Meer, Sarah 1969–
Meer, Sarah 1969–
Born October 7, 1969.
Office—Selwyn College, Grange Rd., Cambridge CB3 9DQ, England. E-mail—[email protected]
Educator, writer, and editor. Cambridge University, Cambridge, England, lecturer and director of studies in English.
Sarah Meer is a lecturer in English at Cambridge University and teaches nineteenth- and twentieth-century British and American literature. Her research interests include discussions of race and slavery in the mid-nineteenth century, African American literature, and the relationships between literature and popular culture (especially the theatre and spectacular entertainments).
Meer's first book, Uncle Tom Mania: Slavery, Minstrelsy, and Transatlantic Culture in the 1850s, was called by Victorian Studies contributor Michelle Hawley "a nuanced study of the dynamic cultural exchanges between Stowe's writings, British and American popular culture, and transatlantic political movements." Robert Nowatzki wrote in the Journal of Southern History that the author's book "is a fascinating study of the myriad transatlantic cultural phenomena spurred by Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1852 novel Uncle Tom's Cabin. Meer's main focus is not so much on Stowe's novel itself but rather on the ways it was rewritten and reread by various elements of American and British culture."
In the book, Meer examines Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin and its wide-ranging inspiration for songs, plays, sketches, translations, and imitations. The novel broke publishing records and made Harriet Beecher Stowe one of the world's most famous authors in her time. Uncle Tom's Cabin was a best seller in both the United States and Great Britain and was translated into some forty languages.
In her book, Meer focuses on how the theatrical mode of blackface minstrelsy, the question of slavery, and America's emerging cultural identity affected how the novel was read, critically discussed, dramatized, and politicized around the world. For example, the author presents her thesis that the novel's ambiguousness about racial equality and demeaning portrayal of blacks offered copycat novels and minstrel stagings the ability to stray from Harriet Beecher Stowe's message. The novel also gave the United States and Great Britain a common ground to debate slavery.
"Stowe's story was also rewritten, turned into songs, plays, sketches and even new novels, and the book inspired a vast and varied collection of Uncle Tom merchandise," the author writes in the book's introduction. "Its imagery was transferred to paintings, puzzles, cards, board games, plates, spoons, china figurines, bronze ornaments, dolls, and wallpaper. Uncle Tom was a best-selling commodity and also many commodities, and the novel's impact was multiplied by hundreds of derivatives." The author added: "This book examines in detail the ways in which Uncle Tom's Cabin was rewritten—the ways in which it was, in a sense, reread—in the United States and Britain in the 1850s. It reads Stowe's novel alongside some of the products of Tom mania, many of them now forgotten."
In her book, Meer also shows how minstrel-show versions of the novel greatly influenced later incarnations of the story, turning the character into an unflattering character both comic in nature and a proslavery stooge. "This text became a prodigy of publishing history, rewriting the definition of a best seller and triggering an apparently self-fueling explosion of publicity and international celebrity," the author writes in the book's introduction. "The book was not only popular, not only expanded the mid-century concept of success, but made the slavery question marketable." The author also discusses Stowe's travelogue Sunny Memories of Foreign Lands and her second novel, Dred.
"Exploring the novel's impact as both a literary text and a cultural phenomenon, Meer uses a wealth of archival material to show the degree to which the novel borrowed from the minstrel stage for some of its most important artistic effects," wrote Michelle Stephens in American Literature. Noting that the author's "extensive research … enabled her to build on and critically synthesize the existing literature on Stowe," John Cimprich went on to write in his review in Civil War History: "The results appear in clear and usually smooth writing with thoughtful and insightful analysis. Meer's important study is a most useful and seamlessly persuasive masterpiece." Other reviewers also had high praise for the critical study. Referring to Uncle Tom Mania as an "impeccably researched, absorbing book," Debra J. Rosenthal went on to write in Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers: "As a transatlantic text, Uncle Tom's Cabin proved American literature's worth to the Old World. In Uncle Tom Mania, Meer brilliantly reconstructs this phenomena, framing Tom and anti-Tom responses in a cross-Atlantic context."
Meer is also the editor, with Denise Kohn and Emily B. Todd, of Transatlantic Stowe: Harriet Beecher Stowe and European Culture. The book's essays of Stowe scholarship investigate both how Stowe influenced European culture and society and was, in turn, influenced by it. Looking at Stowe in this international context, the essayists examine everything from Stowe's literary and literal forays in Europe to how cultural exchanges between the Old and New Worlds shaped Stowe's work. Part of the goal is to refocus studies of Stowe from a focus on American literary history to a more encompassing international view of the novel.
Integrating historical and cultural criticism and new primary material from London and Paris, the essayists explore Stowe's relationship with European writers and the influence of her European travels on her work, especially the controversial travel narrative Sunny Memories of Foreign Lands and her "Italian novel" Agnes of Sorrento. Ultimately, the essayists provide a new view of literary history that returns Stowe to the larger political, historical, and literary contexts of nineteenth-century Europe. Contributors include scholars from Britain, Ireland, and the United States who offer new readings of Stowe's works. Essays include "Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Irish National Tale," "Stowe and the Byronic Heroine," "Stowe, Gaskell, and the Woman Reformer," and "Stowe and Religious Iconography."
Commenting on a contribution made by the author and others, Michelle Hawley wrote in Victorian Studies: "Paying special attention to the years following Uncle Tom's publication, Denise Kohn, Meer, and Emily Todd show how Stowe's texts and career took shape in dialogues with British, Irish, Italian, French, and Russian writers, political movements, texts, and images. The Stowe canon takes on a decidedly new appearance: the body of lesser-known works long overshadowed by Uncle Tom's Cabin reveals surprising connections and assumes unexpected coherence and import." An Internet Bookwatch contributor commented that a "list of works cited and an index round out this in-depth intellectual contemplation."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Meer, Sarah, Uncle Tom Mania: Slavery, Minstrelsy, and Transatlantic Culture in the 1850s, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 2005.
American Literature, September 1, 2007, review of Transatlantic Stowe: Harriet Beecher Stowe and European Culture, p. 639; Volume 78, number 3, 2006, Michelle Stephens, review of Uncle Tom Mania, pp. 638-640.
Choice, February 1, 2006, M.L. Robertson, review of Uncle Tom Mania, p. 1017; May 1, 2007, J.W. Hall, review of Transatlantic Stowe, p. 1536.
Civil War History, June, 2007, Jim Cimprich, review of Uncle Tom Mania, pp. 207-209.
Internet Bookwatch, March 1, 2007, review of Transatlantic Stowe.
Journal of African American History, September 22, 2006, Martin Crawford, review of Uncle Tom Mania, p. 471.
Journal of American Culture, March 1, 2006, Ray B. Brownie, review of Uncle Tom Mania, p. 107.
Journal of Southern History, November 1, 2006, Robert Nowatzki, review of Uncle Tom Mania, p. 939.
Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers, January 1, 2006, Debra J. Rosenthal, review of Uncle Tom Mania, p. 96.
Victorian Studies, June 22, 2007, Michelle Hawley, review of Transatlantic Stowe, p. 749; June 22, 2007, Audrey A. Fisch, review of Uncle Tom Mania, p. 747.
Selwyn College Cambridge,http://www.sel.cam.ac.uk/ (April 21, 2008), faculty profile.