Sunday, June 26, 2011

What is David S. Reynolds reading?

Today's featured contributor at Writer's Read: David S. Reynolds, author of Mightier than the Sword: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Battle for America.

His entry begins:
Having spent the last few years writing Mightier than the Sword, my book on the background and impact of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s antislavery best-seller Uncle Tom’s Cabin, I recently reread Hawthorne’s classic House of the Seven Gables, which was published in 1851, when Stowe was writing the first installments of her novel for a Washington newspaper. I read Hawthorne’s novel partly to prepare for a course I’m teaching next fall and partly to remind myself of what Hawthorne, one of America’s canonized male writers, was up to when Stowe was publishing her landmark novel.

What I found is that Hawthorne and Stowe drew on similar cultural materials but used them for very different ends. Each novel has a virtuous, angelic heroine (Eva in Uncle Tom, Phoebe Pyncheon in Seven Gables), a crabby old maid (Ophelia in Tom, Hepzibah in Gables), oppressed poor figures (Stowe’s Uncle Tom and other slaves, Hawthorne’s Maule family) opposed by corrupt, upper-crust ones (Stowe’s slaveholders, Hawthorne’s wealthy Jaffrey Pyncheon), and radical social reformers (the antislavery Northerners in Stowe, Holgrave in Hawthorne). Despite these similar ingredients...[read on]
Learn more about Mightier than the Sword at the publisher's website.

Among the early praise for Mightier than the Sword:
"[T]he author ably describes the influences and experiences that inspired Stowe to write [Uncle Tom's Cabin and] the story of its reception and impact is where Reynolds’s work really astounds."
Jeff McMillan, California Literary Review

"[A] splendid and subtle history of the novel's effect on American culture.... Reynolds sets out to show the many and often contradictory ways in which one of the nation's most important works of literature has been understood and, alas, misunderstood. He has admirably succeeded."
Fergus M. Bordewich, Wall Street Journal

"A provocative overview of the life and afterlife of one of American literature’s most important texts…. A sharp work of cross-disciplinary criticism that gives new power to a diminished novel.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“You can always count on David Reynolds to surprise and delight, and in his latest work, he does not disappoint. This time, he sets his sights on the far-ranging and fascinating impact of Harriet Beecher Stowe's mammoth bestseller, Uncle Tom's Cabin. In Reynolds’s gifted hands, Mightier Than The Sword is nothing less than an intellectual feast. Bravo for yet another superb book.”
—Jay Winik, author of April 1865 and The Great Upheaval

“A wonderful history of what may justly be considered America’s national epic. Reynolds deftly links the popular culture sources of Uncle Tom’s Cabin to its unprecedented popularity with a wide range of the American public... Mightier than the Sword is a sweeping narrative of the life of a book that continues to engage race, nation, democracy and Christianity in a contentious drama.”
—Joan Hedrick, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life

“With his masterful biographies of John Brown and Walt Whitman, David Reynolds joined the ranks of the great historians of nineteenth-century America—but with Mightier than the Sword Reynolds has written his best book yet. Deeply researched and compulsively readable, Mightier the Sword is both the definitive account of the strange but true career of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and a sweeping two-hundred year history of race in America. Compact, clear, and packed with astonishing facts and provocative insights, this book will fascinate everyone from the general reader to the professional historian.”
— Debby Applegate, Pulitzer Prize winner for The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher
Read Reynolds's New York Times op-ed, "Rescuing the Real Uncle Tom."

The Page 99 Test: Mightier Than the Sword.

Writer's Read: David S. Reynolds.

--Marshal Zeringue