Sep 272008

I found an extensive archive of essays and images related to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a key abolitionist text.

One thing that surprised me is that, after reading Robin Wood’s account of the sexualized images used in abolitionist writing, the hundreds of images in the archive, from 1852 to 1930, most of them were not at all sexual. There are many depictions of key scenes in the novel (e.g. Tom rescuing Eva from drowing, Eva and Tom together, Eliza’s dramatic flight across the ice floes) but very little in the way of beatings. I don’t know if this is a preference of those who edit the archive, or a representative sampling of the period.

However, there was a notable exception.

Uncle Tom\'s Cabin Cruikshank 1852 utilljso02

George Cruikshank was one of the most famous book illustrators in Victorian England. The twelve “original illustrations” in this turn-of-the-century edition were originally drawn in 1852, for one of the many pirated British editions of Stowe’s novel. At that time they were even more influential than the pictures Billings drew for Jewett’s editions in shaping the way readers around the world “saw” the novel’s characters and events.

As you can see, this scene (which I think is meant to represent the fatal beating of Prue) is the most graphic depiction of punishment in the archive, far more so than any depiction of Tom’s fatal beating at the end of the novel. The woman is young, shapely, lighter in skin color than the man beating her, and positioned just so that one of her breasts is visible. She’s probably supposed to be a mulatto, and could be read as “white”.

I guess this means that the pornographic interpretations of Uncle Tom’s Cabin are in the minority, one of many re-interpretations of the work.

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>



This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.