The author of Hawthorne in Concord “brings [Stowe] to life in all her glory, in a book at once so dramatic and so subtle that it rivals the best fiction” (Debby Applegate, author of The Most Famous Man in America).
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin forced an ambivalent North to confront the atrocities of slavery, yet it was just one of many accomplishments of the Beechers, the most eminent American family of the nineteenth century.
Historian Philip McFarland follows the Beecher clan to the boomtown of Cincinnati, where Harriet’s glimpses of slavery across the Kentucky border moved her to pen Uncle Tom’s Cabin. We meet Harriet’s loves: her father Lyman, her husband Calvin, and her brother Henry, the most famous preacher of his time. As McFarland leads us through Harriet’s ever-changing world, he traces the arc of her literary career from her hard-scrabble beginnings to her ascendancy as the most renowned author of her day.
Through the portrait of a defining American family, Loves of Harriet Beecher Stowe opens into an unforgettable rendering of mid-nineteenth century America in the midst of unprecedented social and demographic explosions. To this day, Uncle Tom’s Cabin reverberates as a crucial document in Western culture.
“Often dismissed even by her admirers as a pious faculty wife who just happened to write the book of the century, Harriet Beecher Stowe emerges in Philip McFarland’s biography in all her complexity and genius.” —Charles Calhoun, author of Longfellow: A Rediscovered Life and The Gilded Age
Despite the racy title, McFarland (Hawthorne in Concord) has not penned a salacious tell-all about Harriet Beecher Stowe's romantic life, but rather a fairly unremarkable biography of Stowe and the whole Beecher family. Though ostensibly organized around the three men important to Harriet her father, her brother and her husband the device is really just a gimmick that leads to confusing departures from chronology, as when McFarland summarizes the childhood of Harriet's father halfway through the book. The most perceptive sections deal with Stowe's literary career. McFarland argues that Poganuc People is her most "coherent" work, and that Uncle Tom's Cabin, the abolitionist novel that made Stowe an international star, was born in part out of her experience as a mother: when her young son died, Stowe was sensitized to the plight of slave mothers separated from their children. This narrative is sure to be overshadowed by Debby Applegate's Pulitzer Prize winning study of Stowe's brother, The Most Famous Man in America (2006); Joan Hedrick's Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life (1994), to which McFarland acknowledges his debt, will remain definitive.