Chapters 22 & 23: Comment by Judie Newman

Henrique’s visit to the Saint Clare household is absolutely central to the novel, as its position close to the centre of all the instalments emphasises. It marks the turning point for Eva, whose death is appreciably hastened if not actually caused by the visit. Yet neither Henrique nor his slave Dodo ever reappears in the story. Augustine (clearly hoping to promote a match between the cousins) makes one reference to a planned reciprocal visit to his brother’s plantation, but by that time it is too late and Eva is dying. Uncle Tom tells Ophelia that he will be watching at Eva’s door, for “the bridegroom cometh” (Matthew 25:6), but it is death which comes in Henrique’s place. In this chapter Stowe emphasises the erotic potential of the meeting of the two cousins, in fairly obvious symbolism. Pure, unsullied Eva, on a white pony, returns from her ride with her cousin (on a black pony which has recently rolled in dirt), flushed, panting and breathing hard, declaring that she quite forgot to be careful because she was enjoying herself so much. Throughout the ages, the horse has been a conventional symbol of the passions, with control of the horse a code for self-control and the ability to master baser desires. Henrique, tempestuous and with no self-control, wielding his whip mercilessly against his slave Dodo at his very first appearance, features as a future demon bridegroom. Two days later Eva has begun to fail rapidly, over stimulated by Henrique’s visit.

While the modern reader may wonder if Stowe simply kills Eva off, like many angelic Victorian heroines, to save her from “a fate worse than death” – carnal knowledge – things are rather more complicated. The focus of the chapter is on Eva’s womanhood in relation to slavery. Is a woman, once married, also a slave? If Henrique and Eva had married could she have protected his slaves? The law would have given her no power to save them from abuse. Even here, she does not intervene as Dodo is beaten and her arguments fall on decidedly deaf ears until the close of the chapter, when Henrique (flushed and clearly smitten by her charms) does appear to be converted, if only temporarily, to the need for Christian love. In Henrique’s forename, however, Stowe evokes a more ominous future, together with a grim past. The name, hardly a common one for the offspring of a planter with Northern origins, is Portuguese, reminding the reader of the long history of Atlantic slavery, which effectively began when  Henrique the Navigator (1394-1460) brought the first slaves from Africa to be sold in the market in Lagos in Portugal, in 1444.

In addition it strongly suggests parallels with one of the first antislavery novels. Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda’s Sab (1841), opens as Enrique arrives at a Cuban plantation to court Carlota, the daughter of its proprietor Don Carlos. Horses loom large in the novel, in which the parallel between slave and horse is emphasised. The slave hero, Sab, a coachman, remarks that only his horse is not ashamed to love him, both of them having been born to servitude. Enrique has poor control of his horse; he has to be saved from a near fatal fall by Sab who (like Uncle Tom, also employed as a coachman in the Saint Clare household) has an affinity for horses and exercises control over them. Sab takes one look at Enrique and immediately wonders what Carlota’s fate will be once married. Enrique, ruthlessly materialistic, is contrasted with Don Carlos, an overindulgent father who permits Carlota to marry only because when he opposes the match she becomes dangerously ill. His brother, Agustín, promptly disinherits her. Unlike the Cuban Agustín, Stowe’s Augustine is more akin to Don Carlos, described as “one of those peaceful and indolent men who do not know how to do evil, nor to go to great lengths to do good.” (p. 41) 1 When Don Carlos suffers financial losses, Enrique is about to jilt Carlota until Sab (who has won a lottery) provides the money for her dowry, thus effectively enabling her to sell herself to Enrique. In essence Carlota becomes an object of exchange, bought and sold like a slave. As Sab reflects in a letter, a slave may change masters or become free, but a woman is a slave forever. Just as Eva gave away locks of her hair, Carlota makes a present of a bracelet of her hair, an apt symbol of her manacled, female status. Like Eva, Carlota appears as an angelic vision, pure and full of love, but she is also depicted as far too innocent. She resolves that when she marries Enrique “no unhappy soul around will breathe the poisonous air of slavery. We will give all our blacks their freedom. “(p. 57). But once they are married no such event occurs, just as Eva’s requests to her father to set his slaves free, remain unanswered. Indeed when Enrique gets hold of her father’s entire legacy, he refuses to hear her pleas on behalf of her disinherited sisters, and treats her as a child who understands nothing of the laws of commerce. Carlota becomes a wretchedly unhappy wife, while Enrique devotes himself entirely to business.

