle Tom’s Cabin

By Abigail Greif Kantorovich

In 1853, merely a year after the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the form of a two volume novel, a children’s adaptation appeared. Pictures and Stories from Uncle Tom’s Cabin includes adapted parts of the complete text, in prose and verse, as well as illustrations. Its preface clearly states that it is meant for both young readers, who can access the text independently, as well as children who can not yet read and require the mediation of a parent or a sibling.

The appearance of Pictures and Stories, and the fact that its audience is so clearly specified, implies a social change in the perception of novels which took place in the nineteenth century: novels were becoming a more respectable form of literature. The publication of Pictures and Stories so soon after the publication of the novel indicates that Uncle Tom’s Cabin in particular was perceived not only as appropriate, but also as having a particular relevance for children. However, an adaptation implies that the full text is not, for whatever reason, appropriate for them, and that there is a need to make changes in order to create a text that children can and should be exposed to – with the mediation of family.

This change in assumptions about children’s reading is part of a social change in the perception of children and childhood more broadly. In 1831 Lydia Maria Child’s The Mother’s Book was published, as one of the first child rearing manuals in the United States. The publication of such a book has two significant implications: that children, as a population, have certain needs that should be met by their mother, and that all aspects of maternity might not be natural and instinctive, but can and should also be discussed and taught. This places the emphasis in child rearing on education, teaching and discipline, rather than simply love.

 In 1839 came the Child Custody Act, which determined that in case of divorce children under the age of 7 would be in the custody of their mothers, rather than fathers. This new law is significant for understanding the change in the concept of a child: if before this act children were considered the property of the father, they were now beginning to be seen as individuals with emotional and physical needs. The act granted the mother custody because it was thought best for the child. In other words, the Act put the children’s needs before those of their parents; the child gained priority over matters of ownership and property. Thus, if children were perceived as people rather than property – and people whose needs differ from those of adults – then literature needed to be adapted to them, and not the other way around.

Pictures and Stories adapts Uncle Tom’s Cabin to children in two ways: form and content. It is printed in large, bold fonts, in order to make it easy for young children to read, and it has been adapted to the “understanding of the youngest reader” in terms of content. Children’s needs, as reflected in the text, include the simplification of the language and the explanation of specific terms, such as “Quakers”, or “Canada”. 

Harriet Beecher Stowe is said to have taken part in the writing of this particular adaptation. There is no concrete proof to confirm or refute this claim, and Stowe’s involvement in the adaptation, or lack thereof, continues to occupy scholars. But Stowe’s composition of the preface indicates that whether she took an active part in the adaptation or not, she approved of it and was willing to participate in it by addressing its intended readers.

             The difference between Pictures and Stories and Uncle Tom’s Cabin also create changes in the meaning of the original: if Uncle Tom’s Cabin in addressing its readers implies that slavery destroys the natural and instinctive love between parents and children by separating them, Pictures and Stories conveys a somewhat different, more didactic messages, to children – that they must listen to their parents, be respectful and disciplined and earn their parents’ love. This message is conveyed throughout the entire adaptation and its most distinct example is in the representation of Topsy’s metamorphosis from a wild, unruly little liar into a disciplined, well-behaved and loving child. This change occurs in both texts, but the route to change is different in each. 

After Eva’s death in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Ophelia promises to love Topsy, and “try and help [her] to grow up a good Christian child” (259). Then, and only then, does Topsy finally “[improve] greatly” (268). The fact that Ophelia promises to love Topsy before she finally succeeds in turning her into a good child is significant, since it suggests that love is the tool for the transformation, rather than its outcome, and is necessary for changes to take place. By contrast, child rearing manuals of the time imply that love should be earned rather than simply given to children naturally, and that teaching a child requires discipline and strictness rather than simply affection.

In her attempts to transform Topsy in Pictures and Stories, Eva tells Topsy “how Christ came down to shed his blood” since “none ever taught her so before” (27). The underlying assumption here is that Topsy behaves badly since she simply does not know any better and that she can easily be taught, and only then will it be possible to love her. In Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Topsy can not be taught successfully until she is loved.

These differences in the way Topsy’s metamorphosis is presented may be the result of the difference in the intended audience. The full-length Uncle Tom’s Cabin was intended for family reading, but young children necessarily heard it read aloud by  the parent, and the issue of a child’s behavior is only one among many. Pictures and Stories intends first and foremost to educate its young readers on more than Quakers and Canada: it aims to show them that being good pays off: it earns them their parents’ love. 


