We're looking this semester at how Uncle Tom's Cabin was adapted to different media, different audiences, different aesthetic or ideological agendas, and different cultural moments. In a sense, looking at the way it was adapted into children's books means looking at all of that at once — even though the very first "readers" of Stowe's novel were in fact children, her children, to two of whom she read that scene of a black slave being beaten to death almost immediately after she wrote it. In any case, as you look at the material below, think about what it tells us about the way America revisited Uncle Tom's Cabin for and in different generations.|
Here you'll see all 21 different children's versions (1852-1929) we've identified and digitized for the archive. The links below will take you to the specific ones I want you to read, at least in excerpts, but first please read the background information provided on this page.
Most of the children's versions of Stowe's story contain lots of pictures, which probably spoke at least as powerfully to the children reading them as the words. For that reason, I'd like you to look through as many of the illustrations you'll see gathered on this page as you can manage. Maybe we could begin class by each pointing out the one picture that struck us most forcefully. To do that, all you need is the title of the book you found it in, and the caption of the illustration.
This 1853 book originated in England, but was reprinted in America by Stowe's publisher. It consists of revised and abridged excerpts from the novel, original poetry, and 9 illustrations (probably derived from one of the pirated British editions of the novel). You don't have to read the prose (but note which parts of the novel are excerpted), but do read the poems and look at the pictures.
This text will give you access to what seems to have been the most frequently printed children's version at the beginning of the 20th century. It's an adaptation of a British adaptation (which, if you're interested, you can see by CLICKING HERE), and was reprinted by several different publishing houses, with different illustrations, &c., for over a decade. Please read CHAPTERS 1, 3, 14, 17, 19 and 20.
At the other end of the spectrum from the shabby and inexpensive is this upscale children's version, published in 1908. Read at least the PREFACE and CHAPTERS 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 13 and 15.
This early 20th century adaptation, by Grace Duffy Boylan, adds a new "last chapter" to Stowe's story, which updates it in more than one way. Read CHAPTER 1 first, to get an idea of how Boylan adapts the novel Stowe did write, then read CHAPTER 15, to see how Boylan rewrites Stowe's ending.
Like the rest of the books here, this appeared after the copyright on the novel lapsed in 1892, though like most of the rest of these children's books, the exact date it was first published, and even its author and first publisher, are often impossible to identify. This one won't take you long to read, though it might give you a lot to think about. (By the way, the illustration of Topsy "teaching" her doll seems to echo Stowe's characters ultimate destiny as a missionary in Africa — and if that's so, then this picture is one of the only two illustrations of Topsy as "missionary" that I've found among the thousands of illustrations I've seen for various editions of the novel. If you want to see the other, by E. W. Kemble [who also illustrated the first edition of Huck Finn], it's the third from the last of the 142 illustrations on THIS PAGE.)