Letter of Consideration to Ms. Harriet Beecher Stowe

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Letter of Consideration to Ms. Harriet Beecher Stowe

Laura Otten


Otten & Co.
5537 NE Penrith Rd.
Seattle, WA 98015

March 17, 2006

Ms. Harriet Beecher Stowe
63 Federal St.
Brunswick, Maine 04011


Dear Ms. Stowe:

Thank you for your recent submission to Otten & Co. Unfortunately, we are unable to take your work in its current stage. However, Uncle Tom's Cabin is a striking and poignant novel. I would strongly suggest that you continue with revisions and keep in contact with our publishing house.

As the female head of this company, I have very strong opinions about the power of women. I chose to run this company with those standards and I would like our work to represent the values I hold true. The reason that our company is hesitant to endorse your book at this time is because I personally found certain aspects of the novel difficult to interpret. I felt that your novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, presented many mixed messages about the role and power of women. As a fellow, female businesswoman, I understand that you and I must be similar in mind. Therefore, I question your choice to set forth such contradictions about our sex in your own work.

I must make my decisions based on the best interest of my company and the values our institution upholds. Currently, we cannot afford jeopardizing our relationship with our customers by supporting this novel and the mixed messages it presents about women.

In the following pages, I have included several points from the novel that illustrate the type of contradictions that were confusing to me. Perhaps through these comments and your explanations, we may have further conversation about your intent and the future of this piece.

I wish you the best of luck with your work. Thank you for giving Otten & Co. a chance to review your writing.

Sincerely,

Laura Otten
President
Otten & Co.
(206) 498-1992
lotten@otten&co.com


Ms. Stowe, certain points in the novel Uncle Tom's Cabin portrayed women very negatively. The unfavorable views of women showed them as being overly emotional, cruel, selfish, unintelligent and spoiled. I found these views to be offensive because they contrasted harshly against the complimentary attitude awarded to women throughout the rest of the novel. I was confused as to why a book meant to enlist the help of women would criticize them in an unflattering way. Perhaps you hope female readers will become enraged by these characterizations and work to disprove them.

In Uncle Tom's Cabin, you categorize women, men and slaves as 'womanly' for being overly sentimental. This is offensive because it suggests that expressing emotion is a sign of weakness, and therefore classifies women as 'weak'. For example, when telling the story about his brother advising him to give up his part of the family plantation, St. Clare recalls that "'he told me that I was a womanish sentimentalist,'" (pg. 201). This incident, of a man giving up power, describes St. Clare as being woman-like. This is not an empowering message that will rally female readers. It is insulting. However, earlier in the novel, Mrs. Shelby argues with her husband about the fate of Eliza and exclaims, "'Feel too much! Am not I a woman, a mother?'" (pg. 62) Her comment counters the belief that emotion is a disadvantage. Instead she believes that feeling will lead to empathy for others. It is unfortunate that she seems to identify 'feeling' as a feminine quality because then she excludes the idea that others (men) may be able to learn to empathize for others.

Marie St. Clare represented women negatively because she was selfish. Unfortunately, her attitudes seemed generalized to women of high class and status. This unflattering depiction is disadvantageous when you are hoping to appeal to women of that same socioeconomic status. After the death of Eva, an event she uses to highlight her own 'hardships', Marie is at her worst.
"Marie St. Clare felt the loss of Eva as deeply as she could feel anything; and, as she was a woman that had a great faculty of making everybody unhappy when she was, her immediate attendants has still stronger reason to regret the lost of their young mistress, whose winning ways and gentle intercessions had so often been a shield to them from the tyrannical and selfish exactions of her mother." (pg. 266)
Through the unbecoming illustration of Marie, I believe you are trying to set your female readers against acting in such a self-absorbed manner.

Marie also represents the cruelty of women. Oftentimes she urges her husband to beat and whip the slaves. At one point St. Clare notes her meanness by saying, "'I don't doubt it...Tell me of the lovely rule of woman! I never saw above a dozen women that wouldn't half kill a horse, or a servant, either, if they had their own way with them! let alone a man.'" (pg.244). Her unkindness is horrifying and hopefully will repel your readers from acting this way or accepting this kind of behavior in others.

In the novel, when men classified women as unintelligent, I became angry. Mr. Shelby addresses his wife saying, "'O, ridiculous, Emily! You are the finest woman in Kentucky; but still you haven't sense to know that you don't understand business; - women never do, and never can.'" (pg. 220) I do not think you should include disrespect against women in your novel. This is only beneficial if you mean to enrage your readers, as you did me, because then they will take these insults as a challenge to prove themselves otherwise.

