Classic Book Reviews: Uncle Tom’s Cabin + The Beautiful and Damned

I continue my adventures in reading the classics with Uncle Tom's Cabin and The Beautiful and Damned. | Book reviews by

I’m continuing my journey of reading the classics that have somehow escaped me (you can read previous posts here and here). Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Beautiful and Damned were next on my list, simply because I happened to have audio book versions of each. (I admit to listening to each of them on 2x speed and using my 30 minute commute to force myself to listen to them when they got dry and boring.) Still, it’s easy to see how each of these books became classics, and I’m glad I read them.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

First published in 1852, this book follows the story of several slaves and the white people who surround them. When Mr. Shelby, the slave owner, finds himself in debt, he has to sell two of his favorite slaves–kind, patient Tom and the young child of Eliza. Eliza decides to run away with her child, while Tom agrees to be sold downriver. We follow both characters, along with the masters and fellow slaves they encounter on their travels.

I was not expecting to enjoy this book as much as I did. It is powerful and surprisingly modern for the time it was written. It’s easy to see why Abraham Lincoln reportedly cited it as the cause of the Civil War. Of course, there is a fair amount of racism still present (it was written in the 1850s, after all), and there is a strong case of White Savior Complex and a large group of simple, pure-hearted slaves, but I was amazed at what a case Stowe built for ending slavery. She focused on how deeply these mothers felt the loss of their children, husbands the loss of their wives, and often directs her narrative voice at the audience, urging them to think about how they would feel in similar circumstances. Stowe clearly had a deep Christian faith, as did many of her readers at the time, and she gathers evidence for how unchristian it is to own slaves. She even attacks those who justify slavery by describing how kind they are to their own slaves and how lost these people would be without guidance–Stowe rightly points out that everyone desires freedom above practically all else and how harmful it is to be even a kindly master.

If you can get past the historical racism inherent to Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the length which at times feels dry, you should read this book. I’m glad I did, even though I doubt I’ll pick it up again.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Beautiful and Damned

Embellished with the author’s lyrical prose, here is the story of Harvard-educated, aspiring aesthete Anthony Patch and his beautiful wife, Gloria. As they await the inheritance of his grandfather’s fortune, their reckless marriage sways under the influence of alcohol and avarice. A devastating look at the nouveau riche and New York nightlife, as well as the ruinous effects of wild ambition, The Beautiful and the Damned achieved stature as one of Fitzgerald’s most accomplished novels.

Fitzgerald is great at presenting a depressing, dark view of human nature, and that’s exactly what he does in The Beautiful and Damned. Anthony and Gloria selfishly mistreat each other and fall into straits as they can’t control their spending/drinking/vanity. It’s painful to see them do so much harm to themselves and each other, although it is of course very well written. If you’ve read The Great Gatsby, you’ll know what to expect from this book.

Rating: Meh

Newbery Review: The Perilous Road

This Civil War historical fiction Newbery book is simplistic, but it works. | A book review by Newbery and Beyond

This Newbery honor book from 1959 is a short (~150 pages) novel about the Civil War and about a young boy who lives in the Tennessee hills (near where my family lives!) during that time.  Chris is staunchly supportive of the Rebels, not because he supports slavery (his family is poor and doesn’t own any slaves), but because the Feds took a deer skin jacket that he worked on for weeks, and because the soldiers also took his family’s food, leaving them hungry for the winter to come.  When he finds out his brother Jethro has joined up with the Federal army, Chris is destitute.  His family is persecuted by the local people because of their “traitorous” family member, Jethro, so Chris decides to do whatever it takes to prove that he is a Rebel, through and through.  But when his plan goes awry, Chris finds himself among the Federal soldiers–and discovers they might not all be so bad.

It’s a somewhat simplistic story: a young boy hates the Northern army but soon discovers that most of them are just like him and his family–hungry, cold, and wanting to go home and stop all this fighting.  But it works.  This book captures the feeling of being a kid, old enough to form strong opinions, but too young to see others’ perspectives.  The Southern accent portrayed in the dialogue is also spot on–and I usually hate written accents!  It’s not my favorite Newbery book, but it is certainly enjoyable.  Take a look if you or your kids are into Civil War-era literature.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

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