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Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1852. Daguerreo!Jpe portrait!ryl unidentified artist. Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, NPG.8.23. Slavery in Black and White: Daguerreotypyand Uncle Tom's Cabin MARCY J. DINIUS There is no arguing with pictures, and everybody is impressed by them, whether they mean to be or not. -Harriet Beecher Stowe to Gamaliel Bailey (1851) PICTURING SLAVERY Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) was at once the most successful and the most reviled book in nineteenth-century America. Condemned by slavery apologists in the nineteenth century as a mere romance-and, more recently, both dismissed and defended as a sentimental novel-the popular abolitionist narrative was acknowledged as a realist text by its author.I In her 1853 A Kry to Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe pointedly asserted that her narrative was so realistic its readers understood it as reality itself: "The book had a purpose entirely transcending the artistic one, and accordingly encounters, at the hands ofthe public, demands not usually made on fictitious works. It is treated as a reality,-sifted, tried and tested, as a reality; and therefore as a reality it may be proper that it should be defended ."2 Central to the argument of veracity in Uncle Tom's Cabin is Stowe's attraction to the daguerreotype as the relatively new visual art form peculiarly suited to her literary representation of what she calls the "peculiar institution" of slavery in A Kry (66).3 While Stowe could aver that "there is no arguing with pictures,"4 the unrelenting charges against her novel precluded ESQ I V. 52 I3RD QUARTER I2006 157 MARCY J. DINIUS any such clainl for narrative, especially if its subject was slavery . In a nation still working to establish a legitimate literary culture ofits awn, the navel remained a marally suspect genrein part because af its seductive, patentially deceptive, realism. 5 As debates aver slavery intensified, abalitionist navels were especially vulnerable ta accusatians that they dangerausly misrepresented "real life. " This essay examines haw Stowe-in calling an the papular faith that seeing is a means ta believing and, thereby, feelingstrategically deplays daguerreatypy in Uncle Tom's Cabin ta appraximate an adequate made far bath realistically and sentimentally imaging her characters and the prablem af slavery. Explaiting the papularly accepted "truth" af the daguerreatype graunds Stawe's narrative in reality: her adaptian af the rale afthe daguerreian artist ta characterize her narrative strategy and ta depict her mast significant characters warks praleptically ta mjtigate accusatians af the navel's and her awn artistic unreliability. Trading an the daguerreatype's cultural status as a sentimental fetish abject, mareaver, helps to flesh aut the navel's characters and invite readers ta "feel right."6 Thraugh this rhetarical accamJTIadatian, the navel encaurages Stawe's audience ta imagine an unimpeachable and, thus, irresistible representatian af slavery-its effects an N arth and Sauth, blacks and whites, and public and private life alike. In the "picture" af slavery that results, the daguerreatype ultimately synthesizes the realistic, ramantic, and sentimental energies af Uncle Tom's Cabin, becalning the key metanym for the narrative strategy af the entire wark. IIII TYPES OF SLAVES: THE HERO, THE RUNAWAY, AND THE MARTYR In the years fallawing its American intraductian, the daguerreatype was popularized as a highly realistic and accurate medium af visual representation, especially with respect to partraiture.? SOlan after early experimenters praduced the first 158 DAGUERREOTYPY AND UNCLE TOM'S CABIN daguerreian portraits in Philadelphia and New York in 1840, scores of newly trained and self-taught daguerreotypists rushed to exploit the market for relatively quick, affordable, and lifelike images of the human figure. 8 Subsequently, established portrait painters and emerging professional daguerreotypists vied to promote the unique representational attributes oftheir respective media. Daguerreian trade journals and popular print culture alike encouraged viewers to find in the daguerreotype not only remarkable powers of mimetic representation but also an uncanny ability to probe and image the depths of its subjects. Countless descriptions of daguerreian portraits that faithfully depict both the appearance and the character of their subjects circulated in antebellum newspapers, magazines, journals, and novels. As an 1846 article in Littell's LivingAge declares: "Of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1935-021X
Print ISSN
0093-8297
Pages
pp. 157-191
Launched on MUSE
2015-02-11
Open Access
No
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