"Meer's dense yet clearly argued study is a thoroughly researched tracing of the complex interplay between minstrelsy as a major influence on the construction of blackness in the nineteenth century and Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The strength of Meer's book lies most notably in the extraordinary range of primary materials she has mobilized in her dissection of the myriad shifting debates about slavery and race that were spawned on both sides of the Atlantic by Stowe's novel. This study enriches our sense of the complex phenomenon that was 'Tom Mania' and provides an enlightening portrait of the intense transatlantic cultural exchange between the United States and Great Britain at the time. Such exchange involved not just fiction, but theater, popular music, travelogues, political commentary, and autobiography; and Meer navigates all of these forms with insight, imagination, and a sensitivity both to historical specificity and to the integrity of each text."
—Richard Yarborough, Associate General Editor, Heath Anthology of American Literature
Until Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Meer says, little truly common ground existed on which the United States and Britain could debate slavery. In addition to cutting across class, gender, and national lines, the novel tapped into a huge, preexisting transatlantic appetite for blackface performance. Even as it condemned slavery, however, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was ambiguous about racial equality, and it portrayed blacks in demeaning ways. This gave copycat novels and minstrel stagings leeway to stray from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s intentions. Minstrel-show versions in particular had a huge influence on later incarnations of the Uncle Tom story, converting the character into “a comic, or worse, a proslavery stooge”—a scorned figure in our popular memory.
To look at how and why Uncle Tom’s Cabin “both advocated emancipation and licensed a plethora of racist imitators,” Meer places it in the context of contemporary minstrel sketches, melodramas, songs, jokes, newspaper commentaries, slave narratives, travel writing, proslavery novels, and even Uncle Tom merchandise like china figurines and wallpaper. She goes on to discuss Harriet Beecher Stowe’s travelogue Sunny Memories of Foreign Lands and her second novel, Dred. The publication of each unleashed the political energies of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and its revisions yet again.
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