Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘slavery’

Harriet Beecher Stowe was a staunch advocate for the abolishment of slavery in the mid-1800s, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which is her most famous book, was a novel about the evils of slavery and the slave trade.  It is said that when Beecher Stowe met Abraham Lincoln, he said to her, “So you are the little lady who wrote the book that started this great war in reference to the American Civil War.  However, while is it certainly true that the two met, it has never been confirmed that Lincoln said such a thing, although I can see why the book would have caused a large stir when it was released.

The titular character starts the novel as a slave owned by Mr and Mrs Shelby.  He has lived for several years on their plantation, and has a wife and children there.  Due to financial woes, Mr Shelby sells him to a slave trader, and the novel follows Tom’s life through two more owners.  It talks about the other people he meets, some benevolent, such as Augustine St Clare, who determines to give Tom his freedom, and others not so.

Because of the historical and political significance of this book, I really really wanted to like it.  I had meant to read it for ages, and finally picked it up after a friend told me she had enjoyed it.  And the thing is…I came away a bit disappointed.  The main thing that hit me about this book was just how preachy it is.  There’s a lot of religion in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  A LOT.  And people are divided into one of three categories.  If you are a Christian, you are a good person.  If you are not a Christian, you are an evil person.  If you are not a Christian but are striving to be, you will probably be a good person in the end.  I understand that books have to be read in context; it’s important to remember when this novel was written, but whereas some classics age well, Uncle Tom’s Cabin has aged badly (well, it’s just my little opinion of course).  It’s overwhelming preachiness – which appears without fail on at least one out of every two pages – got somewhat tiring after a while.  It’s a shame, because when Beecher Stowe stepped away from the religious aspect, her writing could be quite enjoyable and even amusing.  I’m not a religious person, but I don’t have anything against religion.  I just don’t need it ramming down my throat quite so often, or to be told that anybody who is not a Christian is inherently bad.

Also, for a book which strives so hard to point out that slaves are just as much people as anyone else (which sounds obvious in today’s world, but again remembering when this was written – slaves were seen as commodities or possessions, nothing more), it is a shame that the slaves themselves are spoken about in broad stereotypes (several times, Beecher Stowe makes reference to a trait that is common “to their race.”), and rather patronisingly.

Although there is little characterisation, the story itself was a quite enthralling one, and would have been much more enjoyable if it had been told as a more straightforward narrative without the religious lecturing part.  My favourite part was the section of the book where Tom was living with the St Clare family, and within the confines of his situation was happy.  The ending contained a ridiculous amount of coincidence, which made the last few pages hard to take seriously, but I cannot deny that the book did make me cry on a couple of occasions.

I think I would probably recommend this book, but more because of its significance, rather than because I especially enjoyed it.  At times, it was enjoyable, but I found it hard going at times.  Nonetheless, it did help to change the widely held view that slavery was acceptable, and it’s worth reading the book that managed to do such a thing.

(For more information about Harriet Beecher Stowe, or Uncle Tom’s Cabin, please click here.)

 

Read Full Post »

Julie Andrews plays Millie Dillmount, a young woman who comes to New York in 1922, with the sole intention of getting a job and marrying her (rich) boss.  However, when she meets happy-go-lucky Jimmy Smith (James Fox), she has to decide where her priorities lie.  And then there’s the issue of the women at Millie’s hotel being captured and forced into slavery.

While I had some doubts about the tastefulness of using sex slavery as a comedic plot point, I must admit that I very much enjoyed this film.  There are a couple of scenes showing some of the girls who have been sold into slavery, and they did cause a bit of a jolt, as it is so unexpected in a frothy musical comedy.

