‘Exactly Like MyFather’: Feminist Hermeneutics inHarriet Beecher Stowe’s Non-Fiction

Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 1995


Oxford University Press


An investigation of Stowe's non-fiction religious works complicates her response to the family legacy of religious discourse; she both claims and subverts her father's tradition~ Throughout her work, Stowe reformed her father's Christianity, infusing it with female models and metaphors.2 The result, seen most startlingly in her non-fiction religious texts, is a faith vastly different not only from her father's stern, and, for his era, regressive religion, but from the conventional sentimental Christianity of her contemporaries as well. Here she posits alternative notions of interpretation and authority, placing femininity and maternity at the very center of the judea-Christian story she tells. Here, even more emphatically than in her fiction-where she frequently suggests the superiority and distinct character of female virtue-she plays fast and loose with her own tradition, ultimately divulging a feminist hermeneutic, a way of reading all texts-sacred and secular-that presupposes a matriarchal Christianity, one that anticipates the concerns of twentieth-century Christian feminists. This is most clear in Woman in Sacred History (1873) and Footsteps of the Master (1877), two non-fiction religious works where she addresses herself to what was by then a well-established family mission-persuasive religious speech-and rereads, evaluates, and corrects the tradition of her father and brothers.