Rare Books

Uncle Tom’s cabin

347521 / D2017
Modern History
22x14 cm / 23x16,5 cm

    Uncle Tom’s cabinTwo Romanian editions from 1853

    Text: Andreea Ștefan

    Title: Old Toma’s Cabin or the Life of the Blacks in the Southern United States of America, by Mistress Harriet Beecher Stowe, translated by Th. Codresco after Léon Pilalte, accompanied by an overview of slavery by M. Kogălniceanu / Author: Harriet Beecher Stowe / Translator: Theodor Codrescu / Language: Romanian (transitional alphabet) / Place, publishing house, year: Iaşii, Buciumul Romanu Publishing House, 1853 / Material, technique: paper, printing / Dimensions: 22 x 14 cm / No. of pages: XXXII, 307 p., 36 pl. (vol. I); 2 f., 396 p., 37 pl. (vol. II).

    Uncle Tom’s Cabin or The Life of the Blacks in America by Miss Harriet Beecher Stowe, translated from French by Dimitrie Pop, the teacher / Author: Harriet Beecher Stowe / Translator: Dimitrie Pop / Language: Romanian (transitional alphabet) / Place, publishing house, year: Iașii, Albina Institute Publishing House, 1853 / Material, technique: paper, printing / Dimensions: 23 x 16.5 cm / No. of pages: 353 p., 24 f. pl. (vol. I); 2 f., 274 p., 24 f. pl. (vol. II)


    The year 1853 witnessed the publication in Iași of two parallel translations of „Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, a novel by the American writer Harriet Beecher Stowe. These two Romanian editions, in transitional alphabet, part of a wide series of translations and interpretations, still represent a testimony of the huge success that the novel enjoyed almost instantaneously. Indeed, it had been published only one year before, its first edition having appeared in 1852, and it had become one of the century’s bestsellers. On the other hand, its numerous translations ensured its international high profile. 

    What had led to the popularity of the novel from the very beginning was the set of problems it tackled. Actually, the middle of the 19th century witnessed the growing importance of a major social problem. Societies that had already been enjoying the benefits of the Industrial Revolution and of the Enlightenment philosophy, which set the bases for democracy, still had a part of their population in a state of judicial dependence towards other members of society; the example of the United States of America, an independent state since 1783, is illustrative in this respect. Within these communities, the practice of slavery came into sharp contrast not only with the underlying principles of the modern state, but also with the Christian morals. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel was written exactly from this stand, the author showing her characters, be they slaves or free people, as beings made in the image of the Christian God, equally entitled to make decisions when it comes to their own life. Furthermore, the sentimental tonality, practiced by the author in her previous novels, ensured her popularity among a wide group of female readers. 

    The impact of the novel in the United States was paralleled by its international impact, which was perfectly understandable since many of the independent states of the time had an otherwise numerically significant population at different levels of judicial dependence. In the Romanian Principalities, the novel was almost immediately introduced in order to enhance the public’s empathy towards the situation of the gypsy serfs. It is worth mentioning that the abolition of bondage was already one of the priorities of the Romanian revolutionaries in 1848; in Wallachia, there was even a Commission for the abolition of gypsy bondage. However, this initiative, as well as other measures taken by the revolutionaries in 1848, was short-lived. The Commission ended its activity when the revolution was suppressed, thus having practically no effect.  

    The abolition of the bondage was a problem that was, however, neither forgotten, nor abandoned, and we might say rightfully so, since it affected almost 250 000 inhabitants of the two Principalities, representing 7% of the total population according to the census made immediately after the Unification of the Principalities in 1859. Nevertheless, due to the conservatory atmosphere that was imposed in the European politics after the smothering of the revolutions that had crisscrossed the continent, demonstrated in the Principalities by the strict Russian and Ottoman control, the fight for the abolition of bondage moved from the political to the cultural level. Under these terms, it is easily understandable why the novel of the American author Harriet Beecher Stowe raised such interest. In this context, „Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was published in two different translations, both illustrated. 

    The two editions targeted a wide public, as they were translated. Another particularity that is worth mentioning was the choice of the translators not to start from the original, but from translations in French as a source language. In the middle of the 19th century, French was the language of culture in Europe in general and in the Balkans in particular. In the Principalities, the attachment to the French culture also increased due to national feelings. The young intellectuals found their linguistic origin in their Latin heritage, while their cultural origin was identified with the French revolutionary spirit. On the other hand, French was the most widely used language in the area. The Russian occupation (1828-1834) is responsible for the first massive spread of French in the Romanian space. Therefore, French was the natural choice for the progressive intellectuals of the 1850s. At the time, the French culture was the great Latin culture by means of which numerous Romanian intellectuals, mainly from the Danubian Principalities, chose to become part of the universal culture. 

    The Romanian translations, written in the transitional alphabet, reflected, sometimes hilariously, the French original. Thus, in the edition published at the Albina Institute Publishing House, the Cyrillic transcription of the name of the American author, Beecher, shows that the translator, Dimitrie Pop, a French teacher, opted for the French pronunciation and chose the Cyrillic letter “ш”, corresponding to “ș”, although the alphabet also had a more appropriate approximation of the English pronunciation, namely the letter “ч” – “ce”. 

     One of the editions appeared in the translation of Theodor Codrescu, a translator and novelist, editor for the Buciumul Român at the time. Actually, the same publishing house printed the above-mentioned translations. Entitled this time „Old Toma’s Cabin or the Life of the Blacks in the Southern United States of America”, the novel suited Codrescu’s interests, as he was a well-known militant for the serfs’ social emancipation. In this context, it is also worth mentioning that his name is related to the publishing in the newspaper Buciumul Român of the epic Țiganiada by Ioan Budai-Deleanu. 

    The edition is accompanied by a „Preface to the European Edition” (pp. III-VIII), translated directly from English. The preface ends with an exhortation written in Bold: “No nation can remain free if freedom is a privilege and not a principle” (p. VIII); for the readers the impact can only be the following: the Romanians, aspiring to independence, should ensure the individual freedom of all the inhabitants in order for themselves to be truly free. Afterwards, the message of the preface is restated and thoroughly explained to the readers by means of the study „An Overview of Slavery” (pp. IX-XXIV) by Mihail Kogălniceanu. The printing conditions are good, the edition being accompanied by separately printed full-page engravings.  

    The second edition stands out especially because it appeared almost at the same time as the first. However, the quality of the volume, also illustrated, is inferior, while the translator, Dimitrie Pop, as opposed to Th. Codrescu, is almost unknown. This edition, just like the edition with Kogălniceanu’s preface, starts from a French version.  

    Having been published in the transitional alphabet being used at the time, the two editions would soon need a re-editing. This happened in 1913, when a new translation was published, this time from Italian, by C. D. Moldoveanu. It appeared in the Minerva collection at the Bucharest Graphic Arts Institute.