Stowe had an example before her of the problems of marriage to a slave-owner,  in the story of her aunt, Mary Foote Hubbard, who married a Caribbean planter (in Jamaica) but left him within a year, revolted by the number of his slave children and the cruelties of the system. According to Stowe’s family, her health was undermined by the mental anguish she suffered at the scenes of cruelty that she witnessed. In “Foreshadowings” Eva says that the sorrows of the slaves have always sunk into her heart, as she begs her father to free his slaves.  Eva is named for Augustine’s mother who also attempted to influence her husband to be kinder to his slaves, again ineffectually, despite her own suffering. Saint Clare’s father thought of Africans as an intermediate link between man and animal. In the incident which opens the chapter Dodo is the link between Henrique and his horse and is treated as an animal by Henrique, who finds the idea that anyone could love a slave frankly astonishing. As a recently acquired slave Dodo is being “broken in”, just as Henrique might break in an untamed horse. Not much has changed in three generations of the family – and slavery appears to be as entrenched as in the days of the Portuguese.

In calling Sab to mind, Stowe could not have been unaware of the ways in which slavery and economics were intertwined in the example of Cuba. The successful slave uprising in Haiti (then St Domingue) took it out of the sugar trade, with many French planters fleeing from Haiti to Cuba, which prospered as a result – and had to import tens of thousands more slaves. Just as novels link to other novels so slavery offers a web of connections across the globe. The scenes between Henrique and Eva bookend a conversation between Alfred and Augustine which expands from the small domestic focus of the family visit to suggest  much broader international implications . The setting is a house built in French, Spanish and Moorish style, surrounded by Arabian jessamines, in Louisiana (formerly French and Spanish, American since 1812); the argument brings in France and Haiti; the brothers’ family was originally from Canada; Augustine’s mother was of French Huguenot extraction; even Henrique’s horse is an Arabian, recently imported. In the space of a few pages the novel opens out, from the domestic space of an intimate family visit to call forth Arabia, Africa, Canada, Cuba, Portugal, France, and by extension North and South America, and to look back in time from 1850 to the Greeks and Romans, the founding of America, the French Revolution and the origins of the slave trade. Questions of self-control and brutalisation are transferred onto the larger political stage. Augustine, in the belief  that all men are born free and equal, and that a rising of the labouring and the slave classes is inevitable, cites the examples of the French  and Haitian Revolutions, and argues  that treating slaves as animals will make them even more brutal and dangerous when the inevitable rising  occurs. Henrique’s behaviour demonstrates both the impossibility of educating children in moral terms in a slave system, and the effects of slavery upon the masters, brutalised by power. “They that cannot govern themselves cannot govern others.” Augustine is logical, well-informed, and wins the argument on paper, but he is absolutely ineffectual in changing Alfred’s views, or by implication, the system of slavery. Ironically, like Henrique’s horse, Alfred’s body language escapes from his control, as he snorts, stamps his foot and peremptorily dismisses his brother’s arguments in short, declarative sentences, full of unfounded assertions and forceful ejaculations. In The Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Chapter IX) Stowe described the two brothers as representing the two classes of men, the aristocrat and the democrat. The former though potentially just, generous and humane to those whom he considers his equals is in her view entirely insensible to the humanity of the lower orders. The democrat in contrast does acknowledge a common humanity, and examples like Augustine may be found in the South, perfectly able to see through the sophistry of slavery. The characterisation of Augustine as Greek and philosophical,   Alfred as dark, and imperially Roman, and Henrique as noble and princely reinforces the distinction, and avoids criminalising the South as in any way exceptional in its views. It is just one more example of the opposition of aristocracy to democracy. It is often forgotten that Uncle Tom’s Cabin was designed to reach out to a Southern audience through serial publication in the National Era. The paper was explicitly anti-slavery but its editor Gamaliel Bailey had been chosen because of his diplomacy and moderation, and his view that Southerners could be persuaded that slavery was more than a North-South issue.

Notes

1. All page references are to Sab and Autobiography by Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda y Artega. Translated and edited by Nina M. Scott (Austin : University of Texas Press, 1993). A good Spanish edition (with English introduction) is Sab by Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda. Edited by Catherine Davies (Manchester : Manchester University Press, 2001.) I can find no hard evidence that Stowe had read this novel, but the internal parallels strongly suggest  that she drew upon it, or a secondhand  account of it, for the characterisation of Eva, Tom and Augustine.

Chapter and Commentary Table of Contents


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: