By Kevin Pelletier
targeting a number of 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 all started as a sentimental method fast turned an incendiary gesture, with antislavery reformers envisioning the entire annihilation of slaveholders and defenders of slavery.
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Extra resources for Apocalyptic Sentimentalism: Love and Fear in U.S. Antebellum Literature
Arguments like the ones Hendler and Weinstein make are founded on the widely shared assumption that quintessential sentimental scenes will inevitably produce quintessential sentimental responses, so that representations of compassion will, in turn, arouse compassion in the reader, sympathy will invoke sympathy, love will generate even more love. These views comprehend sympathy and love to be autotelic, where affective bonds between persons are created and sustained merely by the presentation of sympathy and love within a sentimental narrative.
By discounting the fiery evangelical context in which American sentimentalism developed, scholars have framed it as a discourse rooted in a European bourgeois aesthetic. They have similarly mischaracterized the forms of violence that appear in texts like Walker’s Appeal and Turner’s Confessions, choosing to treat them as representations of revolutionary agency rather than as religiously motivated. It is this misreading that I explore in considerable detail in the final section of the chapter. It is critical to see these examples of violence as stemming from a religious rather than secular discourse for two important reasons.
Rather than merely call for love or represent scenes that depict the loving and merciful Jesus of liberalized Protestantism, Stowe returns again and again to the prospect of a wrathful God exacting retribution against hardened sinners, and it is this dynamic, where terror is the necessary incentive to and goad for love, that constitutes the structure of this quintessential sentimental text. Scholars have often questioned the efficacy and challenged the conspicuous limitations of an antislavery politics predicated on sentimentality, and Stowe has not been spared such criticisms.