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Scholarly Editing

The Annual of the Association for Documentary Editing

2012, Volume 33

A Selection from "Uncle Tom's Cabin: A Digital Critical Edition: 'Topsy'"

by Wesley Raabeby Les Harrison
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A Selection from “Uncle Tom’s Cabin: A Digital Critical Edition: ‘Topsy’ ”

Published in book form in 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin is the first worldwide bestseller written by an American and, outside of the Bible, the most widely-reprinted work of the nineteenth century. It intensified the debate over slavery and states’ rights, the issues that would lead to the Civil War after the election of Abraham Lincoln. Even within the more focused parameters of American literary scholarship, Stowe’s novel has been a touchstone. F.O. Matthiessen excluded it from his American Renaissance as too popular, and James Baldwin rejected it as the literature of protest.[1] Decades later, feminist scholar Jane Tompkins argued persuasively for its restoration to the literary canon, and Henry Louis Gates Jr. has advised recently that it is “impossible to understand” African American literary narrative without this novel.[2] But unlike other key texts of nineteenth-century American literary history—such as Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick—Stowe’s novel has never been published in a scholarly edition with an authoritative text and a history of composition and publication.

We identify two probable causes for this neglect. First is the historical fact that only a handful of Stowe’s manuscript pages are known to exist. Had more of Stowe’s manuscript survived, it would have drawn the attention of scholars. Second, since the novel is quite long and was often reprinted (in three independently typeset, full-length versions by its original American publisher alone), the value of closely examining reprints of Stowe’s novel has been underestimated. Stowe herself seems to admonish a scholarly reader who would “fill his head first with a thousand questions of authenticity of manuscript, and correctness of translation,” a warning that most readers of Stowe’s text have apparently heeded.[3] While seven new or re-issued editions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin for the university classroom have been published in the last four years, all recent editions (with the exception of one forthcoming) are based on publisher John P. Jewett’s two-volume edition of 1852.[4] While some scholars have addressed the National Era serialization of the novel and the publication history of alternate versions, studies of the Jewett first edition shape most scholarship, even that which addresses the work’s cultural pervasiveness in the decade before the Civil War. Because close study of reprint texts has been neglected, scholarly readers have remained unaware that Stowe revised Uncle Tom’s Cabin after its initial book publication.

For our contribution to Scholarly Editing, we present a fluid-text edition of “Topsy,” chapter 20 of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. This chapter was selected not only because it contains a significant and previously unnoticed revision of Stowe’s text but also because it introduces one of the novel’s most memorable and contentious characters, the slave-child Topsy. Ostensibly, Topsy’s function in the novel is to provide an African-American contrast to Stowe’s ideal, Christ-like child, Evangeline St. Clare. Where little Eva stands for the values of motherhood, child-like innocence, and Christianity, Topsy, raised by speculators, is motherless, cunning, and ignorant not only of Christianity but also of compassion and love. Where Stowe drew on Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop (1841) and the sentimental literary tradition for little Eva, for Topsy she drew on the “wench” character from blackface minstrelsy. But in importing Topsy into her text from the minstrel show, Stowe brought along the surplus meaning that inhered in her character. While Topsy embodies the broadest of stereotypes of African depravity, she also resists actively the program of white paternalism, which seeks her “redemption.” She challenges the middle-class morals and conventional pieties embodied in Stowe’s New England Spinster character, Miss Ophelia. Topsy became a crowd favorite both in subsequent dramatic adaptations (Aiken [1853], Conway [1853]) and twentieth-century film adaptations such as Porter (1903), Daly (1914), and Pollard (1927), as well as numerous animated shorts.[5] As such, any changes Stowe made to Topsy in this initial chapter, such as Topsy’s newly discovered contention that she will gain admittance to heaven as Miss Ophelia’s servant, have importance not only for Stowe’s novel but for its numerous adaptations.

This fluid-text edition of “Topsy,” chapter 20 of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, provides tantalizing clues that Stowe was much more actively engaged in the reprinted American editions of her novel than scholars have previously suspected. Traditionally, the text of John P. Jewett’s two-volume first edition (1852) has been treated as the authoritative text of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. However, a significant addition was made to the text of chapter 20 in an inexpensive edition issued in paper wrappers and advertised as the “Edition for the Million” (1852/53). In this edition, following Topsy’s boast to her fellow slaves that she is “the wickedest critter in the world,” three lines of dialogue between Topsy and Augustine St. Clare have been added:

“But I ’s boun’ to go to heaven, for all that,
though,” she said, one day, after an exposé of this

“Why, how ’s that, Tops?” said her master,
who had been listening, quite amused.

