I want to talk about Twelve Years a Slave as another of the non-fiction "keys" to Uncle Tom's Cabin. One of the many things intrigues me about Twelve Years is that it was dedicated to Harriet Beecher Stowe and the dedication mentions that the book is yet another Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin, which is a reference to the non-fiction book that Stowe published in 1853 to provide support for her novel. (Little bit of background on the timing here -- Stowe refers to newspaper accounts of Solomon Northrop's ordeal [that's how she spelled his name] in A Key. Then, later in 1853, after A Key came out, Twelve Years a Slave appeared.) One of the things that really interests me about Stowe -- and the writing of many white abolitionists -- is the centrality of law to their stories. Stowe wonders whether people are better than their laws. (I wrote some about this nearly 20 years ago.) Several times in William Goodell's American Slave Code in Theory and Practice there is a statement to the effect that people may be better than their laws, but seldom are. This lesson appears in Twelve Years as well -- when Solomon's first owner, William Ford, who was depicted as less malicious than many slave owners (in fact, as kind) -- ends up selling Solomon. There's been a lot of talk of late about the "authenticity" of the narrative. This raises difficult questions of interpretation of slave narratives, as Eric Herschthal pointed out in the New York Times last week.
The publisher of Twelve Years, Derby and Miller, had published a year before William Hosmer's antislavery critique of the slave law, The Higher Law, in Its Relations to Civil Government: With Particular Reference to Slavery, and the Fugitive Slave Law. One of the things that I'm really wondering about now is how much Twelve Years was designed to fit within the white abolitionist story about the centrality of law to slavery. I'm looking forward to talking a little more soon about jurisprudence in Twelve Years.