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"ENSLAVING YOU, BODYAND SOUL": THE USES OF TEMPERANCE IN UNCLE TOM'S CABINAND "ANTI-TOM" FICTION Ryan C. Cordell The University ofVirginia A people corrupted by strong drink cannot long be a free people. —Benjamin Rush, "An Inquiry Into the Effects ofSpirituous Liquors" Late in the afternoon ofa chilly day in February, two gentlemen were sitting alone over their wine, in a well-furnished dining parlor, in the town ofP------, in Kentucky. —Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin "Let Every Man Mind His Own Business," one of Harriet Beecher Stowe's early short stories, begins with two young, recently-married couples, as three oftheir number press a lone dissenter, Edward Howard, to sign the temperance pledge. At one point in the belabored conversation , Edward's wife exclaims: This tiresome temperance business! One never hears the end ofit nowadays. Temperance papers—temperance tracts—temperance hotels—temperance this, that, and the other thing, even down to temperance pocket-handkerchiefs forlittle boys! Really, the world is getting intemperately temperate,1 She is, ofcourse, not entirely serious, and dutifully plays her part in her husband's ensuing fall and reclamation. However, her flippant remark does echo what critics have, in recent years, begun to discover about temperance. Unlike abolition, temperance was awellestablished, thriving reform movement in 1852, and had been so since at least the 1830s. By the time Stowe penned her "Life Among the Lowly," contemporary readers , parishioners, and theater-goers alike were quite familiarwith another classofdegradedsouls: slavestothebottle, ratherthantheplanter. Scholarly focus on abolition and women's rights has obscured the vast range and influence that temperance activism had in antebellum America. Indeed, much literary criticism ofStowe's era fails to account for—or even notice —temperance at all, though in reach, scope, and longevity it was the dominant reform movement ofits day, especially in the middle classes. 4 Ryan C. Cordell Carol Mattingly notes that "the largest group ofrhetorically active women in nineteenth-century America was comprised of temperance women," and this claim resonates strongly with John Frick, who observes that "In the first halfofthe nineteenth century, no single issue— not even the abolition ofslavery—had a greater capacity for arousing the American passion than did the cause oftemperance."2 Temperance societies such as the Washingtonians and the Sons (or Daughters) ofTemperance multiplied in every major town and city, both North and South, claiming tens ofthousands ofmembers. In 1842, 11 percent ofBaltimore's free population, and 7 percent ofNewYork City's, were members ofthe Washingtonians, and Ian Tyrell conjectures that "probably hundreds of thousands ofAmerican women supported the temperance movement" during this same time period.3 These numbers demonstrate what sway this phenomenon had in the America ofthe 1840s and 1850s: temperance was widely disseminated, and manifest in all aspects ofAmerican life. Temperance was not apolitical and social movement only, however; itwas also immensely popular entertainment. As implied by Stowe's delightful self-commentary in "Let Every Man," there were temperance tracts, sermons, songs, paintings, short stories, novels, plays, and so forth producedalmostadinfinitum . Temperance storieswereprintedindailynewspapers from New York to New Orleans, and temperance plays sold out theaters. William H. Smith's play The Drunkard "was probably America's most successful play" before George Aiken's adaptation of Uncle Tom's Cabin succeeded it, and Uncle Tom was later shaken—albeit temporarily —fromthisperchbyWilliamW. Pratt's Ten Nightsin a Bar-room* Before, during, and after the wild success of Harriet Beecher Stowe's abolitionist novel, another discourse of reform absolutely saturated American society. The tropes, figures, plots, and characters oftemperance reform were so pervasive—and, one must suspect, so powerful and persuasive—that other nineteenth-century reform movements drewupon them, perhaps evenunconsciously, whenarticulatingtheirownconcerns. HarrietBeecher Stowe infuses her great antislavery work, Uncle Tom's Cabin, with what might be called a "familiar radicalism": the language, figures, and plot devices of temperance fiction, as do many of the proslavery novelists who wrote in response to Uncle Tom's success. Recognizing the form of temperance in narratives on both sides ofthe slavery debate offers insight into the workings ofprotest literature itselfand offers scholars ofStowe a new reading ofher most famous protagonist, Uncle Tom. Carol Mattingly notes that "unlike most fictionwritten by women in Studies in American Fiction5...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
pp. 3-26
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
No
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