“Why, Miss Feely ’s boun’ to go, any way; so
they ’ll have me thar. Laws! Miss Feely ’s so
curous they won’t none of ’em know how to wait
on her.”[6]

These new lines of dialogue, which speak directly to Stowe’s message of Christian redemption through love as well as to the recent George Aiken adaptation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, is both too substantial and too esoteric to be the work of a copy editor or compositor. The most likely explanation for the addition of this dialogue is that, as the audience for Uncle Tom’s Cabin continued to increase, both on the page and on the stage, Stowe felt the need to strengthen the chapter’s emphasis on Topsy’s ignorance of the Gospel’s message of unconditional love. Stowe here seems to be trying to ensure the stability of her religious message as her text starts to circulate within a more religiously conservative, working-class readership, one which may be coming to her novel after having seen it produced upon the stage.

Beyond indicating Stowe’s engagement with the inexpensive “Million” edition (1852/53), “Uncle Tom’s Cabin: A Digital Critical Edition: ‘Topsy’” provides evidence that another reprint, the “Illustrated Edition” of 1853, reflects authorial word forms that were present also in the National Era serial installments but not the text most widely reprinted for scholarly study, Jewett’s two-volume first edition. The text of the Topsy chapter in the first edition is a step removed from the authorial manuscript because this portion of the book was set from the Era installment. In the newspaper printing, the dialect forms “mass’r” and “missis” are not capitalized, a stylistic choice which may indicate a refusal—both on Stowe’s part and by the editors of the National Era— to acknowledge the legitimacy of these titles. In the Jewett first edition, these titles are capitalized consistently as “Mas’r” and “Missis” in accordance with wider conventions for the representation of slave dialect. In the “Illustrated Edition,” they are not capitalized. The capitalization reverts back to lower-case “mas’r” and “missis,” the former part-way but not completely back to the form “mass’r in the National Era serialization. By contrast, the capitalization of titles of address in the two-volume edition was repeated in the “Million” edition (1852/53) and later in the Houghton, Osgood & Co. “New Edition” (1879): both editions are reasonably faithful reprints of the text of the two-volume edition, even mirroring thin spacing in contractions. Therefore, if we surmise that lower-case forms of address for master and mistress reflect authorial preference, Stowe’s preference seems to apply for particular audiences. To insinuate that the capitalization of these titles is unwarranted may be a message that Stowe reserves for the select antislavery audiences of the National Era serial and the “Illustrated Edition.”

Further support for this hypothesis of differing practices for differing presumed audiences is that in the “Illustrated Edition,” late in the chapter, Topsy more often speaks in conventional (rather than dialect) English of earlier printings: “this” for “dis,” “the” for “de,” and “declare” for “declar.” One might attribute these revisions to a compositor’s lapse of attention, but numerous subtle alterations of the text elsewhere strengthen the case for authorial attention to this edition. Though no instances are present in this chapter, the “Illustrated Edition” has longer em dashes for emphasis in some passages, a practice common in the newspaper text but not present in the setting of the Jewett First Edition or the “Million” edition. Though our evidence based on textual analysis has not been collaborated with a statement of authorial preference, a reading of the conversion of dialect to conventional English could be that Miss Ophelia’s educating efforts are beginning to bear fruit, at least in Topsy’s speech. Is Topsy’s challenge to middle class morals and pieties more suitable for one audience, that of the “Million” edition, readers from lower on the scale of social status, than another, that of the “Illustrated Edition,” readers who expect Topsy to be somewhat tamed by Miss Ophelia’s educational efforts and less threatening to conventional pieties? The “New Edition” (1879), though it reproduces illustrations from a London edition published by Nathaniel Cooke (1853), appears textually to function as a memorial artifact. The stereotype plates from the American first edition, which were badly worn from their initial heavy use, continued to deteriorate as the work was reproduced from the same plates under the imprints of Jewett’s successor publishers. The “New Edition” pairs the Cooke edition illustrations with a restored but faithful version of the Jewett first edition text, the only one among the three Jewett editions which had remained in print by Stowe’s American publishers.

