Stowe: From the Sacramental to the Old Testamental

Michael T. Gilmore

in The War on Words

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print July 2010 | ISBN: 9780226294131
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226294155 | DOI:
Stowe: From the Sacramental to the Old Testamental

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Harriet Beecher Stowe's fictionalized attack on the South's domestic institution was deemed unsuitable for young people at the outset of the twentieth century. The War on Words tells the story of how censorship, American style, came full circle. To return to the American context, Stowe was a creator of fictitious characters and episodes who changed the course of history with a story. She patterned her novel on the Bible, a cornerstone of antebellum culture that does away altogether with the separation of rhetoric from aesthetics. In Uncle Tom's Cabin and Dred, Stowe strives to create “the magic of real presence” on the page—a miracle, she believes, for which the Bible is the model. She fills the later novel with paraphrastic jeremiads from the Hebrew prophets and the Book of Revelation. Clearly viewing her culture's most vibrant textual inheritance as devotional, Stowe turns to what is for her, more than any political document, the warranty of freedom: the word of God as revealed in the scriptures. There, in the archetypical narrative of redemption, she finds her own empowerment. The biblical template of the Israelites escaping from “the house of bondage” in Egypt has an inspiriting afterlife in her two novels on American slavery as she moves from the Christian sacrament to Hebraic prophecy as the catalyst for societal change. This chapter peeps into Stowe's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, which self-reflexively ponders its capacity for intervention in history. The Political oratory, Stowe makes clear, has no prospect of sparking the needed renovation. It has been too debased by politicians. For Stowe, politics has devolved into the craft of self-promotion.

Keywords: Harriet Beecher Stowe; twentieth century; The War on Words; the Bible; Book of Revelation; political oratory; self-promotion

Chapter.  8611 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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