Apocalyptic Sentimentalism: Love and Fear in U.S. Antebellum by Kevin Pelletier

By Kevin Pelletier

In distinction to the present scholarly con-sensus that knows sentimentality to be grounded on a good judgment of affection and sympathy, Apocalyptic Sentimentalism demonstrates that during order for sentimentality to paintings as an antislavery engine, it had to be associated with its seeming opposite—fear, specially the phobia of God’s wrath. so much antislavery reformers famous that demands love and sympathy or the illustration of anguish slaves wouldn't lead an viewers to “feel correct” or to actively oppose slavery. the specter of God’s apocalyptic vengeance—and the fear that this chance inspired—functioned in the culture of abolitionist sentimentality as an important goad for sympathy and love. Fear,then, was once on the heart of nineteenth-century sentimental suggestions for inciting antislavery reform, bolstering love while love faltered, and working as a robust mechanism for developing interracial sympathy. Depictions of God’s apocalyptic vengeance constituted the most productive technique for antislavery writers to generate a feeling of terror of their audience.

concentrating on quite a number vital anti-slavery figures, together with David Walker, Nat Turner, Maria Stewart, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and John Brown, Apocalyptic Sentimentalism illustrates how antislavery discourse labored to redefine violence and vengeance because the final expression (rather than denial) of affection and sympathy. on the sametime, those warnings of apocalyptic retribution enabled antislavery writers to precise, albeit in a roundabout way, fantasies of brutal violence opposed to slaveholders. What all started as a sentimental approach fast grew to become an incendiary gesture, with antislavery reformers envisioning the total annihilation of slaveholders and defenders of slavery.

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The barrier separating what were understood at the time to be masculine and feminine forms of speech is more permeable within apocalyptic sentimentalism, as evinced by Walker’s Appeal and Stewart’s public lectures. Stewart also makes an important early contribution to the “domestication” of apocalypse, so that apocalyptic rhetoric and representation become acceptable modes of discourse not only from the pulpit or at the lectern, but on the home front as well. By foregrounding Walker, Turner, and Stewart in the opening chapters of this book, I argue that apocalyptic sentimentalism is a racialized structure that is deeply informed The Sentimental Apocalypse 25 by early black literary representation as well as influenced by a white, bourgeois, European philosophical aesthetic.

Both Walker and Turner represent an empowered rebellious black subject through a seemingly counterintuitive act of self-abnegation and submission to higher authority. While Stewart also marshals a discourse of messianic power, she does so in order to authorize the public presence of a black female orator. A close friend of David Walker who began publishing and lecturing not long after Turner’s insurrection in 1831, Maria Stewart’s work embodies and expands the conceptual innovations of Walker’s Appeal and the incendiary display of slave violence presented by Turner in his Confessions.

Indeed, his ultimate goal in the Appeal is a racially integrated nation in which blacks enjoy the same respect and rights as citizens that whites enjoy. “Treat us like men,” says Walker, “and there is no danger but we will all live in peace and happiness together. . Treat us then like men, and we will be your friends” (A 70). Given the Appeal’s angry tone, it is possible to overlook Walker’s reconciliatory vision, where racial segregation and acrimony are overcome in favor of amity between all citizens, regardless of skin color.

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