Others We Love, Part 4

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

The story is apocryphal, but telling: upon Harriet Beecher Stowe’s being ushered into the presence of Abraham Lincoln in 1862 while the Civil War was raging, the president supposedly greeted her with the words, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.” 

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Few novels have transformed American society as much. Stowe (1811–1896) wrote over 30 books—including children’s books, biographies, and advice manuals—but this one made her name. It appeared in response to the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act that required that all citizens try to recapture fugitive slaves, as well as to her sister-in-law’s urging, “If I could use a pen as you can, Hatty, I would write something that would make this whole nation feel what an accursed thing slavery is.” Stowe succeeded. 

The daughter of famed American preacher Lyman Beecher and his wife, Roxanna, Stowe was one of 11 children, all socially active. Her brother, Henry Ward Beecher, was a well-known late-nineteenth-century preacher; her oldest sister, Catharine, founded schools for women; and her youngest sister, Isabella, founded the National Women’s Suffrage Association.

Stowe originally released the book as a newspaper serial (chapter by chapter, a common way to release novels in the nineteenth century) in early 1852. When it came out as a complete book later in the year, it sold 10,000 copies in its first week. In just 12 months, nearly 2,000,000 copies were sold in the United States and Great Britain combined.

Stowe followed the book up with an even more radically abolitionist story, Dred, A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp (1856), continuing to preach the message she had urged in Uncle Tom’s Cabin: “The enslaving of the African race is a clear violation of the great law which commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves.” —Jennifer Woodruff Tait 

The Story of a Soul

A young, impulsive, French Roman Catholic girl who asked at the age of 15 to be committed to a convent seems an odd spiritual model for a Protestant, married, middle-aged woman. Yet from the moment I read about Thérèse (1873–1897) in Kathleen Norris’s The Cloister Walk in my early twenties, I’ve felt a great love for this excitable teenage saint.

Born in Lisieux, France, to parents who had considered becoming members of religious orders themselves, Thérèse was one of nine children (five survived infancy). Influenced by her devout family, frequent illness, and The Imitation of Christ [#10], Thérèse petitioned to enter the same Carmelite convent as several older sisters. Her parents approved, but church bureaucrats did not because of her age. She obtained an audience with the pope to ask his support, writing home to one of her sisters about the 77-year-old Leo XIII, “The Pope is so old that you would think he is dead.” Eventually the church relented.

Thérèse was happy in the convent until her final years, when she wrestled with both a dark night of the soul (see p. 32) and tuberculosis. She died at age 24, but left behind an autobiography called The Story of a Soul, written at the urging of her sister Pauline who by then was the convent’s abbess. 

Published after her death, it touched millions with what she called her “little way” of faith: 

“I will seek out a means of getting to Heaven by a little way—very short and very straight, a little way that is wholly new … thine Arms, then, O Jesus, are the lift which must raise me up even unto Heaven. To get there I need not grow; on the contrary, I must remain little, I must become still less.”

Jennifer Woodruff Tait

This article is from Christian History magazine #116 Twenty-Five Writings that Changed the Church and the World. Read it in context here!

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[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #116 in 2015]

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