Guardian Newspaper 1000 Novels discussion

Uncle Tom's Cabin
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Monthly Book Reads > Uncle Tom's Cabin - May 2018

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Darren (dazburns) | 760 comments Mod
Welcome to the discussion thread for the group's May 2018 selection in the State of the Nation category:

Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin
Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

I'm in for this one - been putting it off, but this is what book groups are for!

Anybody else?

Leslie | 825 comments It is unlikely that I will reread this but you never know, if I run across a good audiobook edition through my library, I might change my mind.

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Fay Roberts | 363 comments I’m in! Got a copy ready. I’ve been putting it off too as it looks like it may be “good for me”.....So yes, this is what book clubs are for! I am quietly optimistic that this may be better than I’ve been thinking although Leslie saying she doesn’t fancy a reread isn’t filling me with confidence ;-)

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Christopher (Donut) | 245 comments It's pretty long, isn't it?

Renee I read this one a couple years ago and I really liked it, but don't think I will be re-reading it. If I can, I'll try to add what I remember once the discussion gets going.

Darren (dazburns) | 760 comments Mod
I started this last night and although it is quite long I do feel like I will get through it pretty quickly, as it has quite a clear/accessible style and doesn't feel too heavy or worthy (which is what I was worried about)...

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Fay Roberts | 363 comments I started last week and managed 4 chapters before the sun came out and I abandoned it for beach reads. I agree with Darren that the writing style is accessible and it seems to be focused more on narrative than long passages of philosophy. Hopefully shouldn't be too bad. I do find the constant and liberal use of Christianity wearing already though (my Mum is a vicar so I have full rights to say that lol). It's not taking a very subtle vein with it's message It's also quite like a "children's book" in tone; quite condescending and patronizing. That sounds as though I hate it and I don't at all, it's fine so far - it's just always easier for me to verbalise what I don't like rather than what I do........

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Fay Roberts | 363 comments I Just finished and I must say I was pleasantly surprised (so Rene is forgiven ;-) ).
Once I picked the book back up and committed to it, I found it immensely readable. Not been a translation there was no “clunkiness”, strange syntax, or need to look up french or latin phrases or unknown cultural references in the notes.
After the first four chapters, which I had found “preachy” and addressed the reader directly A LOT, the narrative picked up and I found that it was a truly interesting story. I kept going because I wanted to know what was going to happen to the characters. A lot of the “ideas” and philosophies started to be presented in conversations between the characters and so I found it a lot easier to get on with. In fact this style reminded me a lot of the few Dickens that I have read (way too few.....I am ashamed.....).
I also thought that a lot of ideas and philosophies were presented throughout the novel and that the author did a very good job of presenting a somewhat balanced view. Very few of Southerners were all bad and Northern prejudices were put forward very well in the character of Miss Ophelia. As the book got going it transformed from "is slavery bad?” to “yes it is bad, but what happens after they are freed” which I appreciated. Over a century later and a lot of the questions about education and rights still apply – not only in America but also in Africa and the amongst the working classes in Britain (which is an example used commonly throughout the book when discussing the quality of life of a slave and a free person under this system).
Overall I was quite impressed with the scope and ideas which managed to be presented in such a readable way. It's not a perfect piece of literature and although I enjoyed it I don't think I would read it again. Now I know, I know, you know? I have recommended it to another bookish friend, and I did tell my Mum it was better than Huck Finn but I aren't shouting from the rooftops about it. A solid 4 stars.
What did everybody else think to it?

Leslie | 825 comments Nice summary of your reactions to the book Fay! I pretty much felt the same as you.

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Fay Roberts | 363 comments @leslie why thank you - thought I best make an effort since I’d been such a negative nelly about it!

Darren (dazburns) | 760 comments Mod
I'm at 57% and agree with your impressions Fay - I am finding it a bit overlong though, but will finish...

one thing I've noticed is how even though the author/some of the characters think slavery itself is wrong, they don't seem to be able to help themselves from expressing generalisations about the "nature of the negro race" - I guess in 1852 it was virtually impossible to disentangle oneself from the "received wisdom" of the time...

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Fay Roberts | 363 comments @Darren - yes! 100% agree. She does a final summing up chapter where she beseeches the readers to do something about slavery and expresses her opinions and when I was reading it this afternoon I thought the exact same thing. I had a few issues with it throughout the novel and at times characters within questioned the attitude so I don’t know if it was an opinion she held herself or whether it was an appeal to the masses at the time. She speaks a lot in the closing chapter about actually being proactive and treating emancipated as human beings; educating, boarding, and worshipping together so maybe she was way ahead of her time personally. I stand by my first comment of at times it is patronising but that must have been the “state of the nation” at the time. It last always illuminating to read a classic as it gives a great insight into the people of the time. I wonder what people will think of our attitudes in 150 years. I thought we had come a long way but then I read Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult and realised how deluded I was. I kind of hope Kindred wins next month so we can see how the issue is tackled in that era

Darren (dazburns) | 760 comments Mod
thought I'd given my final thoughts after finishing it but apparently not!

herewith my review:

Passionate highlighting of the injustices/wrongness of slavery in all its (terrible, not shied away from) details. Also a well-written story with characters at all levels (black/white, rich/poor, Northern/Southern), although Uncle Tom himself is probably the least well-drawn, bizarrely. The blatant preaching and obvious shaping of/intrusions into the narrative ought to limit this to 3 Stars, but the historical significance carries all before it.

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