Tomfoolery, or Interrelation and Bibliographic Hypotextuality Across the Anti-Tom Ecology

The definition of a preface in the OED is as follows: “An authorial preface is a text that appears before a work in an edition of that work, written by the same author, in which the author addresses a readership as author of the work to which the preface is attached.”

In his essay “Inter(racial)textuality in Nineteenth-Century Southern Narrative,” Andrews looks at the “ways in which authors and texts interact and/or influence each other” and shows how this “concept of intertextuality can be applied to southern writing” (299). This reflects the traditional theoretical application of intertextuality in literary studies. After engaging with an extended corpus of anti-Tom novels, however, it is my ascertainment that intertextuality is not merely a device or phenomena limited to critical theory as it relates to what a text “contains.” Instead, I would like to suggest that paratext in anti-Toms—in this case, specifically The Planter’s Northern Bride, The Cabin and Parlor; or, Slaves and Masters, and Life at the South; or, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” As It Is—constitute a network of bibliographic issuances and interrelations. This generic constituency will radically suggest that the culture of circulation and hypo-intertextuality[1] generated by the productive expectations and demands between 1852 and 1854 essentially obviate the need for a reader to, in fact, read the contents of any given anti-Tom. Gitelman’s definition of genre will serve as a theoretical bookend to my assertion:

“Genre is a mode of recognition instantiated in discourse. Written genres, for instance, depend on a possibly infinite number of things that large groups of people recognize, will recognize, or have recognized that writings can be for. To wit, documents are for knowing- showing…In the word search, your task is to recognize and circle words amid a two- dimensional grid of random letters. You recognize the different words that you do because words are conventional expressions and because you know how to read. The words don’t just lie there on the page waiting, that is; they are also already inside you, part of the way you have learned (and been schooled) to communicate with people around you. Likewise genres—such as the joke, the novel, the document, and the sitcom—get picked out contrastively amid a jumble of discourse and often across multiple media because of the ways they have been internalized by constituents of a shared culture. Individual genres aren’t artifacts, then; they are ongoing and changeable practices of expression and reception that are recognizable in myriad and variable constituent instances at once and also across time. They are specific and dynamic, socially realized sites and segments of coherence within the discursive field.”

To engage with an anti-Tom novel in its time of production, then, was to enjoin with a “socially realized site” where specific and a priori experiences of sectionality and anti-apartheid are already realized. Anti-Tom literature is a reproductive genre, a mythopoeic genre that itself contains the authorial act of mythopoesis; Swallow Barn, for example, contains anectotes and fables that insinuate and instantiate early textual moments of the common theme of slave helplessness/dependence upon their white masters (Negro slaves “could never become a happier people” than they are at present, as slaves at Swallow Barn.”). This trope, far from being thematically exhausted, would then become the basis for nearly every subsequent anti-Tom, regardless of their framing narratives or internal structures. The best evidence of this resonance is, indeed, the preface, and it is what we will take as our primary paratextual element of interest. Frank Eugene Duba, in his dissertation First Words: The Authorial Preface in English Literature, has the following to say of the historical purpose of prefaces:

“First, they have functioned as guarantees of authenticity, much like the artist’s signature in the comer of a painting. The first book of Don Quijote, released in 1605, was a popular success and spawned many imitators who took it upon themselves to add to the adventures of the man of La Mancha. In response, when he published the second book of Don Quijote, Miguel de Cervantes added a preface in which he stated that the attached work was the one and only true Book Two of Don Quijote, of which he, Cervantes, was the one and only author. The admission of authorship is inherent in the form; by attaching an authorial preface to a work, one stakes a claim to it. But prefaces have another major role: they are the first word on the identity of a particular work. The preface is, in short, a genre about genres.” (1)


How, you might be wondering, does this factor into the transmission of texts as understood through bibliography? If bibliography is taken by definition to mean something along the lines of “the history or systematic description of books, their authorship, printing, publication, editions, etc.,” then the preface of each text should, by dint of my critical theory, possess the potential to constitute an attributional textual bibliography. Lest we lean too heavily upon abstraction, herein are specific textual moments that are worthy of our consideration. It is also worth mentioning that any and all research conducted herein took place at the ever-inexhaustible BPL, where a seemingly unlimited number of plantation literature and anti-Tom texts live in happy reclusion.