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.]

The Death of Little Eva on Stage

Please enjoy a deeper look at the interpretation of Little Eva’s death on the stage, by guest blogger, John Frick-Professor at the University of Virginia Department of Drama.

John Frick is currently writing the book, Staging Tom: Uncle Tom’s Cabin on the American Stage and Screen. He has written numerous articles, edited books and journals, and written other books on theatre. While in New York, he worked Off-Off Broadway as a dramaturg and as a stage manager with theatre and dance companies.


The Death of Little Eva on Stage

No sooner had the serialized version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin appeared in the abolitionist journal The National Era than enterprising theatrical managers, realizing the potential popularity of Mrs. Stowe’s masterwork, contracted their house playwrights to adapt the story for the stage.  And since copyright laws did not yet exist, playwrights were not required to adhere to Mrs. Stowe’s narrative.  As a result, many of the dramatic changes to the original story were sensational and changed forever how both the serial publication and the novel were perceived.   Among the sensation scenes in the theatrical Uncle Toms were Eliza’s flight across the ice-coveredOhio River chased by a pack of vicious dogs; a river boat race which ended with one of the ships catching fire and sinking; a Grand Apotheosis following the death of Tom; and Little Eva’s death scene and subsequent ascension into Heaven.

As written by Stowe, the death of Little Eva – her actual dying and not the illness leading up to it – was an event that covered just a page of the narrative.  Sad as it was, it was over quickly.  The text states simply,  “A Bright, a glorious smile passed over her face, and she said, brokenly, — ‘O! love, — joy, — peace!’  gave one sigh, and passed from death unto life.” {p. 257}.  In the hands of theatrical entrepreneurs, however, Stowe’s simple death scene was transformed into one of the dramatic high points of Uncle Tom’s Cabin on stage – a scene that was expected and eagerly anticipated by audiences at one of the myriad Tom shows of the latter half of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth.   Arguably the most common way of sensationalizing Eva’s death was to have her, following her demise, ascend into heaven where she was met by a host of angels.   The actual ascension was effected by lifting Eva from her death bed with invisible piano wire and having her float in the midst of a hovering celestial choir, enclosed in an intermixture of gauze drops.  When Eva’s ascension was performed by the best professionals in well-equipped theatres, the scene was accomplished efficiently and was magical; but in the hands of lesser performers, frequently the result was disastrous.  In one mid-western opera house, for example, Eva got stuck halfway into the flys during her ascension scene because the rigging system was rotting and the next day the critic for the local newspaper reported that as the actress dangled precariously in midair, the angelic child was heard to utter some “un-Eva” like language.

As Uncle Tom’s Cabin moved into the modern era, the old-fashioned method of hoisting Eva out of her bed using a rope and pulley system was considered too antiquated for an updated production and twentieth-century producers began to experiment with alternative methods of getting Eva into Heaven.  In 1901, William A. Brady hid Heaven and the angels behind a scrim (a loosely woven fabric that, when lit from the front appears solid, but when light is shifted from front to back, appears to dissolve allowing the spectator to see through it) to be revealed at the end of the scene as Eva quietly died and dissolved behind the scrim.  And, instead of having the actress playing Eva return from the dead to appear with the rest of the cast for the curtain call, Brady had the actor playing Uncle Tom carry Eva’s body to the footlights.

As Uncle Tom moved further into the twentieth century and became the subject of nine movies, the realism that was emerging in both theatre and film was evident.  The two earliest films of Uncle Tom’s Cabin – one by pioneer director Edwin S. Porter in 1903 and a second by Siegmund Lubin also in 1903 – adopted the nineteenth-century staging of Eva’s ascension, employing the time-honored Tom show technique of hoisting Eva to Heaven on cables from above; but Porter eclipsed all of his theatrical predecessors by filming it with a double exposure.  In his Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a ghostly angel descends, appears to lift Eva’s spirit from her body and ascends again to Heaven with it.  38   The effect created was of Eva’s soul ascending to Heaven while her body remained behind in her bed.   And, since Lubin’s film was an exact copy of Porter’s in practically all respects, Eva’s ascension was effected in the same manner.