All sites of textual alteration or fluidity potentially represent authorial authority, but if one has no manuscript evidence, such sites may reflect the authority of other agents in the production of texts, especially compositors and proofreaders. The purpose of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin: A Digital Critical Edition: ‘Topsy’” is to make such sites visible. Even scholarly readers who resist ascribing intent to the author—though we as editors do not hesitate to do so when we believe that our judgment is based on reasonable textual evidence—must nonetheless reckon with the experience of historical readers of these variant forms, who read a different version of Stowe’s text than the one that scholars frequently assume best represents the work Uncle Tom’s Cabin. After briefly describing the publication history of Uncle Tom’s Cabin during the nineteenth century, this introduction turns to a discussion of the theories of fluid-text editing put forth by John Bryant in The Fluid Text (2002) as well as to the advantages that digital publication offers to this project. Both in the single-chapter excerpt reproduced here and in its eventual final form, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin: A Digital Critical Edition” will show that one of the most oft-read and oft-cited works in American literature underwent significant revision by its author when reprinted—a fact that has been overlooked during three decades of intense critical interest in the novel.

Stowe participated actively in five authorized editions of the novel that were published in the United States: a National Era newspaper serial in forty-one installments (June 1851—April 1852), John P. Jewett’s two-volume first edition (1852), Jewett’s “An Edition for the Million!” in paper wraps (1852/1853), Jewett’s “Illustrated Edition” (1853), and Houghton, Osgood & Co’s “New Edition” (1879), which was also produced in a more elaborate form with gilding and a red page border, known as the “Holiday Edition” but with the same typesetting. When completed, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin: A Digital Critical Edition” will provide reading texts of each edition, digital page images, and an authoritative record of textual variants. While Stowe’s novel was widely reprinted in Great Britain throughout much of the nineteenth century, the project is currently limited to American editions of the text for which compelling historical or textual evidence points to the author’s involvement with or approval of the changes made to the text or illustrations. We have not addressed for this Scholarly Editing excerpt from the larger project the handful of manuscript pages that have survived to the present day—no pages from the “Topsy” section are extant.

We acknowledge that our criteria exclude significant authorial commentary and adaptation as well as non-authorial reprints that are potentially relevant to scholars of book history or cultural studies. The magnitude of potentially relevant material overwhelms: we can only summarize the exclusions. British editions are excluded, and all translations are also. We exclude from the project the full text of Stowe’s commentary and documentation known as the Key (Jewett 1853), the children’s adaptation, Pictures and Stories from Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Jewett 1853), and Stowe’s dramatic adaptation for Mary Webb, The Christian Slave, A Drama (Phillips, Sampson 1855). Because Stowe no longer played an active role in reprints, we have also excluded editions that represent publisher Houghton, Osgood & Co’s successor-publisher Houghton, Mifflin & Co’s late-century effort to saturate the market in preparation for and in the aftermath of copyright expiration in 1893: “Popular Edition” (1886), “Holiday Edition” (1891), “Large Paper” edition (1891), “Universal Edition” (1892), “Brunswick Edition” (1893), and Writings (1896). We exclude all reprints by other publishers that follow the expiration of copyright.[7]

The bibliographical and provenance detail of the specific copies used in the current edition of chapter 20 of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, “Topsy,” follows below.

For all of the editions outlined above, the following procedures were followed in generating the machine-readable texts which serve as the basis for this edition:

  1. Texts were keyboarded using plain text (ASCII) with light typographical encoding that is compatible with the Peter S. Shillingsburg’s collation program PC-CASE.
  2. A second keyboarding of each text was collated against the first, and all variants were corrected with reference to the original documents.
  3. Typographic encoding was converted to TEI-conformant XML using regular expressions and the PERL scripting language. This structurally rich encoding includes numbered paragraphs and sentences.
  4. A list of variants for the apparatus was created from PC-CASE collation of the corrected keyboardings (step 2), and this typographic encoding was converted to TEI-conformant XML.

After the edition was mounted on the server, it was proofread both by Juxta collation of the keyboarded source files against the XML-encoded text and by silent proofreading.

