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

By Kevin Pelletier

In distinction to the present scholarly con-sensus that is aware 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, specifically the terror of God’s wrath. such a lot antislavery reformers well-known that demands love and sympathy or the illustration of affliction slaves wouldn't lead an viewers to “feel correct” or to actively oppose slavery. the specter of God’s apocalyptic vengeance—and the phobia that this probability inspired—functioned in the culture of abolitionist sentimentality as an important goad for sympathy and love. Fear,then, used to be on the middle of nineteenth-century sentimental concepts for inciting antislavery reform, bolstering love whilst love faltered, and working as a robust mechanism for developing interracial sympathy. Depictions of God’s apocalyptic vengeance constituted the most productive procedure for antislavery writers to generate a feeling of terror of their audience.

concentrating on a number very important 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 specific, albeit in a roundabout way, fantasies of brutal violence opposed to slaveholders. What started as a sentimental procedure quick turned an incendiary gesture, with antislavery reformers envisioning the total annihilation of slaveholders and defenders of slavery.

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The bleeding heart is a sympathetic heart, and redressing slavery begins for Walker as it will begin for so many antislavery reformers who adopt sentimental conventions: with appeals to emotion and calls for the reformation of the heart. Walker believes that white and black Americans can learn to live together harmoniously, provided a proper affective bond between them can be constituted. 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.

And they have been justified in emphasizing black resistance within a liberal-revolutionary frame, given the abundance of examples from the nineteenth century of antislavery struggle that were described precisely in the liberal terminology that still holds sway within modern criticism. Perhaps no example is more representative of this liberalrevolutionary tradition than The Heroic Slave (1853), Frederick Douglass’s only work of fiction. Its protagonist, Madison Washington (who is based on the reallife rebellious mutineer of the same name), liberates himself and his fellow slaves by orchestrating the takeover of a slave ship and sailing it into the British colony of Nassau where slavery has already been abolished.

For example, an inchoate apocalyptic sentimentality plays a small but nevertheless meaningful role at very important moments in David’s Walker’s highly inflammatory Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World. By the 1850s, however, apocalyptic sentimentalism is organizing whole scenes of Uncle Tom’s Cabin as well as the entire narrative structure of Dred, so that chapters in Stowe’s second work of antislavery fiction which emphasize the importance of love are immediately followed by chapters foreboding God’s impending wrath.

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