Beginning with J. Stuart Blackton’s cinematic Uncle Tom’s Cabin for Vitagraph in 1910, Eva’s death and ascension became noticeably more realistic.  Blackton significantly expanded Eva‘s death scene and departed from the rope and pulley staging tradition utilized on both stage and early film.  Unlike the “cinematic” treatment of the earlier films, Vitagraph’s version showed unmistakable signs of an emerging realism in film-making. The scene was the longest of the entire film and the playing time of the scene was closer to “real” time.  The grouping of characters around Eva’s bed, rather than being on the same plane as was the case with the 1903 movies, was multi-leveled and displayed depth; while the double-exposure angel was eliminated.  And, finally, Eva’s ascension into heaven – a prominent and much-publicized event in Tom shows since the beginning – was omitted.  Instead, Eva simply fell back on the bed and her body remained where it fell.   When more realistic stagings were employed in later films, the rope and pulley system of hoisting Eva to Heaven was abandoned.

During its illustrious 80+ year existence (from 1852 until the mid-1930s), the role of Little Eva was one coveted by child actresses and one which was inhabited by some of the most famous actresses of the American stage.  These included Minnie Maddern Fiske, Maude Adams, Mary Pickford, Bijou Heron, and May West to list some of the better-known performers.  Arguably, however, the most famous Little Eva of all time was 7 year old Cordelia Howard, the daughter of George Howard, who commissioned the writing of the most famous stage version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Caroline Fox Howard, the actress who popularized Topsy.  Little Cordelia played Eva to rave reviews from 1852 until 1861 when she retired permanently from the stage. Since her retirement, all Evas that followed have been measured against Cordelia Howard.

Note:  The citation is from the Norton Critical Edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, ed. Elizabeth Ammons (New

York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1994).

November 6, 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 19

Chapter XIX.—Topsy.

One morning, while Miss Ophelia was busy in some of her domestic cares, St. Clare’s voice was heard, calling her at the foot of the stairs.

“Come down here, Cousin, I’ve something to show you.”

“What is it?” said Miss Ophelia, coming down with her sewing in her hand.

“I’ve made a purchase for your department; see here,” said St. Clare; and, with the word, he pulled along a little negro girl, about eight or nine years of age.

She was one of the blackest of her race, and her round, shining eyes, glittering as glass beads, moved with quick and restless glances over everything in the room. Her mouth, half open with astonishment at the wonders of the new mass’r’s parlor, displayed a white and brilliant set of teeth. Her woolly hair was braided in sundry little tails, which stuck out in every direction. The expression of her face was an odd mixture of shrewdness and cunning, over which was oddly drawn, like a kind of veil, an expression of the most doleful gravity and solemnity. She was dressed in a single filthy, ragged garment, made of bagging, and stood with her hands demurely folded before her. Altogether, there was something odd and goblin-like about her appearance—something, as Miss Ophelia afterwards said, “so heathenish,” as to inspire that good lady with utter dismay; and turning to St. Clare, she said—

“Augustine, what in the world have you brought that thing here for?”

“For you to educate, to be sure, and train in the way she should go. I thought she was rather a funny specimen in the Jim Crow line. Here, Topsy,” he added, giving a whistle, as a man would, to call the attention of a dog, “give us a song, now, and show us some of your dancing.”

The black, glassy eyes glittered with a kind of wicked drollery, and the thing struck up, in a clear, shrill voice, an odd negro melody, to which she kept time with her hands and feet, spinning round, clapping her hands, knocking her knees together, in a wild, fantastic sort of time, and producing in her throat all those odd guttural sounds which distinguish the native music of her race; and finally, turning a summerset or two, and giving a prolonged closing note, as odd and unearthly as that of a steam whistle, she came suddenly down on the carpet, and stood with her hands folded, and a most sanctimonious expression of meekness and solemnity over her face, only broken by the cunning glances which she shot askance from the corners of her eyes.

Miss Ophelia stood silent, perfectly paralyzed with amazement.

[Continue reading the full text of chapter 19, here.]

Commentary by David Reynolds

Distinguished Professor of English and American Studies Baruch College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

This chapter introduces us to one of the most memorable characters in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Topsy, who exemplifies Stowe’s strategy of redirecting images from a popular entertainment form of her day, the minstrel show, toward a protest against slavery.  Minstrel performers were whites who smeared their faces with burnt cork and spoke in an exaggerated version of what was considered the dialect of the “plantation darkey” (Jim Crow) or the “northern dandy negro” (Zip Coon).    Earlier in the novel, Stowe had described Eliza Harris’s young son, Harry, who is called by his master “Jim Crow,” cutting capers and singing a humorous song.  But behind the apparent fun are pathos and imminent tragedy.  The comic performer is not a white man in blackface but an enslaved child whose innocence makes his prospect of being sold away from his mother truly alarming.