In addition to directing new attention to the importance of the other versions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, especially the National Era serial and the “Million” edition, both the chapter presented here and the larger project of which it is a part follow the fluid-text editorial principles outlined by John Bryant in The Fluid Text: A Theory of Revision and Editing for Text and Screen (2002). Central to Bryant’s theory is the notion of the fluidity of the text: “Simply put, a fluid text is any literary work that exists in more than one version. It is ‘fluid’ because the versions flow from one to another. Truth be told, all works—because of the nature of texts and creativity—are fluid texts.”[11] Fluid-text editing seeks to de-privilege the authority of any single version of the text—whether it be a particular historical document like a first complete manuscript or a first printing as the representative text, whether it be an eclectic text constructed from multiple documents in which the editor seeks to reconstruct imaginatively the historical intentions of the author, or whether texts be conceived as the “residual form” of a particular social circumstance or event.[12] A fluid text approach to editing entails foregrounding the revisions made to the text during any stage of a composition, publication, or revision process. Textual alteration is of interest, no matter the agent suspected of initiating an alteration, because “revision always reveals an intention to change meaning, and we sense that a text with a history of revision is always more deeply interpretable than if the same text were known to us only as an act of genesis.”[13] As opposed to filing away the rough edges of the text, confining them, as it were, behind the barbed wire of apparatus, the goal of the fluid-text editor is to foreground these rough edges as sites of cultural exchange, clearly marking those places where the text underwent significant revisions as it moved from edition to edition. The key to this foregrounding is the provision of useful “revision narratives.” Such revision narratives, as defined by Bryant, “clarify the identity of textual versions and transform the traditional apparatus into readable paths of revision that facilitate interpretation.”[14] In practice, this means devising new display strategies for the fluid-text editions.

Since its publication, Bryant’s approach has slowly gained a following among a number of scholars involved in the field loosely defined as digital humanities. And digital technologies are central to this project, both in terms of the methodologies used to edit Stowe’s novel and the mediums which will allow its readers to examine the revisions, additions, and alterations made to Uncle Tom’s Cabin as its text moved from edition to edition. In the accompanying edition, we have marked revision sites with highlighted font. The additional apparatus available will depend on the importance placed on the revision according to the following criteria:

  1. A primary textual apparatus entry is keyed to a two-part apparatus entry, variant and narrative. The variant part of the apparatus entry illustrates the method of alteration, the original version, and the revised version. The narrative part of the apparatus entry offers a critical commentary on the significance of the variant with a cross-reference to related concerns. In the display, the variant apparatus is placed above and the narrative below.
  2. A secondary apparatus is available as a downloadable Juxta archive. The Juxta archive allows side-by-side placement of texts with variants displayed, including punctuation and capitalization variants not displayed in the primary textual apparatus, and the capability to generate a print-style apparatus. The Juxta archive contains a copy of XML source files that are in the edition. Juxta software and documentation is available at
The fluid-text approach, with its emphasis on narrative rather than arcane symbols, opens the apparatus to readers, who are invited to analyze its choices critically. Such a method requires editors to be pedagogues and to use narratives to guide readers through revision.

The project goal, both here and throughout “Uncle Tom’s Cabin: A Digital Critical Edition,” is to provide an authoritative publication history, definitive texts in transcribed and digital facsimile form, narrative interpretation of significant textual alteration, and a comprehensive listing of historical variants. Our narrow intent is that “Uncle Tom’s Cabin: A Digital Critical Edition: ‘Topsy,’ ” with its compelling evidence that author Harriet Beecher Stowe altered the words of the text based on considerations of intended audience, will prompt a reconsideration of the prominence accorded to reprints of the Jewett two-volume edition in present-day literary and cultural studies scholarship. Our broader hope is that the fluid-text form of presentation will encourage a wide range of readers to explore the complexity of Stowe’s multifaceted textual portrait of Topsy.[15]


