Uncle Tom’s Cabin Project (Entry 1): Composition History

This is the first draft entry in a projected multi-part posting. During next week these documents will be refined. This posting on “Composition History” is to be accompanied by a posting on “Editorial Approach” and another on an “Experiment.”

I am proposing–attempting to imagine–an editing and humanities computing experiment that would offer an alternative form of evidence for my belief that some installments of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s National Era version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin are later authorial revisions of the 1852 Jewett edition text.

    Composition History

  1. From early 1851 to September 1851, Stowe composed her manuscript of UTC primarily with serial publication in mind. Hedrick, for example, has observed the shift in method in chapters 14 and 15, which instead of dialog have “unbroken blocks of narration” (Life 222). This would make sense. The Era‘s 8 May 1851 editorial notice projected that the length of the Stowe’s story would match Southworth’s Retribution (Era, 1851:74). Southworth’s tale had run for 14 installments.
  2. From September through mid-January (and through remainder of process), Stowe had to compose with both forms (book and periodical) and audiences in mind.
  3. From at least mid-January (and probably earlier) through early March 1852, Stowe composed primarily with book publication in mind–as amount of serial text published gradually fell behind book schedule. In the 12 February 1852 installment (chapter XXXII in Era, XXXIII in Jewett edition), textual variants increase in frequency and significance. Kirkham argues that the cotton-weighing episode is “much better described” in the newspaper (169), but he believes that the Era has the “earlier” version. (169-71). If Stowe’s composition of Jewett text had advanced beyond serial, it is possible that the newspaper version is in fact a later version than the Jewett edition text.
  4. Stowe hoped to complete the manuscript of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in February and completed it on 2 March 1852, according to letters in the Massachusetts Historical Society.
  5. Throughout March 1852 Stowe had the opportunity to revise book publication form for serial publication. The texts differ markedly. It’s partially a matter of deciding whether the differences are best described as “revisions” or as alternate texts for different audiences.
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