Skip to main content

Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Spiritual Life by Nancy Koester

Publisher: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. January 13, 2014
Genre: Christian Non-fiction, biography, Civil War, Uncle Tom's Cabin
Format: Paperback
Pages: 382
Rating: 4 1/2 Stars for Very Good. 
Source: Free copy from Eerdmans in exchange for a review. All reviews are written from my own opinion and feelings. 

Barnes and Nobles
Christian Book 

Nancy Koester website

Review was first posted at The Christian Manifesto

"Uncle Tom's Cabin came from the heart rather than the head. It was an outburst of deep feeling, a cry in the darkness. The writer no more thought of style or literary excellence, than the mother who rushes into the street and cries for help to save her children from a burning house thinks of the teachings of the rhetorician or the elocutionist.” Quote by Charles Stowe.

The name Harriet Beecher Stowe, is synonymous with her story Uncle Tom's Cabin. The book was published in serialized form, 1851 and 1852. She is quoted as saying she wrote it to “awaken sympathy and feeling for the African race.” Most of the white characters in the story are portrayed as desensitized to slavery, but a few characters rise above the acceptance of slavery, they are brave and defiant against its inhumane treatment. Both blacks and whites ridiculed the book. On one side they felt Stowe had not done enough; on the other side of opinion, she was an evil woman.
Harriet Beecher Stowe, was born in 1811, to a large New England family. Her father was a Congregationalist pastor. He was an intelligent and outspoken man. His children, both sons and daughters, were strong communicators and readers. Harriet's elder sister, had an independent nature that did not make room for a husband and family. The Beecher family took part in theological discussions, they conversed freely their doubts and insecurities. They were encouraged to be thinkers and to ask questions; in addition, to be involved in social justice. Harriet's penchant for being bold in how she felt did not happen when she wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin, but was a natural result of her personality and upbringing. Harriet married Calvin Stowe and they had seven children. She wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin at age forty. She died in 1896, after living a remarkable life.
Although the zenith of A Spiritual Life, is Stowe's notable book, Uncle Tom's Cabin. I was given a broad range view of her life that I'd not read about in other books.
Author, Nancy Koester, explores both the shaping of Harriet Beecher Stowe's spiritual life and personality, and how it contributed to the writing of Uncle Tom's Cabin; in addition, how her own journey in life was transformed by the steady process of Christian growth.
When Stowe met William Lloyd Garrison, the editor of the Liberator, and a key leader of a anti-slavery group, she asked him if he was a Christian. The following pages in this chapter expound on the “sanctity” of the Bible, and in its “power to transform.” These pages of the book were some of my favorite. Stowe stood eye to eye in sharing her beliefs with Garrison and did not cower.
I was glad Koester explored the criticism of Uncle Tom's Cabin. The shock of the book becoming a best seller, and in its discussion among people of all races and slavery views, propelled the books strength. The book did not rise and burst, but steadily lived on without diminishing its intended aim.
I would have liked a whole chapter dedicated to the legacy of Uncle Tom's Cabin. How people through the generations have viewed the story, how modern readers are unaware of the book or make light of it, or how it is completely shoved aside as not being of importance in helping end slavery in America.
People in the Christian community had used the Bible to both reject or accept slavery.
Stowe explained: “Those who defend slavery read the Bible through the eyes of self-interest. They convert the Bible to their own use, instead of letting the Bible convert them. Who uses Scripture rightly? Those who follow Christ, like Tom and Eva. Instead of using the Scripture to lay burdens upon the backs of others, they carry the cross for others.” page 134.


Cathy said…
Great review. What a powerful quote at the end of it.

Thanks for sharing, I'm looking forward to reading this one now.