If reckoned by unkind reviewers as “one of the dullest and most vulgar productions ever published,” Harriet Beecher Stowe's Dred nevertheless enjoyed prolific sales in both England and the United States because of the reputation Stowe had earned with Uncle Tom's Cabin. Given Stowe's international popularity, more charitable reviewers were reluctant to chastise her second antislavery novel too severely. The reviewer from Blackwood's, for example, spoke of “a respect due to genius; even though its wing droop in the attempt to soar” (“Dred,” 694). No deferential attitude, however, could sway this critic from his perceived duty to inform those who had not yet bought the book of its egregious flaws. Glossing over what struck him as offensive dialogue and improbable characterization, he focused attention on Stowe's apparent lack of dramatic skill. The fact that Dred's title character, a slave rebel, dies a peremptory death in an undescribed combat gave good cause for complaint. But also troubling was Stowe's substitution of cholera for insurrection as the means of dispatching Dred's antagonists, a move that the reviewer called “truly ludicrous” (695). “It is the Julius Caesar plot, minus the assassination of Caesar,” he jibed (701): “It is as if, after the meeting between Brutus and Cassius, and the scene with Portia, a herald were to announce to the conspirators that Caesar was dead, and they were not wanted” (704). From the standpoint of aesthetic unity, he was absolutely right. Dred's balked trajectory reads like an unintentional parody of more traditional plots. But to let the task of interpretation go at that is to miss the complex manner in which Stowe involved herself in the major political crisis of her time. Situated as it is on the brink of Civil War, the attenuated structure of Stowe's novel is telling — a metaphor for the failure of antebellum polemical patterns to shape a national consensus. When properly viewed as discourse, that is, a figurative running back and forth (from the Latin dis-, “in different directions,” and currere, “to run”), Dred evokes a whole field of signification where militant, sentimental, and ironic rhetorics clash, combine, and regenerate.