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Leon T. Dickinson is a member of the Department of English at the University of Missouri. His special field is American literature, and he has published a number of articles concerning Mark Twain. Civil War Humor: Its Role in Novels on Slavery LEON T. DICKINSON IT WAS THE CONTENTION OF WILLIAM HENRY SEWABJ) that Uncle TomS Cabin caused the emergence of Lincoln on the national scene, and Lincoln himself is said to have told Mrs. Stowe that she caused the War. However one measures the political effect of her explosive novel, there can be no question of its provocative power in the world of letters. Probably no other book in our history has stimulated, directly and immediately , so much writing.1 The book was a powerful one, and it appeared at a critical time. By mid-century, discussions of slavery, common enough in earlier years, had come to be frowned upon as either 1 The exact number of slavery novels appearing in the '50s has never been accurately determined. I have counted more than thirty for the years 1850-60. A contemporary , perhaps a publisher's reader, speaks loosely of "some dozens" of replies to Uncle Tom's Cabin, and writes that of the "many more" remaining "in obscure manuscript," he has "had the pleasure of looking over a score or two" ("Uncle Tomitudes ," Putnam's Monthly Magazine, I [January, 1853], p. 100). Probably a fairly complete list of novels is afforded by the titles mentioned in the following works: Hubert Ross Brown, The Sentimental Novel in America 1789-1860 (Durham: Duke University Press, 1940); Francis Pendleton Gaines, The Southern Phntation, A Study in the Development and Accuracy of a Tradition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1925); John Herbert Nelson, "The Negro Character in American Literature," Humanistic Studies of the University of Kansas, IV (1926), pp. 7146 ; Fred Lewis Pattee, The Feminine Fifties (New York: D. Appleton-Century Co., 1940); Jennette R. Tandy, "Pro-Slavery Propaganda in American Fiction of the Fifties," South Athntic Quarterly, XXI (January-April, 1922), pp. 41-50, 17078 ; Lorenzo Dow Turner, Anti-Shvery Sentiment in American Literature Prior to 1865 (Washington: Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, Inc., 1929). Many slavery novels, particularly the southern "replies" to Uncle Tom's Cabin, explicitly acknowledge Mrs. Stowe or her book in their prefaces or conclusions . A typical comment: "The authoress had anticipated writing something on Southern life before she saw or read 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.' But after the perusal of that overdrawn picture, she really felt it her duty to stand up for her own 49 50LEON T, DICKINSON tedious or subversive.2 "Abolitionist" was a hated word, North as well as South. Then came the Fugitive Slave Law. The gases of resentment to slavery had been gathering and the Slave Law compressed them. Uncle Tom's Cabin was the igniting spark. The novels of slavery are serious books, and yet a number of them are not without humor. It is the purpose of this study to consider the ways humor was used in the slavery novels of the '50's to enhance their interest and appeal. The novels vary considerably in the quantity and quality of their humor. In general the pro-slavery novels include very little, the moderate or neutral ones somewhat more, while the anti-slavery novels contain the most and the best. This three-fold division may obscure gradations of opinion and feeling about slavery, but it will allow a discussion of the novels roughly in the order in which they successfully use humor. In one way or another the fictional replies to Mrs. Stowe incorporated most of the common arguments in support of slavery: that it was sanctioned by Scripture, that it was an ideal paternal system for a backward race, that the slaves were happy under the system, and that under it slaves were better off than white wage slaves in the industrial cities of the North or of England.3 By way of voicing these arguments novelists devised plots that showed the negro happy on the plantation, but miserable in a Northern city. A favorite device was to allow a Northerner, skeptical of the Tightness of...


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