A Note on the Text

A Note on the Text

By Dr. Wesley Raabe, Kent State University

Stowe’s work, as it is being published by the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center on Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the National Era, is the text that appeared in newspaper installments rather than John P. Jewett’s bestselling edition of 1852. The two texts differ, and readers who are familiar with reprints of Jewett’s two-volume edition will easily detect many such differences. The division into installments lessens the emphasis on the book’s chapters as discrete units, a handful of paragraphs appear in one text but not the other, three chapter divisions differ from that of the book, and one chapter has a misordered text, presumably because manuscript pages were shuffled. The majority of verbal differences, however, are less obvious and are only detectable by detailed textual comparison.

Through such comparison, one can see that several hundred words differ, and variance in other matters of verbal texture (punctuation, spelling, and capitalization) can be discerned. This republished text has notes to highlight major differences between the serial and book text. With each installment a selection of the more significant verbal differences receives comment. These sites of textual variation, of authorial revision or typographical error or publisher smoothing, foreground the material instability or fluidity of Stowe’s text. The textual notes are in the form of revision narratives, a method of interpretive reading that scholarly editor John Bryant has advocated. In The Fluid Text (2002), he argues that this method of explaining textual revision, more so than a scholarly apparatus of arcane symbols, invites readers to engage in the close study of texts as products of the author’s engagement with culture. As the number of small variants is immense and cannot be treated by revision narratives, the remainder of this introduction describes more general characteristics of textual difference and suggests ways to read and interpret them.

Though Stowe’s second thoughts (perhaps driven by suggestions from others) must account for many differences in wording between the National Era serial and Jewett edition, most differences are unlikely to reflect conscious will but instead the inescapable social facts of the textual condition. Stowe sent manuscript pages to National Era editor Gamaliel Bailey, and to set manuscript into newsprint is a hurried business. The newspaper’s editorial smoothing of Stowe’s text is less aggressive than one expects from a book publisher. Even had Stowe wished to review the typeset copy, she lived in Brunswick, Maine, over 500 miles from Bailey’s office in Washington D.C., and she did not visit the city during the serial run. Though distance prevented authorial supervision, the Era version is intriguing because it often follows Stowe’s surviving manuscript pages in small matters of wording, capitalization, spelling, and punctuation—at least more closely than the Jewett edition does. As Stowe’s manuscript (aside from a small number of extant pages) is lost, some evidence about the verbal texture of Stowe’s manuscript can be gleaned from the serial. The newspaper’s text is of primary concern for readers whose interest is what Stowe wrote, but assumptions about this text’s fidelity to the manuscript must be qualified. A significant complication is that the setting of the Jewett edition into type eventually moved ahead of the Era printing, so the final sets of installments of the newspaper serial may well be a reprinted text of the first printing of the book. With a nearly complete manuscript, a book publisher can prepare proofs so the author can review them for consistency, and publishers did so in the mid-nineteenth century. In contrast, it would be absurd to correct and republish previous newspaper installments and impose consistency of spelling or punctuation. It is an unavoidable aspect of the serial’s textual condition—and no vice.

For the benefit of contemporary readers of the Stowe Center text, a consideration of chapter designations can clarify Stowe’s composition. Stowe’s chapter titles lapse just after the serial’s midpoint, on 13 November 1852, and chapters are untitled until 11 March, just a week before the Jewett edition went on sale. The use of chapter titles on 11 March and later suggests that book copy may have begun to serve as source for the serial text, because the book was published on 20 March 1852. Just before the serial’s midpoint (16 and 23 October 1851), a differing chapter break in the Miss Ophelia section, a miss-numbered chapter, and the use of “Continued” make it difficult to reconcile the chapter number sequence of the two forms, so beginning with the 23 October 1851 installment—marked as a continuation of chapter 18 in serial but part of 19 in the book—a present-day reader who recalls Jewett chapters by number may reconcile chapter designations by remembering to add one to more familiar book chapter numbers. Do recall, however, that nineteenth-century National Era readers had no inconsistency to manage because the Jewett edition was not yet published. In early and middle chapters of the work the Era became the source for Jewett edition, independent manuscripts were probably prepared for later middle sections, and the Jewett edition became the source of serial installments in final chapters. Stowe’s attention may have been divided by the two publication forms because stereotyping had begun in mid-September as chapter 15 appeared in newspaper (see Era [18 Nov. 1851], 150). Because of the disparity in sources (manuscript and Jewett edition) and fact that serial text could not be proofed in its entirety, rigid consistency in spelling, capitalization, and punctuation should not be expected in the serial.

