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Carl Van Doren (1885–1950).  The American Novel.  1921.


Page 119

out the merely domestic elements of the book—slave families broken up by sale, ailing and dying children, negro women at the mercy of their masters, white households which at the best are slovenly and extravagant by reason of irresponsible servants and at the worst are abodes of brutality and license—and little remains. Many of the pages, too, are purple with melodrama, especially in the conceptions which the parson’s daughter and the professor’s wife had of St. Clair’s luxurious establishment and Legree’s filthy menagerie. To understand why the story touched the world so deeply it is necessary to understand how tense the struggle over slavery had grown, how thickly charged was the moral atmosphere awaiting a fatal spark, even though the spark might be naïve and artless. And yet the mere fact of an audience already prepared will not explain the mystery of a work which shook a powerful institution and which, for all its defects of taste and style and construction, still has surprising power. There were other anti-slavery novels, but they no longer move, lacking the ringing voice, the swiftness, the fulness, the frequent humor, the authentic passion of the greater book.
  It has often been pointed out that Mrs. Stowe did not mean to be sectional, that she deliberately made her chief villain a New Englander, and that she expected to be blamed no more by the South than by the North, which she thought particularly guilty because it tolerated slavery without the excuse either of habit or of interest. Bitterly attacked by Southerners of all sorts, however, she defended herself in A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1853), and then, after a triumphant visit to Europe,



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