Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, and Harriet Beecher Stowe were not just contemporaries, they were neighbors:

Mark Twain House & Museum, Hartford
Mark Twain House & Museum, Hartford – Hartford Daily Photo

By Elizabeth J. Normen for Connecticut Explored

When Mark Twain built his dream house in Hartford’s Nook Farm neighborhood in 1874, his next-door neighbor was Harriet Beecher Stowe, the most famous American woman in the world. Twain was on the verge of international fame and while living in Nook Farm wrote his most noteworthy books. Twain and Stowe brought unusual literary firepower to the neighborhood, but they took their place among an unusual enclave of citizens who were themselves well known on the national stage in politics and reform.

Twain described his first impressions of Nook Farm and Hartford in a letter to the San Francisco Alta California, January 25, 1868:

I am in Hartford, Connecticut, now…. I think this is the best built and handsomest town I have ever seen. … This is the centre of Connecticut wealth. Hartford dollars have a place in half the great moneyed enterprises of the union. All those Phoenix and Charter Oak Insurance Companies … are located here. The Sharp’s rifle factory is here; the great silk factory of this section is here; the heaviest subscription publishing houses in the land are here; and last and greatest, the Colt’s revolver manufactory is a Hartford institution.

The people who wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin and Huckleberry Finn were quite different in literary style, perspective and outlook:

Clemens was a product of the South.

Stowe never set foot in the South.

Uncle Tom was published before the Civil War.

Huckleberry Finn was published after the Civil War.

Stowe was a well known and outspoken abolitionist.

Clemens joined the Confederacy and then, apparently conflicted and ambivalent, removed himself from the 'War to end Slavery' and went to California.

As public figures, Stowe was forthright and forthcoming re her stand against slavery. By the time Clemens reached national status and acclaim, slavery had been abolished and he was silent on Jim Crow and segregation....

Though neither was an egalitarian, as between the two, Stowe appears to have been a stronger advocate of social justice...Clemens remained silent or low key on such matters...

Neither expressed the notion that black people should be deemed politically and socially equal to white people.

Clemens' characterization of Jim in "Huckleberry Finn" is such that he becomes an endearing and enduring figure whose qualities of compassion and courage draw readers close enough to understand and appreciate the fact that Jim is a human being.

However, Clemens chose to continually and constantly remind his readers that first, foremost and above all else, Jim is a 'nigger' and says as much not less than 219 times throughout the book...

Clemens' humanization of Jim as a prominent, if not the dominant, heroic figure is tempered and diminished by the author's continuous and repeated reference to Jim as being a 'nigger'.

Referencing specific or certain black people as "Auntie" or  "Uncle" carried connotations of condescending endearment. 

Lincoln referred to Sojourner Truth as "Auntie" meaning she was well liked and seen as posing no threat to the established order even though she worked feverishly against it during her time.

Harriet Beecher Stowe's 'Uncle Tom' is characterized as a heroic figure of courage and wisdom beyond his station....

Ironically, the appellation "Uncle Tom" is, today,  a derogatory epithet and invective that denotes sycophantic cowardice by a black person in interactions and dealings with white people...

Quite the contrary, if not the direct opposite, of the heroic profile MS Stowe attempted to bestow upon her "Uncle Tom".

As a grade school youngster I had to navigate the classroom reading of these' American Literary Classics"...

As a young Assistant Professor I had to navigate the roads and streets of the neighborhood where the homes of these classic authors stood while on my way to work at the University of Harford...

Views: 74

Comment by Rodney Roe on September 12, 2018 at 7:32am

I think is is a mistake to read literature from another era and expect those writers to have the same world view as today.  That literature is a peak into the mindset of society at that time.  With Stowe and Twain there was more insight that, perhaps, most white citizens, but they were oblivious to much of the wrong.  This passage from "Gone With The Wind" shows how self-centered and petty some people can be.  Rhett's has more insight, but is still white in his thinking.

"

Rhett: Don't you think it would be nice if you bought something for Mammy too?

Scarlett: Why should I buy her a present when she called us both mules?

Rhett: Mules? Why mules?

Scarlett: Yes. She said we could give ourselves airs and get ourselves all rigged up and we were like race horses and we were just mules in horse harness and we didn't fool anybody.

