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Uncle Tom Mania
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Titled after ""Tom-Mania,"" the name a British newspaper gave to the international sensation attending the 1852 novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, this study looks anew at the novel and the songs, plays, sketches, translations, and imitations it inspired. In particular, Sarah Meer shows how the theatrical mode of blackface minstrelsy, the slavery question, and America's emerging cultural identity affected how Uncle Tom's Cabin was read, discussed, dramatized, merchandized, and politicized here and abroad. 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 wall-paper. 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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About the Author

Sarah Meer is a university lecturer in English at the University of Cambridge and a fellow of Selwyn College.

Reviews

Sarah Meer's study of 'Uncle Tom mania' makes a significant contribution to a growing body of work on Harriet Beecher Stowe, sentimental fiction, and nineteenth-century popular culture . . . Meer's nuanced study thus unfolds the dazzlingly complex dialogues between minstrelsy, "Uncle Tom's Cabin," and transatlantic politics, culture, and literature. Exceptional in its breadth and depth, in its attention to literary conventions as well as cultural history, it is a rewarding example of transatlantic scholarship at its best.--"Register of Kentucky Historical Society"

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