Known primarily today for her antislavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe also interpreted the life of her native New England in a series of novels, stories, and sketches. Along with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Oliver Wendell Holmes, she contributed to the first issue of The Atlantic Monthly (November, 1857) and for many years thereafter contributed frequently to that Boston-based magazine. As an alert and intelligent member of a famous family of Protestant ministers, she understood the Puritan conscience and outlook as well as anyone in her time, and as a shrewd observer of the commonplace, she deftly registered Yankee habits of mind and speech. All of her novels feature authentic New England characters; after Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Dred, she turned to settings that included all six New England states. Despite a contradictory idealizing tendency, she pioneered in realism.
One of the first American writers to apply a talent for dialect and local color to the purposes of seriousnarrative, Stowe exerted a strong influence on Sarah Orne Jewett, Mary Wilkins Freeman, and other regionalists of the later nineteenth century. Without a doubt, however, her greatest achievement was the novel that, beginning as an intended short serial in a Washington antislavery weekly, the National Era, forced the American reading public to realize for the first time not only that slavery was a national problem but also that slaves were people with hopes and aspirations as legitimate as their own. Critics as diverse as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Heinrich Heine, William Dean Howells, and Leo Tolstoy in the nineteenth century, and Edmund Wilson and Anthony Burgess in the twentieth, have used superlatives to praise Uncle Tom’s Cabin.