November 2, 2011

Stowe: we get into regular gales

On November 2, 1872, Harriet Beecher Stowe continued her public reading tour, this time in Bangor, Maine. Her first reading ever took place less than two months earlier. It was a far cry from her tour of England in 1853, during which Stowe merely stood up for her audiences, accepted their applause, and sat down; the actual reading was done by her brothers. Her motivation for the tour was simple: she needed the money. Each audience member (150 to 1,500, depending on the venue) paid between 50 and 75 cents to hear the "most noted woman in America" according to one billing.

The reading was encouraged in part by her publisher James T. Fields, though Stowe admitted, "I am appalled by finding myself booked to read." Billed as "the world-famous author of Uncle Tom's Cabin," she naturally chose to read sections from her best-selling novel. But Stowe also presented selections from some of her New England-themed short stories and The Pearl of Orr's Island.

Despite her reticence at the beginning of the tour, she eventually admitted she enjoyed her audience's reaction: "how they do laugh! We get into regular gales." And, of course, her most important motivation: "it is as easy a way of making money as I have ever tried, though no way of making money is perfectly easy." Despite the success of her writing, Stowe was a bit to willingly parted with her earnings, often donating to various causes or to those in need.

Still, the tour proved rewarding for Stowe. In Bangor, a woman who was deaf traveled 50 miles just to see Stowe and admitted, "I'd rather see you than the Queen." Stowe might also have felt at home: two decades earlier, while writing Uncle Tom's Cabin, she lived in Brunswick, Maine, only slightly southwest of Bangor.

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