One will hardly notice such inconsistencies when reading, but some general characteristics of spelling and punctuation are detectable. Stowe’s informal manuscript spelling of contractions is common in the serial. Her “aint” (Jewett prints “an’t”) appears consistently, and her “wont” is present but far less common than the usual “won’t.” The serial overwhelmingly reflects Stowe’s preference for “oh” to “O” (30 to 1). Stowe’s spelling of dialect seeks to imitate pronunciation, and racial identity is less strongly marked by dialect than in the book. Stowe in manuscript generally does not use apostrophes to mark omitted letters from conventional spelling, and the serial followed her manuscript practice. The Jewett edition will often (but not always) have a printed apostrophe for a missing letter: “em” (for “them”) in the Era becomes “ ’em” in the Jewett edition; “meetin” becomes “meetin’ ”; and “tryin” becomes “tryin’.” Whether Stowe writes eye dialect (which may invite the reader to mock the speaker’s illiteracy) is a matter that should be referred to the serial edition text. Some instances of eye dialect may be typesetting errors.

Rather than bludgeon the reader with lists of punctuation variants, I will note general characteristics, but one type of variants, capitalization, deserves special attention because it contains political overtones. The Era has upper-case forms of “North” and “South” whereas the Jewett edition prints “north” and “south.” The newspaper capitalization may encourage stronger sectional identification. Also, the Era’s form “masser” becomes “Mas’r” in the book. The serial’s lower-case form casts doubt on the validity of the title. In general, the serial punctuation is more light. The Era text has some 2,000 fewer commas, 10 percent less than the book, so many clauses marked as nonrestrictive in the book are restrictive clauses in the serial. An example is highlighted in Mrs. Shelby’s discussion of selling slaves (26 June 1851). Stowe’s use of the em dash in manuscript and serial is particularly flexible. She uses these marks as readily as single quotes to mark reported speech, and she also separates complete clauses with the em dash. The serial has some 400 additional em dashes (10 percent more) than the book, and some longer em dashes (two-em or three-em in length) mark a speaker’s hesitations as thematically weighty. Two examples are Uncle Tom’s anguish over his children (26 June) and the slave catcher Marks’s cowardice (17 July). Though serial punctuation is undoubtedly lighter and less formal—and in some instances faulty—the serial punctuation is adequate and in some cases more suggestive. Because the serial does not have the now dated comma followed by the em dash (“,—”) the newspaper’s texture of punctuation may read as more modern. While this textual note may only glance at possibilities for intensive study, readers who have studied the language of the Jewett edition are invited to consider how the serial text may alter their understanding of Stowe’s text.

The transcription of the Era on this site observes the following principles. First, the prose is re-set, so line breaks are not recorded. As a corollary, hyphens that mark division of words at the end of the line have been removed, unless the word is a compound that is typically printed in hyphenated form in the Era or the Jewett edition (for unique words). Second, verse lines are set as block quotes and indentation recorded. But lines may be reset for browser display. Third, text is transcribed on a character-by-character basis, but ligatured letters (for example, fi) which some browsers and fonts render improperly, are not encoded. Finally, the text has two classes of obvious errors. Errors that are deemed obvious to a reader of the serial (a nonsensical spelling, repeated word) are corrected silently in text aside from first one in installment, which is noted and includes list of other obvious errors. Other errors that are only obvious by comparison to the Jewett edition are addressed as to matter of probable error and to matter of interpretive significance.