Life at the South; or, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” As It Is, by W.L.G. Smith

“It is proper to observe, that some of the embellishments which illustrate this book have been kindly furnished by Mr. G. P. Putnam, the publisher of Mr. Kennedy’s “Swallow Barn.”

This text, in particular, inspired the admittedly purple patches of my analysis, which I’ve heretofore termed “preface-as-hypointertexuality” theory. This excerpt, which represents the terminus of the prefatory material, appears immediately as prosaic in importance. W. L. G. Smith, having published Life at the South the same year as Swallow Barn, has made use of three woodcut images (The Free Negro, Uncle Tom at “Home,” and a final untitled depiction of a young slave joyfully prancing with a bull) from the same publisher of Swallow Barn. But is there greater significance to this? I took up the investigatory torch and, with little to no effort, found a fairly rich history concerning G.P. Putnam & Co. Originally Wiley & Putnam, Putnam would obviously go on to establish his own namesake publishing company, later renowned for its “quality illustrations.” This publishing house would go on to start Putnam’s Magazine[2], otherwise known as Putnam’s Monthly Magazine of American Literature, Science and Art. Stated plainly, G.P. Putnam, a publisher dedicated to the subject of “literature, science, and art” was at no particular conflict of interest in supplying anti-abolitionist writers with racist epithets and caricatures. Perhaps there is little to be surprised about, superficially; that said, these facts support the theory that authors did not exist in isolation, nor were their works discrete. Indeed, anti-Tom authors were as much in the forefront of the popular literary imagination as Uncle Tom’s Cabin itself. We might here begin to think of anti-Tom literature as less a genre and more an ecology of texts.


Interestingly, the prefatory material also contains a dedication[3] to the American statesman Henry Clay, a staunch advocate for the American Colonization Society. The textual ecology, then, extends not only into publishers and illustrators, but also to newspapers and political organizations. It is likely that the readership of 1852 would be aware of these connections and, in the same way we recognize obvious tips-of-the-hat in our time, writers contemporaneous with Smith and Kennedy would make use of this web of relations to reify their cause, thus “instantiating by discourse” their claims to legitimacy. Finally, and non-trivially, it is worth noting: Even the title of Smith’s novel mirrors the format of the similarly recently published Aunt Phillis’s Cabin: or, Southern Life As It Is, by Mary Henderson Eastman.

The Cabin and Parlor; or, Slaves and Masters, by J. Thornton Randolph

Publication details: Embellished with “Magnificent Illustrations.” From original designs by Stephens, engraved by Beeler. (Philadelphia: T. B. Peterson, 1852)

“For what the author has said of the relative condition of the British operative and Southern slave, he quotes the authority of William Thomson, a Scotch weaver, who, in 1842, travelled through this country, supporting himself by manual labor. Mr. Thomson arrived here an abolitionist, but, after witnessing slavery in almost every State where it existed, and living for weeks among negroes on cotton plantations, he has asserted that he never saw one-fifth of the real suffering that he had beheld among the laboring poor of England…The author disclaims, in advance, the idea of having written this work for mercenary considerations; as has been said of another, ‘to steal a part of the profits of a lady’s hard-earned reputation.’ Such disingenuous attempts to silence reply to “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” surely cannot be countenanced by Mrs. Stowe.”


