Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mightier than the Sword


Harriet Beecher Stowe's birthday was three days ago, and David Reynolds marked the occasion with the release of a new book that puts her immortal book into perspective,

The “Battle for America” of the subtitle, is the conflict between the progressive, anti-slavery message of Stowe’s novel and the reactionary, conservative elements who resisted the abolition of slavery. While the Civil War was the most bloody and costly front in that battle, Reynolds demonstrates how the ideological debate raged on long after the war ended, with Uncle Tom’s Cabin never far from the socio-cultural intersection of values. Just as it inspired sympathetic books in the same vein, it also precipitated a flood of pro-slavery novels that romanticized the Old South. The reactionary anti-Tom books, as Reynolds states, might have ended up in the dustbin of history had it not been for Thomas Dixon’s venomous works catching the fancy of filmmaker D.W. Griffith. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation (1915), a blockbuster of the new medium of cinema, reignited the battle. Uncle Tom’s Cabin had its share of film versions – nine silent versions between 1903 and 1927 — but the old warhorse could not compete with Griffith’s controversial masterpiece, nor the paranoia it inflamed in whites about black male sexuality.

from CalLit Review

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