Sunday, September 16, 2018

Fortnightly Book, September 16

Harriet Elisabeth Beecher was born in 1811 to one of the most prominent families in New England; Lyman Beecher, her father, was one of the major Calvinists of the day, and a number of her siblings did very well for themselves in various intellectual and religious professions. She herself became active in the Semi-Colon Club, a literary club in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she met her future husband, the Biblical scholar, Calvin Stowe. The Stowes were active in the Underground Railroad until the Fugitive Slave Act was passed. Not very long afterward, Harriet Stowe lost her eighteen-month-old child and during communion service had a vision of a dying slave. Armed with a profound sense of what it might be like to be torn from your family, she began writing Uncle Tom's Cabin, or, Life Among the Lowly, which was serialized in The National Era. It was published in book format in 1852 and became an instant bestseller.

I had thought that I had already done it for the fortnightly book, but apparently not. I will be reading it in a Heritage Press (New York) edition, with lithographs by the well-known caricaturist and painter, Miguel Covarrubias, who, if the Sandglass is to be believed, had wanted to illustrate an edition of the book from the time he was a boy in Mexico City, despite never having read the book. The book inspired a broad number of very different theater adaptations, and until The Heritage Club asked him to do the illustration, he had never read the book, and thought, from the plays he had seen, that it was something like a bittersweet comedy, and was startled to find that the book was a serious and profound work. Such is the danger of adaptations, I suppose. The type for the text is De Vinne, printed on white vellum.

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