If prefaces do, indeed, constitute a “genre about genres,” a critical function of the prefatory method of generic production is not only to take part in the ritual of the bibliographic network, but also to widen its breadth and make diffuse the matters and texts it takes as its events/documents of reference. In the case of The Cabin and Parlor, Randolph is here extending the textual practice of “naming” influential works (hypotexts) to the oral via the authority of a Scotch Weaver’s account. We might also do well to observe that there is thus formed a transatlantic metonym through the Scottsman; for here, he represents the whole of a country lending, in effect, credence to the notion that English suffering far outweighs that of the American negro slave. The “bibliographic source,” if we choose to accept this new fluidity, breaks down into an extended practice. As McKenzie says:

“Bibliography is the discipline that studies texts as recorded forms, and the processes of their transmission, including their production and reception. So stated, it will not seem very surprising. What the word ‘texts’ also allows, however, is the extension of present practice to include all forms of texts, not merely books or Greg’s signs on pieces of parchment or paper. It also frankly accepts that bibliographers should be concerned to show that forms effect meaning. Beyond that, it allows us to describe not only the technical but the social processes of their transmission.” (McKenzie, 12-13)

One could choose to visualize this network of connections rather than explain them critically/semantically. Such a connection might, superficially at least, be impossible to render chronologically. For although Uncle Tom’s Cabin gave rise, by necessity, to the anti-Tom genre, the bibliographic tendrils of the prefaces (and, ultimately, of other paratext, such as dedications, afterwords, appendices, etc.) extend well beyond the immediacy of the “now” that was 1852-1854. Doubling down on my hypo-intertextuality assertion, I would like to conclude by drawing one final and related connection between anti-Tom prefatory material and production details.

The Planter’s Northern Bride, by Caroline Lee Hentz

(Philadelphia: T. B. Peterson, 1854)

“If any one should think the affection manifested by the slaves of Moreland for their master is too highly coloured, we would refer them to the sketch of Thomas Jefferson’s arrival at Monticello on his return from Paris, after an absence of five years. It is from the pen of his daughter, and no one will doubt its authenticity.”

Interestingly, The Planter’s Northern Bride makes no direct mention of Uncle Tom’s Cabin nor of the indiscretions or exaggerations of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Published on the latter end of the popularity of anti-Tom literature, The Planter’s Northern Bride instead hinges upon the commonly exercised rhetoric of “travel” (either northerly or southerly, depending on the bent of the author) as the site of narrative epiphany. How does this connect bibliographically, you might again be wondering, to any of our other anti-Toms? For starters, it was published by the same publishing house, T.B. Peterson & Brothers, who produced a number of extremely popular volumes in their time, including Charles Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge and Bleak House. The detail of a shared publisher, similar to a shared illustrator, is admittedly a bit boring. What is less boring, though, is the fact that Peterson & Bros. were located in Philadelphia, where widespread union support was located (and, indeed, where debatably the turning point of the later civil war would take place.) Bibliography-as-network, then, reveals sociopolitical intricacies. Much of the publishing being done at the time was taking place in Pennsylvania and New York, evidently, and one would think that such publishers would either outright reject texts that ran contrary to their held beliefs. It is perhaps reflective of my own ignorance that I make such assumptions. It is also possible, if not very likely, that these publishers did not regard themselves as part of a business that would turn down an opportunity to stir controversy and thereby their own economy of scale.

[1] This term is my own, and as such I feel I should disambiguate it. A hypotext is defined as an “earlier text which serves as the source of a subsequent piece of literature.” Rather than simply call the anti-Tom network a “hypertextual” environment, I wish to suggest that each literary moment at which a single text was produced and published represented an act of replication. To clarify, the similarities shared by this genre are so profound and the contents of each story so derivative that in the same way anti-Tom literature was circumscribed by its generic requirement to satirize Uncle Tom’s Cabin directly, this collection of works was also constrained by a need to self-reference and attribute. In a sense, it resembles the more modern mode of musical tribute: Often, musicians who “cover” other’s work will be falsely attributed with primogeniture (Think: The Eagle’s Ol ’55 cover of Tom Waits). Similarly, it would be false to consider any anti-Tom literature as sui generis insofar as they are amalgamations of both Unce Tom’s Cabin (in the inverse) and, simultaneously, one another.

[2] See for a record of all published volumes.

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