Topsy also illustrates Stowe directing minstrel devices toward an exposure of the cruelties of slavery.  At first glance, Topsy seems to have walked straight off the minstrel stage into the novel.   St. Clare presents her as “rather a funny specimen in the Jim Crow line.”  At his command, she does a weird dance that involves contortions, spinning, clapping, and making guttural sounds. Topsy becomes noted in the household for “every species of drollery, grimace, and mimicry,–for dancing, tumbling, climbing, singing, whistling, imitating every sound that hit her fancy.”  Her behavior recalls the antics that Thomas Dartmouth Rice (the original “Jim Crow” of the minstrel stage) had introduced in the 1830s with his trademark bizarre dance step, later developed by popular minstrel troupes who gyrated, made funny faces, and sang nonsense songs, driving their white audiences wild with hilarity.  It’s understandable that when the Topsy character was later developed in Tom shows, minstrel acts, and films, she became a stock figure of wild silliness, the ancestor of slapstick comedians.

In the novel, she possesses minstrel-like qualities along with far richer qualities.  Her rebellious naughtiness typifies minstrelsy, as does the racial stereotyping associated with her ignorance.  But within Stowe’s apparently amusing depiction of Topsy are powerful messages about slavery, religion, and racial prejudice. Topsy is a vehicle for Stowe’s idea that enslaved blacks, even when they were thoroughly dehumanized, are capable of profound human feeling that can obliterate racial barriers.  When Topsy announces that she “never was born” but “just grow’d,” we laugh, but on another level we feel the same kind of pity that we feel for Frederick Douglass, who reports in his Narrative that as a child he, like many other enslaved blacks, was barred from knowing basic facts such as his birthday or the identity of his father.  Our pity grows when Topsy courts punishment by stealing small household items. She expects to be whipped. “I spects it’s good for me,” she says.  She jokes about Ophelia’s feeble lashings, which she says “‘wouldn’t kill a skeeter,’” and adds, “‘Oughter see how old Mas’r made the flesh fly; old Mas’r know’d how!’” This is comical but at the same time appalling.  Repeated torture has inured this child to the horror of the slaveholder’s whip.

[Continue reading the full text of  David Reynolds’ 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!

Have you missed a deadline?

As Melissa Homestead stated in her Sunday commentary, Stowe faced some difficulties while writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin for the National Era. She was pursuing writing while running a large household and writing installments for her story week-by-week. Also, imagine handwriting manuscripts that needed to travel over 500 miles to reach their destination on top of everything else. Three  installments did not make it to the Era by their deadline.

There were deadlines in 1851 and there are deadlines now. How do deadlines impact our lives today? At a time when information can move from one person to another with the click of a button, is there more pressure to meet deadlines?

Share your story with us! What has kept you from meeting a deadline or what is your secret to avoiding this quandary?  Leave us your comment!

Meet the Bloggers

Who is providing the commentary each week along with Stowe’s story?

Scholars from around the globe have come together to take a deeper look into the life of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  Blogger commentary is included with each installment for the re-release of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the National Era.


Find out more about each guest contributor in Guest Blogger Profiles



Uncle Tom’s Cabin re-released in its original format



Beginning June 5, 2011, look for weekly installments of Stowe’s best-seller on line for 44 weeks; following the identical format to The National Era. Each installment will include an introduction by a Stowe scholar, historian or a fan.

Readers are encouraged to comment!

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s best known novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), changed forever how Americans viewed slavery, the system that treated people as property. It demanded that the United States deliver on the promise of freedom and equality, galvanized the abolition movement and contributed to the outbreak of the Civil War. The book calls on us to confront the legacy of race relations in the U.S. as the title itself became a racial slur.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was initially released in serial format in the National Era, a weekly newspaper, from June 5, 1851-April 1, 1852. Stowe enlisted friends and family to send her information and scoured freedom narratives and anti-slavery newspapers for first hand accounts as she composed her story.

In 1852 the serial was published as a two volume book. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a runaway best-seller, selling 10,000 copies in the United States in its first week; 300,000 in the first year; and 1.5 million copies internationally in one year. It resonates with an international audience as a protest novel and literary work.

Readers can receive e-mail updates for this historic release by subscribing to the blog on the right hand side of the page.

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