The film is intentionally farcical, and did cause me to dissolve into giggles on occasion.  In a nod to earlier silent films, Andrews often breaks the fourth wall by looking directly into the camera at the viewer, and her thoughts are then shown on screen in the form of title cards.  There are also some very funny musical interludes (such as the ‘Haaaaaallelujah!’ when Millie first lays eyes on her handsome boss Trevor Graydon).  As it set in the 1920s, the costumes are as lovely as you might imagine, and Andrews herself is just adorable.  Equally endearing is Mary Tyler Moore as Millie’s friend Miss Dorothy, and James Fox and John Gavin provided excellent support as Jimmy and Trevor respectively.  Carol Channing pops up as a rich widow who befriends Millie, and certainly makes her mark with a hilarious song and dance routine!  It is only because the cast as a whole is so strong, that Beatrice Lillie did not steal the entire film as the evil Mrs Meers, manageress of the hotel, and the main villain behind the slavery business.

This kind of film isn’t for everyone and I can imagine that some people might find it an irritant, but I really enjoyed it.  As long as you can abandon all sense of logic and realism (and the film is really not meant to be realistic), I would say that this is a treat for fans of musicals.  Needless to say, Julie Andrews is in excellent voice.  Recommended.

Year of release: 1962

Director: George Roy Hill

Producer: Ross Hunter

Writers: Richard Morris

Main cast: Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore, James Fox, John Gavin, Beatrice Lillie, Carol Channing

************************************************************************************************************************

Click here for my review of Willenhall Musical Theatre Company’s 2014 stage production.

************************************************************************************************************************

Read Full Post »

Well.  You know how sometimes you watch a film, expecting that you will quite enjoy it – it might be a nice way to pass a couple of hours – and it totally exceeds your expectations, and eats into far more than a couple of hours, because you can’t stop thinking about it?  This is what happened to me when I watched this film.

It tells the story of politician William Wilberforce as he moved through Parliament in a determined effort to get the British slave trade abolished.  While he had some loyal friends and colleagues, they faced an uphill struggle as many politicians favoured the slave trade and considered it a necessity.  Together with his friend, prime minister William Pitt the Younger, Wilberforce never gives up in his efforts.

I cried throughout much of this film, because it was so incredibly moving, and ultimately uplifting to see people determined to create a kinder and better world.  Wilberforce was played brilliantly by Ioan Gruffudd, who perfectly captured the man’s intelligence and integrity.  Benedict Cumberbatch was also excellent as Pitt, and the supporting cast contained many acclaimed actors.  I liked Rufus Sewell as abolitionist Thomas Clarkson, and Albert Finney and Michael Gambon both showed off their extensive skills as respectively, John Newton who used to be involved with the slave trade himself, and was now filled with guilt; and Charles Fox, a politician who initially disagreed with Wilberforce, but subsequently came to support the abolition.  Romola Garai played Wilberforce’s wife Barbara, and was lovely in the role.

I keep finding myself thinking about this film – it was beautifully filmed and very emotional.  The scene when former slave Olaudah Equiano, played by Youssou n’Dour, shows Wilberforce around a slave ship, and Wilberforce sees with his own eyes the mistreatment and abuse that the slaves suffer, stunned me.  Although I knew about Wilberforce’s campaign, and the eventual outcome prior to watching, I still found myself on the edge of my seat at parts of the story.

I would highly recommend this film (in fact I almost want to insist that you watch it!)  It tells such an important story, and if anyone ever doubts that they can make a difference, or thinks that their efforts aren’t worth it, this film tells the story of a man who can remind us just what can be achieved with hard work and determination.  Wonderful.  (And I have ordered an autobiography of Wilberforce – this is the kind of film that makes me want to learn more.)

Year of release: 2006

Director: Michael Apted

Producers: James Clayton, Jeanney Kim, Duncan Reid, Patricia Heaton, David Hunt, Terrence Malick, Ken Wales, Edward Pressman, Mark Cooper

Writer: Steven Knight

Main cast: Ioan Gruffudd, Romola Garai, Benedict Cumberbatch, Youssou D’Nour, Albert Finney, Rufus Sewell, Michael Gambon, Nicholas Farrell

Read Full Post »

It is London 1896, and young bohemian poet Robert Wallis accepts a job from coffee merchant Samuel Pinker, to compile a guide to the various flavours of coffee.  Robert finds himself working with Pinker’s daughter Emily and despite their very different lifestyles and attitudes, they find themselves attracted to each other.  However, Pinker then sends Robert to Africa for five years, to manage a coffee plantation.  While there, Robert meets Fikre, a slave girl owned by a wealthy Arabian coffee merchant; she awakens desire in him such as he has never known before, and makes him question everything he thought he knew about life, love and himself.

