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Anti-Tom literature refers to the 19th century pro-slavery novels and other literary works written in response to Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. Also called Plantation literature, these writings were generally written by authors from the Southern United States. Books in the genre attempted to show that slavery was either beneficial to African Americans or that the evils of slavery as depicted in Stowe's book were overblown and incorrect.

Uncle Tom's Cabin

First published in serialized form from 1851–52 (in the abolitionist journal National Era), and in book form in 1852, Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe quickly became the best-selling novel of the 19th century (and the second best-selling book of the century after the Bible). This abolitionist novel focused on the evils of slavery and was inspired by the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act two years before, which punished those who aided runaway slaves. The book was highly controversial and fanned the debate over slavery in the country. When Abraham Lincoln met Stowe after the beginning of the Civil War, he reportedly said to her, "So you're the little lady whose book started this great war."

The Southern literary response

The response to Stowe's novel in the American South was one of outrage. To counter Stowe's novel, Southern writers produced a number of pro-slavery books, the vast majority of them novels. In 1852 alone, eight anti-Tom novels were published.

These anti-Tom novels tended to feature a benign white patriarchal master and a pure wife, both of whom presided over childlike slaves in a benevolent extended-family-style plantation. The novels either implied, or directly stated, the view that African Americans were unable to live their lives without being directly overseen by white people.

Today these novels and books are generally seen as pro-slavery propaganda. None of them has been influential on later literature. The anti-Tom genre died off with the start of the American Civil War.

Simms, Hentz, and other pro-slavery authors

The two most famous anti-Tom books are The Sword and the Distaff by William Gilmore Simms and The Planter's Northern Bride by Caroline Lee Hentz.

Simms' The Sword and the Distaff came out only a few months after Stowe's novel and contains a number of sections and discussions that clearly debate Stowe's book and view of slavery. The novel focuses on the Revolutionary War and its aftermath through the lives of Captain Porgy and one of his slaves. Simms novel was popular enough that it was reprinted in 1854 under the title Woodcraft.

The Planter's Northern Bride by Caroline Lee Hentz was published two years after Uncle Tom's Cabin. Hentz's novel offers a defense of slavery as seen through the eyes of a northern woman — the daughter of an abolitionist, no less — who marries a southern slave owner. As with other books in the genre, Hentz's novel tries to show that black people lacked the ability to function well without oversight by whites. Her novel also focused on the fear of a slave rebellion, especially if abolitionists didn't stop stirring up trouble.

Simms and Hentz's books were two of between twenty or thirty pro-slavery novels written in the decade after Uncle Tom's Cabin. Other well-known authors who published anti-Tom novels include John Pendleton Kennedy.

Mary Henderson Eastman's Aunt Phillis's Cabin was one of the bestselling novels of the genre. Published in 1852, it sold 20,000 to 30,000 copies. In a note in the book, Eastman proudly stated she was a descendant of the First Families of Virginia.

Little Eva: The Flower of the South, by Philip J. Cozans, was a rare example of anti-Tom literature, in the sense that - whereas most anti-Tom novels were written for an adult audience - Little Eva was in fact an anti-Tom children's novel.

Selected anti-Tom novels

Among the novels in the anti-Tom genre are:

Slave narratives

One counter to this pro-slavery fiction were the slave narratives written by a number of former slaves such as Harriet Jacobs and Frederick Douglass, which painted a much harsher version of plantation life.

Directly following the conclusion of Uncle Tom's Cabin, Douglass wrote a story of his own called The Heroic Slave. In this story, he portrays a main character who is strong and intelligent; religious, but not a doormat.

Eventually some six thousand former slaves from North America and the Caribbeanmarker wrote accounts of their lives, with about 150 of these published as separate books or pamphlets. Slave narratives eventually became recognized as an important literary genre in their own right and as the beginnings of African-American literature.

See also

External links


  1. Notes on Book, accessed Feb 16, 2007
  2. " Caroline Lee Hentz's Long Journey" by Philip D. Beidler. Alabama Heritage Number 75, Winter 2005.
  3. Joy Jordan-Lake, Whitewashing Uncle Tom's Cabin: nineteenth-century women novelists respond to Stowe, Vanderbilt University Press, 2005
  4. Lucinda MacKethan, "An Overview of Southern Literature by Genre", Southern Spaces, February 16, 2004.
  5. "Aunt Phillis's Cabin", University of Virginia, accessed 9 Dec 2008

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