“The family lived on words, spoken and written.”
One of my goals for this year was to become a more thoughtful reader. I want to know more about what I am reading and why it is important in the grand scheme of things. I do not need every book to change my life but I do believe there is a purpose for every piece of writing. Entertainment, learning, or just evaluating different styles of writing is important for me to grow as a reader and writer. I like to do some background work before I tackle any classical literature or books that are set in the past. I have been doing quite a bit of research on the Underground Railroad and I just completed three more books that will be reviewed in the upcoming months on the blog. Before I begin reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin, I wanted to know more about Harriet Beecher Stowe and her motivation behind writing the classic piece of literature that President Lincoln believes helped spark the Civil War.
Harriet Beecher Stowe lived in a male dominated century. She was declared a genius in her youth, but her father famously stated that it was of no use unless she was a boy. She lived under the direction of her stern older sister after the age of 12 and later married Calvin Stowe. Her family and religious beliefs were a strong influence in her writing, and helped spur many of her characters and stories. She wrote about things she was most passionate about and after the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850 she turned her passive opposition to slavery into a determination to see the practice ended. Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a plea to end slavery. It is a Victorian novel based on the life of Josiah Henson. Stowe knew a great deal about slavery from her family and time in Cincinnati. She also read slave literature including Theodore Weld’s American Slavery As it is. After the release of the book she faced several attacks on her character as well as her writing. She ended up writing an entire follow up book to defend herself and her research. The book was excellent publicity for the North and their crusade against slavery. Stowe published over 30 books, but is most well-known for Uncle Tom’s Cabin because of its inspiring subjects.
I found myself interested in the Fugitive Slave Act that spurred her reaction and led her to write. The original Fugitive Slave Act was passed in 1793 and authorized local governments to seize and return escaped slaves to their owners and imposed penalties for aiding their flight. If this was already in place where was the outrage when this passed? Was the sentiment against slavery not as strong? The 1850 Act added further provisions making the crimes a civil and criminal matter with harsher punishments for interfering in runaway slave capture. This occurred under President Fillmore’s watch during the peak of the Underground Railroad movement. To ensure that the 1850 law was enforced the control of individual cases were placed in the hands of the federal commissioners. Data shows that the law remained largely unenforced, but the fact remains that this law led to major outrage and was a factor in the growing tension between the north and south. I would be interested in researching other laws that were passed during this time and the effects it had on the outbreak of war.
I have an admiration of Stowe for the courage it must have taken to speak out about the injustices of slavery. She was at a disadvantage as a woman in a male word, but stood her ground when attacked for her beliefs. Slavery is a huge part of our American history and she earned her place in the fight against it. She is proof that we can use our words to change the world.
“And then, out of that silence came thousands of voices. The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear, and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.”
I saw this on the shelf at the library and thought, “Yes! Finally, I will get to read this one.” What I failed to note is that I picked up the young readers edition. I hope I didn’t miss too much by choosing this copy! Malala is well known throughout the world as an advocate for peace and education. I was interested in her experiences in Pakistan before the shooting and the book covered her daily life very well. It’s amazing that we live in the same world and can have such different experiences. Her outlook is well beyond her years and she truly is an inspiration. Malala began speaking out well before the Taliban targeted and shot her on the bus ride home from school. She prides herself on standing up for what is right and has a wonderful role model in her father, who did the same. The struggle that these girls went through to go to school hits me hard. I was fortunate to walk right in and took that for granted. They worried if their uniforms stood out as targets or if the school would be shut down. For an entire country to fall under a man that has the power to stop all women from attending school in this age of technology and innovation is heartbreaking. If you have no interest in biographies, I urge you to take a few moments to check out the Malala Foundation and research what is going on with refugees around the world. Education is a major foundation for success in the future and we could all be more informed.
I am embarking on a journey to read a biography of every United States President. This is a lofty goal that many have commented is hard to achieve. I think a knowledge of how this country was governed and the men we elected to run it are invaluable to me as a citizen of this country. I long to be the history buff that can tell you the 26th President without thinking or can list off reasons the people elected one candidate over another. Essentially, I have high expectations for my choices on this journey, especially for our first President who would kick it off. This book failed to meet these expectations and my excitement diminished almost immediately. Instead of fact and storyline, I got someone’s opinion, a negative one at that, which feeds on itself and cannot help but leave the reader dreading turning the pages. I literally asked myself if I should finish it or just start another biography? I want to like Washington, our revered first President, but I can’t. Not even a little bit. Now this may not be all Ellis’s fault. My history classes are partially to blame with their cherry trees and tales of building a nation. From what I have learned through this book, it seems Washington was simply a lucky man. In the right place at the right time, not dying alongside many others. He chose to keep quiet where others chose to have an opinion. His demeanor just said “I am a leader” and so he was. From Ellis’ view, Washington allowed others to form his opinions, to write his letters and even persuade him to make decisions he would not have made. That is all I got out of this 275 page book that inevitably took me two months to suffer through. I believe historians should give facts, not their own speculation. I want Washington as he was or as close as I can get. This book was not that at all. Back to square one.
“In the quiet of a summer evening with the enemy fled, and only a distant, random gun heard, he surveyed the widespread havoc and smoking piles.”
I’ve always felt that research, when thoroughly done and applied correctly, is what sets a great author apart from a good one. Horn truly put a lot of effort into this novel and it shows. He gave an open perspective of Robert E. Lee’s life, avoiding minute battle details and giving you more interesting facts about his childhood, marriage and how his choosing Virginia over the Union changed the future of this country. I learned interesting details about Lee’s original plans for his army that could have turned the tides of the war. Horn also tackles the Lee family’s trials and feelings with losing their home in Arlington and the outcome of these sites after the war. Lee generally led a life away from his wife and children which allowed for a lot of correspondence which Horn incorporated throughout the novel. It was a truly fascinating read.