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This is a very effective narrative, written by a white Northern Christian woman for white Northern Christian women, and pushing all the buttons - the slaves are devout, their owners are not; the system operates to break up slave families at the behest of the law; parents helplessly watch their daughters being debauched by their owners. These days of course the central moral point is redundant but the outrage remains fresh.

I was surprised to find it actually quite a subversive novel in terms of gender. Women could not vote, and the male constitutional order is found morally wanting by them - Chapter 9, where a Northern state politician, who has just voted to enact a fugitive slave bill, is then forced to shelter the fleeing Eliza and Henry by his wife, has the excellent title "In Which it Appears that a Senator is but a Man".

Poor Tom is a rather two-dimensional character in the end, but he is not the only one. There are better slavery narratives out there (thinking of Frederick Douglass in the first person and Fanny Kemble in the third) but I can fully see why this was such an effective book in its day.

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