July 1, 2010

Death of Harriet Beecher Stowe

Though primarily remembered for one novel, one which was the highest-selling of the century, Harriet Beecher Stowe (pictured at left, 1886) wrote much more than Uncle Tom's Cabin. In 1889, however, she suffered a crippling stroke. It took a major toll on her and she realized she was nearing her death. As she wrote to Oliver Wendell Holmes four years later:

I am passing the last days of my life in the city where I passed my school-girl life [Hartford, Connecticut]. My physical health, since I recovered from my alarming illness, I had four years ago has been excellent... [but] my mental condition might be called nomadic.

By 1894, her children noted their mother's change. "She herself is changed very very much. Should you meet her without knowing who she was, I don't think you would recognize her at all. Her hair is snowywhite, her face very thin... and has the vague wondering expression of infancy."

By the end of June, Stowe was confined to her bed with brain congestion and apparent paralysis. Stowe died on July 1, 1896, surrounded by family at her home at Nook Farm. It was about two weeks after her 85th birthday.

"I love everybody," Stowe once wrote in a letter. Years later, her son and biographer wrote, "She was impelled by love and did what she did, and wrote what she did, under the impulse of love."

*Much of the information from this post comes from Philip McFarland's The Loves of Harriet Beecher Stowe, which closes (quite poetically) with the emphasis on Stowe's love.

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