Though I have marked and provided commentary on textual variants, I have not provided explanatory annotation of Stowe’s references to historical persons, places, or quotations, unless those references are unique to the serial. Readers who seek capacious explanatory comment are advised to consult one of the well-annotated reprints of the Jewett edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Norton (2010, 2nd ed.), edited by Elizabeth Ammons; Norton (2007) edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Hollis Robbins; or Broadview (2009), edited by Christopher G. Diller. Susan Belasco and Barbara Hochman, both of whom participate in this Stowe Center project, have published on Stowe’s Era serial, and readers are encouraged to consult their work on the newspaper as a publication venue. I have offered an alternate textual introduction to the serial, one that emphasizes newspaper as publication form, on the Uncle Tom’s Cabin & American Culture site. The most detailed analysis of textual variants between serial and Jewett edition, including chapter numbering and titles, is E. Bruce Kirkham’s The Building of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1977). I value the contributions of these scholars, but my views have been shaped by the belief that the serial text offers access to a version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin with greater emphasis on Stowe’s individuality, as she spoke with passionate intensity to a serial audience that she believed shared many of her antislavery sentiments. Stowe’s work, I trust, is not harmed for new readers who encounter the serial rather than the Jewett edition—and serious readers may enjoy this alternate version of the text as their initial encounter, despite its specialized but (I hope) humane apparatus. Stowe’s text as a multifaceted textual object has not often excited the attention of scholars, but this project’s detailed account of wording differences, of fluidity between these two versions of the text, invites scholarly readers especially to reconsider the complexity of the literary work by the Stowe that they think they know.

Works Cited

The list below provides full publication information for cited works in the textual introduction and in revision narratives at the end of each installment.

Belasco Smith, Susan. “Serialization and the Nature of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Periodical Literature in Nineteenth-Century America. Edited by Susan Belasco Smith and Kenneth M. Price. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995), 69-89

Gilmore, Michael T., “Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the American Renaissance: the Sacramental Aesthetic of Harriet Beecher Stowe.” Cambridge Companion to Harriet Beecher Stowe. Edited by Cindy Weinstein. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

Harrold, Stanley, Gamaliel Bailey and Antislavery Union (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1986).

Hochman, Barbara, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the National Era: An Essay in Generic Norms and the Contexts of Reading,” Book History 7 (2004): 143—169.

Kirkham, E. Bruce, The building of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. 1st ed. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1977).

Morgan, Jo-Ann, Uncle Tom’s Cabin as Visual Culture. (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2007).

Robbins, Sarah, “ Gendering the History of Antislavery Narrative: Juxtaposing Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Benito Cereno, Beloved and Middle Passage,” American Quarterly 49 (1997): 531-73.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher, Uncle Tom’s Cabin: or, Life Among the Lowly, National Era, June 5, 1851—Apr. 1, 1852. Edited by Wesley Raabe. Uncle Tom’s Cabin & American Culture. (Charlottesville: Stephen Railton; Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities; Electronic Text Center, 2006), http://utc.iath.virginia.edu/uncletom/erahp.html.

Copyright 2011. For introduction and annotation, all rights reserved. The text is distributed under a Creative Commons License.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin: National Era by Harriet Beecher Stowe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.personal.kent.edu/~wraabe/copyright_commons_license.htm.


Chapter and Commentary Table of Contents

2 responses to “A Note on the Text

  • Jon Miller

    Thanks for this, I enjoyed it.

    I noticed a “yr” in the second column of the June 6 installment. This could be Haley’s dialect, but at the bottom of the column he speaks “your.” Would this be an abbreviation from Stowe’s manuscript, that the typesetter mechanically copied?

    • nationalera

      Nice catch. It could be in the MS as an abbreviation or as indicator of Haley’s dialect. Or it could be an error in transcription, either by Stowe or the National Era compositor. I did not correct it because I did not think it interfered with understanding. And it is in keeping with Haley’s somewhat less correct speech in the serial. In serial Haley has more dialect forms and more missing apostrophes. I’m nearly certain this MS page is not extant. I checked my transcription files using a concordance. It is a unique form that does not appear elsewhere in serial or in Jewett first edition. So an emending editor could be justified in classifying it as an error.

      Wesley Raabe

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