This book, which takes place at the end of the 19th century, tells the story of Robert’s journey from London to Africa and back again, but it is also a story of his metaphorical journey – from that of a selfish, foppish, irresponsible (but still rather endearing) young man, to a man with morals and concerns about social issues.  It also touches on subjects such as fair trade, slavery and suffrage (the last issue becoming a bigger theme in the latter part of the book).  There are numerous and lavish descriptions of various types of coffee; and if you think this sounds like it might be boring, think again!  It was actually fascinating, and made it almost a necessary requirement to drink coffee while reading. 

Robert narrates the book himself, so perhaps is portrayed in a more sympathetic light than if another character had narrated the book.  At the beginning of the story, he is superficial and blase about life, he lives well beyond his means, and spends most of his nights frequenting the whorehouses of London.  Despite all of this, it’s hard not to like him, and I could see how the serious minded and intelligent Emily could be attracted to him.  Emily herself was one of my favourite characters – her passion for politics and in particular, campaigning for women to be able to vote, made for an interesting sub-plot, and provided interesting details about the abuse of process which went on, and how certain people tried to stop women having any independence at all.  It made me eager to find out more about the subkect and was one of the most interesting parts of the story for me.  The book was less than 500 pages long, but certainly packed a lot of story into those pages! 

The ending was unpredictable (to me at least), but satisfying nonetheless, with the very final chapter finishing the story off perfectly.  This was the first book I’ve ever read by Anthony Capella, but I definitely intend to read more.  I’d definitely recommend this book.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

Read Full Post »

This novel is set in America in the years leading up to the American Civil War.  Augustus Cain, a Southern man and a veteran of the earlier war with Mexico, is a ‘soul catcher’ – that is, he hunts runaway slaves and brings them back to their owners.  He wants to give up the profession, but has lost his way in life, and spends his time and money on alcohol or laudanum, women and gambling.  When he can’t pay a gambling debt to a wealthy businessman, he reluctantly agrees to track two of the man’s slaves, which have run away.

The journey will take him into the northern states, accompanied by a group of men who he is not sure he can trust.  The terrain and bitter conditions make the journey tough, and the danger he faces from the abolitionists in the north make it even tougher.  But that is nothing compared to how difficult he finds things when he locates the slaves – and in particular the young female slave named Rosetta.  Cain finds himself questioning his beliefs and his way of life, and wondering if any amount of payment can be worth bringing Rosetta back to the south for.  Suddenly, he has a big decision to make – and faces mortal danger whichever path he chooses…

I really enjoyed this book.  It felt a little slow to start off with, but before I knew it, the story had pulled me in and I was eager to know what would happen to the main characters.  It was some feat on behalf of the author to make the reader feel any sympathy whatsoever for a main character who believes that slavery is, if not desirable, certainly acceptable.  However, despite the distaste I felt for Cain’s beliefs, I did feel that he was a character who most readers would end up rooting for.

The descriptions of the the different parts of America which Cain and his companions (other employees of the businessman Eberly to whom Cain owed money) crossed in order to find the slaves were rich in detail, and very evocative, and the book blended character, plot and description very well.  The famous abolitionist John Brown also appeared in the book as a lesser – but important – character, reminding the reader that although the main characters are fictional, the struggles and bids for freedom made by many slaves, were all too real.

It isn’t perfect – Cain is something of a stereotype, and another character Preacher is a typical ‘baddie’.  My favourite character was Rosetta, who displayed incredible dignity and strength of character, despite the dreadfully unjust hand that life had dealt her.  I certainly felt that Rosetta was a beautifully drawn character, and very easy to care about.

Overall, this was a hugely readable book.  It might not be for everyone – parts of it moved slowly, particularly in the first part, and the subject matter can be disturbing – but I ended up becoming absorbed in it, and would certainly seek out more work by this author.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

Read Full Post »