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

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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 well-known 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 phobia that this risk inspired—functioned in the culture of abolitionist sentimentality as an important goad for sympathy and love. Fear,then, used to be on the heart of nineteenth-century sentimental techniques for inciting antislavery reform, bolstering love whilst love faltered, and working as a strong mechanism for developing interracial sympathy. Depictions of God’s apocalyptic vengeance constituted the best approach for antislavery writers to generate a feeling of terror of their audience.

targeting 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 precise, albeit not directly, fantasies of brutal violence opposed to slaveholders. What begun as a sentimental technique speedy turned an incendiary gesture, with antislavery reformers envisioning the entire annihilation of slaveholders and defenders of slavery.

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58 In these final passages from the novel, Eastman returns to some of the emblematic sentimental tropes of Stowe’s novel, namely, the need among citizens to concentrate on family and to care for those less fortunate. Eastman’s sentimental response to the national conflict over slavery mirrors Stowe’s. And just like Stowe, Eastman concludes with words of wrath to underscore and incentivize her ostensible commitment to love. ” 59 Eastman’s deployment of this sentimental trope not only indicates its geographical ubiquity in the antebellum period, it also underscores that apocalyptic sentimentality is not inherently antislavery or proslavery, progressive or conservative.

In this novel, it is not the threat of God’s wrath that white Southerners need to worry about; it is Dred’s. Like Nat Turner, who assumed the prerogative of God when he decided to exact theologically sanctioned vengeance against white Southerners, Dred is represented in this work of antislavery fiction precisely as the incarnation of God’s apocalyptic retribution. In this way, Dred not only further dramatizes the synecdochic connection between prophecies of apocalypse and slave insurrection, but he constitutes one of the principal sentimental agents of the narrative.

As a result, readers, rather than having a sympathetic response to the Appeal, are horrified by it instead. Despite its failed attempt to instill greater sympathy, Walker’s Appeal assembles the basic elements of an inchoate apocalyptic sentimentalism by bringing together discourses of sympathy and vengeance. 6 Walker marshals the affects of love and terror and portends catastrophic consequences for America’s slaveholders, even as he outlines a theory of sympathy that might save the nation from ruin.

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