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By Kevin Pelletier

In distinction to the existing 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, in particular the terror of God’s wrath. such a lot antislavery reformers famous that demands love and sympathy or the illustration of pain 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 hazard 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 ideas for inciting antislavery reform, bolstering love whilst love faltered, and working as a strong mechanism for constructing interracial sympathy. Depictions of God’s apocalyptic vengeance constituted the most productive approach for antislavery writers to generate a feeling of terror of their audience.

concentrating on various 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 some way, fantasies of brutal violence opposed to slaveholders. What started as a sentimental technique speedy turned an incendiary gesture, with antislavery reformers envisioning the full annihilation of slaveholders and defenders of slavery.

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However, Turner’s confession serves as a crucial bridge linking Walker to later writers like Maria Stewart, Lydia Maria Child, and especially Harriet Beecher Stowe. Following his insurrection in Southampton County, Virginia, Turner comes to stand as the very symbol of religious violence, a form of violence that surprisingly becomes sentimentalized throughout the antebellum period. Turner represents his rebellious actions to Thomas Gray through an apocalyptic idiom, and it is this discursive mode that writers like Stowe will incorporate in sentimental works of antislavery fiction.

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, abolitionist sentimentality was a staging ground for meditations on violence as a response to slavery, even though many of the most prominent abolitionists, particularly the Garrisonians, proclaimed an antiviolence position. Because these fantasies were typically couched in a widely shared and culturally accepted apocalyptic syntax, they were seldom scorned by the targets of these threats as the deeply hostile sentiments that they, in fact, were. In addition to the violence they underwrote, these fantasies were simultaneously meant to energize a sympathetic response toward slaves and thus operate as the very engine of sentimentality that I map in this book.

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