Women in your book oftentimes appear to be leisurely and spoiled. When Miss Ophelia decides to clean and re-organize the St. Clare household, the slaves "agreed that she was no lady; ladies never kept working about as she did; - that she had no air at all; and they were surprised that she should be any relation of the St. Clares." (pg. 206) The novel assumes that white women do not engage in work involving effort and therefore implies that these women have little motivation or power to create change. Ms. Stowe, this insinuation counters the movement you are attempting to promote among white women. How are your readers expected to garner strength if you write as though you have no faith in their capabilities?

Most often, when you described women in the novel, I found your intent confusing. It was difficult to discern whether or not you were complimenting the female sex or adding insult.

The character of Cassy was central in this mess of both the positive and negative sides of woman. You write, "But, as time, and debasing influences, and despair, hardened womanhood within her, and waked the fires of fiercer passions, she had become in a measure his mistress, and he alternately tyrannized over and dreaded her." (pg. 348) The female slave, Cassy, is a 'hardened' woman and the meaning of this is perplexing. Is this an insult because she is 'less' of a woman for having experienced failure? Or, is 'hardened womanhood' a compliment because its negative connotation means that women usually symbolize hope? Her master both 'tyrannizes' her and 'dreads' her. So is this a passive woman or a dominant woman? Why did you choose this juxtaposition? Perhaps you hope the readers will forgive Cassy's weaknesses and ultimately find strength in her power.

When Cassy describes her past to Tom, she offers another baffling comment, "you can do anything with a woman, when you've got her children." (pg. 317) I was at first angered that this comment implied women were malleable and easily manipulated. Then the comment's truth struck me, a truth that I know would strike your female readers. In the end, Cassy's quote admits that women are fiercely loyal, protective and selfless when it comes to the wellbeing of their own children. I believe your readers will be able to identify easily with this maternal role.

Ms. Stowe, when you write about the positive forces that women possess, the negative indications about the female sex fade in comparison. In a positive context, the women in Uncle Tom's Cabin are empathetic, strong, honest and high capable. If your goal in writing this novel is to rally the women of America to action, then with such depictions alone I believe you could succeed.

Throughout the novel, you directly address the mothers who may be reading and call upon them to exude empathy. You plead, "mothers of America...I beseech you, pity the mother who has all your affections, and not one legal right to protect, guide, or educate, the child of her bosom!" (pg.384) You have faith that your readers will feel empathy and be moved fight the injustice imposed on slave mothers and families.

The women in the novel possess strength and honesty. You refer to "all the honest blood of womanhood," (pg. 278) as a virtue that will help the women of America fight the war against slavery. When discussing the relationship between Cassy and Legree, you write, "the most brutal man cannot live in constant association with a strong female influence, and not be greatly controlled by it." (pg. 348) With this comment, you infer that the women of America are strong and hold great influence over their husbands. While I would rather you state that women themselves have the power to take action, I understand your logic in urging these women to use their influence over their powerful husbands to change the course of slavery. Even though they will then rely on help from their husbands, these women are still devoted to a good and just cause.

However, you also demonstrate your belief that women are highly capable of creating change themselves. Of Mrs. Shelby you write, "though her husband had stated she was a woman, she had a clear, energetic, practical mind, and a force of character every way superior to that of her husband" (pg. 220). You call women to action by stating that, "Had his wife been a whole woman, she might yet have done something as woman can to mend the broken threads of life," (pg. 133). You obviously have great faith that women are the backbone of America and you want them to take charge of the fight against slavery. "South as well as north, there are women who have an extraordinary talent for command, and tact in educating. Such are enabled, with apparent ease, and without severity, to subject to their will, and bring into harmonious and systematic order, the various members of their small estate, - to regulate their peculiarities, and so balance and compensate the deficiencies of one by the excess of another, as to produce a harmonious and orderly system." (pg. 178)

Ms. Stowe, I believe this novel is enormously affective, with the potential for great success. It is the vehicle needed for change in our nation and I would like to see it published by our company. I know this novel was not intended as a sexiest piece but, as in several of the points I mentioned above, you need to be careful and preferably alter your language, so as not to confuse and discourage your readers, thus pushing them away from your call. Again, thank you, I look forward to reading your second draft.


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