Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Anti-Tom Novel

Title page to Uncle Phillis's CabinSoon after Uncle Tom's Cabin shook America in 1852, there was quick and vigorous backlash against Harriet Beecher Stowe and her portrayal of the institution of slavery, so much so that Stowe issued a "Key" to Uncle Tom's Cabin that cited sources for every atrocity detailed in the novel. One common attack against Stowe's work was the "Anti-Tom Novel." We have a copy of the best seller of the genre, Aunt Phillis's Cabin, or, Southern Life As it Is, by Mary Eastman. Our copy is from 1852 and is already boasting of 10,000 copies sold. You can imagine the basic plot and action of these books--slavery is depicted as a benign institution where harmony and contentment overwhelm the few bad instances that get all the press. It is propaganda, pure and simple.
Social Friends Book plate, Class of 1858

What is odd about our copy is that it was part of the Social Friends Library. The Social Friends was a student organization that had a library that rivaled the Dartmouth College Library and served many of the students' needs. But, for the most part, Dartmouth students were abolitionists or sympathetic to the abolitionist movement. What was the book doing there? It was presented by William Kimball, Class of 1858. His brief biography doesn't suggest much about his political leanings one way or another: the son of a reverend, he was born in Concord, New Hampshire, and moved to Kickapoo, Texas, where he was a teacher; he died young in 1865. Perhaps he was pro-slavery and donated this book to insert his viewpoint on campus, or, just as likely, he gave the book so students could understand their enemy. There is nothing here to tell us: his motivation remains a mystery.

To take a look, ask for Rare PS1567 .E23 A86 1852. Stowe's "Key" is Rare E449 .S8959.

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