Castilho on The Press and Brazilian Narratives of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” @celso_thomas


ICYMI:

Celso Thomas Castilho has published The Press and Brazilian Narratives of Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Slavery and the Public Sphere in Rio de Janiero, ca. 1855, at 76 The Americas 77 (2019). Here is the abstract.

In March 1855, a literary newspaper in Rio de Janeiro printed the first installment of Nísia Floresta’s “Páginas de uma vida obscura,” a serialized short story inspired by Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852). Seven more chapters followed, keeping “Páginas” in the public eye for months. The Jornal do Commercio, arguably the national paper of record, mentioned the story in its announcements. Floresta (pseudonym of Dionísia Gonçalves Pinto, 1810–1885) centered her storyline on the Congo-born Domingos, the “Brazilian Tom,” who exemplified the attributes of Christian virtuosity and resignation found in Stowe’s internationally famous novel. Set in the nineteenth century, “Páginas” begins with the ten-year-old Domingos’s enslavement on the African coast, and highlights the human devastation of the internal slave trade through his movements across Minas Gerais and on to Porto Alegre and Rio de Janeiro. It ends with Domingos’s death, at age 54, grief-stricken over his son’s recent passing. In part, Floresta’s “Páginas” emerged from the Brazilian schoolteacher’s longstanding critiques of patriarchy, nation, and education. Twenty years earlier, Floresta had drawn from Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman to write Direito das mulheres e injustiça dos homens (1832), a book that went through three editions in its first decade. More directly though, Floresta had connected to the so-called “Tom mania” while living in Paris in 1852. The following year, back in Rio, she wrote a pamphlet on women’s education—Opúsculo humanitário (1853)—that parsed key aspects of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, among a larger discussion of women’s achievements internationally. Two Rio newspapers excerpted the pamphlet, and, boldly, published the chapters focused on Uncle Tom. This attention in the press raised the profile of a book the public already knew to be controversial, as newspapers had earlier carried reports of port authorities seizing shipments of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Rio, Salvador, and Fortaleza. In writing “Páginas,” then, two years after the Opúsculo, Floresta not only carried forward her literary dialogue with Stowe, but also posed the work as a challenge to the status quo. “Páginas” was necessary, she explained, because “slavery is not an issue of concern in the press.” If overstated, given that the topic of slavery was quite prevalent in public discourse, Floresta’s assertion nonetheless signals an opportunity for scholars to probe further into the relationship between slavery and the public sphere in the mid nineteenth century. More specifically, it suggests connections to be explored between the press and the early reception of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Brazil, and, more broadly, connections between the representations of slavery in the press, and the institution’s enduring legitimacy.



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