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Amanda Brickell Bellows, review of TRUE SONGS OF FREEDOM: UNCLE TOM'S CABIN IN RUSSIAN CULTURE AND SOCIETY (JOURNAL OF THE CIVIL WAR ERA 4.2 (JUNE 2014))

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Amanda Brickell Bellows, review of TRUE SONGS OF FREEDOM: UNCLE TOM'S CABIN IN RUSSIAN CULTURE AND SOCIETY (JOURNAL OF THE CIVIL WAR ERA 4.2 (JUNE 2014))
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  True Songs of Freedom: “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” in Russian Cultureand Society by John MacKay (review) Amanda Brickell Bellows The Journal of the Civil War Era, Volume 4, Number 2, June 2014,pp. 311-313 (Article) Published by The University of North Carolina Press DOI: 10.1353/cwe.2014.0027  For additional information about this article  Access provided by Yale University Library (3 May 2014 16:09 GMT) http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/cwe/summary/v004/4.2.bellows.html   book reviews   311 james c. mohr , College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of History and Philip H. Knight Professor of Social Sciences at the University of Oregon, has published extensively on issues related to the Civil War and Reconstruction. True Songs of Freedom: “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” in Russian Culture and Society.  By John MacKay. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2013. Pp. 157. Paper, $24.95.)Harriet Beecher Stowe’s most popular book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin  (1852), captivated the American public in the years preceding the Civil War.  Although Stowe wrote this antislavery novel to bolster the abolitionist cause in the United States, it became the world’s best-selling novel of the nineteenth century.In his engaging new book, John MacKay assesses the influence of Uncle Tom’s Cabin  in Russia and the Soviet Union, where more than one hundred editions have been published since 1857. Four years before Congress abolished American slavery, Tsar Alexander II freed the serfs  who made up 80 percent of the Russian population. In the decades fol-lowing emancipation, both nations grappled with the integration of the former bondspeople during an era of modernization, geographic expan-sion, and industrialization. These comparable experiences make Russia an excellent case study for calculating the impact of a revolutionary text like Uncle Tom’s Cabin .MacKay joins a growing number of scholars who explore features of nineteenth-century American and Russian history such as slavery, serf-dom, imperial expansion, postwar reconstruction, and conceptions of race. Influenced by the work of Peter Kolchin, Allison Blakely, Jane Burbank, and Frederick Cooper, MacKay has produced a transnational analysis that maps the range of responses to Uncle Tom’s Cabin  and charts the ways in which nineteenth- and twentieth-century Russian and Soviet educated elites harnessed this work of literature to facilitate their political and social goals. True Songs of Freedom  will appeal to scholars interested in serfdom and slavery, the development of the book market, literacy education, and political writing. MacKay sees the reception of Uncle Tom’s Cabin  in Russia as “a field of struggle and debate” where state censors, editors, and publishers revised and produced different versions of the text that often conveyed political ideologies or ethical ideas to specific groups of readers (98). He examines a range of sources including Russian translations and  312  journal of the civil war era, volume 4 , issue 2 adaptations of Uncle Tom’s Cabin , book reviews, articles, and correspon-dence that detail the attitudes of Russian publishers, censors, and writers.MacKay posits that three broad forces in Russia and the Soviet Union shaped readers’ responses to Uncle Tom’s Cabin ; these are “the emergence of the book and journal trade . . . the gradual rise of the nation-state as a universal form of social belonging; and a new drive . . . toward a radical universalization of equality and liberty” (97). Within this historical con-text, MacKay contends, Stowe’s novel possessed three functions. In the mid-nineteenth century, Uncle Tom’s Cabin  served as a morally instructive text that urged readers to ponder ethical questions about bondage. During the late nineteenth century and the twentieth, Russian and Soviet edu-cated elites used the book to teach readers about the historical similarities and differences between American slavery and Russian serfdom. Finally, as a literary work of art, Uncle Tom’s Cabin  inspired writers who wished to construct a national literature of their own.State censors permitted the publication of Russian editions of the  book between 1857 and 1859, a tumultuous period when Russian political elites began to craft the terms of the serfs’ manumission. Stowe’s condem-nation of slavery resonated with writers like Ivan Turgenev and Nikolai Nekrasov, who called the serfs “our own Negroes” (27). But not all elites  were persuaded by Stowe’s argument, including one Russian who recog-nized the irony of the book’s popularity when he criticized women who he saw “weeping inconsolably over Uncle Tom’s Cabin , but who [were] never struck by the real misery and poverty so often encountered in [Russian]  villages” (23). Nevertheless, Uncle Tom’s Cabin  prompted some to consider the unsettling parallels between slavery and serfdom. After emancipation, the book elicited responses in Russian readers that ranged from abhorrence to adoration and from ambivalence to apprehen-sion. Although some educated elites viewed the book as sententious, oth-ers recognized its utility as an edifying text. For example, many Russian elites endorsed it as a work of children’s literature, and influential writers like Leo Tolstoy and state censors like A. Smirnov believed the book could inculcate Christian values in newly literate peasants. Thinking of integra-tion, Smirnov deftly suggested that it would be “especially desirable for our . . . simple people” to follow Uncle Tom’s humble and self-sacrificing example (45). By the early twentieth century, Russian elites increasingly  viewed Uncle Tom’s Cabin  as a pedagogical device for ensuring order in an era of social upheaval. After the revolution, Soviet censors and editors replaced the text’s reli-gious ideas with socialist ones to satisfy the mission of the new Soviet state.   book reviews   313 Now, Uncle Tom “invited his Negro comrades over to his cabin,” where they discussed “great fighters for freedom” instead of Christianity (67). Soviet editors also used the prefaces to contrast American racial inequality with Soviet socialist equality. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, only ten editions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin  have been published in Russia. But, MacKay posits, Russia’s fascination with America’s history of slavery did not disappear in 1989. Rather, Russian readers turned their attention to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind   (1936), which was published in sixty-nine editions between 1989 and 1993. Whereas True Songs of Freedom  helps explain how Uncle Tom’s Cabin  influenced Russian debates about the abolition of serfdom, the integration of the peasantry, and the relationship between the USSR and the United States, MacKay might have done more to explain how Russians conceived of race. What did Russian elites mean when they referred to serfs as “Russian Uncle Toms” or “our own Negroes” (36, 27)? How did Russian landowners perceive the “blackness” of African American slaves? Although MacKay supplies textual and visual examples that suggest Russians pos-sessed differing perceptions of race, the reader is left wanting more analy-sis of this interesting topic. True Songs of Freedom  is an excellent book that is substantive, carefully researched, and packed with innovative interpretations and srcinal ques-tions. MacKay exposes the rough cords that bound America’s history to that of Russia during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  Amanda Brickell Bellows  amanda brickell bellows  is a Ph.D. candidate in American and Russian history at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill.  Lincoln’s Hundred Days: The Emancipation Proclamation and the War for the Union.  By Louis P. Masur. (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012. Pp. 384. Cloth, $29.95; paper, $18.95.)Because he signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, many  Americans continue to identify Abraham Lincoln as the “Great Emancipator.” Louis P. Masur contends, however, that in recent decades increased recognition of the shortcomings of black freedom has changed the way that people view the Emancipation Proclamation, with many
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