Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Friday, March 20, 2015

Harriet Beecher Stowe and the Best-Selling Novel of the Nineteenth Century

Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (published in book form, 20 March 1852)

Although Harriet Beecher Stowe's enormously influential anti-slavery novel was first published serially in the abolitionist newspaper The National Era (in forty weekly installments, beginning with the 5 June 1851 issue), Uncle Tom's Cabin was published in book form by publisher John P. Jewett on 20 March 1852.

Title page of the 1852 first edition
of Uncle Tom's Cabin
The book was an enormous success, running quickly through several printings. By late spring of the next year, Jewett reported that he had sold more than 300,000 copies of the novel. But at that point, the novel went out of print, and by 1860, Jewett was out of business, the rights to the novel transferring to the publisher Ticknor and Fields. 

Although we associate Stowe's novel with the Civil War, surprisingly few copies of the novel were published during the 1860s. For a discussion of the novel's publication history, you can read Michael Winship's excellent essay, "Uncle Tom's Cabin: History of the Book in the 19th-Century United States" online by clicking here.