Rhett: [laughing] I never heard anything more true. Mammy's a smart old soul. And one of the few people who's respect I'd like to have.

Scarlett: Well, I won't give a thing. She doesn't deserve it."

Comment by Rodney Roe on September 12, 2018 at 7:34am

"peek"

Comment by alsoknownas on September 12, 2018 at 7:55am

Not all agree with a blanket condemnation of Twain. The black professor in this article is one:     

https://www.nytimes.com/1985/03/14/books/from-twain-a-letter-on-deb...

I do  not know anything of the author of this:

https://www.thoughtco.com/mark-twain-write-about-slavery-740681

Comment by Ron Powell on September 12, 2018 at 8:16am

"I think is is a mistake to read literature from another era and expect those writers to have the same world view as today.  That literature is a peak into the mindset of society at that time.  With Stowe and Twain there was more insight that, perhaps, most white citizens, but they were oblivious to much of the wrong."

Not just oblivious, but in many respects, perpetrated and perpetuated it...

The "Classics" are said to be such partly because they transcend the period in which they were written.

Both evoke debate argumentation and discussion today as though they were written in the past year or so...

Comment by Ron Powell on September 12, 2018 at 8:35am

@AKA; This piece is not. "a blanket condemnation of Twain"...

I've read the material you linked here prior to ppublishing this post...

Twain seems to continue to be as conflicted and ambivalent re race  in his later years as he was in his youth...

He seemed to project a public persona that could mask his private thoughts and behavior...

On the other hand, his public persona can be characterized as the manifestation of a famous author's inner conflict and struggle to reconcile himself with political and social realities with which he disagreed but did not speak about openly and publicly...

The letter in support of an African American Law Student at Yale was not meant to be published for general consumption nor was knowledge of his generosity to be. publicly shared...

Comment by Maui Surfer on September 12, 2018 at 8:50am

The controversy over Twain continues because of the N-Word and the fact that it can no longer be voiced in classrooms as it was when I first read it as a boy. Sticks a knife in an old wound, but offers nothing the average fool can take away from it without an incredibly knowledgeable teacher, of which there are few, to explain and translate the times.

Stowe, regardless of her travels or lack of them, can be considered a hero and also a lynch-pin of one of the worst eras of North American herstory. Her book, all too true, so offended the cavalier mentality that it became part of Lincoln's assassination mentality as well as the impetus for the book, if you could call such a rag a book, "The Klansman" by the traitor/terrorist Thomas F. Dixon Jr. who was so offended by Uncle Tom's Cabin he felt compelled to write his total fictitious account of the South, which the asshole D.W. Griffith then, in pure profiteering mode and knowing full well the revenue it would generate, not to mention screening it in the White House with the racist Woodrow Wilson, began to show the film version, changing the name to Birth of a Nation, generating the Genesis of previously unknown activities such as cross burning, and engendering the Nadir which we continue to fight against, most out in the open in the war on the Prison Industrial Complex and the forced arrests and thus lifetime records of black and brown folks. All in all, Stowe was a Hero, Twain was a traveler and had mixed but evolving views, and Wilson, Dixon and their ilk, the KKK and the White League, caused undue suffering and the stifling of what should be a great nation's progress for a hundred years plus, all the way to our current re-Confederate Yankee so called president, who will be impeached in early 2019, and, with Dogs luck, convicted in a Senate that is slowly but surely slipping through McConnell the toads hands.

Comment by Ron Powell on September 12, 2018 at 8:50am

Twain may have been anti-slavery, but he was no abolitionist...

Slavery had been vanquished and the 13th Amendment abolished it well before the publication of "Huckleberry Finn" which has been touted as an anti-slavery work.

I haven't seen any significant or substantive evidence that either Twain or Stowe were openly and publicly against segregation and Jim Crow....

Comment by Maui Surfer on September 12, 2018 at 8:55am

Ron- how does an abolitionist join the Confederacy? Even for a short period of time? Was it for a paycheck? What other lame excuse could there be. He wrote well about California and Hawaii, and controversially about the Holy Land.

Again, this is why I am and encourage all to become neo abolitionists. Research where we are coming from, truth and accurate herstory as well as morality. If you still decide you don't want to be on our side than you better take a hard look at your "soul" ...

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