1. F. O. Matthiessen, American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman (New York: Oxford University Press, 1941), vii, 63; James Baldwin, “Everybody’s Protest Novel” (1949), in Notes of a Native Son (Boston: Beacon Press, 1984), 478–85. Go back
2. Jane Tompkins, Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790–1860 (New York: Oxford UP, 1986); Henry Louis Gates and Margo Jefferson, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin Reconsidered: A Conversation with Henry Louis Gates & Margo Jefferson | The New York Public Library”, November 29, 2006, Go back
3. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin: or, Life among the Lowly. 2 vols. (Boston: John P. Jewett, 1852), 1: 210. Go back
4. Harriet Beecher Stowe, The Annotated Uncle Tom’s Cabin, ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Hollis Robbins (New York: W. W. Norton, 2007); Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or, Life among the Lowly, ed. Stephen Railton (Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2008); Uncle Tom’s Cabin: or, Life among the Lowly, ed. David Bromwich (Cambridge: John Harvard Library of Harvard University Press, 2009); Uncle Tom’s Cabin: or, Life among the Lowly, ed. Christopher G. Diller (Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2009); Uncle Tom’s Cabin, ed. Mary R. Reichardt (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2009); Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Contexts, Criticism, ed. Elizabeth Ammons, 2nd ed. (New York: W.W. Norton, 2010); Uncle Tom’s Cabin, eds. James M. McPherson, and Kathryn Kish Sklar, Pbck. ed., (New York: Library of America-Penguin, 2010). A forthcoming edition, unavailable at this writing, will reprint Jewett’s Illustrated Edition (1853): Uncle Tom’s Cabin: or, Life among the Lowly: the Splendid Edition, ed. David S. Reynolds (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). Go back
5. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, directed by Edwin S. Porter (New York, NY: Edison, 1903); Uncle Tom’s Cabin, directed by William Robert Daly (Fort Lee, NJ: World Film, 1914); Uncle Tom’s Cabin, directed by Harry A. Pollard (Hollywood, CA: Universal, 1927). Notable animated adaptations of Uncle Tom’s Cabin include: Dixie Days; or, Uncle Tom and Little Eva, directed by John Foster and Mannie Davis (Buffalo, NY: Van Buren, 1930); Hittin’ The Trail For Hallelujah Land, directed by Hugh Harman and Rudolph Ising (Hollywood, CA: Warner Bros., 1931); Mickey’s Mellerdrammer, directed by Wilfred Jackson (Hollywood, CA: United Artists, 1933); The Old Plantation, directed by Hugh Harman and Rudolph Ising (Culver City, CA: MGM Studios, 1935); Uncle Tom’s Bungalow, directed by Frederick “Tex” Avery, (Hollywood, CA: Warner Bros., 1937); Eliza on the Ice, directed by Connie Rasinski (New Rochelle, NY: Terry Toons, 1944); Uncle Tom’s Cabana, directed by Frederick “Tex” Avery (Hollywood, CA: Warner Bros., 1947). For the fullest discussion of early film adaptations of Uncle Tom’s Cabin see Stephen Railton, “Uncle Tom's Cabin on Film 1: The Silent Era,” in Uncle Tom’s Cabin and American Culture, back
6. See page 96 in the current edition for this dialogue in context.Go back
7. For editions and translations, see Margaret H. Hildreth, Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Bibliography (Hamden, CT: Archon, 1976); Jean Ashton, Harriet Beecher Stowe: a Reference Guide (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1977). For textual variants in British editions, see Harry Earl Opperman, “A Bibliography and Stemma Codicum for British Editions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 1852–1853.” PhD diss., Kansas State University, 1971. For Houghton-Mifflin reprints, see Michael Winship, “‘The Greatest Book of Its Kind’: A Publishing History of Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (Worcester, Mass.: American Antiquarian Society, 2002), 330–31; Claire Parfait, The Publishing History of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 1852–2002 (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007), 122–36. Go back
8. Winship, “Greatest Book,” 323n34.Go back
9. Parfait, Publishing History, 100. Parfait cautions against the trustworthiness of these estimates. For the number to be accurate, one must trust publisher claims and press statements while ignoring the distinction between copies published and copies sold. Go back
10. Parfait, Publishing History, 128–31Go back
11. John Bryant, The Fluid Text: A Theory of Revision and Editing for Book and Screen (Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Press, 2002), 1. Go back
12. Mary-Jo Kline, A Guide to Documentary Editing (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press), 96, 101; G. Thomas Tanselle, A Rationale of Textual Criticism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989), 77–78; Jerome J. McGann, Social Values and Poetic Acts: the Historical Judgment of Literary Work (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1988), 55. Go back
13. Bryant, Fluid Text, 96.Go back
14. John Bryant, “Rewriting Moby-Dick: Politics, Textual Identity, and the Revision Narrative,” PMLA 125.4 (October 2010): 1044. Go back
15. Financial and staff support has been provided by Kent State University through the Institute for Bibliography and Editing, the Research Council, and the English Department’s program for undergraduate research assistance.Go back