Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Harriet Beecher Stowe, Twins, and Perfect Timing

Harriet Beecher Stowe's twin daughters, Hattie & Eliza. 
When Harriet Beecher Stowe gave birth to twins, she pretty much concluded that raising children would be her life's work. She viewed writing as a hobby to make a little pocket change here and there, but certainly it would never change the world.

She was wrong.

Her novel Uncle Tom's Cabin is arguably one of the most influential books in human history. (notes) It was the second best selling book on earth during the 19th century, second only in sales to the Bible. The first year it was published, it sold 300,000 copies in the US, and a million copies in Great Britain. Within its first five years of publication, it was translated into 20 languages; today it is available in 60 languages. It played a direct role in ending slavery in several countries, including Thailand. You know this if you've ever seen the musical The King and I, or Anna and the King with Jodie Foster. (more notes)

What many people don't realize, though, is that the plot of the novel came to Harriet Beecher Stowe as a type of "vision" (her words) while she was sitting in church. After the service, she went home, sat at her kitchen table, and began to write down what she saw in her vision. Please keep in mind, by this time she and her husband had six children running around the house. She later spoke of the many interruptions and distractions present during the two years when she was writing the novel. She described sitting at her kitchen table, jotting down ideas between cooking meals, washing dishes, and doing laundry. That, in itself, is a triumph of the human spirit.

But timing is everything, as we know. Mrs. Stowe did not write the novel when the twins were infants--she wrote it when the twins were old enough to help with the younger children, and her husband could afford an occasional, part-time cleaning lady.

"There is," according to Mrs. Stowe's Calvinist Bible, "a time for every purpose under Heaven." (Eccles 3) Apparently she learned how to honor that timing, trust in it, relax in it and live in it comfortably.

Therefore, when the vision showed up that day in church, she was ready.

NOTE TO SELF: along with being immeasurably influential, Uncle Tom's Cabin is also controversial, unsettling, corny and highly, highly offensive. I do recommend you read it, but you are on your own if you launch it across the room and hit someone or break a window.