Beecher Stowe began publishing fiction in 1843, producing much for the anti-slavery press,
but her most famous work is without question the novel Uncle Tom?s Cabin that
appeared in the National Era 1851-2 and came out in book form in 1852.
Its popularity and success in stirring up public feeling against slavery in the United States may
well stem from the book's melodramatic and sensational nature.
It remains, nonetheless, a powerful work. The story follows the fortunes of a slave,
the dutiful Uncle Tom, who is sold by his owner in Kentucky to pay off debts to
Augustine St Clair in New Orleans.
In the idealistic St Clair's household, young daughter Eva becomes fond of Tom and
life is relatively happy.
However, following the deaths of both the decent St Clair and the kindly Eva,
Tom is sold again but now to Simon Legree.
Legree is a cotton plantation owner and treats Tom terribly,
leading to his demise just before rescue belatedly arrives in the form of his original owner's son.
There is also a parallel tale of another slave, Eliza, who escapes to freedom in extraordinary
circumstances to lighten the tone somewhat.
The contrast between the attitudes in the different states is intriguing on its own and
the only real downsides to be found are Beecher Stowe's tendency to overstate the case
(the survivors become African missionaries) such that 'Uncle Tom' has become a
term of abuse for a black man siding with the oppressor.