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Annotated Uncle Toms Cabin Hardcover – Nov 14 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Variously beloved, denounced and dismissed over its 150-plus year history, Stowe's classic 1852 novel has been nothing if not productive. As Gates and Robbins note, the novel was vastly important in shaping American ideas and attitudes about race, but it also influenced the ways people thought about relationships and sexuality, and it continues to spur debate about the meanings of slavery and domesticity. Those are just some of the reasons it's an oft-assigned text in colleges, a market this beautifully annotated, wide-format edition addresses nicely. Joining seven other titles in Norton's handsomely produced "Annotated" series, the book offers 32 pages of color illustrations (not seen by PW), 150 b&w period illustrations, and a two-column format that has Stowe's text at left, and the annotations at right.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* Celebrated when it was published in 1852 and later vilified, Uncle Tom's Cabin unquestionably changed American history and has had an enduring impact on American literature. In this annotated version of the novel, college professors Gates and Robbins explore changes in perspective on race, sex, and literature since the publication of the novel and its subsequent critique in the 1950s by James Baldwin. Throughout the book are illustrations of Uncle Tom across the years, including posters, postcards, woodcuts, and advertisements, all reflecting changing images of Uncle Tom and black Americans. Gates and Robbins explore images of heroism and subservience, contrasting the unctuous sentimentality of the novel with the implicit sexual tension between Uncle Tom and Little Eva, and explore the reason the novel remains so strong in the public imagination. Both new readers and those familiar with the work will appreciate the scholarly insight into the culture and social conventions that directed Stowe's writing. She sought to rouse abolitionist sentiments and, in the process, rendered Uncle Tom as no threat to white men. The editors ultimately applaud the novel as an enduring part of the American literary canon. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
A few months ago I reviewed the Penguin edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin here in Amazon. I suggested that if you decide to read the novel, skip the Introduction until you are done reading, because it gives away several plot points that you are better off encountering for yourself directly.
The same applies to this new annotated edition I think. The novel is not so difficult that you can't simply read it through on your own. I suggest doing that first, in a standard edition, then going through this edition. Otherwise you are having only a mediated experience of the work. In other words, let the work stand or fall on its own merits first, before exposing yourself to the opinions of others about it.
Having read the standard edition earlier I then read this annotated edition "inside out". That is, I read the introductory chapters and the annotations themselves straight through and used Stowe's text as the reference. This is a better approach I think than trying to read the text for the first time with the annotations nearby, where they do intrude and interrupt the flow of the story.
When reading the annotations this way though you do notice the inconsistency in voice that Updike mentions. Most are carefully neutral but you get an occasional first-person remark like "I confess my eyes glazed over" (gee that's helpful), then "again, our eyes glaze over" or "I recall Baldwin's...". Or "I am close to turning the page." then "...bore us silly", in the same annotation. As if the two editors read, and experienced eye-glaze, in unison? Since there seems to be two distinct voices at play it would have been useful for each annotation to have been initialed by its author, Gates or Robbins. I started trying to guess which editor wrote which annotation--I suspect Robbins provided the majority of the historical background while Gates did the Baldwins, the "I"s, and the trendier ones ("To the modern reader, Adolph is unmistakably 'metrosexual'"). This disparity in tone is also obvious between Gates' public interview (Boston Globe, Nov 12) in which he too-casually terms the work racist, and the less judgmental and more nuanced approach of the majority of the annotations themselves.
Getting past that though the annotations contain a wealth of useful background. The Biblical references, the distinctions among the slaves, the nuances of hypocrisy, the literary conventions, the sheer mechanics of the business, the conventional wisdom of the time about the races, all are excellent and thorough.
So, if you are going to read Uncle Tom's Cabin, do so first, then get this edition. It's an indispensable addition to the work.
The tone of some of the comments are also startlingly informal, as in "George is a little too talky here." Talky???????? That wouldn't even pass in an eighth grade English paper. Not to mention that George, at this point in the novel, is under great duress and making an impassioned stand for his belief and his survival. Talky. Harumph.
So skip the notes, but by all means devour the story. It is worth it.
I liked the overall package - it's a truly beautiful book with many illustrations and pictures showing the way that Uncle Tom has been understood and portrayed in the United States since it's initial publication.
On the other hand, I found the annotations to be irritatingly most unhelpful. There were a handful of comments that truly brought insight, but most seemed to be commentary on style (see other reviews for examples), or definitions for obscure words, some of which I found to be, if not inaccurate, not really providing the nuances of the term. More often than not, I found the annotations to be irritating and to detract from my enjoyment of the novel. I had hoped that Skip Gates would share the depth of his academic and intellectual talents, but found a rather cursory approach was used instead.
After hearing about this book over the years, I was mistaken to think the story focused heavily on Uncle Tom. Although a main character who exemplified humility, patience, kindness, and deep faith in God, Tom shared almost equal time with others like Eliza - a house slave on the run to ensure her son would not be sold, George – her husband determined to live as a free man to exercise his ability to excel at business dealings, Eva – a young Caucasian girl who loves her father’s slaves with a pure heart, and Miss Ophelia – aunt to Eva and displaced Northern born single woman who is given a chance to repent of the prejudice hidden inside her. There are others who tugged at my heart along the way, but these are a few of the most well-known characters in reviews since the book’s release.
Though the story neither begins nor ends in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, that place and the devout worship of God that occurred there on a weekly basis are at the heart of the thread that touches each person Tom interacts with along his journey from a well-loved master in Kentucky to a brute in Louisiana. I’m glad I read it for myself because Uncle Tom is not what I expected. His strength of character in spite of the ever elusive path toward freedom is nothing less than inspiring.
A must read!
P.S. With amazing insight from Henry and Hollis, it’s worth getting the annotated version. I found the side notes priceless.